Sunday, 13 July 2008

"One day the black flag of Islam will be flying over Downing Street"

Britain operates as a strategic base for some of the most radical Islamic groups, who preach hatred, incite to violence and recruit volunteers for terrorist activities, reports Ori Golan.

Anjem Choudray is a man with grand designs. "One day the black flag of Islam will be flying over Downing Street," he says. He is the spokesman for the Al-Muhajiroun ("The immigrants"), a radical Islamic movement in Britain which seeks to establish Islamic supremacy and calls for a jihad against opponents of Islam. Last year, on September 11, the group celebrated the attacks on the World Trade Center under the banner "A Towering Day in History". In 1999 it issued a fatwa, calling for the assassination of Russian President Yeltsin and more recently they intimated that Prime Minister Tony Blair, is legitimate target for terrorism abroad.

Britain operates as a strategic base for some of the most radical Islamic groups, who preach hatred, incite to violence and recruit volunteers for terrorist activities. Last January, British military intelligence working in eastern Afghanistan discovered a list of 1,192 names of British citizens, all Muslims, who trained with the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. More recently, Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, one from west London, the other from Derby, became the first British nationals to serve as human bombs in Israel when they carried out the attack at Mike’s place in Tel Aviv. Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnap and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan was from London, as was Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight in December 2001 using a bomb planted in his shoe. It was a British-born Muslim extremist who rammed a lorry packed with explosives into an army barracks in Kashmir, killing 32 people; and seven British Muslims captured in Afghanistan are currently held in Guantánamo Bay. And according to British security sources, five more radical British Muslim terrorists are poised to strike as suicide bombers against Israel.

What unites all these terrorists is that they attended mosques in Britain where fundamentalist messages are routinely issued and young, impressionable Muslims are exhorted to take up arms against Jews, Hindus and other "infidels". Across university campuses Al-Muhajiroun and its affiliate, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, are busy recruiting adherents. According to Michael Phillips from the Union of Jewish Students, they target Jewish students, predominantly in Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. "We’ve had bricks thrown through windows, female students harassed and this year at Keel University they placed in the fresher packs a leaflet saying: ‘the final hour won’t come until we kill the Jews’.

Many dismiss radical Islamists as fanatics on the lunatic fringe who should be ignored. Others caution against it. If these extremists are allowed to continue preaching their hatred, they warn, then the next suicide bomb attack could well be in Britain.

And it is precisely this specter which has galvanized and united British politicians, security services and legislators. Last week, in a report on the war against terrorism, the Commons foreign affairs select committee warned that the government must step up its intelligence gathering activities in order to better protect British citizens.

The Community Security Trust (CST) provides security for Jewish events and monitors risk assessment within the Jewish community in Britain. Michael Whine, its director, says extremist groups should not be taken lightly:"Many see Al-Muhajiroun as buffoons, always running to the press, always appearing on TV, always saying silly things, but underneath there is a more serious intent; they serve as a radicalizing agent for young Muslims; they’re out there, they’re evangelical and they recruit. Moreover, they should not be seen in isolation; they serve as a portal through which people pass. They have contacts in Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and many other parts of the world."

Britain is routinely criticized by foreign governments for providing a logistics base for Islamic extremists who, after being expelled from Denmark, Germany and Holland, have set up base in Britain.

Why are they allowed to conduct their activities unimpeded?

In a collection of papers entitled "The New Antisemitism?" published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Professor Robert Wistrich of the Shalem Center, attempts to tackle the question. It is possible, he writes, that the British government has a tacit understanding with certain Islamist groups not to interfere with them so long as they don’t strike on British soil. This may also explain why the Universities UK – the successor to the Council of Vice Chancellors and Principals – are reluctant to interfere with the activities of Islamist radicals on campuses.
Another reason proffered for this seemingly ‘softly softly’ approach concerns the fears of successive British of offending Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims – which risks disrupting Britain's strong trading ties with Arab nations.

"Since the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1994 the authorities have had to catch up a lot," says Whine, "but even now I don’t think they really understand the Islamist thing, and the underlying ideology. They’re interested in names and addresses, but not in what motivates these issues."

