When I heard that Anjem Choudary had been convicted yesterday (or rather it was revealed that he had been convicted last month, it struck me at first as an issue that I have actually had to wrestle with and needed some clarification on.
For those who don’t know who Anjem Choudarey is, he is a notorious British Salafist Muslim preacher and activist known for his advocacy of the implementation of sharia law in the UK and his demonstrations against Western civilization. He, along with Islamist cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad, founded such radical Islamic organizations as Al-Muhajiroun, Al Ghurabaa and Islam4UK, and was a prominent and divisive figure in the Islamic world who made many TV appearances. He was known to have spoken out in support of jihad as an obligation for Muslims to fulfill, and in 2014 he went so far as to pledge allegiance to ISIL and encourage others to do so – the latter of which to lead to him being arrested. He is seen as a hate preacher, and I don’t doubt that many people (especially people who are of a socially conservative disposition) wanted him banned. I also have no doubt there were and still are a lot of Muslims who distance themselves from Choudary and claim this man is an enemy of Islam – to which Choudary would probably respond by saying that it is in fact they who are the enemies of Islam.
What annoyed me was how the much of the mainstream media and Ella Whelan from Spiked looked at Choudary’s conviction and seemed to paint this as a free speech issue – that the man was arrested solely because of inciting and preaching “hate”. Him being a hate preacher, one who spews “bile and hate”, and the prospect of him being “gagged” and “shut up” is the primary focus of it for much of the media, to the point that is makes me think that the man was being convicted solely for hate speech. Don’t get me started on The Independent, which their “free speech has its limits” shit. That mantra almost had me defending Choudary. Ella Whelan from Spiked was just as bad, because on the day Choudary was convicted she talked about how censoring Choudary’s views was a bad thing, and the next day she appeared on a Sky News debate to talk about this from a pro-free speech lens.
But let me tell you what I have come to understand: this is not a free speech issue. Both the people who support freedom of speech and the people who thinking it should be curtailed are looking at the issue the wrong way. From what I have read, Choudary actually has a history of recruiting people and indoctrinating them. He recruited people to fight for Osama bin Laden. Al-Muhajiroun, one of his organizations, had been known to actually radicalize individuals who would then go out to commit, or attempt to commit, terrorist attacks. Examples include the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the dirty bomber Dhiren Barot, the 7/7 bombers, the Transatlantic Bomb plotter and the men who murdered Lee Rigby. Choudary also taught six of the nine men who planned to send mail bombs to various targets, radicalized a young man named Brustroth Ziamani and he had been in contact with a teenager in Australia who was planning to carry out an attack on Anzac Day last year. To my mind, him protesting and talking about Islamism wasn’t the only thing he was doing. He had indeed been in contact with individuals who would then go on to carry out attacks, and he had been recruiting and helping to radicalize individuals so that they can carry out terrorist attacks and murders in the name of Allah. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that when he contacts potential radicals he is teaching, instructing and radicalizing them giving that he actually supports the spread of Islamism by force. Really, the term “hate preacher” simply doesn’t do him justice, for he was more than that – he was a recruiter. I wish the media would use the term “terror recruiter” or “jihad recruiter” more often than they use the term “hate preacher”.
Put simply, this is not a free speech issue. It’s a terrorism issue. If all Choudary had been doing was organizing protests and appearing on TV to preach his views, I would have no major issue other than with his views. But it’s not as simple as that. He was actively recruiting, radicalizing and training people to fight and wage jihad. So anyone who thinks this is about freedom of speech, whether from a pro or anti perspective, is simply in the wrong. While I do feel that Choudary’s conviction should not be used to justify an increase in censorship no matter how abhorrent your views are, there can be no doubt that Choudary crossed the line by directing people to commit violence let alone encourage support for ISIL. Not to mention the fact that the organization he founded is a jihadist organization with the intent of spreading sharia law through, well, encouraging jihad.