Islamism in the UK must not be allowed to take on a romanticised, liberationist aspect, writes Martin Newland
London’s lenient laws allowed Islamists like Abu Hamza to thrive
The conviction in a US court this week of the radical Islamist Abu Hamza Al Masri was finally secured after a lengthy legal process by his lawyers aimed at avoiding extradition proceedings in the UK.
Hamza came to the UK in 1979, married an English woman and was granted citizenship. He soon set about preaching anti-Western sermons at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, celebrating the carnage of September 11, 2001, condemning the very society that had granted him citizenship (and extensive welfare payments) before finally being arrested under the Terrorism Act for incitement to murder and possession of a terrorism document among other charges.
At the same time the US applied for Hamza’s extradition for conspiring to take Western hostages in Yemen, terrorism funding and for organising terrorist training in Oregon. Proceedings were stayed pending Hamza’s serving of a sentence for the UK offences.
There then followed an extraordinary legal odyssey aimed at avoiding extradition involving magistrates court hearings, the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords, the European Court of Human Rights and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission which ruled that Hamza should retain his UK passport as its cancellation would have left him “stateless”. Finally, and thankfully, all legal avenues exhausted, Hamza was sent to the US where he was promptly put behind bars.
One of the most laudable aspects of the UK legal system is that it remains committed to microscopic scrutiny of any prosecution process that might result in the loss of an individual’s liberty. But the Hamza saga, in which a dangerous man who hated the society he so successfully exploited was able to secure citizenship and defy the will of successive home secretaries and prosecution authorities for so long, pointed in this case to a legal system that proved morally and legally irresolute.
Britain’s reputation for tolerance and freedom of expression, whilst praiseworthy in itself, has nevertheless helped cement its status as a centre for radical Islamism.
Views entirely at odds with these core British values have been allowed to take root, masked in some cases by charitable, web or campus-based or other media and institutional fronts.
The common narrative is geopolitical, questioning the legitimacy of Middle Eastern governments that, for the moment at least, are Britain’s strategic allies and trading partners.
Such governments are depicted as servants of “imperialist” Western powers who have themselves waged war on “Muslim lands”. This grievance narrative is seen as justification for terrorist acts, reclassified as “resistance” within a global jihad.
The narrative is also profoundly theocratic, making personal observance and virtue (as defined by organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood) a precondition of secular competence.
However, whenever an Islamist acquires an elected or other institutional mandate, he or she has little to say about the economy, infrastructure or defence and rather more to say about the unworthiness of other religions and whether women should cover their hair while presenting on television.
With the aid of some mainstream media outlets in the UK, serious discussion about radicalisation and its occasionally murderous effects is diverted into a treatment of the inescapable consequences of British foreign policy.
Similarly, elements of the media and lobby groups seek to conflate anti-Islamism with being anti-Muslim or, worse, racist, thus portraying those with legitimate concerns as acting outside the parameters of civilised discussion.
It was not long before debate over the hacking to death of a young serviceman in south London by a British fundamentalist a year ago this week was diverted, with the aid of a few myopic and unrepresentative far-right hooligans, into a debate about a so-called “Muslim backlash” and British troop deployments.
It is this fear – that moves to marginalise extreme Islamism might be perceived as marginalising Muslims as a whole – that prevents government and media from articulating a robust differentiation themselves. Mainstream Muslims appear to have no such problem however and are scandalised by the misuse of their religion.
Islamism in the UK must not be allowed to take on a romanticised, liberationist aspect that has so far seen more than 450 British citizens travel to Syria to return, presumably, further radicalised, strangers in their own country, potential vehicles for a distorted brand of Islam unrecognisable to the majority of its true adherents.
After the south London murder of the soldier Lee Rigby, David Cameron, the prime minister, stood up in parliament and spoke of his determination to prevent the young from riding the “conveyor belt to radicalisation”. He has since, on the advice of security services, ordered an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Britain.
Anybody who has contacts within those same security services receives the briefing Mr Cameron no doubt receives – that radicalisation is increasing, that its roots initially are in the propagation of the Islamist grievance agenda via the web, via some media and other organisations with Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood leanings, via student societies and the rantings of renegade imams – all of which are allowed to take root and thrive in what is now jokingly referred to as “Londonistan”.
This has been intensified by the so-called Arab Spring, which has created an Islamist diaspora elements of which, like the calculating and unsavoury Hamza, have found a sympathetic base of operations from which to foment radicalisation and attack Middle East allies under the guise of intellectual freedom, justice and philanthropic enterprise.
If it is allowed to continue – if more and more are seduced into joining the great Islamist supranational adventure – then Britain’s well-meaning inclusiveness could become a pathway to further radicalism and increased domestic terrorism.
When more than 50 people using the London transport system were murdered by a group of radicals in 2005, many were struck by the videotaped message of the gang’s leader, Mohammed Siddiq Khan, broadcast, naturally, by Al Jazeera (Khan, incidentally was radicalised by an associate of Hamza).
It was not what Khan said that was striking – this was the usual paranoid stuff. It was that he spoke in a broad Yorkshire accent. He had ridden Mr Cameron’s “conveyor belt”.
Unless the authorities do more to counter the activities of organisations and individuals responsible for setting the preconditions for radicalisation, more will follow.
Martin Newland is the executive director of publishing at Abu Dhabi Media