Unfortunately my usual Sunday morning wall-to-wall TV binge-watch was patchy last week due to unforeseen circumstances and I’m just catching up with the bits I missed. This topic may have gone off the boil, but it’s definitely worth a recap.
Typical! The particular bit I was interested in was the very bit I missed; it was in the Sunday Politics, where they tackled Imam Shakeel Begg’s failure to win his court case against the BBC. Begg sued the BBC for describing him as a extremist, and he lost.
Of course it wasn’t the Islamophillic British Broadcasting Corporation itself that called him an extremist, Andrew Neil did. It must have put the BBC in an awkward spot, having to decide whether to defend him or dump him. What a dilemma. It must have been touch and go, because I hear that when Begg first made his complaint, the BBC upheld it.
Would you believe that? Yes, you jolly well would, because you know the where the BBC’s priorities lie.
The BBC decided to stand by their man and the Lewisham Islamic centre decided to stand by their Imam. Anyway it was obvious that if anyone from the BBC was going to deliver a debriefing on the court’s ruling it would have to be Andrew Neil.
Harry’s Place has posted quite a few articles about Shakeel Begg, and the most recent one focuses on the disturbing fact that despite the court’s findings the Metropolitan police are still consulting Begg about community relations and are retaining his services as an advisor. Some advisor.
Of course it might be argued that the Met sees this as expediency, given the facts on the ground, namely that mosques and institutions like the Lewisham Islamic Centre are here to stay and someone’s got to deal with them.
However, the message this sends is that the police and the government have been seduced by the ‘public face’ of Imams like Begg - the Dr Jekyll side of the performance - and are either turning a blind eye to the Mr. Hyde side, or are genuinely unaware of it, the tragedy being that Mr Hyde is running the show.
The bit in the Sunday Politics I missed included Andrew Neil’s interview with Haras Rafiq of Quilliam. He set out his take on the situation in simple terms, not very authoritatively if you ask me, but he’s on the right track. I’ve made a rough transcript, cutting out some of the waffle.
“He’s only the Imam of that mosque because he belongs to the same theological fundamentalist views that the mosque would portray. If they were to say he was an extremist they’d be in fact saying that they’ve allowed extremist preaching and extremist theology within their walls.
I think this is a very important judgment. These people like to operate under a veneer of respectability. Once that veneer is taken away there are a number of things that can happen. First of all the BBC did well to stand by their guns and say no, we’re not going to be intimidated by the threat of being taken to court - other people have capitulated - but this has exposed him and legally he is somebody who can be classified as an extremist preacher who promotes religious violence and the mosque really needs to take a step back and say are we going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution.
The judge said that Begg’s views were consistent with an extremist, Salafist view. What is Salfist Islam and how widespread is it?
It’s a contemporary interpretation of Islam that comes from the Middle East; it’s spread from Saudi Arabia. It was born out of having an enemy - the old colonial Ottoman Empire. Salaifi fits into three main parts, there’s the quietest Salafist who will get on with their life, the revolutionary Salafists who try and convert others to their worldview, then the Salafi Jihadis like Isis and Al Qaeda etc.
It has increased over the last few decades because of money coming in from the Middle East . Mixed with a Salafist ideology it becomes potent and dangerous.
Do we have a particular problem with this in Britain in our mosques?
Absolutely. Without Salafi theology which says that actually says hate other Muslims, let’s excommunicate other people, it’s okay to fight and it’s good to fight when you’ve got an enemy, we wouldn’t really have a Salafi jihadi problem. That’s something we have to tackle because the number of mosques and religious institutions that have been supporting Salafism and Islamism has been on the increase.
Do we have a problem too with what the judge called Jekyll and Hyde characters, that they hide their extremism except when they’re speaking to specific groups behind a carapace of moderation?
Absolutely. One of the things we focused on a number of hate people who are now in prison - people like Anjem Choudary, and everybody focused on them, but there’s a whole range of people operating under that level, people who will show one face to the community because they actually need that for respectability for legitimacy, they need that to be able to operate. When they’re behind closed doors, when they’re talking to their constituency that’s when you see the real face of what these people believe. It’s an increasing phenomenon and we see that more and more and we’re going to carry on seeing it.
Not just has the Lewisham mosque stuck by him, given the clarity of the judge’s ruling are you surprised that the Metropolitan police would wish to continue with Mr. Begg as an advisor?
I’m absolutely shocked at that decision. What’s he going to do? Advise them on how to give extremist preaches and how to promote religiously motivated violence. I don’t know what he’s going to advise them on. I think that we now have a judge that’s ruled against him and actually classified him as an extremist, somebody who promotes religious violence, we actually have a possibility for the CPS to actually prosecute hime because there is a law that has been in place since 2005 called religiously motivated violence, and if he has been classified as someone who promotes this there is the potential of the CPS to prosecute. Also, I want to call into question other organisations as well, interfaith organisations, other Muslim groups, who say they want to fight extremism, I call on them to say this guy is an extremist preacher, we really should cut all our ties with him.
Mr. Rafiq, this was a very high risk case for the BBC - if it had gone the wrong way the exposure could have cost over one and a half million pounds of licence payers’ money - will this now make it more difficult for Jekyll and Hyde characters to behave as Mr. Begg has behaved?
Absolutely. It will do because one of the things that they will now have to make sure is that they are a lot more careful with what they say both to their own constituencies - but it won’r solve the theological problem, but it will stop other people from operating in this manner and allow other media organisations to have the confidence to expose them when they do.