Anjem Choudary is not Gerry Adams
In the wake of last week’s Woolwich stabbing, there have been renewed calls to ban “hate preachers” from appearing on TV, most notably Anjem Choudary, the leader of al-Muhajiroun. Muslims, including myself, have for years called for him (and Omar Bakri before him) not to be given the oxygen of publicity, because he has only a tiny following and his stunts are almost always harmful to the Muslim community he purports to represent, yet he was presented as the voice of radical Islam to the nation, mostly by the right-wing tabloids. This week, two high-profile voices have been raised against banning him from TV: first Jack Straw, who compared the idea to the “IRA broadcasting ban” of the 1980s (which was easily circumvented by having an actor read the words of a Sinn Fein politician, usually Gerry Adams), and today David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who said on the BBC’s PM programme last night on Radio 4, that “it’s important to give these people a hard time and to expose to the audience the sort of things they have been saying when they have not been wearing a tie in the television studio”. (You can hear the programme here until next Wednesday.)
To be clear, Anjem Choudary is not Gerry Adams and al-Muhajiroun is not Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein are a political party and it has had members of Parliament for decades, and the broadcasting ban of the 1980s covered representatives of political parties linked to terrorist organisations when they were talking about the ‘struggle’. (It did not cover them talking about other issues, such as housing or education.) Broadcasters used actors to voice their words to circumvent the ban because they deemed it important to hear what the representative of a large section of Northern Ireland’s Catholic population had to say. The ban did not, of course, affect the press which can only ever relay someone’s words in writing. Anjem Choudary’s organisation is tiny, it is not conclusively linked to any known terrorist organisation (even if a number of convicted terrorists have rubbed shoulders with them at one point or another) and they represent nobody but themselves.
Furthermore, it is not their appearances on the TV that are damaging, but their appearances in the press, which have on a number of occasions been made into front-page news which is out of all proportion to their size and importance. Rather like the notorious Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, they are media junkies who pull offensive stunts for the cameras and for the press, often at the expense of other Muslim organisations who were holding their own demonstration (such as one at the US embassy in 2007 or so) when al-Muhajiroun turned up with their banners and slogans and their ‘contribution’ was reported but the rest of the demonstration was not. The EDL appeared purely because of an al-Muhajiroun stunt in 2009 in Luton. Admittedly, this did not require media coverage for locals to know about it, but the word spread beyond Luton because of it, gave fuel to anger over a tiny incident involving about 20 people, and helped found a group of violent white racist extremists which persists to this day.
The comment about “exposing what they say when they’re not wearing a tie in the studio” is nonsense, because you can’t do that when they’re in a TV interview. However, the issue is not that their actions are ever exposed but that they are exposed in proportion to their importance, which is minimal. Both broadcasters and the press report on them as if they are an important strand in Muslim thinking rather than a small group, a rump of a once much bigger movement, which pulls offensive stunts and ruins other Muslims’ demonstrations. There would not be talk about censorship or broadcasting bans if the media had reported factually and honestly about their antics; their failure to do so has had serious consequences, not only for Muslims but for the police and anyone else the EDL’s hooligans choose to menace.
As al-Muhajiroun are a banned organisation, their members should be subjected to legal actions including injunctions not to appear at named demonstrations where their appearance could cause a disturbance (for whatever good this will do now that the EDL has arisen because of them). Rather than talk of banning “non-violent extremists”, almost certainly a cover for Hizbut-Tahrir (which has been conspicuously absent from the debate recently, but has been a focus of previous talk of such bans) and the Muslim Brotherhood, the EDL should be banned, as it is a violent organisation which actively menaces and intimidates a named minority but clearly includes open racists (who speak from the podium and their demonstration and receive applause) and which make people afraid to walk around their own city. No group should ever be able to do this in a free society and it should be stopped before somebody gets killed.
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