However, concedes Whine, the law is now better equipped to deal with the situation, as are the police and courts. Britain's Terrorism 2000 Act which came into force last February, broadens the definition of terrorism and makes it illegal to raise funds for any proscribed organization.
Last February Abdullah el-Faisal, Imam of the Brixton Mosque in south London, was convicted of soliciting murder and three charges involving stirring up racial hatred and was sentence to nine years in prison. The judge also recommended that El-Faisal be deported when his sentence was served. It was the first time in over 100 years that a person has been charged of soliciting murder without a specific victim.

Two months later, legal history was made in Britain when Muslim cleric Abu Hamza was stripped of his British citizenship under the new Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act which empowers the government to remove British citizenship from individuals holding dual nationality if their activities are deemed threatening to Britain's national interests. Hamza presides over Finsbury Park mosque - a hotbed of fanaticism where ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid was reportedly recruited.

But the danger is not limited to the visible extremists, says Whine. It stretches to what he terms "semi-detached Islamists": unsuspecting young people who get sucked into the vortex of terrorism. "There are many young Muslims who for the best motives decide to study abroad. They go to Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Syria, start studying and then get drawn into it. Once they’re back, they lead normal lives until they get fired up by some sermon they’ve heard and decide to strike a blow for Jihad. Five years ago the police estimated that at least 2000 young Muslims had gone away for training." This number, it is safe to assume, has grown significantly since then.

The fear of Islamic terror has given rise to a climate of distrust and suspicion of Britain’s Muslim community, lumping mainstream with radical, secular with religious, and tarnishing the entire community. This, in turn, has resulted in a significant rise in hate crime targeted against Muslims. In Boston a mosque was fire-bombed while children were inside; Muslim cemeteries have been desecrated; and in London, an Afghan cab driver was left paralyzed from the neck down after being beaten with a bottle by three white men. Capitalizing on the situation, the extreme-Right British National Party ratcheted tensions by launching their campaign "To Keep Britain Free of Islam".

Nazma is a striking woman; strong, determined and defiant. She is also a practicing Muslim who wears the hijab – a traditional scarf that covers her head and neck, when outdoors. A few months ago while walking in London she was viciously attacked by a group of white youth. One member of the group pulled off her veil while another spat in her face. They then hit her on the head with a baseball bat, swearing at her and telling her ‘to go back home’.
"The police as well as the media tried to play down the incident, saying that it was an isolated case involving a bunch of hooligans" she says. "But the truth is, that these thugs didn’t just appear from nowhere. They get their cues from subtle messages which the media disseminates all the time."

"You know, apart from the physical pain I endured, what hurt me most was the hatred I saw in their eyes. I am just as British as they are. I was born here, as were my parents. Why should I be scared every time I leave my home? What they, and many others, cannot accept is the idea of Muslims living here."

Media Secretary for the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawala warns of a growing intolerance of Islam in Britain, much of it fuelled by the media. "There is a very clear increase in the level of hateful remarks made against Muslims. It feeds into a stereotype and deprives them of their humanity. This is something which Jews should be sensitive to. Instead of giving column inches to the mainstream British Muslim voice, the media goes to fanatics and allows them to air their unrepresentative views. Al-Muhajiroun is a fringe group which capitalizes on the grievances of Palestinians. Presenting them as the voice of British Muslim is like suggesting that ‘Kach’ is the voice of the Jewish people."

"Yes there is a problem of Islamophobia", confirms Whine, "but I wouldn’t say the Jewish community is part of it: quite the reverse. There are Jewish-Muslim outreach and inter-faith programs with Muslim groups. However, since the start of the second intifada, relations between the two communities have been fractured and the two communities are meeting less and less.
Karim is a young British Muslim man in his mid-twenties who attends the Jamme Masjid Mosque in East London. Wearing jeans, a light blue T-Shirt and on his feet Reebok shoes, he is a fusion between western values and traditional Muslim culture. He invites me inside. It is Friday afternoon and the mosque is filling fast. This mosque attracts a disparate crowd. Young teenagers in jeans intermingle with elderly men in religious garb; Bengali mixes with Arabic, interspersed with English . "Salem Aleikum" they greet each other, old, young, traditionalists, and westernized, as they remove their shoes to enter the mosque’s main hall.
An IT consultant, Karim sees himself part of British society. "I have no problem being British and Muslim," he explains in a south London accent, "but some people have very deep prejudices against us. As soon as they see a Muslim they think: Al Qaeda, fanatics, bombs, hate. This is very unfair."

