” Trial Of Anjem Choudary, Defending Rights Of Extremists & Quandary Of Freedom Of Speech”
By Duncan Pike
“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels,”wrote H.L. Mencken. “For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”
Mencken dealt with a considerable cast of charlatans and rabble-rousers in his own day, but he could have been thinking of someone exactly like Anjem Choudary when he made his remark. Choudary, a British Islamist cleric, made the news recently when he was charged and taken into custody for “inviting support” for the Islamic State “in individual lectures which were subsequently published online.” After several delays, his trial is scheduled to begin March 7.
Choudary is in the news a lot, in fact, and as ‘scoundrels’ go has few contemporary equals. He is a familiar figure in the British media; well-spoken and self-assured, he frequently appears on television and gives interviews to argue in support of ISIS and other extreme Islamist causes. He has mastered the art of gaining publicity through statements and actions carefully calculated to incite outrage and inspire sensationalistic tabloid headlines.
Choudary has called the September 11 hijackers “magnificent martyrs,” and stated that non-Muslims cannot, by definition, be considered innocent: “When we say ‘innocent people,’ we mean Muslims—as far as non-Muslims are concerned they have not accepted Islam and as far as we are concerned that is a crime against God.” As for permissible tactics when confronting such ‘criminals,’ Choudary is unequivocal: “Terrorizing the enemy is, in fact, part of Islam,” he told Russia Today. “This is something that we must embrace and understand as far as the jurisprudence of jihad is concerned.”
Choudary has a flair for touching off gratuitous media spectacles and earning mass attention with little more than a press release. In 2010, Choudary announced that his group, Islam4UK, would march through the town of Wootton Bassett carrying hundreds of coffins, symbolizing Afghani Muslims who were “killed for political mileage and for the greedy interests of the oppressive US and UK regimes.” Wootton Bassett had previously obtained a degree of reverence in the UK as the site of solemn and well-attended funeral processions for British soldiers killed in the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—similar to Canada’s “Highway of Heroes.” This was so perfectly crafted to spark outrage that one can almost admire the skill involved. Islam4UK was furiously condemned by groups across the political spectrum, as well as by many Muslim organizations, with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling the plans “abhorrent and offensive.” In the end, the march never went ahead: Choudary had already gained maximum media coverage, the point of the exercise.
Some might understandably read all of this and think, pace Mencken, that what we have here is something far worse than a mere scoundrel. And indeed, while Choudary has never been accused of direct involvement in acts of violence, he has unquestionably influenced some who have. One of the murderers of British Army soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 was formerly a member of Choudary’s Al-Muhajiroun extremist organization, and was reportedly heavily influenced by Choudary’s preaching. Likewise, a 2011 report by the Henry Jackson Society found 25 terrorism convictions between 1999 and 2010 were connected to Al-Muhajiroun, the precursor to Islam4UK.
As Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, told me, “[Choudary’s] followers have been involved in most of the major plots in the UK, including the attempt to do a Mumbai-style attack on the London Stock Exchange.”
Still, and to be perfectly clear, Choudary is not being charged with planning terrorist attacks, raising money for a terrorist organization or even the nebulous crime of ‘inciting violence.’ He is being charged with expressing a political opinion. The charges come under Section 12 of the UK’s 2000 Terrorism Act, which states that a person commits an offence if he “invites support for a proscribed organisation” or “addresses a meeting and the purpose of his address is to encourage support for a proscribed organisation or to further its activities.”
posted by f. sheikh