Response to Ed Husain

London Evening Standard, 3rd July 2007

Ed Husain is slightly unfair in his criticism of Ken Livingstone’s response to the terror threat. The Mayor has worked effectively to prevent an anti-Muslim backlash, celebrate London’s diversity and provide robust support to the police. His tactic of reaching out to London’s Muslims was shaped by his support for the Stop the War Coalition, meaning certain groups, like the Muslim Association of Britain, have set the tone – as the MAB represents only part of London’s Muslim population, Ken admittedly needs to widen his net.

Livingstone used to get into trouble for talking to Gerry Adams; now, with peace breaking out in Northern Ireland, that looks prescient. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who controversially visited Ken in 2004, supports suicide bombing in Israel and has stern views on homosexuality. However, the Muslim Brotherhood, the tendency Qaradawi represents, provides a substantial indirect counterweight to al-Qaeda in Islamist circles. Ken’s “jaw-jaw” is a constructive long-term strategy, although being so public, it does upset other communities and relies too much on a counter-terrorist approach.

[Original Piece below]

Appeasement is not an answer to the bombs

Ed Husain, London Evening Standard, 2 July 2007

Once again, London is plunged into fear and confusion. Perhaps we had been lulled by a series of successful convictions of bomb plotters. But all along, the jihadists were at work, building their cells, arming themselves, recruiting, making plans. And it is only by a miracle that London escaped carnage far, far worse than that wreaked on 7 July 2005. Police seem to
have a good chance of rounding up this particular cell. But either way, radical Islam is back with a vengeance. In fact, it never left.
So I listen to the Mayor of our great city and I wonder, what will it take for him to wake up? More bombs in central London? Another attack on the Tube? As someone who was seduced by Islamists such aslike Omar Bakri, I know how charismatic these firebrands can be. But at the time, I was an impressionable teenager. What’s Ken’s excuse?

Don’t get me wrong. Being a big-tent liberal is laudable; but to fail to discern the difference between Islam, the religious tradition, and Islamism, the extremist political ideology hell-bent on destroying the West, is a disaster for us all. By confusing regular religious Muslims with fanatical ideologues, Ken blurs the lines between right and wrong, and
allows radicalism to flourish within sections of London’s Muslim communities.

On Radio 4 this weekend, Ken and I took part in a debate about terrorism. Despite my repeatedly asking Ken to condemn Islamism, he refused to do so. He correctly lambasted Saudi Wahhabis for their role in promoting an intolerant and violent creed. Yet what we call al-Qaeda is an illegitimate child of Islamism and Wahhabism combined.

While living in Saudi Arabia two years ago, I remember watching in horror television images of Ken walking around with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar, whose publicly stated attitude is that suicide bombers are martyrs. Yet it was Ken who said that “of all the Muslim thinkers in the world today, al-Qaradawi is the most positive force for
change”. By promoting these extremists, and their supporters Ken gives them legitimacy. He helps set in motion the conveyor belt to terrorism.
Ken’s track record in office contradicts even his condemnation of Wahhabism. Many of the so-called “Muslim organisations” he’s funded are in fact Wahhabists as well as Islamists. In a high-profile visit last year to the East London Mosque and its extension, the London Muslim Centre, both fronts for Islamism, he praised the two institutions. But from my in-depth involvement with the East London Mosque, I believe it to be a centre of intolerance, unwilling even to entertain mainstream Muslim events such as the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, or Shab-e-barat, an annual Muslim religious festival.

The East London Mosque is managed by Islamists with proven links to the Jamat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, an extremist group who oppose secularists and left wingers. Their imam, Abdul Qayyum, was trained in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and rejects the moderate Islam of neighbouring mosques. Sadly, today, the East London Mosque is the mosque of choice for young Muslims in Tower Hamlets and beyond, thanks to the legitimacy that Ken and others bestow on it.

The East London Mosque espouses the teachings of Qutb, the man who advocated Jihad against governments rejecting Islamist ideology, and an acknowledged inspiration for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Qutb was hung by the Egyptian government in the Sixties, yet his books are currently on sale at the East London Mosque where he is promoted like a figurehead, and where they hold weekly meetings to disseminate his vile teachings. It beggars belief that the Mayor stands on public podiums praising their work as “mainstream Muslim”.

Ken frequently cites social deprivation as a cause for extremism. But the most deprived community in Britain is the white working class. And yet they are not producing suicide bombers. Why? Because they are not exposed to an ideology that venerates murderers as martyrs.

Many people wonder how in a city as prosperous as London, some young British Muslims with opportunities to succeed beyond their parents’ wildest dreams elect instead to become extremists. But we only have to walk the streets of Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow or Newham to see the mono-cultural world within which many Muslims exist. They have Muslim neighbours, a Muslim doctor, a Muslim cab driver, Islamic bank accounts, a local job with Muslim colleagues, and Muslim-only friends. This milieu breeds a lethal us-and-them mentality. In parts of London, Muslims can spend months without any contact with mainstream British society. It is against this background that extremist organisations prosper.

Where do we go from here? Some say stronger control orders are the answer. But imposing control orders on people who don’t recognise our “man-made laws” is a folly. We now have seven terrorists on the run because we failed to understand that they don’t recognise our legal system.

Do we need to give the police more time to detain suspected terrorists? Probably, but what I’m concerned about is flushing them out before they act. And for that, we need two things. Firstly, the British Government needs to deliver an ultimatum to Islamist organisations that unless they cease promoting their extremist world view, they will be outlawed.
Second, we need to realise that Muslim communities recognise the extremists in their midst long before they show up on the radar of our intelligence services. We observe their condemnatory rhetoric, rejection of mainstream mosques, sudden change in dress code. Yet when moderate Muslims seek to complain, they are told that nothing can be done because of “freedom of speech”. It’s time we got real about how liberal we’re prepared to be.
Preventing terrorism is a civic duty, just as preventing murder and rape is, but we need to facilitate that process. We need more rehabilitation centres for extremists where we should offer them the opportunity to experience traditional Islam under the supervision of mainstream Muslim scholars. Most extremists have never met a genuine Muslim scholar.

Serious rehabilitation programmes would perhaps allow extremists to see the errors of their way. It worked for me. I saw the madness of my own ways when I grew to understand traditional Islam. We need Muslim scholars to speak out too. Where are the mainstream leaders in London now denouncing extremism? So far there has been only silence from them. But we must also accept that many extremists are beyond recall, and that no amount of rehabilitation and ultimatums will bring them back to normality. For these, detention and imprisonment is the best way to ensure liberty for the rest of us. The security of the majority cannot be sacrificed at the altar of minority rights.

Ed Husain is author of The Islamist, published by Penguin.