Doctrine of collective guilt is the wrong way forward

Hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Leon Neal / AFP
Hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Leon Neal / AFP

Three significant developments, two of them loosely related, in the struggle to overcome terrorism have captured attention in Britain and France. First came news that Kadiza Sultana, 17, one of three London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria in 2015 as “jihadi brides”, had been killed in a Russian air raid on Raqqa.

Then we learned that, after a secret trial, the UK judiciary had caught up with the dangerous rabble-rousing of Anjem Choudary, co-founder of the banned Al Muhajiroun group.

Described by the tabloid press as “Britain’s most notorious hate preacher”, he was convicted of inciting support for ISIL and faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

On the gravest assessment of Choudary’s impact, his sermons and public statements inspired beheadings and terrorist attacks as well as the defection of hundreds of British Muslims into ISIL’s ranks in Syria and Iraq.

Even less sensationalist coverage recounted his repeated declarations in support of jihad, refusals to condemn terrorist acts and links to the plotters of specific atrocities. For two decades, he kept a step ahead of the law.

The connection between Choudary and Sultana’s doomed mission to join ISIL is circumstantial, but revealing.

Abase Hussen, the Ethiopian-born father of one of the two schoolmates with whom Kadiza travelled, has admitted that he took his daughter, then 13, to a 2012 rally led by Choudary and attended by Michael Adebowale, who only eight months later helped kill a British soldier, Lee Rigby, in a London street.

Although Mr Hussen says he was merely protesting about an anti-Islam film, he was close to where American flags were burnt, demonstrators chanted “burn, burn USA” and marchers paraded a banner warning that “the followers of Mohammed will conquer America”.

His defence is that he was exercising his own right to free speech. He claims he was pushed towards the front during the flag-burning. However, his participation in the rally shows him in a light very different from the image of the distraught father, clutching his errant daughter’s teddy bear while speaking to a parliamentary committee weeks after she ran away.

It is the sort of contrast that damages the interests of Islam in the West by fuelling public suspicion about the true beliefs of many who purport to oppose ISIL and radical activism.

In France, the authorities are waiting to question Mourad Hamyd, a brother-in-law of Cherif Kouachi, one of the perpetrators of the attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in January 2015. At the time, he condemned the killings as “barbaric” and insisted that he was an innocent student with moderate views. Now, with Bulgaria having agreed to extradite him to France after frustrating his attempt to go to Syria, it emerges he was on France’s list of extremist suspects.

The correct response to young Kadiza’s death is not “good riddance”, a phrase I have heard on some lips, but sympathy. What she did, in running off to join ISIL, was not mere truancy but stupid and criminal. Yet she was young and impressionable. If family accounts are correct, she soon saw her mistake but could not find a safe way back. These are serious mitigating factors and, while she would certainly have faced punishment had she managed to return, death would not have been among them.

“Throw away the key,” says someone I know of Choudary. No. Jail him for his offence but let Britain remain morally above ISIL and treat him with dignity.

It can sometimes seem as if that, when it comes to denouncing extremism, some Muslims in the West raise too timid a voice, no voice at all or – as in Mr Hussen’s case – an ambivalent one. They represent a small minority. The decent majority must not be expected to accept collective guilt. But it does deserve every encouragement to use whatever influence it can to prevent pain of the kind suffered by families like the Sultanas, those whose sons or daughters were turned into extremists by Choudary’s hideous teachings and society as a whole.

Colin Randall is a former executive editor of The National

Published: August 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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