Andy versus Maajid

I just watched the online copy of last night’s “discussion” between Anjum “Andy” Choudhary of al-Muhajiroun (which will no doubt have a new name by the end of this week, as the government has decided to ban them under anti-terrorism laws) and Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation. This follows a familiar pattern of pitting Choudhary against people who are the opposite end of the spectrum from him in the expectation that the audience will see sparks flying even if they don’t hear much of what’s said as they both talk over each other. A few years ago, they did the same (after the “no-go area” nonsense in Leyton) with another member of that group up against Saira Khan from The Apprentice on Radio 2. This time, the host was Jeremy Paxman and the venue was Newsnight, on BBC2.

Maajid Nawaz supported the government’s decision to ban Islam4UK and al-Muhajiroun (they are already banned as “The Saved Sect” and “Al-Ghurabaa”) on the grounds that several members of the group are in prison for terrorist offences and many of those known to have carried out terrorist attacks had “links” to them. He questioned Choudhary over how much he got in benefits from the state, after Choudhary mentioned the Quilliam Foundation’s government funding, then demanded to know whether he would be put to death in Choudhary’s idea of an Islamic state. He didn’t give a straight answer, but alleged that Maajid had left Islam by joining an organisation which had taken sides against the Muslims, and thus he already knew the answer to the question. Choudhary claimed never to have met Maajid who countered that he had in fact been his solicitor in a murder trial in the 1990s.

Maajid said that he had opposed the government’s intention to ban Hizbut-Tahrir, but supported the ban on Choudhary’s group because of its close links to “terror”. However, it just so happens that the decision to ban it comes less than a week after the controversy over their intention to march through Wootton Bassett, and not after any new revelations about terrorist connections. The decision to ban them has just brought them more publicity, and publicity is what this group has always thrived on; there cannot be many leaders of political movements this tiny — unless they do really significant things, like kill people for their cause — who get invited onto major news programmes like Newsnight. Just today, the Evening Standard opined (HT: Islamophobia Watch) that this ban will be to Choudhary’s delight, calling his group “a benefit claimants’ exercise in macho fantasy and a prop for his own ego”. Islamophobia Watch noted, however, that the Standard had published its own fair share of dramatic al-Muhajiroun stories (they list some of them), so it remains to be seen whether the paper will take its own advice regarding giving the group publicity.

Besides, whatever the apparent “connections” between members of al-Muhajiroun and various terrorist actions, it seems to have become unnecessary to actually prove that they encouraged them to do it, or personally told the perpetrators that it was acceptable (though, given their public pronouncements, that may have happened), let alone that they organised any of it. It seems to have become sufficient that “people don’t like them” for them to be banned. All they are known to be guilty of is a few vexatious public demonstrations, one of which laughably landed a few of those involved public order convictions yesterday, under one of Britain’s notorious catch-all “breach of the peace” laws. If these people’s antics were ignored, they would go away pretty quickly, which is what a lot of the Muslims of my acquaintance want them to do.

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