Islamist extremists and the far right need each other

For Islamist extremists, the far right shows the true face of a West that will never tolerate Islam.

2017/06/11 Issue: 110 Page: 17

The Arab Weekly
Gareth Smyth

Khuram Shazad Butt, one of three attackers who on June 3 killed seven people on London Bridge and in Borough Market, was included in “The Jihadis Next Door,” a 2016 documentary by Channel 4. Butt was well-known to police and MI5 and an associ­ate of Anjem Choudary, long-time leader of al-Muhajiroun, a militant group that emerged in the 1990s and was radicalised further after al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the United States.

Butt, a father of two living in east London, was a former London Underground worker once thrown out of the Jabir Bin Zayid Islamic Centre, east London, for interrupting a sermon. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, has tweeted that Butt denounced him as “murtad” (apostate), after he confronted Choudary near parliament a day after soldier Lee Rigby was killed in south-east London in 2013.

Shafiq has said he was “not surprised that Khuram Butt carried out the terrorist attack” and that “many of us in the British Muslim community have been demanding action against these extremists to no avail.”

As well as appearing on Channel 4, Butt was well-known to CNN reporter Sandi Sidhu, who met him several times in Britain in the 2014-16 period and who has reported contacts between Butt and Abu Rumayah, a British man who possibly featured in a January 2016 Islamic State (ISIS) execution video after he skipped bail on charges of al-Muhajiroun membership.

Choudary, born in Britain of Pakistani descent, is serving five years in prison after he was convicted last year for calling on Muslims to support ISIS. He had long been shunned by Muslim community groups in London and barred from many mosques but he was never short of publicity.

In 2010, after al-Muhajiroun was proscribed under British anti-terrorism legislation, the flagship BBC programme “News­night” pitted Choudary against Maajid Nawaz, founding chair­man of Quilliam, a government-funded counter-extremism think-tank, who exposed Choudary’s faulty knowledge of Arabic and Islam. CNN also gave air-time to Choudary, which he used to praise “sheikh Osama bin Laden.”

Fox News was particularly fond of Choudary, interviewing him many times and describing him as a “London imam.” In January 2015, Fox News presenter Sean Hannity talked to Choudary for more than 15 minutes after the killing of 12 people at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In May 2015, Hannity inter­viewed Choudary regarding alleged death threats against Pamela Geller, a right-wing US activist who had organised a competition for cartoons about the Prophet Mohammad. Hannity suggested “a fatwa” had been issued — by whom he did not say — for Geller to be exe­cuted and pressed Choudary, billed as “former leader of Islam for the UK,” to say he supported this.

Choudary was always happy to breathe the oxygen of publicity offered by right-wing channels and websites. In 2014, he did a long interview with Canadian conservative Ezra Levant for Sun News, which is available on Levant’s YouTube Channel Rebel Media.

Choudary’s appearances, just as much as his street speeches, have been widely relayed around social media — YouTube, Face­book and others — both by radical Islamists and far-rightists. The common motivation lies in a shared agenda of fomenting conflict between “the West” and Islam.

Each side needs the other. The far right argues that Choudary, ISIS and al-Qaeda are the authen­tic expression of Islam, continu­ing a centuries-old Muslim threat to the West and the wider non-Muslim world. Never mind that those fighting ISIS street-to-street in Mosul are overwhelm­ingly Muslims.

For Islamist extremists, the far right shows the true face of a West that will never tolerate Islam nor stop its violence against Muslim countries. Never mind that the vast majority of Muslims in Britain live peacefully under its laws as they practise their faith.

The far right and Islamic extremists both detest London as a multicultural, multifaith city. Shockingly, US President Donald Trump’s erroneous claim on Twitter that London Mayor Sadiq Khan had downplayed the threat was not far from claims from far-right commentators that Khan cannot be trusted because he is a Muslim.

To her credit, British Prime Minister Theresa May defended the mayor, realising it is very unlikely London Bridge was the last such atrocity.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” It needs to hold now.

Gareth Smyth has covered Middle Eastern affairs for 20 years and was chief correspondent for The Financial Times in Iran.

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