The name Anjem Choudary is not so well-known in America, but in Britain it is a veritable household word of hate.
The Islamic cleric, a chief exponent of Islamic State, has been preaching the war against the West for some 20 years. From every conceivable venue, from mosques, street corners and over every media outlet — including, yes, the venerable, state-funded BBC — Choudary has exhorted Muslims the world over to support ISIS and has been linked to some 500 British jihadis who have fled the UK for the home base in Syria and Iraq.
Even before the emergence of Islamic State, his credentials as a cheerleader of terror were established with his enthusiastic praise of the terror attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and London in July 2005.
Choudary eluded prosecution until now by skirting the anti-terrorism laws and claiming that his right to spread his ideology was protected by freedom of speech.
However, as Prosecutor Richard Whittam told the court, freedom of speech was not sufficient cover for what Choudary was doing. Conviction was sought and obtained not for speaking his mind, but for actively promoting the program of death and destruction known as Islamic State.
“Terrorist organizations thrive and grow because people support them and that is what this case is about. Do not confuse that with the right of people to follow the religion of their choice or to proclaim support for a caliphate.” The jury was told it was not illegal to think ISIS is a “good thing” nor to express those views to others, but it was unlawful to “invite support,” as Choudary did.
The jurors agreed that Choudary’s self-definition as a “lecturer in Sharia law” merely giving “the Islamic perspective,” was disingenuous, to say the least.
The terror Imam will be sentenced in September, when he could be given as much as 10 years in prison.
We hope the British court will give him the maximum. More, that it should have the good sense to prohibit him from communicating his ideas to the outside during incarceration. Otherwise, he could be even more dangerous in prison than out on the street.
Anti-terror experts have warned that the publicity surrounding his conviction could lead to a rise in people being influenced by him as they tune in to find out what exactly he was saying. Needless to say, it could also lead to more terror attacks.
The jury that found Choudary guilty by unanimous vote was clearly not deterred by such forebodings. Neither should the judge hold back in sentencing out of concern for an Islamic backlash. Appeasement of such characters will not avail. If anything, they will only be further emboldened by leniency, taking it as a sign of weakness.
Choudary had numerous confederates and accomplices, one of whom, Mizanur Rahman, was convicted along with him. But arguably the most important of them was not named in the court proceedings: The BBC itself. Britain’s flagship broadcaster apparently shared his interpretation of democratic freedom, and gave him a regular platform on its news programs.
Not that BBC was the only subscriber to his “lectures on Sharia.” Choudary had hundreds of media contacts he would tip off before public appearances. Only 31 of them were journalists from the BBC.
Going forward, the role of British and world media in spreading the ideology of terrorism will require serious scrutiny.
As Tory MP Andrew Bridgen noted caustically: “It was never with the intention of adding to the debate but simply for shock value. I wonder who the Corporation will now turn to as its voice of British Muslims?”
Finally, we cannot ignore the prominent role of the internet in all this. We said that Choudary was not so well-known in America, but that does not mean he has had no influence here. His online postings were as easily accessible in the U.S. and other countries as in Britain.
The internet has increasingly become the focus of criticism as a platform for terror conspiracies, the promotion of extremist views and incitement. Choudary being but one example, if one of the most egregious.
So far, the online servers have failed, on a voluntary basis, to provide protection against these malefactors of free speech. Public outcry has forced them to remove terrorist postings from time to time. But a more systematic approach, in the form of regulation, is in order, and the sooner the better.