This week, millions of British Muslims are holding their heads in their hands as Anjem Choudary is released from Belmarsh Prison. For us, his release is comparable with that of Tommy Robinson – both are societal pariahs who do not represent the views of the many but whose extremist outlook leaves right-minded people confused, ashamed and appalled. Choudary’s supporters represent only a tiny minority of British Muslims; the rest of us must dedicate our time to debunking his misrepresentation of our religion and repairing the damage he does to our relationships with neighbours and colleagues.
Choudary, locked up in 2016 after pledging allegiance to ISIS, has a long history of spouting messages of hatred and connections to myriad terror plots and incidents. These messages, deliberately contrived to breakdown community cohesion, are completely alien to the teachings of Islam which is a moderate, tolerant and peaceful religion.
If only we could have confidence that during his time in jail, his views have been challenged. That firstly in Durham and latterly in London, his distorted beliefs were confronted head-on, his blinkered thinking opposed. But unfortunately, even now, our penal system remains a hotbed for Islamist recruitment, and we must transform it into the reforming and moderating influence it needs to become.
One of the many great ironies of the activities of hate preachers like Choudary, is that their capacity to peddle falsehoods and drive a wedge between Muslim and non-Muslim Brits, is dependent on the core British value of free speech. In some of the Muslim states they aspire towards, open criticism of the ruling regime can easily land a hefty custodial sentence, or worse. So, how can they justify using this British-awarded liberty, to undermine its core values?
Equally, Choudary has claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits over the course of his life, and more than once encouraged his supporters to claim “Jihadi seekers’ allowance”. Nor do he and his comrades turn down Legal Aid to defend their reprehensible behaviour. Using the state to fund their criticism of the state? It looks more than a little hypocritical to me.
I am a proud Muslim but I’m also proud to be British. Choudary does not speak for me or the vast majority of UK Muslims who are grateful for the inclusive and tolerant country we are proud to call home.