For a politician whose previous career was in public relations, David Cameron cannot have picked a more polarizing subject, or less opportune time to address it, than his recent speech on the failure of state multiculturalism, which he delivered in early February at the Munich Security Conference. The British prime minister’s remarks happened to coincide with a mass rally in Luton led by the xenophobic English Defence League (EDL). Liberal commentators in Britain did not fail to notice the unfortunate overlap and everywhere detected a high-frequency Tory appeal to the far right.
In fact, the first half of Cameron’s speech drew careful distinctions between Islam and Islamism and denounced “fascist” bigotry. But then came this:
Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.
This statement is far from groundbreaking and has been borne out by nearly a decade of hard evidence.
After the 7/7 Tube bombings, the Blair government introduced a five-tiered counterterrorism strategy. The first four tiers were law enforcement oriented, but the fifth tier constituted a multi-million pound Muslim community outreach program known as “Preventing Violent Extremism” or just “Prevent,” which encouraged and underwrote British Islamism as an antidote to terrorism. Controversial from its inception, the logic of this program was best summarized in a 2009 report published by Police Exchange, which is not coincidentally Cameron’s favorite think tank:
non-violent Islamists have been seen by elements within the British state as the solution to al-Qaeda violence, as if the cure lies in the ideological poison itself. The practical effect of this has been to engage and empower non-violent exponents of this ideology who, while expressing opposition to the terrorism of bin Laden and his cohorts, hold values and views that are antithetical to mainstream British society.
Much of the roughly £12 million ($19.4 million) that Prevent has given to hundreds of Muslim organizations throughout Britain between 2006 and 2009 has been used not to beat down extremism and help integrate Muslims into the fabric of mainstream society, but rather to advance atomization and Islamic radicalization.
Because of the way Muslim community groups are set up, with supervisory umbrellas, interlocking back channels and the same high-profile figures reappearing as the presidents or directors of various organizations, a few examples can serve to illuminate how Prevent has underwritten British Islamism.
Consider the London-based Cordoba Foundation (not to be confused with the New York group that sought to build a mosque close to Ground Zero in Manhattan). In 2008, Cameron rightly termed the foundation a “front for the Muslim Brotherhood.” Its founder, Anas al-Tikriti, is on record as saying that Holocaust Memorial Day ought to be boycotted because it “glorifies the state of Israel, turning a collective blind eye to the immeasurable suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis every single day.” Tikriti is also the former president of an umbrella organization known as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), which has been identified by the House of Commons as “the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s representative in the UK.”
The MAB was set up in 1997 to, in its own words, “fill in the gap in terms of Islamic Dawah work in Britain where the call for a comprehensive Islam that encompasses all aspects of life is lacking.” Its founder, Kamal el-Helbawy, has appeared on British television identifying himself as an emissary from the Muslim Brotherhood. Other prominent members of the MAB include Dr. Azzam Tamimi, the British-Palestinian activist who publicly supports Hamas and has defended suicide bombings in Israel as a “noble cause”; and Mohammed Sawalha, who has been identified by the BBC as a “fugitive Hamas commander” living in London where he raises funds for of the Palestinian terrorist organization. In 2009, Sawalha signed the so-called Istanbul Declaration, which termed Arab-Israeli peace negotiations a “betrayal of the Islamic Nation and the Palestinian cause,” legitimized “jihad and Resistance” against Israel and, by extension, “everyone standing with the Zionist entity, whether countries, institutions or individuals.” The Istanbul Declaration also exhorted Muslims to attack foreign naval vessels that might prohibit the smuggling of arms to Gaza.
In 2009, the Cordoba Foundation was one of the sponsors of “Beyond Guantanamo,” an event in the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall that was to have featured a video address by Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-based al Qaeda cleric whom the White House has designated for capture or assassination because of his role in recruiting and mentoring various jihadists, from U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan to “underpants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Pressure from the local council forced the organizers into canceling the Awlaki video at the last instant.
Cordoba received £38,000 from the Tower Hamlets Prevent Council between 2007 and 2008. Some of the money was earmarked for funding a “debating society,” which in February 2008 hosted an event titled, “Has Political Participation Failed British Muslims?” Arguing for the motion was Dr. Abdul Wahid, the UK Chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is a worldwide Islamist party that supports “defensive jihad” (i.e., killing American and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan) and espouses anti-Semitic and homophobic views such that its representatives have been wholly banned from speaking on British university campuses by the National Union of Students. (Cameron, before becoming prime minister, described Hizb ut-Tahrir as an “extremist” party and vowed to outlaw it, a promise he has so far failed to make good on.) During the Cordoba-hosted debate, Dr. Wahid used the occasion to admonish Muslims MPs, such as Sadiq Khan, for supporting gay rights and preferring British law to its sharia alternative.
Another recipient of Prevent money is the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), founded in 1997 as another umbrella organization for Muslim community groups; today it is the biggest of such umbrellas with around 500 affiliates. It was founded by Iqbal Sacranie, a vocal defender of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa demanding Salman Rushdie’s death. After 7/7, the MCB became one of lead advisers to the UK government on Islamic extremism and radicalism, which makes a kind of perverse logic given that it specializes in both. Indeed, roughly £850,000 of Prevent money has gone to an organization that strongly allies with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Al Jazeera’s famous Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated cleric, now returned to post-Mubarak Egypt. Qaradawi has described the Holocaust as God’s way of sorting out the Jewish question and given equally ugly opinions about homosexuals, women and apostates. When Qaradawi was denied an entrance visa to the UK in 2008 for inciting violence, the MCB raised a hue and cry.
