British police arrested the notorious Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary on Thursday in a counter-terrorism raid. Choudary is the former spokesman for the extremist group, Al-Muhajiroun, which the government banned and says has reinvented itself under various names.
In total, nine men are being held on suspicion of being members of the group and encouraging terrorism. Choudary has long been regarded by the government as one of the most high-profile radical Islamists in Britain. According to The Guardian, Choudary has maintained that he has neither incited nor glorified acts of terrorism.
Several observers say media hyping over the years of Choudary and al-Muhajiroun has proved an excellent recruiting tool for racist political groups like the British National Party and others with a history of anti-Muslim bigotry. They say the small crowds al-Muhajiroun events manage to draw speaks to the notion that the group is unrepresentative of British Muslims, not as influential as presumed and are, in fact, harming British Muslim communities.
“The problem for Muslims generally is that groups like Al-Muhajiroun, which revel in negative publicity and lace their rhetoric with anti-Semitism, homophobia and calls for jihad, have dominated the public representation of Islam. Their presence in a town can be devastating. In Luton, the local ‘branch’ of Al-Muhajiroun attracted national headlines in October 2001 after two men from the town, who had gone to fight for the Taliban, had been killed in a US bombing raid on Kabul. Al-Muhajiroun, which has just six members in Luton, organised a ‘demonstration’ in memory of the two. Although only ten people turned up, racism against all the town’s 20,000 Muslims increased. Once again, the majority was forced to suffer for the actions of a tiny minority because of a lazy racism that lumps all Muslims together. Soon afterwards the leader of Luton’s Al-Muhajiroun, known as ‘Shahed’, was beaten up in the street by ‘moderate’ Muslims and warned off continuing any activities in the town”
UK-based advocacy group HOPE not hate has long pointed to al-Muhajiroun as a group responsible for promoting radicalism and hate. HOPE not hate researchers have “identified 75 British citizens who have been convicted of terrorism or terrorist-related offences over the last 15 years who have been through al-Muhajiroun or one of its front groups.”
“We welcome these arrests,” HOPE not hate chief executive Nick Lowles wrote yesterday. “For over a year, since our own extensive investigations into Anjem Choudary and his disciples, we’ve been saying that more must be done to curb this hate-supporting and recruiting organisation.”
Last year HOPE not hate produced the Gateway to Terror report, which claimed that more than 80 convicted terrorists and bombers were linked to al-Muhajiroun and argued that its network across Europe was the single largest recruiter sending fighters to Syria.
According to the group’s website, “The HOPE not hate campaign was founded in 2004 to provide a positive antidote to the politics of hate. The British National Party (BNP) was winning substantial votes and local councillors in our northern towns and traditional anti-racism and anti-fascism was failing.”