UK media and Anjem Choudary
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday August 17 2016
There is considerable coverage in the newspapers today about the trial of Anjem Choudary, the “firebrand” cleric who has been the source of steady income for journalists over the years who have offered him the pedestal from which to espouse inflammatory views. He’s rarely enjoyed the same privilege among Muslim communities who have advocated in vain for his particular venom to be kept off print and broadcast media.
The resounding objection by Muslims to the “oxygen of publicity” granted to Choudary and those before him, like Omar Bakri Mohammed, was largely lost on the British media who seemed quite content to cover his provocative antics often turning out in greater numbers than members of his own band of misfits.
How ironic to read the BBC feature piece by Dominic Casciani, social affairs correspondent, in which he claims Choudary “asked some journalists if they would act as character witnesses”. What does that tell us about his relationship with members of the press?
The tango danced by Choudary and media outlets with more interest in stoking anti- Muslim prejudice than in seriously engaging with British Muslim views on current affairs may now irrevocably change for the better. One can only hope so.
But there are dimensions to the media’s coverage of Choudary’s trial that merit further scrutiny if only to shed light on the deeper problems manifest in the media output on Islam and Muslims in Britain of which Choudary and the media’s obsession with him is an integral part.
There is the article that features on the front page of The Guardian today which purports to connect Choudary to “at least 100 people from Britain [motivated] to pursue terrorism.”
The article quotes Hannah Stuart from the Henry Jackson Society who said, “A quarter of all individuals convicted of Islamism-inspired terrorism and terrorism-related offences in the UK since 1999 had direct links with al-Muhajiroun (or its aliases), through public membership, al-Muhajiroun-linked activism or regular attendance at lectures and protests. One in 10 offenders had a proven personal relationship with Choudary in particular.”
The correlation between membership or contact with Choudary is not the same as causation and it is notable that there is no evidence presented to suggest Choudary was responsible for the decisions taken by individuals who have either travelled abroad or engaged in terrorism related offences or attacks at home whatever one might say of the congenial environment he may have created with his incendiary rhetoric.
To presume Choudary’s statements alone were the cause of travel or terrorism-related offences is to ignore the motives given by those who commit such acts and other related factors which may have influenced their decisions. Simplistic causation models, such as the argument that “religious ideology” is the “root cause” of “Islamist terrorism” have been found empirically wanting.
Is the suggestion that Choudary “influenced” 100 people to pursue terrorism a credible one? One need only consider other “evidence” endorsed by the Henry Jackson Society, by Professor Anthony Glees who argues a “causal” relationship exists between Muslims studying at universities and universities as “hotbeds of radicalisation” because one third of those who have committed terrorism related offences attended university.
The issue is an important one in regards to a significant point which relates to the wide berth given to freedom of expression.
Will Gore in The Independent argues that limiting free expression is necessary in order to protect liberal democratic values.
“Jailing a person for words they have spoken ought to trouble anyone who believes in liberal democratic values. Yet to protect those very values it is sometimes necessary to be intolerant of intolerance,” he says.
But are we selectively “intolerant of intolerance”?
There is another “web of hatred” that has been examined in recent years, that pertaining to the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in Oslo and Utoya in 2011.
Andrew Brown of The Guardian in an article published in September 2011 reflected on Brievik’s “spider’s web of hate” and the prominence in it of people like British journalist Melanie Phillips and US Islamophobe Robert Spencer.
Brown wrote of Breivik’s references to “Littman; the Norwegian Peder Jensen who wrote under the pseudonym of Fjordman; and the American Robert Spencer, who maintains a site called Jihad Watch, and agitates against “the Islamisation of America,” and who is described by the Henry Jackson Society’s Associate Director Douglas Murray as “a profound and subtle thinker”.”
The interplay of these competing meta-narratives Brown argues finds its symmetry in “The world view of the counter-jihadis [which] echoes that of the jihadis they feel threatened by.”
The Institute of Race Relations in a special briefing paper titled ‘Brievik, the Conspiracy Theory and the Oslo massacre’ observed: “Whereas Breivik saw himself as a political soldier in a revolution against Muslims, multiculturalism and civilisational decline, most counter-jihadists, while sharing much of Breivik’s discursive frameworks and vocabulary, stop short of advocating violence as a means of achieving their goals.”
And then consider that the newspaper to publish an op-ed today by Maajid Nawaz about Choudary is The Times, where Melanie Phillips is a columnist and Daniel Finkelstein an associate editor.
Finkelstein, like Baroness Caroline Cox, is affiliated to the Gatestone Institute, an organisation run by the “sugar mama of anti-Muslim hate” and a portal where the writings of Fjordman can be found. Nawaz’s Quilliam Foundation’s links to “far right white supremacists” has been presented elsewhere in an investigative piece by Nafeez Ahmed. Are we merely assembling pots to label the kettle black? It certainly seems like it.
In 2012, a New Statesman cover piece on Breivik called for mainstream Islamophobia to be put on trial arguing that the stereotypes and tropes embellished in Breivik’s manifesto drew on the works of writers and journalists commonly associated with the “counter-jihad movement.”
And Professors Tony McEnery and Paul Baker, in further analysis of media representations of Islam and Muslim in the UK nationals between 2010 and 2014 note: “Any possible role that newspapers themselves have to play, for example, considering whether their representation of Muslims and Islam could contribute towards such radicalisation, tends to be unremarked upon.”
As the newspapers populate column inches with their criticisms of Choudary and his antics over the years, it is worth reflecting again on counter jihadist narratives and the words of Voltaire cited in the NS feature article: “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
The absurdities propagated about Islam and Muslims continue apace in the counter-jihad network. Who will speak out against it with the same passion as we see in the press today about Anjem Choudary? How many will make a ready connection between counter-jihadist narratives and violence perpetrated against Muslims, or do something about it?