How sincere is Hassan Butt?

The last couple of weeks there has been a controversy over a new book being co-written by Hassan Butt, former al-Muhajiroun activist and self-proclaimed terrorist fixer and fundraiser, and the British writer and “journalist” Shiv Malik. The two were hoping to tell the world about Butt’s exploits in Pakistan after the 9/11 atrocities; the police had other ideas, and demanded that Malik hand over the unfinished manuscript. Nick Cohen hailed the two as “persecuted peacemakers” in this article for the Observer the Sunday before last. Some of us, however, are not so convinced by Butt’s turn-around.

As with another of the recently “reformed” former Islamists, Shiraz Maher, the order in which Butt made his career moves invites suspicion. Butt claims to have been in Pakistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, arranging the secure transit of men across the Afghan border in order to fight and helping “hundreds” of British recruits get training. After his name started “popping up in intelligence agencies” (hardly - he was a well-known al-Muhajiroun activist), he returned to Manchester and proceeded to raise between £8,000 and £9,000 per month and transfer it via the hawala system to Pakistan. He boasts, in the BBC Newsnight video linked to this report, that those who gave him the money knew exactly what it would be used for.

And then, like Shiraz Maher, after the 2005 London bombings, he got cold feet. Suddenly he realised that “the jihadi network was not killing for the sake of Islam, it was killing for the sake of causing terror and causing havoc”. Surely one would have known this by the winter of 2001 what the people Butt claimed to have been helping were capable of doing? This rather reminds me of a Japanese weapons dealer supplying nerve agent to Saddam Hussain, then getting a fit of conscience when some nuts deploy it on the Tokyo underground system (I know this did not happen; it is just my analogy). The 2005 bombings, compared to 9/11, were bog standard. The idea that someone could tolerate 9/11 but not a few IRA-style bombs around London is laughable.

I do not suspect that Hassan Butt was a plant all along, although I admit that it is possible. I do wonder if it would have been possible to raise funds for terrorists, or for people fighting the foreign troops in Afghanistan, after the 9/11 attacks, in the UK while British troops were fighting there. If anything about the 2005 bombings caused a change in Hassan Butt’s mind, it was that any tolerance for such activities or attitudes would have quickly run out. Tony Blair announced that Hizbut-Tahreer and al-Muhajiroun would be banned, and the latter group and some of its successor groups were indeed banned. Meanwhile, the community turned against them as resentment grew over the media’s attendance to Omar Bakri’s rantings and their hijackings of other Muslims’ demonstrations.

I do not know either how sincere Hassan Butt is in the present stage of his career or how sincere he was in the previous. If he was genuinely a Muslim extremist reformed into a moderate, one wonders why he did not talk to genuine moderate Muslims rather than to Shiv Malik, who is well-known to have a bee in his bonnet about HT. There is a good reason why Muslims distrust the “Ed” Husain gang of so-called reformed extremists: it is because they cling to secular journalists and play on their sympathies while brushing off the Muslims’ criticisms of their stories. However, if Hassan Butt really was what he said he was, it is hardly surprising that the police want to know what he did, who he did it with, and when, rather than waiting for the information to hit the news-stands first.

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