Thursday, 7 April 2016

U.K. and Islam's paranoia in dealing with extremists

By Michael Glackin
The Daily Star
Thursday, April 7 2016.

More than a decade ago, just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, novelist Salman Rushdie warned that Islam was being hijacked by political fanatics.

The religion whose scholars had preserved and built on the intellectual heritage of ancient Greece while Europe slept through the dark ages, was in danger from what Rushdie called: “This paranoid Islam, which blames outsider, ‘infidels,’ for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity, is presently the fastest growing version of Islam in the world.”

Derided as alarmist by many of the liberal intelligentsia at the time, Rushdie’s warning has been vindicated, not just by the rise of Daesh (ISIS) and other extremists in the Middle East, but by a succession of terror attacks in the years since he made his comments, from Bali to London, and more recently in Garissa, Ankara, Beirut, Paris and Brussels.

The alarming frequency of the attacks reveals that the growth of “this paranoid Islam” shows no signs of abating and is garnering an increasing number of recruits across the globe.

Having written a great deal about the U.K. government's paranoia in dealing with the threat posed by Islamic extremists, from the use of secret trials to increasing inroads to civil liberties, it is perhaps time to confront the paranoid Islam that Rushdie identified 15 years ago.

Last week, in the United Kingdom, Junead Khan, a Daesh sympathizer from Luton who planned to attack U.S. military personnel stationed in England, was convicted of terrorism offenses. His uncle, Shazib Khan, also from Luton, was convicted of the lesser offense of planning to travel to Syria to join Daesh.

Khan’s trial was held under certain security and reporting restrictions and some information was withheld from the jury. Some of the evidence used to convict the pair still cannot be revealed for legal reasons.

However, it can now be disclosed that the case provided ample evidence on how Daesh is orchestrating attacks in Europe and just how rapidly Rushdie’s “fastest growing version of Islam in the world” is growing in the U.K.

It emerged during the trial that Junaid Hussain, Daesh's Syria-based Birmingham-born hacking expert, who went by the nom de guerre of Abu Hussain al-Britani, was in contact with a number of U.K.-based extremists, including Khan. Hussain had promised to give Khan the U.K. addresses of British soldiers that he had obtained through hacking and encouraged Khan to attack them.

Hussain’s activities placed him high on a list of British targets for assassination and he was duly killed in a U.S. drone strike last August, just weeks after security services had arrested Khan.

Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament at the time that Hussain was involved in “actively recruiting IS [Daesh] sympathizers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the West.”

However, the details of such plots could not be reported until Khan’s conviction last week. Hussain was one of a number of key Daesh members whose personal details were listed in documents released in the media last month after apparently being stolen by a disillusioned Daesh fighter. The jury was not told this, nor of his senior role in the group, only that he was in Syria and had been killed in a drone strike.

The reporting restrictions surrounding the six-and-a-half week court case were not as severe as those imposed on the trial of Erol Incedal, a British national of Turkish-Alawite descent, who was cleared in two trials in 2014 and 2015 of planning a terrorist attack in London, but convicted of being in possession of a bomb-making manual. In a first for the British judicial system, the trials were largely held in secret for reasons of “national security.” Despite several High Court challenges by media groups, citing the principle of open justice, the reasons for the secrecy have still not been publicly revealed.

By the look of things, we will have to get used to this sort of trial, because the number of young Muslims willing to embrace “paranoid Islam” is still growing. It is worth pointing out that at least 1,000 U.K. nationals have been attracted enough by it to travel to Syria and Iraq and join Daesh – though paradoxically, in between making plans to join the group, Shazib Khan also scoured the Internet for prostitutes and adult movies.

Khan’s desire to procure prostitutes is illustrative of the contradiction at the heart of the question of what makes young, often educated, westernized men, and women, accept a violent narrowly defined interpretation of Islam, one that is incapable of accepting the liberal ideal of free speech. Worryingly, a report from MI5 in 2011 revealed that two-thirds of British Islamist terror suspects were from affluent middle-class backgrounds.

The answer must surely lie within. It emerged this week that the Sunni sect Deobandi, which controls almost half of the U.K.’s mosques, allowed the Al-Qaeda-linked extremist Sheikh Masood Azhar to speak at a number of its mosques in what amounted to a jihadist recruitment drive in the mid 1990s.

A report in The Times (of London) said among those radicalized and recruited during his visit were Rashid Rauf, one of the coordinators of the July 2005 London suicide bombings and Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was later convicted of beheading the American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

Azhar, a former associate of Osama bin Laden, was the nominal head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Pakistani terror group prohibited in India and the West, which has been linked to attacks in Kashmir, Afghanistan and India.

Last month, Scotland’s largest mosque was rocked by allegations that its head of religious events, Sabir Ali, had held senior positions in Sipah-e-Sahaba, a terrorist group banned in the U.K. and Pakistan. The mosque has condemned Sipah-e-Sahaba as “sectarian killers” but Ali has not been suspended from his post.

The mosque allegations came hard on the heels of the killing of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah, who was allegedly murdered by a fellow Muslim after he posted a message wishing a happy Easter to his “beloved Christian nation.” Police have confirmed the attack was “religiously prejudiced.”

Yet, a number of Muslim groups condemned recent U.K. government proposals to combat extremism as “McCarthyist.” Under the wide-ranging proposals, groups deemed extremist by promoting hatred will be banned and places where known extremists meet, including mosques, could be closed. Parents worried that their 16- and 17-year-old children might travel to join Daesh could apply to have their passports removed, while anyone with a conviction for terrorist offenses or extremist activity would be banned from working with children.

Civil liberties underpin the freedoms that make the U.K. an agreeable place to live. There is an argument that the government’s proposals risk undermining the very values it seeks to protect. It is an argument I have often made. In that case, the remedy to Islamic extremism can only come from within Islam. Hamza Yusuf, the charismatic American Islamic scholar, has consistently attacked Daesh’s claim to be the “authentic representative” of the Sunni Islam. More, particularly in the U.K., need to follow his lead.
Michael Glackin. a former managing editor of THE DAILY STAR, is a writer in the United Kingdom. A version of this article appeared on page 7 of The Daily Star on April 7 2016.

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