In light of the recent conviction of Anjem Choudary for support of Da’esh (the Islamic State), debate has once again been stirred up about his notorious decades of hate speech preaching, the public platforms he was able to occupy and the airtime he commandeered. In particular, questions have been raised in reference to the criminal law system’s ability to respond effectively to such activities and the purported tolerance of Muslim Communities to Choudary’s words.
The following note summarises a series of conversations held with Muslim community activists.
The current debate over Anjem Choudary has missed an opportunity to hold the media to account for the role it has played in promoting his divisive rhetoric in a bid to boost ratings and sell newspapers. The current media climate has created a sense of mutual anxiety and distrust between Muslims and non-Muslims without the necessary appreciation that the vast majority of Muslims in the UK are opposed to terrorism, and continue to do a great deal of positive work within their communities which decrease their vulnerability to it. There is however, no appetite in the media to broadcast that, instead the focus is on salacious stories that influence a recurring cycle in which Muslims are in some way foreign, ‘the Other’ or 5th columnists trying to destroy the British way of life.
For many communities the media has perpetuated an agenda in which the only dominant Muslim voices are ones talking about terrorism, policing or security. The emphasis of engagement remains focused on listening to those claiming to represent certain communities, rather than the communities themselves. Muslim voices continue to be sanctioned by their ability to talk about terrorism, rather than talking about their equally useful perspectives on community cohesion, health, infrastructure or education.
It will be interesting to follow his developments in Prison and plans to segregate him, although there are much wider and under-reported issues at play. Many communities live within a context of socio-economic deprivation, with a lack of access to opportunities for personal development, education, skills and facing issues with housing and employment. In prison there is a lack of quality Imams which can represent the religious diversity within the Muslim inmate community. Therefore, many questions about religion and identity go unanswered for inmates, for example, some participants on Forward Thinking’s UK ‘Building Bridges’ Programme have mentioned that Salafi Somali inmates in some of North London’s prisons do not engage with Deobandi imams. The situation is worse still for female Muslim inmates who, when leaving prison, are completely shunned by community elders, family and loved ones.
We may well need a more intelligent approach to criminal law, which does not infringe upon our rights in combatting hate speech. However, I think an easier way is ensuring that Muslim communities, and youth in particular, are equipped to deal with rhetoric critically, but also ensuring that when the next Choudary comes along that the media do not clamor to give him airtime.
Jordan Morgan, Research and Development Officer