THE BLOG

Anjum Chaudary, the BBC and the Dubious Power of False Prophets

23/12/2013 12:20 GMT | Updated 20/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Anjum Chaudary is a radical ideologue who professes to interpret Islam yet like most radicals he has never actually studied religion. He dresses in a beard and Islamic garb to give the impression that he is a cleric but he is nothing but a masterly self-publicist, preaching a distorted message of hate and violence.

The British public has justifiably erupted in protest against the recent BBC decision to give Chaudary air time in response to the verdict of guilty for the Woolwich murderers, the so-called "soldiers of Allah" who hacked to death a British soldier. Chaudary had the callous effrontery to say he was "proud" of the murderers, an appalling statement which has done little to advance the cause of free speech and done immense harm to the general public's perception of Muslim clerics.

My work over the last ten years in studying the causes of radicalization has led me to realize the danger of false prophets disseminating radical Islamic extremist violence. Gullible and deracinated young people are particularly vulnerable to a charismatic leader with a message, no matter how ill-founded. History is full of examples of demagogues preaching the end of the world, a master race, or the glory of war and creating nothing but death and destruction to innocent people.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the Al Qaeda spokesman killed in Yemen in 2011 was also a pretender - he admitted he had never formally studied at an Islamic seat of learning yet was sought after as speaker at radical mosques worldwide. His selective interpretation of the Koran to justify violent jihad, anti-Semitism, misogyny and a hatred of all things that do not subscribe to the most extreme interpretation of Islam, was more indicative of a minority cult movement that would be expected to die out without leaders.

However, the funding provided by the oil-rich countries in the Gulf enables these extremist movements to remain active and threatening to all that moderate Islam represents. There must be a way for the international community to use its influence and technology to prevent the flow of petro-dollars from reaching religious extremists and stop their barbaric ideology from bringing more mayhem and misery to the civilized world.

Like Awlaki, Anjum Chaudary is given a spurious credibility by irresponsible journalists who seek headlines rather than objective truth. Free speech should not be license to spread hate and violence and the classic determination of the limits to free speech is the example of shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre. Chaudary is in effect shouting Fire! with impunity. He should be called to account for the actions of disaffected young British Muslims from now on. Turning him into an outlaw or a martyr however will not work. He should be "defrocked" by the Muslim community and revealed as a fake cleric with no true understanding of the Koran.

The only truly effective way to stifle ignorance and prevent distorted interpretations of the Koran is to promote the teaching of its wisdom and message of peace and tolerance. Authentic Islamic education works to prevent the motivation to radicalize and enables young Muslims to understand that the Koran actually condemns the violence they are being urged to espouse.

False prophets in history were either ridiculed, stoned, driven out of town. There must be a 21st century equivalent for the likes of Anjum Chaudary. His twisted ideology certainly does not deserve a platform like the BBC.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of the Scotland Institute, Fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a Lecturer at the University of Chicago.