The organization courted further scandal in March 2009 when its deputy secretary Daud Abdullah, a well-known Hamas supporter, appended his name to the Istanbul Declaration. Then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears said that if Abdullah did not resign his role the British government would cut Prevent’s funding. The MCB refused to comply. After Blears resigned, her replacement, John Denham, left the MCB and its public coffers alone.
Troublemaking mosques, too, have received Prevent money even as they offer platforms and board memberships to the most reactionary Islamist speakers.
The most notorious example is the Finsbury Park Mosque, which has slowly evolved into a convenient gathering-point for global jihadists. Following 9/11, the mosque’s religious services were taken over by Abu Hamza al-Masri, the one-eyed and hook-handed cleric whose congregants have included Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui. Arrested in 2004, and convicted two years later on 11 out of 15 indictments brought against him—including soliciting murder, “stirring up racial hatred” and possessing a “terrorist encyclopedia”—Abu Hamza was replaced as primus inter pares of the Finsbury Park Mosque in 2005 by a management committee made up of Muslim Brothers. Four out of five committee members were former directors of the MAB, including Mohammed Sawalha. In 2007, Prevent gave £20,000 to the mosque.
Then there’s the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, which was identified in 2009 by a British government report as being the “key institution for the Bangladeshi wing of [Jamaat-e-Islami] in the UK.” Between 2007 and 2009, the East London Mosque received £43,800 from Prevent streams despite the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki was invited to speak there on two separate occasions. At the first, in 2003, he urged Muslims never to report or turn in their brethren to the British police. The second, which took place in January 2009 and was billed as the “End of Time” lecture complete with a poster showing Manhattan destroyed by fiery celestial projectiles, Awlaki had to attend via a prerecorded video because of the international dragnet out on him. When informed by both the Daily Telegraph and a member of parliament that Awlaki was wanted by the US Department of Homeland Security for his connection to Al-Qaeda, East London Mosque chairman Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari refused to nix the event, insinuating that only anti-Muslim bigotry could cause anyone to question the mosque’s slate of speakers.
The Alice-in-Wonderland-like paradox of the Prevent program -- eliminating hate by feeding it -- was starkly exposed last July in a Sunday Telegraph report based on a leaked classified Whitehall documents. One of these was titled, “Government Strategy Towards Extremism” and explained the Communities Department’s view that “We do not believe that it is accurate to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence.” They identified two non-democratic Islamists movements that they felt adhered to this pat prognosis: Hizb ut-Tahrir and its offshoot Al-Muhajiroun. The latter group led the protests in the UK against the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in 2004 and has produced leaflets referring to the “magnificent 19” terrorists of 9/11. Although repeatedly banned by the British government, Al-Muhajiroun has reformed and rebranded itself several times.
That the “inclusive” Communities Department should attempt to sanitize this outfit or even color it “nonviolent” is of peculiar interest since, as the Sunday Telegraph reporter Andrew Gilligan helpfully pointed out, 19 terrorists convicted in Britain have been tied to Al-Muhajiroun including Omar Khayam, head of the “fertilizer bomb” plot of 2007 and Abdullah Ahmed Ali, head of the airliner “liquid bomb” plot of 2006.
The Communities Department has also tried to facilitate British MPs’ attendance of the Global Peace and Unity (GPU) conference, an annual London “festival” that draws around 50,000 visitors. The GPU conference is organized by the Islam Channel, a television station headquartered in Central London that Ofcom, the independent regulator of the UK’s communications industry, chastised for its repeated broadcasts of salafist preachers advocating marital rape and violence against women.
In 2008, the GPU conference received a letter of support from London’s newly elected Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson—correspondence that he might have later regretted given that speakers included 9/11 and Holocaust deniers. Even the foreign officials who turned up did so without much regard for their host country. Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister, used his platform that year to declare that Queen Elizabeth’s awarding of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie in 2007 was itself grounds for Muslims to commit suicide bombings.
GPU exhibitors typically sell t-shirts and headbands celebrating Hezbollah and Hamas and glorifying the killing of American soldiers in Iraq. In 2008, one stall hawked a curious little volume titled, Women who Deserve to Go to Hell, written by Mansoor Abdul Hakim. Cited by the author to be among the hell-bound were wives who “complain against their husband[s] now and then” and “arrogant” or “quarrelsome” members of the fairer sex. Even still, the Metropolitan Police Service gave the GPU close to £26,500 in sponsorship money in 2008.
The 2010 conference this past October was a bit tamer, although tracts by Maududi and the Egyptian theorist of jihad Sayyid Qutb were distributed to attendees free of charge. Two members of Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islam were invited to speak, Abdul Rashid Turabi and Qazi Hussein Ahmed. But only the former showed up after the latter was denied a visa by the UK Home Office.
State multiculturalism in Britain has meant six years of funding Islamist organizations in the hopes that they’d be a safeguard against violence. The Cameron government has now begun to make the right noises that a fundamentally new approach is needed. Rather than be criticized for eroding Britain’s liberal and tolerant civil society, the prime minister ought to be encouraged for seeking to restore it.