Monday, 27 January 2014

Dark Age Religions

Tony Blair had an opinion piece in the Observer yesterday in which he argued that religious extremism has become the biggest source of conflict around the world.

Now I agree with that assessment and as I've said on the blog site many times before political change is possible without people resorting to violence and terrorism - as the Civil Rights struggle in America and the Anti-Apartheid campaign in South Africa proved.

But you can't make that point too often in my view, so here are a couple of previous posts from the blog site which challenge those who would take us back to the dark ages - if they had their way.    

Dark Ages Debate (21 December 2013)

I don't have any problem with the BBC's Today programme debating issues with hate-filled Jihadist allowance seekers like Anjem Choudary - in fact I think there should be more of it and more Muslim voices invited to explain why this man does not represent  the views of Muslims in the UK.

I am not a religious person in anyway, but I have lots of family and friends who do possess religious beliefs - so live and let live, I say.

My only 'red line' with religion is that it should be kept separate from the state and be denied the power to control people's lives - as it has in Christian countries down the ages (until relatively recently) and as Islam does in certain Muslim countries, where religious and other secular minorities continue to be persecuted ruthlessly.

So more the more discussion the better as far as I'm concerned - because Anjem Choudary and his ilk have been hiding in the dark all the years, as far as the wider public is concerned, and its high time their views were challenged by the mainstream media - and not just by the Daily Mail.       

BBC's Today programme criticised for giving airtime to radical cleric

Anjem Choudary declined to condemn killers of soldier Lee Rigby during debate on Radio 4 show

By Josh Halliday - The Guardian

Anjem Choudary, former leader of the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA

The BBC is under fire for inviting the radical cleric Anjem Choudary on to a Radio 4 Today programme debate about the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby.

The corporation was accused of lending a platform to a "hateful extremist" when it featured Choudary alongside Lord Carlile in a discussion about radicalisation, following the conviction on Thursday of Rigby's killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.

The debate triggered strong criticism on Twitter, including from the Independent columnist Owen Jones, who said: "Why do media keep giving a platform to Anjem Choudary, a hateful extremist who doesn't speak for British Muslims, other than to troll us?"

The Jewish Chronicle editor, Stephen Pollard, said: "Really, what is the point of giving an attention-seeking maniac like Choudary the one thing he wants – attention?"

The BBC has faced criticism in the past for inviting Choudary, a former leader of the proscribed group al-Muhajiroun, on to its topical discussion programmes.

Both Adebolajo, 29, and Adebowale, 22, had ties to al-Muhajiroun and were frequently seen at its demonstrations in London. Adebowale was seen at a al-Muhajiroun-linked demonstration outside the US embassy as recently as September 2012.

The Metropolitan police has said it monitors Choudary's public comments for potential breaches of the law.

When asked by the Today presenter John Humphrys whether he condemned the killings, Choudary said: "I think that to talk about condemnation or to talk about how we feel is not the most important question now, and I'm not going to go down that road. I think that what is important is to learn lessons from what has taken place.

"Whether you agree or disagree with what took place, you cannot predict the actions of one individual among a population of 60 million when the government is clearly at war in Muslim countries. I condemn those who have caused what has taken place on the streets of London, and I believe that the cause of this is David Cameron and his foreign policy."

Carlile, the government's former anti-terrorism adviser, told the programme: "Mr Choudary is a demagogue, he doesn't like the United Kingdom, he doesn't believe in democracy. He wouldn't be allowed to say what he has said in almost any other country in the world, including Muslim countries.

"I think he is an outrageously bad influence on young Muslims in this country. I think he offends the law-abiding Muslim community that is proud to be British and I think we now need to hear much more from the Muslim community – particularly from young leaders in the Muslim community – about how they condemn his actions.

Imran Awan, a criminologist and expert on terrorism and extremism, said: "My view is that it's almost like a continuous narrative – I'm not sure if it's to do with piquing their audience – but I think he fuels everything that is anti-British. In a way many people believe he is one of the key links to radicalising young people and, if he is one of those people, it is giving him the oxygen of publicity he so badly craves."

Awan, a lecturer at Birmingham City University, said he felt uncomfortable with Choudary using the collective "we" in his interview. "That I found uncomfortable because it implies he's talking for us, myself as a Muslim and the law-abiding Muslim community. He doesn't speak for myself or the law-abiding Muslim community."

He added: "As a Muslim and as a criminologist the whole idea is trying to counter the extremist narrative and you can genuinely do that – but inviting people like him on the show all you do is give him a platform."

Referring to a separate story about two students who were forced to cover up clothing featuring a cartoon depiction of the prophet Muhammad, the broadcaster Samira Ahmed said on Twitter: "UK's free speech confusion: LSE apologises over clamping down on T-shirts followed by Anjem Choudary happily stirring thing ups few mins later."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We have given great consideration to our reporting of the Woolwich murder and the subsequent trial, and carried a wide range of views from across the political and religious spectrums. We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on why it happened."

"We believe it is important to reflect the fact that such opinions exist and feel that Choudary's comments may offer some insight into how this crime came about. His views were robustly challenged by both the presenter, John Humphrys and by Lord Carlile, the government's former anti-terrorism adviser."

Hate Crimes (21 February 2013)

Every so often the The Mail group of newspapers comes up with a good story - which seem to get ignored by other parts of the press and media.

Maybe it's because The Mail  is seldom even-handed or measured - and seems completely obsessed with stories about benefits cheats, immigration and Princess Diana. 

But that doesn't mean the newspaper is incapable of locking on to a big story - on something that really matters - when it sees an opportunity.

The other day The Mail reported on a Muslim preacher - Anjem Choudary - whom the paper  describes as a 'hate preacher' who pockets £25,000 a year in benefits - while campaigning to bring Shariah law to the UK.

Apparently, Anjem Choudary has been recorded telling his followers to claim benefits as part of their struggle - a 'Jihadseeker's Allowance', if you like -  rather than the normal 'Jobseeker's Allowance'.

The Mail goes on to say that Choudary told a small crowd of around 30 fanatics: 

"People will say, 'Ah, but you are not working'. But the normal situation is for you to take money from the kuffar (non-Muslim).

So we take Jihadseeker's Allowance. You need to get support."

Anjem Choudary went on to say - according to the newspaper - that David Cameron (the British Prime Minister), Barack Obama (the American President) and the leaders of Pakistan and Egypt - should all be killed.

Now presumably all of this is recorded and reported accurately - in which case the evidence should surely be a matter for the police to pursue.

Because it all reminded me of the time - some years ago - when the author Fay Weldon bravely intervened in a TV discussion programme demanding to know why the police were not arresting the former singer Cat Stevens - now known as Yusuf Islam.

The coward Cat was put on the spot but so too was a senior police officer who was sitting at the discussion table with Fay Weldon - who demanded to know why the police didn't get off their backsides and arrest the former pop star for inciting violence - and promoting a hate crime.

To my mind that's exactly what should happen to Anjem Choudary - and just because it's The Mail that's raising the issue shouldn't be an excuse for the rest of the press and media - to look the other way.  

Here's a YouTube link to the moment when Fay Weldon stands up for human decency - and a separate clip of Salman Rushdie putting Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) - firmly in his place.        

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

Salman Rushdie