Amid concern about Anjem Choudary’s release from prison, Ed Husain writes that the discourse of the Labour leadership is fuelling Islamist extremism

Writing in The Telegraph, Ed Husain says that the case of Anjem Choudary, the Islamist hate preacher who is due to be released from jail next month, demonstrates that the West “still has no answer to the Islamist ideal of the Caliphate”[1].

Husain argues that the liberal order of the UK is being exploited by extremists like Choudary, who might be temporarily removed from visibility through prison sentences, but eventually find their way back into public view where they continue to practice their dangerous form of activism. The numerous Islamist terrorist attacks of 2017, such as the two in Westminster, show that the threat from such extremism is not diminishing[2].

Husain also argues the extremism of Choudary and other like-minded extremists is propagated by the rhetoric of the Labour leadership. He writes, “Their narrative is built on attacking the West for its imperialism, casting capitalism as evil, opposing every Muslim government in the Middle East, calling for change and revolution and supporting terrorist movements that wish to remove the Jewish state from the Middle East. The violence is just a tactic to defend and progress a political aim”. The Labour leadership, he writes, agrees with their critique of the West, and while he notes that the two disagree on the solution to this (Corbyn offers socialism instead of Choudary’s utopia of the caliphate), he argues “this Red-Green alliance in our midst against the West and its allies is real and must be smashed”[3].

The rationale behind his argument is that both Islamist extremists and communists offer young people a dream of a new and better state, but history has shown that both of these states are shown by history to include “slavery, racism, mass murders and one-man tyranny”[4].

Husain appears to argue that such dreams are not needed because modern Britain, and the West generally, “is fully shariah compliant and Muslims can thrive as free citizens”. This is according to the definition of maqasid, the five higher aims of shariah as taught by great Islamic scholars such as al-Juwayni and al-Shatibi (“maintaining security, protecting the family, religious liberty, honouring the intellect and upholding private property”)[5].

In fact, Husain argues that it is the presence of such utopian visions which have made young British Muslims feel out of place in modern Britain today. He seems to imply that while Islamist ideologies try and draw young Muslims away from Britain, the Labour leadership acts as a push factor through “self-flagellating”; its criticism of the West, which Husain sees as in line with Sharia, pushes young Muslims to want to join the Islamist utopia of the caliphate[6].

He writes that condemning terrorism and the rejection of violence is not enough in the fight against extremism; “The real need is to reject the motivation and inspiration of Islamist terrorists: the craving for a caliphate or a government ruled by their version of shariah as law”. This involves those in the West demanding that “Muslim leaders openly reject any support of calls to create shariah as government policy here”. Through these demands, Western values of “human equality, individual liberty, democracy and the rule of law” will be protected. The critiquing of the West by those in the Labour leadership puts a spanner in the works of rejecting the totalitarianism of the caliphate, a rejection which is necessary for resisting and ending Islamist extremism[7].

Husain’s article has not garnered as much attention online expected, despite his rather bold claims about the Labour party. One Twitter user, Paul Slatter, did appear to defend condemnation of Western actions by the Labour leadership, saying, “If you think Corbyn abhors the West, its values and culture etc then perhaps you have a partial understanding of what those things are and mean? We don’t use standing up to terrorists or would-be tyrants as an excuse for becoming like them.”[8] As Slatter implies, criticism of foreign governments or the West itself, regardless of who speaks it, is more nuanced than the description of the motivations Husain gives for this in his article.

A key debate within the field of radicalisation also centres on the push factors that exist within Western society for those joining Islamist groups, these push factors being tangible socioeconomic factors and legitimate political grievances[9]. Thus there is potential for discourse which acknowledges these grievances as legitimate to be argued as a deradicalising factor because the need for resistance against the West is lessened when the West is listening to injustices. Whether or not one considers this valid, Husain’s article does fail to mention these political and socioeconomic factors which have been linked with extremism, appearing instead to dismiss any claims that Britain is anything other than a great place to live.

Husain’s argument lacks a given basis within literature on radicalisation, extremism, and terrorism and demonstrates a lack of nuance, serving it as contentious and divisive, rather than helpful.

There has however been a huge amount of wider debate around the release of Choudary, particularly concerning the risk that he and his followers may pose once he is out of jail[10].

During their active years, beginning in the early 2000s, Choudary and his followers, who were part of the now-banned group Al-Muhajiroun, aimed to convert people to Islam and radicalise them by promoting the idea of a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. Muslim councillors and MPs were among their targets. Al-Muhajiroun has reformed itself numerous times under different branding since being banned, with the security services cracking down on its offshoots and affiliates[11].

The government has said that Choudary will be constantly monitored by MI5 after his release but experts have warned that his release could worsen extremism among both Islamists and the far right as it could invigorate both his supporters and opponents. An increase in related activity among far-right groups like the English Defence League (EDL) has already been seen with the planning of protests and launching of petitions[12].

[1] Husain, 2018.

[2] Husain, 2018.

[3] Husain, 2018.

[4] Husain, 2018.

[5] Husain, 2018.

[6] Husain, 2018.

[7] Husain, 2018.

[8] Slatter, 2018.

[9] See Hassan, 2012, cited in Schmid, 2013, 26.

[10] Dearden, 2018b.

[11] Dearden, 2018a.

[12] Dearden, 2018a.

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Dearden, L. (2018a) ‘Anjem Choudary prison release could worsen both Islamist and far-right extremism, experts warn’. [online] 2 October. [Accessed 3 October 2018].

Dearden, L. (2018b) ‘Terrorists being released from UK prisons could ‘slip through net’ and carry out attacks, government warned’. [online] 23 September. [Accessed 3 October 2018].

Husain, A. (2018) ‘The West still has no answer to the Islamist ideal of the Caliphate – as the case of Anjem Choudary shows’. [online] 16 September. [Accessed 3 October 2018].

Schmid, A.P. (2013) ‘Radicalisation, De-Radicalisation, Counter-Radicalisation: A Conceptual Discussion and Literature Review’. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. 4(2). The Hague: International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.

Slatter, P. (2018) Tweet. [online] 16 September. [Accessed 3 October 2018].