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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How the mantra of centrism gave populism its big break

A Labour insider reflects on the forces behind the march of populism. 

For just under a quarter of a century, British politics has been dominated by what might be called, paradoxically, a “theology of centrism” - the belief that most people were more concerned with what works than ideology, and that politics should principally be the art of improving the delivery of public goods. It was a theology that, for all their policy differences, united Tony Blair and David Cameron. Anyone who thought electoral success could be won anywhere but from the centre was either naïve or fanatical, or both... but definitely wrong.

Now, populism is on the march across the West. In Britain, as elsewhere, the political class is unnerved and baffled.

So what happened? Partly, as with all revolutions in politics, the answer is: “events”. Unsuccessful wars, economic crashes and political scandals all played their part. But that isn’t enough of an explanation. In fact, the rise of populist politics has also been a direct result of the era of centrism. Here is what has taken place:

1. A hollow left and right

First, the theology of centrism was the culmination of a decades-long hollowing out of mainstream politics on the left and right.

In the mid-20th century, Conservatism was a rich tapestry of values – tradition, localism, social conservatism, paternalism and fiscal modesty, to name but a few. By 1979, this tapestry had been replaced by a single overriding principle - faith in free-market liberalism. One of Margaret Thatcher's great achievements was to turn a fundamentalist faith in free markets into the hallmark of moderate centrism for the next generation of leaders.

It is a similar story on the left. In the mid-20th century, the left was committed to the transformation of workplace relations, the collectivisation of economic power, strong civic life in communities, internationalism, and protection of family life. By the turn of the 21st century, the left’s offer had narrowed significantly – accepting economic liberalism and using the proceeds of growth to support public investment and redistribution. It was an approach committed to managing the existing economy, not transforming the structure of it or of society.

And it was an approach that relied on good economic times to work. So when those good times disappeared after the financial crash, the centrism of both parties was left high and dry. The political economic model of New Labour disappeared in the first days of October 2008. And when a return to Tory austerity merely compounded the problem of stagnant living standards, public faith in the economic liberalism of the centre-ground was mortally wounded.

2. Fatalism about globalisation

Second, Labour and Tory politics-as-usual contained a fatalism about globalisation. The right, obsessed with economic liberalism, welcomed globalisation readily. The left under Bill Clinton in the US and Blair in the UK made their parties’ peace with it. But globalisation was not a force to be managed or mitigated. It was to be accepted wholesale. In fact, in his 2005 Conference speech, PM Tony Blair chastised those who even wanted to discuss it. “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation," he said. “You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer. They're not debating it in China and India.” (I bet they were, and still are.) The signal to voters was that it was not legitimate to fret about the pace and consequences of change. No wonder, when the fretting began, people turned away from these same politicians.

3. A narrowing policy gap

Third, the modernising projects of Blair and Cameron ended up producing a politics that was, to use Peter Mair’s term, “cartelised”. The backgrounds, worldviews and character of party elites began to converge significantly. Both parties’ leaderships accepted the same external conditions under which British politics operated – globalisation, economic liberalism, sceptical acceptance of the EU, enthusiasm for closeness to the US on security issues. The policy space between both main parties narrowed like never before. As a result, economic and class divisions in the country were less and less reflected in political divisions in Westminster.

The impression arose, with good reason, of an intellectual, cultural and financial affinity between politicians across the main divide, and between the political class and big business. This affinity in turn gave rise to a perception of “groupthink” across the elite, on issues from expenses to Europe, and one that came with a tin ear to the concerns of struggling families. It may be misleading it is to depict all politicians as snug and smug members of a remote Establishment. Nevertheless, social and economic convergence inside Westminster party politics gave populists an opportunity to present themselves as the antidote not just to Labour or the Tories, but to conventional politics as a whole.

4. New political divides

Lastly, the populist moment was created by the way in which new electoral cleavages opened up, but were ignored by the main political parties. The last decade has seen a global financial crash that has restored economic insecurity to frontline politics. But at the same time, we are witnessing a terminal decline of normal party politics based fundamentally on the division between a centre-left and centre-right offering competing economic policies. 

Of course economics and class still matter to voting. But a new cleavage has emerged that rivals and threatens to eclipse it - globalism vs nationalism. Globalists are economically liberal, positive about trade, culturally cosmopolitan, socially progressive, with a benign view of globalisation and faith in international law and cooperation. Nationalists are hostile to both social and economic liberalism, want more regulation and protection, are sceptical of trade, see immigration as an economic and cultural threat, and have little time for the liberal international order.

The factors that drive this new electoral divide are not just about voters’ economic situation. Age, geography and education levels matter – a lot. Initially both main parties were tectonically slow to respond to this new world. But populism – whether Ukip, the SNP or Theresa May's Tories – has thrived on the erosion of the traditional class divide, and sown seeds of panic into the Labour party as it faces the prospect of sections of its traditional core vote peeling away.

Centrists thought their politics was moderate, pragmatic, not ideological. But signing up to free market liberalism, globalisation and an economistic view of politics turned out to be seen as a curious kind of fundamentalism, one which was derailed by the 2008 crisis. The exhaustion of the theology of centrism did not create populism – but it did allow it a chance to appeal and succeed.

Those on the left and right watching the march of populism with trepidation need to understand this if they are to respond to it successfully. The answer to the rise of populist politics is not to mimic it, but to challenge it with a politics that wears its values proudly, and develops a vision of Britain’s future (not just its economy) on the foundation of those values. Populists need to be challenged for having the wrong values, as well as for having anger instead of solutions.

But calling for a return to centrism simply won’t work. It plays precisely to what has become an unfair but embedded caricature of New Labour and Notting Hill conservatism – power-hungry, valueless, a professional political class. It suggests a faith in moderate managerialism at a time when that has been rejected by events and the public. And it tells voters to reconcile themselves to globalisation, when they want politicians to wrestle a better deal out of it.

Stewart Wood, Lord Wood of Anfield, was a special adviser to No. 10 Downing Street from 2007 to 2010 and an adviser to former Labour leader Ed Miliband.