10 Questions for Anjem Choudary

My challenge to the publicity-seeking, extremist windbag

From the Guardian:

The leader of Islam4UK has said he will try to persuade people in Wootton Bassett to back an anti-war parade along the main street -- the same route used to bring home the bodies of troops from Afghanistan.

Anjem Choudary, whose group is an offshoot of the radical al-Muhajiroun movement, has caused anger by calling for members to parade through the Wiltshire town carrying up to 500 coffins symbolising the Muslim dead from the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

But why do the media give the buffoonish Choudary so much time and attention? And why, when he is interviewed, are the questions so piss-poor and pathetic?

Here are ten questions that I think British journalists should be putting to the leader of "Islam4UK":

1) Do you have any qualifications as an Islamic scholar? If not, on what basis do you call yourself a "sharia judge" and why on earth should anyone take your pronouncements on Islam, Muslims or "the hellfire" seriously?

From Wikipedia: "He is a qualified solicitor and chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, although he was removed from the roll in 2002. He has also claimed to be a "judge" of the "Shari'ah Court of the UK",[4] alongside Omar Bakri;[5] although neither man is an official of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, the only legally binding sharia court in the UK."

2) Do you not think it is even slightly hypocritical to live off benefits from the same British state that you revile and reject? Why do you say it's "not of any importance"?

From the London Evening Standard: "Mr Choudary, a father of three, admitted he lived off benefits despite objecting to the British state. He rejected suggestions of hypocrisy, saying: 'I don't think it's of any importance.' "

3) After you've gone to Wootton Bassett, will you take your coffins and go to Kandahar as well, to protest against the killing of innocent Afghans there by the Taliban and al-Qaeda? If not, why not?

From the UN News Centre: "UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] recorded 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2009, an increase of 24 per cent as compared to the same period in 2008. Of these, 59 per cent (595 deaths) were due to AGEs [anti-government elements] and 30.5 per cent (310 deaths) to PGFs [pro-government forces]."

4) Why did you call off your "march for sharia" in October 2009? Is it because you couldn't round up enough people to turn out for your "cause"?

From the Guardian: "At the eleventh hour, we heard that Islam4UK were cancelling their demonstration, rumours that were initially dismissed as the Choudary camp's standard tactical manoeuvring. When it later emerged that Islam4UK had indeed sheepishly withdrawn from their own protest, the official reason doing the rounds was that English Defence League members had made death threats towards Anjem Choudary. What an irony. Al-Muhajiroun have repeatedly praised the 9/11 terrorists as 'magnificent' yet they wholly failed to muster up the moral courage to square up to their first challenge from Muslim democrats. They ran scared -- terrified by the prospect of an intellectual duel of conflicting viewpoints, in full view of the media and the public."

5) You have called for people who drink alcohol to be lashed, but how do you square that with your own record of drinking? Do you plan to lash yourself?

From the Telegraph: "Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary has called for people who get drunk to be flogged. The lawyer, who recently praised the Mumbai terror attacks, said anyone becoming intoxicated by alcohol should be given 40 lashes in public. He claimed alcohol was 'the root of all evil'. The 41-year-old made the remarks on his website Islam4UK, which argues that Britain should become an Islamic state ruled by sharia law."

From the Daily Mail: "Photographs obtained by the Mail suggest 'Andy' -- as he was then known -- should be inflicting on himself the 40 lashes he prescribes for drunkenness. As well as downing cider and lager, the cleric is shown playing drinking games with cards, clearly forbidden under his strict Islamic laws, and holding a cannabis joint between his lips before smoking it. And the woman on the cover of the Mayfair pornographic magazine he is looking at is certainly not wearing a burka. On the evidence of friends from his student days, Choudary had sex with numerous white Christian girls."

6) You claim Islam is "not a religion of peace" but a "religion of submission" -- but have you not read the verse in the Quran which says that "there is no compulsion in religion"?

From the Evening Standard: "When a woman in a burkha asked how he could justify this when Islam was supposed to be a religion of peace, the crowd mocked her. But it was Choudary who rose to put her in her place. 'Islam is not a religion of peace,' he said. 'It is a religion of submission. We need to submit to the will of Allah.' "

From the Quran (2:256): "There is no compulsion in religion."

7) You and your allies have described 11 September 2001 as a "towering day" and the 19 hijackers as "magificent". Do you have a fatwa from any reputed Muslim scholar or Islamic seat of learning which supports your view?

From Wikipedia: Abu Hamza al-Masri created the Islamic Council of Britain to "implement sharia law in Britain", in 2002, on the first anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks, primarily through funding from al-Muhajiroun. Masri celebrated the establishment of the ICB and the 9/11 attacks by holding a conference at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London entitled "September the 11th 2001: A Towering Day in History". Bakri, who attended the conference, said that the delegates "look at September 11 like a battle, as a great achievement by the mujahideen against the evil superpower. I never praised September 11 after it happened but now I can see why they did it." Flyers distributed at the conference referred to the hijackers as the "Magnificent 19".

8) You say you have "no sympathy whatsoever" with the grieving parents of fallen soldiers, but how do you square that with the Islamic emphasis on mercy and compassion, even towards one's enemies?

From the Sun: "He also told grieving parents of war dead that he had 'no sympathy whatsoever' for fallen troops."

From the Islamic scholar Professor Ali Asghar Engineer: "The very opening of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, is with 'Bism Allahir Rahmanir Rahim', ie, I begin in the name of Allah who is Compassionate and Merciful. Thus it will be seen that Compassion is one of the names of Allah and it is among the most popular names of Allah. Muslims always begin their name with this incantation, ie, 'I begin in the name of Allah who is Compassionate and Merciful'. A Muslim who worships Allah has to be compassionate in his own behaviour, else his/her worship would not be complete. There are four key values in Qur'an which are repeatedly emphasised: Justice ('adl), benevolence (ihsan), compassion (rahmah) and wisdom (hikmah) and compassion is one of them."

9) If one of your own four young children had been blown to pieces on 7 July 2005, would you still claim that "oppressed" Muslims had a right to defend themselves using "whatever means"?

From the Sun: "Anjem Choudary also claimed 'oppressed' Muslims had a right to defend themselves using 'whatever means'. Choudary, 38, right-hand man of exiled hate preacher Omar Bakri, repeatedly refused to condemn the 7/7 bombers at a press conference on the eve of the anniversary of the London blasts. But when asked if he would inform the police of another suicide mission he said in Walthamstow, east London: 'No I wouldn't. I don't think Muslims can co-operate with police.' "

From Wikipedia: "Choudary married 22-year-old Rubana Akhtar in 1996, who had recently joined al-Muhajiroun, which he led at the time.[46] They settled in Ilford, London, and had four children: three daughters (Hidayah, born 1999, Hajar, born 2004, and Wafa, born 2008) and one son (Luqman, born 2001)."

10) Why do you continue to reside in a country you hate so much?

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.