Opinion

I am a British Muslim, and Anjem Choudary does not represent me

I am a British Muslim, and Anjem Choudary does not represent me

Author

A Google search for “British Muslim spokesperson” will bring as the top result Anjem Choudary, one of the UK’s most dangerous radical preachers, who helped recruit hundreds of British Muslims to join Daesh in Syria. 

This absurd misrepresentation should do more than raise eyebrows. It not only demonstrates the unwillingness of tech companies to ensure that violent rhetoric is demoted online, but shows how tech giants are directing their users to hateful preaching.

More than seven months ago, Sir Mark Rowley, the former British police chief in charge of counterterrorism, sternly admonished Google’s granting of Choudary such a high ranking. Since then, Google has done nothing.

The search engine giant’s algorithms are designed to sensationalize news stories to boost viewership, but this clickbait tactic contravenes any balanced attempt to inform readers. As a result, extremist views are more likely to appear in internet searches, reaching more viewers and in effect giving hate preachers free, global publicity. 

As the leading search engine, Google has a responsibility to educate and promote content that does not normalize violence or misrepresent a valuable and diverse faith group

Muddassar Ahmed

Irrespective of political leaning or religion, people are fed up with the hateful ideology that the likes of Choudary espouse. As Brits, and as Muslims especially, we know that the distortion of Islam increases Islamophobia.

It is no surprise that more than a third of Brits now believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life. This vilification of Muslims isolates the very communities we need to enfranchise. It misconstrues our identities, hijacks our beliefs and draws people in the wrong direction. 

Two years ago, the senseless Westminster terror attack left five innocent people dead and more than 40 injured. Horrified by the attack, I started a campaign to raise money for the victims, called Muslims United for London, joining forces with British Muslim MPs Naz Shah and Yasmin Qureshi.

At the time, I wrote that the only martyrs were the victims, and the only jihad fought was that of the ambulance crew. But for me, condemning the attacks was not enough. The Muslims United for London campaign demonstrated that I was not the only British Muslim to feel this way. The campaign raised £18,000 ($22,660) in one day, and met its £30,000 goal in three, with more than 1,000 people donating money directly to those affected by the atrocity. The results of the campaign are typical of what British Muslims contribute to UK society, and illustrate the very opposite of what Choudary and his ilk promote. British Muslims donate more to charity than any other demographic group in Britain. We contribute £31 billion to the UK economy, with my own company being just one among 13,000 thriving Muslim businesses in London alone.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, actor Riz Ahmed and fashion blogger Dina Tokio are a few of the commonly known Brits who do far more to deserve the title “British Muslim spokesperson” than the likes of Choudary.

Yet achievements such as theirs very rarely hit the top of search results when looking up “Muslims” or “Islam.” Instead, if a search does not end up promoting hate preachers such as Choudary who distort Islam from within, it often leads to webpages that defame Islam from without. Such websites include Jihad Watch, run by Robert Spencer, the notorious extremist banned by the UK government since 2013; the Investigative Project, run by Steve Emerson, who was behind the myth of Muslim no-go zones in Britain; and the Center for Security Policy, founded by Frank Gaffney, who has endorsed and hosted white supremacists. The list goes on. Such platforms routinely demonize some of the world’s leading voices of moderation in the Islamic world, labelling all efforts by Muslims inspired by the Islamic faith as extremist deception. The good work done by countless Muslim organizations to combat misreadings of jihad, promote gender equality and bring diverse faith and non-faith communities together is described as a conspiracy to infiltrate societies and terrorize them by stealth.

Despite the rampant fake news on these sites, their popularity means that Google continues to elevate them, driving a self-reinforcing cycle of viral disinformation that repeatedly pushes the same toxic message: Muslims and Islam are a threat to the West.

As the leading search engine, Google has a responsibility to educate and promote content that does not normalize violence or misrepresent a valuable and diverse faith group. Spoilt for choice on positive British Muslim spokespeople, why are hate preachers continuously given the platform they are looking for?

 

• Muddassar Ahmed is an advisory council member at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Anjem Choudary: UK TV's favorite hate preacher

Anjem Choudary
Updated 18 June 2019
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Anjem Choudary: UK TV's favorite hate preacher

  • British lawyer embraced radical Islamism and vigorously defended extremist groups after attacks including the 7/7 London bombings
  • Given 5½-year prison term in 2016, Choudary was released last year and is completing the sentence under strict supervision

DUBAI: A UK-trained lawyer by trade, Anjem Choudary knew just how far to take his rhetoric before it went from freedom of expression to hate speech.

In 2005, he appeared on BBC “HardTalk” after the 7/7 London bombings, which left 56 people dead. Instead of condemning the attacks, he said: “As a Muslim, I must support my Muslim brothers and sisters wherever they are in the world. I must have allegiance with them, I must cooperate with them, I must run with them, and similarly on the other hand, I must have hatred towards everything that isn’t Islam.”

