As a British Muslim and Criminologist, one of my areas of research, is around British Muslim communities and counter-terrorism related issues. After yesterday's guilty verdicts, following Woolwich, BBC Radio 4 Today, this morning began their analysis with the pantomime villain, Anjem Choudary. As I gasped with shock and horror at the news, reality began to set in. Choudary is after all a man, who knows how to cause controversy and stir up emotions and feelings of anger and hate. Indeed, Choudary has in the past been invited to appear on the BBC's Newsnight programme in May when he refused to condemn Lee Rigby's murder and today continued to espouse that same volatility, hate and animosity. At the time, the faith and communities minister, Baroness Warsi, said she was 'angry' that the BBC had given him a forum and had provided a platform for an 'appalling man who represents nobody'. And I agree with her sentiment.
As a criminologist, we are interested in understanding the causes of crime, whether that be terrorism and the reasons for it. However understanding the causes, does not mean the BBC need to continuously invite Anjem Choudary for his 'expert' opinion. Surely, a more productive interview would have been with people who are on the ground and those who understand the nature of extremism and therefore can provide credible solutions in helping prevent another Woolwich happening again. And by that, I do not mean organisations such as Quilliam, who have little confidence from within Muslim communities.
Choudary added this morning that his radical and extreme views did not mean he acted outside of the law. He said: "I'm not inciting people to do anything, otherwise I'm sure I would be sitting behind bars". But by giving him such a platform it does allow the 'oxygen' so many extremists crave. Clearly, there is a fine line between reporting a news story and simply acting as a sound piece for extremists.
The other person on the panel included Lord Carlile the former counter-terrorism legislation reviewer who made the case that Choudary risks exacerbating the conflict of extremism and creating more divisions. I agree that Choudary does risk acting as that individual that some young people may be inclined to follow. However, I was also uncomfortable with the continuous references made that the 'Muslim community' should do this and the 'Muslim community' should do that narrative. Extremism is a problem for us all and we all need to work together eradicating it and not simply single out one community.
Interestingly, Choudary also at numerous points used the term "we" to continue to make his argument and stated that: "We cannot control the actions of one individual... this is a problem we will continue to face." I do hope, by this "we" he does not include the vast majority of Muslims who are opposed to everything he stands for. I think the phrase should have been: "You" and not "We" as the vast majority of Muslims do not like those associations made with Choudary.
In a paradoxical way, the media can act as a gatekeeper for helping extremists spread their message to a wider platform. We saw this happen with the BBC fascination with the former leader of the English Defence League Tommy Robinson. The risk is if we continue to provide a platform for people like Choudary and extremists from the EDL all we are doing is providing the mood music by which people can dance too the tunes they set. Terrorism is a disease and we need to find a cure for it, but we need to start this process by engaging with serious people who can make a difference to the counter extremist narrative and not invite the likes of Choudary or organisations such as Quilliam who do not speak for British Muslims.