We’ve all heard by now about how the Home Secretary, John Reid, was heckled by Omar Brookes (Abu Izzaddeen) (, ) when he went to address Muslims in Leyton, east London, yesterday (he also turned up on the Today programme the following day; see here and here). Abu Izzadeen is a former member of al-Muhajiroun who was close to Omar Bakri, then wound up in one of the successor groups until it was banned, and now seems to operate with the same, now nameless, group of people. Brookes shouted at Reid, demanding to know how dare he come to a “Muslim area” when over 1,000 Muslims have been arrested. He told the Muslims present that when the police came, they would not say “as-salaamu ‘alaikum”, but kick their doors down when they were in bed with their wives, and that Reid was a tyrant and an enemy of Islam and the Muslims.
He was removed, but later in the meeting Reid was also interrupted by (who else?) Anjem Chaudhary, who insisted that Muslims didn’t need British values when they had Islam, which was superior. He was also ushered out. This morning, on the Vanessa Feltz show on BBC London radio, much discussion was given to the straw man that Brookes asked how dare he come to a Muslim area, without mentioning the context, namely that 1,000 Muslims had been arrested (Melanie Phillips repeated the same straw man on her blog). Thus, the discussion was side-tracked onto the non-issue of Leyton, or other places Muslims live, becoming no-go areas for outsiders which, in all fairness (and I have no time for him, Chaudhary and their gang), is not what Brookes was suggesting at all. (It was also suggested that Brookes changed his name to Abu Izzadeen; the latter is, in fact, a nickname meaning the father of Izzadeen.)
This afternoon Chaudhary turned up on the Jeremy Vine show (you can listen here this week, but it’s a long way into the show), a two-hour show at mid-day on BBC Radio 2 in which there is some discussion of the day’s news and less frequent music. Vine interviewed him along with Saira Khan, a one-time contestant on the BBC TV series, The Apprentice, who was offered a job by Alan Sugar despite not winning the competition (but turned it down). Vine introduced her as a businesswoman and “moderate Muslim”, but anyone who reads Ms Khan’s website will realise exactly what “moderate” means in this case.
The interview quickly degenerated into a personal slanging match, with Chaudhary alleging that the media were very apt at getting non-practising Muslims to represent “moderate” Islam. He generally cast aspersions on Khan’s level of practice, suggesting that she drank alcohol and speculating that she did not know how to wash herself properly, suggesting that she was not a Muslim but rather a fasiqa (sinful person) on account of, among other things, her half-naked appearance (did anyone else think they heard Chaudhary say this - a fasiqa rather than a Muslim?). Khan said that people did not have the right to judge who was a Muslim and who wasn’t, that if Chaudhary did not like this country he should get out, that there are five pillars of Islam and that she practised all of them, and that John Reid was right.
In a sense, though, Chaudhary was right about the people the media bring on to represent Islam. Here, they set up an interview with the two extremes of “British Islam”: a rabble-rousing spokesman for a well-known fringe political group, and a TV personality of south Asian origin who isn’t a shining example of Islam even though she may well do her prayers (elsewhere, equally unrepresentative “progressives” with disdain for the traditions of Islam, along with outright apostates as Abu Sinan observes, are cast as “moderate Muslims”). This was bound to result in some fireworks, because Saira Khan is not what most religious Muslims would recognise as one of their own, much less someone as hardline in their positions as Chaudhary is. There are numerous religious Muslims who oppose the antics of people like Chaudhary and Brookes who could well give a religious objection to it and perhaps even have a civilised discussion, rather than insulting speculation on someone’s washing habits.
Perhaps the reason is that some of these religious Muslims would not have given uncritical acceptance of Reid’s stance, which is what the BBC might have been looking for. Osama Saeed noted yesterday that a lot of parents, far from allowing their children to get involved in extremist groups, forbid their children from getting involved in politics at all; I would add that there are really no tell-tale signs of actual involvement in extremist groups other than spouting their rhetoric or continually associating with them. “Manic” at Bloggerheads offered a load of other so-called tell-tale signs, which some people, with hindsight, remember seeing in people they knew who turned to extremism. The problem, of course, is that “signs” you saw in your friend or relative might not mean the same thing when they appear in someone else.
Saira Khan isn’t the best of representatives for “moderate Islam” but Anjem Chaudhary is no representative for the community at all. He speaks for a tiny, and dwindling, minority of uncouth extremists who have changed their positions at least twice in the past decade. (I remember Omar Bakri being advertised in south London as a Shafi’i scholar; in 2004, not long before they disbanded, his Muhajiroun “came out” as Salafis.) Their display outside Westminster cathedral revealed them as antisocial, ignorant idiots - our answer to the scummy ASBO yobs who make a nuisance of themselves on certain estates (and even town centres), intimidating and offending elderly people. Until he sloped off to Lebanon, one of Omar Bakri’s ludicrous utterances after another were given front-page treatment by various newspapers and by the BBC, and other fringe figures were invited onto such shows as BBC Radio 4’s Today (particularly when Rod Liddle was in charge). These people are as significant as they are only because they are indulged by the media; their media profile is not matched by a similar standing in the community. The problem is that their demands are often seen by the public as “these Muslims’ demands” when they are in fact the demands of a very small group.
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