Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Anjem Choudary exploits Norwegian tragedy to publicise his "Sharia Controlled Zones" for UK cities

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Posters declaring "Sharia Controlled
Zones" have appeared in parts
of east London
Anjem Choudary, the outspoken fundamentalist who has made a name for himself with such stunts as protesting against homecoming troops in Luton and proposing a march through the town of Wootton Bassett, took advantage of the recent murder of 96 people in Norway to hold a press conference last weekend, at which he outlined plans to introduce "Sharia Controlled Zones" in UK cities.

Speaking in Walthamstow, east London, at an event organised by his group Muslims Against Crusades (formerly the now-banned Islam4UK, which was formerly the now-banned Al Ghurabaa, which was formerly the now-banned Al Muhajiroun), Choudary and his associates announced the launch of their "Islamic Emirates Project" – a "campaign to bring the Sharia to the doorsteps of London, Paris, Brussels and Rome" that is "approved by leading scholars and jurists such as Shiekh Omar Bakri Muhammed". This campaign, the audience were told, is the "perfect reaction" to the 22 July attacks in Norway.

The video of the press conference is online, and I've embedded it below, but since it's over an hour long I'll summarise what was said. In outlining his proposal, Choudary explained that, since Muslims in the West can not integrate "into the alcohol, pornography, drugs, prostitution, thug life and loutish behaviour that the cities of Britain have become accustomed to", the "only option" is to "bring home here in Britain" the "authority that the Muslims have in Somalia, Southern Iraq and Afghanistan". This authority, explained Choudary, would involve "enclaves where the Muslims take control of the security and welfare of their own people", with the eventual aim of one day establishing "the Islamic Emirate" in Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world.

In order to achieve this, Muslims Against Crusades have announced the establishment of 25 "Sharia Controlled Zones" around the UK, in areas targeted by the government in their anti-extremism Prevent strategy (posters announcing their establishment have already appeared in some east London boroughs). In those areas, said Choudary, his supporters will set about "encouraging awareness of Islam among the Muslims and non-Muslims" and "educating the Muslims to make sure they struggle to implement the Sharia wherever they are". Muslim residents will the encouraged to live in "enclaves, where they will trade with each other, resolve their disputes according to the Sharia, and protect and defend each other".

Exactly how the group intends to enforce this system became clearer when the press conference was opened to questions, and one journalist asked whether the plans amount to the formation of vigilante groups in the target areas. Choudary responded with the following:
"Groups have been formed and are patrolling in the streets in Tower Hamlets and Whitechapel, as well as Waltham Forest, Cardiff, Luton, Derby, Birmingham and other parts of Britain. Going up and down the streets taking the youth away from drugs, alcohol and thug life culture, sometimes even forcing them to throw the alcohol and drugs and bringing them into the institutions and telling them about Islam as the solution for their problems. If we can forcefully change any evil on the streets, if that is within our capability, we will do so.

Sadly much of the evil is linked with the government, so you can not stop the sale of alcohol unless you change the regime. Whereas thinks like drugs, crack, heroin etc are already forbidden by the government, therefore it is within our ability to change these things on our streets and even to drive prostitution out of our areas and to clean up the streets, basically in accordance with what we believe."
Asked whether he might be accused of setting up his own police force, Choudary responded:
"Yes, I think that is the case. There's nothing wrong with having our own police force. If the police are raiding and arresting us, harassing us on the streets ... if we are going to be living under the anarchy type of system, we need some sort of order and we will bring that. ... It is a fifth column and we will rise up one day and implement the Sharia."
All this, of course, is in many ways utterly preposterous. The atheist author Sam Harris tweeted the video to his 33,000 followers, suggesting it contains "a few reasons to worry" about the future of Islam in Europe. I have to say I disagree. Muslims Against Crusades are a fringe group accustomed to garnering disproportionate publicity through shock-stunts, and as such the "Sharia Controlled Zones" campaign should be viewed in a similar light to the aborted plan to march through Wootton Bassett in response to the respect shown by the town's residents during the repatriation of service members killed in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Choudary's brazen attempt to exploit the atrocity in Norway for his own benefit should not be allowed to pass unnoticed. The fact that an Islamist extremist such as Choudary would use the actions of a far-right extremist in Norway as an opportunity to announce plans designed to sow discord among Muslims and non-Muslims (something that Anders Breivik might well approve of) highlights the manner in which multicultural communities in Britain are threatened by extremism on both sides.

On 3 September, the far-right English Defence League will stage a march through the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. Given that Tower Hamlets has one of the largest Muslim populations in Britain, this march is clearly intended to provoke, and it's hard not to draw parallels with the 1936 fascist march on the East End, which took place at a time when the area had a large Jewish population. While Tower Hamlets must contend with the EDL, it is also a focal point for the efforts of Anjem Choudary, and it is one of the areas where "Sharia Controlled Zone" posters have already appeared. When I spoke to Sam Tarry of the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate for my recent report on the demonisation of  Muslims, he told me he believes there is "a symbiotic relationship" between the EDL and groups like Muslims Against Crusades, with each requiring the other in order to survive.

Watching this video of Choudary proposing Sharia for the UK, this relationship becomes particularly clear – Muslims Against Crusades cite far-right extremism as the rationale for their campaign, and in turn the far-right will cite videos such as this as a reason for their own campaign against the perceived "Islamicisation" of Europe (the two groups even use the same terminology, with Choudary expressing a desire to establish "Eurabia" is the video). By actively rejecting the extremism of both sides, the majority can help threaten the very existence of groups like the EDL and Muslims Against Crusades.

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