He added: “At the end of the day, when we say innocent people, we mean Muslims. As long as non-Muslims are concerned, they haven’t accepted Islam, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s a crime against God.”

Choudary embraced radical Islamism and joined the extremist organization Al-Muhajiroun, working with Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Muhammad.

The organization was banned in 2004 under UK anti-terror legislation. 

Muhammad later left for Lebanon, and Choudary assumed the leadership position.

Al-Muhajiroun’s official disbanding had little real impact on its British supporters, and in the next few years Choudary led various groups that were just rebadged to circumvent anti-terror laws.

These included Al-Ghurabaa, which hosted links on its website to internet chat forums that justified attacks on civilians.

Another group, Islam4UK, campaigned for a hardline Daesh-style global caliphate. 

Its website featured a picture of Buckingham Palace converted to a mosque.

“What Choudary managed to do is to stay very much on the side of the law, until recently. He made sure he wasn’t inciting actual direct acts of violence, but was very offensive in his hate speech,” Haras Rafiq, chief executive of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam International, told Arab News. 

“What he did very cleverly was he talked in broad aspects, he talked about Christian Crusaders, he talked about lots of things in a broad way, very rarely about specific individuals.”

Choudary managed to stay one step ahead of the law, and he knew it. After 9/11 and 7/7, his firebrand style landed him primetime spots on international news talk shows, including on Fox News and CNN.

Pitting him against a moderate, viewership always rose when there was a “good guy vs bad guy” model, as Rafiq put it.

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“Like WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), he (Choudary) became the villain, and they always tried to have a good guy with him. Unfortunately, what that causes is access to an audience that in the past he never had,” Rafiq said.

“Anjem has been very good at being this villain … and he liked it, he enjoyed it, he thought it was good for the cause, and he was, from his perspective, very good at it.”

This posed a significant problem as many viewers began to form opinions on Muslims based on his comments.

Choudary’s charismatic preach-ing earned him the label of a top recruiter for Islamist terrorism in the UK and Western Europe. He is thought to be responsible for indoctrinating many of the UK’s Daesh loyalists.

“Just about everybody I know wants to go and live under the caliphate and the Islamic State, because we’ve lived in this country for so long and with all this gambling, pornography, alcohol … the promiscuity and the kind of, like, divorced lifestyle here,” he said in 2014.

“I know people already there, and I know some people, including myself, who’d love to go. I’ve said that openly to the media that I like to go there, give you my passport, and we can have a nice press conference at Heathrow airport where I can wave goodbye to everyone.”

He told the Washington Post that Daesh is “providing the basic needs to the people in terms of food, clothing and shelter. They’re protecting their life, honor and dignity, wealth etc.”

While Choudary has repeatedly voiced his desire to join the terrorist group, he has never done so. “He’s a coward,” Rafiq said.

“He encouraged, empowered, indoctrinated so many people to join Daesh, and he didn’t do it himself.”

But Choudary’s vocal support for Daesh did finally give the UK the opportunity to arrest him. 

On Sept. 6, 2016, he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

The judge told him he had “crossed the line between the legitimate expression of your own views and a criminal act.”

Released in October 2018, Choudary is completing the rest of the sentence under strict supervision.  


Voting closing in race to become UK’s new prime minister

Updated 22 July 2019
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Voting closing in race to become UK’s new prime minister

  • Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party

LONDON: Voting was closing Monday in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister, as critics of likely winner Boris Johnson condemned his vow to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a divorce deal.
Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party.
The winner will be announced Tuesday, and will take over as the nation’s leader from Prime Minister Theresa May the following day.
Johnson, a populist former mayor of London, is the strong favorite.
Several members of May’s government have said they will resign before they can be fired by Johnson over their opposition to his threat to go through with a no-deal Brexit if he can’t secure a renegotiated settlement with the EU.
Most economists say quitting the 28-nation bloc without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil. The UK’s official economic watchdog has forecast that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession, with the pound plummeting in value, borrowing soaring by 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) and the economy shrinking 2% in a year.
Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be “an act of economic self-harm that runs wholly counter to the national interest.”
EU leaders insist they won’t reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement they made with May’s government, which has been repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan quit Monday, lamenting in his resignation letter that “we have had to spend every day working beneath the dark cloud of Brexit.”
Other government ministers, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, are set to resign on Wednesday.
The new prime minister will preside over a House of Commons in which most members oppose leaving the EU without a deal, and where the Conservative Party lacks an overall majority.
Opposition parties are preparing for an early election which could be triggered if the government loses a no-confidence vote in the coming months.
The centrist Liberal Democrats, who have seen a surge in support thanks to their strongly anti-Brexit stance, were set to declare the winner of their own leadership contest on Monday.