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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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.