One of the more puzzling manifestations of the conflict between radical Islam and the West is the presence of Islamist communities in places like Great Britain, the Netherlands, and France: They are unwelcome in their Muslim homelands—indeed, they are in exile from them—and yet they harbor an abiding hatred for the societies that offer them refuge.
It’s a curious, and at times dangerous, contradiction. That is because, on occasion, such hatred manifests itself in direct action: Here in America, we saw this most recently in the attack on military installations in Chattanooga, which left five people dead. But such outbreaks of violence are commonplace in Europe, where Islamists have targeted and murdered French Jews, British soldiers, Dutch journalists—the list goes on. And every country, including our own, has grappled with the problem in its own way.
Which brings The Scrapbook to Great Britain and Anjem Choudary, the 48-year-old, London-based Islamist “preacher,” born in England of Pakistani parents, whose jihadist organization, al-Muhajiroun, has been especially conspicuous in recent years: organizing marches and public demonstrations around London, praising the 9/11 hijackers as “the Magnificent 19,” demanding the adoption of sharia law in Britain, exhorting his followers to join the Islamic State.
Like many purveyors of radical Islam, Choudary has a delinquent past; he is also wise in the ways of social media. This combination has proved especially effective: While no one expects the greater British public to embrace Choudary or jihad, much less sharia law, Choudary has been adept at treading the line between his protected status as a public provocateur—abusing Britain’s heritage of tolerance and free speech—and encouraging violence at home and abroad.
Until now. For some months, Prime Minister David Cameron has been pledging to tackle the “peddlers of hatred” in Britain, largely with jihadist preachers like Choudary in mind. This is no trivial matter. Islamist-inspired attacks within Britain have increased in recent years, and a disturbing number of prominent figures in ISIS are British nationals—most notably, Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who specializes in videotaped killings. Late last year, Choudary, along with eight other men, was arrested on suspicion of encouraging terrorism; and last week, it was announced that he will face criminal charges for facilitating recruitment and support for the Islamic State.
This is especially welcome news. One of the many virtues of liberal democracy is its capacious definition of freedom of thought—including, in Justice Holmes’s famous formulation, “freedom for the thought that we hate.”
By any measure, the Anjem Choudarys of the Western world are entitled to their opinions. But there is a distinction between talk and action, and recruiting and promoting terrorism—publicly, relentlessly, in defiance of civil order and national security—is incompatible, by anyone’s standards, with freedom.