Karim’s views are representative of large swathes of Britain’s Muslim community who have – either publicly or within their ranks – denounced terrorism, but sympathize with what they consider to be the root causes of it. Unlike the radical Muslim elements, they do not reject the West out of hand, but are very critical of American and British foreign policies around the world, particularly the Muslim world.

"Of course we have our sympathies with our brothers in Palestinian and yes, I support their struggle but that doesn’t mean we’re fanatics or that I support the killing of innocent Israelis. No, I don’t support it at all. One injustice doesn’t deserve another injustice. Only the end of the occupation will bring an end to this cycle of violence."

Meanwhile, in another Mosque in North London, Al-Muhajiroun leaders rouse their acolytes and preach against Israel, the US, Britain and it allies. Their numbers may be small, but the result maybe catastrophic. According the Observer newspaper, British police and security services are warning of a 'spectacular' attack in Britain by rogue suicide bombers. Britons are bracing themselves for the worst.

Box 1
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the UK, with up to two million followers and over 1000 mosques across Britain. In many cities across Britain Muslims live in segregated communities, with separate education, social and cultural networks. It is within these closed communities that the extremists find recruits for al-Qa'eda and other terror groups.
So are we heading toward what Samuel Huntington famously described as "a clash of civilization" - a growing conflict between western universalism and Muslim militancy?
Rev. Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity in London and an expert on Islamic history and politics, thinks so. "I think we have a greater problem in Islam than we realize. Much as I understand why politicians in the U.S. and U.K. have made the kinds of affirmatory statements they have made, I think time will show they have made a mistake. In dealing with Islam, you have to tell the truth. And you have to meet it head on. It understands power and only power. I believe we
face a much greater threat from Muslim communities within our own countries than we realize."
"Nonesense", rebuts Imam Abdujalil Sajid, chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony. Muslims, he says, want to be integrated into society, but are alienated from British society. "Many are unable to find jobs, are verbally and physically attacked, and see no prospect for the future." His own two daughters, both of whom are university graduates, one with a first-class degree in Law, could not find employment for five years and eventually both took up jobs abroad. "I have no doubt that it is because of their Muslim-sounding names. This is Islamophobia: unfounded hostility. It is the other side of antisemitism." Dismissing the radical Islamic elements as a tiny fringe element with minuscule support, Sajid bemoans, the fact that they are given so much publicity. "Killing discriminately is not allowed" he emphasizes. "The Koran does not allow it. Life is a gift from God which must be protected at all cost."
In a collection of papers entitled "The New Antisemitism?" published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Professor Robert Wistrich states that while we should make a distinction between mainstream Muslim and radical Islamists, Jihad, like the Crusades or the Inquisition for Christianity, is not a mere aberration but rooted in Islamic doctrines that have yet to be reformed .Islam is programmed for victory, writes Wistrich, its religious institutions were predicated upon the attainment of imperial power. Citing the ‘Sword Verse’ of the Koran in which Mohammed instructs his followers to ‘kill the polytheists (non believers) wherever he finds them, Wistrich maintains that extremist Muslim preachers in Britain have revived and radicalized those verses which can be made to justify the unspeakable. As a result, he concludes, Islamists are now a danger to everyone, to Jews, to Christians, to themselves and to Muslims in general. "Islamist fascists have managed to turn all of us – Americans, British, Israelis, Europeans, Jews, Christians, atheist and fellow Muslims into potential targets of their death cult, built as it is on massive indoctrination and paranoid hatred.

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