Last weekend the Sunday Telegraph (“‘Asbos’ to silence 25 hate clerics”) and the Daily Mail (“Dozens of hate clerics face being silenced by new anti-terror Asbos”) reported that “security officials” had drawn up a list of 25 Muslim preachers on whom it was intended to serve the “Terror and Extremist Behaviour Orders” (Tebos) proposed by the government as a result of the recent report by its Extremism Taskforce, which was set up in the aftermath of the murder of Lee Rigby.
As the Mail explained, the Tebos would “bar people from preaching messages of terror and hate, associating with named individuals thought vulnerable to radicalisation, and from entering specific venues, such as mosques or community halls – in a similar manner to the orders used to ban yobs from certain areas”. The Mail quoted David Cameron as justifying such repressive measures on the grounds that “there are just too many people who have been radicalised at Islamic centres, who have been in contact with extremist preachers” – although of course neither Cameron nor his taskforce provided any evidence at all that preachers at Islamic centres played any role in motivating Lee Rigby’s killers.
Both newspaper reports named Haitham al-Haddad of the Muslim Research and Development Foundation as one of the “extremist preachers” who faces a ban, with the Telegraph bizarrely suggesting that Dr al-Haddad is even more of a threat than Anjem Choudary (though Choudary, interestingly, is not on the list of individuals who are to receive Tebos). The paper claimed that Dr al-Haddad had been “banned from speaking at the London School of Economics after the university’s Jewish society requested that his event be cancelled because of his allegedly hostile view towards Jews”, while the Mail assured its readers that Dr al-Haddad had “heaped praise on Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, after his death”.
Predictably, the witch-hunt against Dr al-Haddad was assisted by the Quilliam think tank, an organisation with a record of McCarthyite tactics towards mainstream figures in the Muslim community. Quilliam’s head of research, Usama Hasan, who has past form personally when it comes to witch-hunting Dr al-Haddad, accused him of using “fascist language about non-Muslims” and of preaching that “western values of gender-equality, democracy and freedoms of speech, expression and religion are incompatible with Islam”.
Haitham al-Haddad has published a reply to these reports on the MRDF’s Islam21c website, in which he objects that he has been “deliberately demonised and my public image distorted by various right-wing newspapers, blogs and think tanks to fit the profile of some sort of ‘hate preacher’”. He points out that he has never praised Osama bin Laden and has always condemned the late al-Qaeda leader’s views. Nor has he been banned from speaking at the LSE. A talk he was advertised to give there was postponed while accusations against him (made by the terrorism-supporting Zionist blog Harry’s Place, who suggested that al-Haddad might well be “the next Anwar Al Awlaki”) were investigated. Dr al-Haddad writes: “The investigation was conducted and I was cleared of all false accusations shortly thereafter. I have since then spoken twice at the LSE.” In response to Quilliam’s charges, he notes that “the prevailing consensus among Islamic scholars is not averse to democratic participation, women’s rights or respect for religious pluralism”.
Dr al-Haddad also makes the important point, which is worth emphasising, that the attack on himself is part of “a genuinely disturbing trend in the conflation by many Islamophobic commentators of socially conservative values with issues of national security and extremism in order to demonise Muslim scholars and speakers”. He notes that this is in stark contradiction to “a virtue much lauded in liberal democracies that citizens are free to hold the views they choose, within the law, whether such views cohere with majority or minority opinion”.
This liberal-democratic principle, evidently, is one that will be junked if the government continues on its intended course. As Dr al-Haddad argues, the aim of the Telegraph and Mail reports is apparently to “soften people up to the idea that Britain needs to curtail ‘lawful free speech’. Freedom of speech, expression and religious belief is a value that Britain has traditionally upheld. Its termination through agenda-driven government officials and a so-called taskforce, along with an apparently co-operative ‘free’-press is something everyone should be concerned with.”
If the government were genuinely interested in preventing further young Muslims being drawn to the violent extremist ideology embraced by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, it would be asking Islamic scholars like Haitham al-Haddad for advice, not proposing to ban them from mosques and Islamic centres. By choosing the latter option, the government will send out a message that preachers who urge the Muslim community to engage with mainstream politics – as Dr al-Haddad does – will be answered with slanders and suppression. This can only reinforce the arguments of the very violent extremists the government claims to be combating, who assert that Muslims in Britain will never get anywhere by pursuing peaceful political reform.
But what does David Cameron care? Advised by the right-wing Australian spin doctor Lynton Crosby, the Tory leadership is now gearing up for the 2015 general election, which they are clearly going to fight on the basis of whipping up fear against communities of recent migrant origin. Cracking down on those it misrepresents as hate-preachers fits right in with that strategy. Will the Labour Party leadership take a firm stand against the Tories’ divisive political tactics? On past experience, you’d have to be pessimistic about that.
‘Asbos’ to silence 25 hate clerics
By David Leppard and Richard Kerbaj
SECURITY officials have identified a network of 25 hate clerics who face being silenced under anti-extremism “Asbos” demanded by Downing Street.
The 25 are being targeted in an attempt to bar them from spreading ideological hatred at universities, mosques and other public places.
The new powers, which could be in place by the spring, would be similar to antisocial behaviour orders used by police and local councils to curb yobs.
“The intention is to explore legislation that might curtail their activities and stop people skirting around the current law and engaging in activity which in effect incites terrorism without breaking the law,” said a senior official.
One of those said by Whitehall sources to be the subject of scrutiny is Haitham al-Haddad, a controversial London-based Islamic scholar of Palestinian origin. He praised Osama bin Laden following the al-Qaeda leader’s death in 2011, saying he would enter paradise.
“He died as a Muslim and it is an established part of our Islamic creed that every Muslim, unlike the disbelievers, will eventually enter paradise,” Haddad wrote in May 2011, in an article entitled Advice to Muslims on the Death of Osama bin Laden.
The move against hate clerics follows the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, hacked to death outside Woolwich barracks in south London in May. His killers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were convicted of his murder at the Old Bailey last week.
Officials say that Anjem Choudary, a notorious hate preacher who is said to have influenced them, does not feature among the 25.
After the men were found guilty, Choudary said he was “very proud” of Adebolajo as “a practising Muslim and a family man”. He then blamed David Cameron for the murder of the fusilier.
Although Choudary is the subject of continued police scrutiny, security officials say that as a former solicitor he has been careful not to break the law. “There are plenty of others who sail closer to the border of legality than even he does,” says one security official.
Some are well known on the higher and further education circuit targeting institutions with many Muslim students.
“There are 25 we know about that operate as an informal network that know each other and collect and co-ordinate around some institutions, Islamist study centres and go to universities to talk,” said the official.
Haddad received most of his religious training in Saudi Arabia from some of the kingdom’s most conservative scholars, according to those familiar with his teachings.
Since 2006, the cleric has regularly been invited by Islamic societies to speak at universities around Britain, including University College London, the University of Westminster and Queen Mary University of London.
The Islamic society at Queen Mary was last week exposed by The Sunday Times for banning women from asking questions during a segregated Islamic event and asking them to put their queries down in writing.
Haddad also addressed a conference organised by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in 2009.
Last year he was banned from speaking at the London School of Economics after the university’s Jewish society requested that his event be cancelled because of his allegedly hostile view towards Jews.
Haddad is accused of preaching hatred against Jews and justifying terrorism against civilians as “collateral damage”. In an article in March 2012 he wrote that homosexuality “has been determined as a great evil and harm to society”.
Yesterday, he did not respond to a request for comment. However, he has previously denied making the claims about Jews.
Usama Hasan, a researcher with the Quilliam Foundation, the counter-extremism think tank, said he has made “many attempts to reason with him”.
Hasan said that “like all extreme Islamists, [he] uses fascist language about non-Muslims”.
“Haddad, who has a following of tens of thousands around Europe, wrongly preaches that western values of gender-equality, democracy and freedoms of speech, expression and religion are incompatible with Islam.
“He refuses to sit at the same table as women, and opposes men and women mixing in the workplace.”