European Eye on Radicalization
The United Kingdom has frank official words for foreign hate preachers. They are not welcome and the government will exclude the worst from its shores.
Prime Minister David Cameron made this very clear in his landmark speech on extremism at a security conference in Munich in 2011:
Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed. Now, for governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries.
Being famous provides no mantle of protection. Memorably, the prominent Islamist preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi was banned from the UK in 2008.
Nor are undesirables on the right wing welcome, even if they hail from powerful America, long the country’s closest ally. For example, the controversial blogger Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, the man behind the “Jihad Watch” website, were banned in 2013.
In short, solid red lines have been promised for many years and often enough they have indeed been drawn. When supporters of banned extremists react with fury, shouting about “Islamophobia” or “double standards”, the lines are held with resolution, including in the courts if legal challenges are mounted. Is all as well as can be on this front in the UK, then?
UK Rhetoric and Pakistani Preachers
In a word, no. Some lines are very pale, at best. This can be seen in the case of some Pakistani Sufi preachers who are frequent visitors, conducting tours that draw big crowds and substantial donations for their operations in Pakistan.
As Rashad Ali has noted for European Eye on Radicalization, Pakistan is embroiled in an angry controversy about punishing “blasphemy”, where preachers seek to outdo each other in a “twisted theological race to the bottom”.
Many of these preachers are strong supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated the Pakistani politician Salman Taseer in 2011 because Taseer challenged Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and stood up for Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani sentenced to death for blasphemy. For this, some preachers hold, Taseer undoubtedly deserved death. And so does Asia Bibi, for that matter, even though Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her in November 2018.
Demonstrators in Pakistan demanding the execution of Asia Bibi
Preachers in this camp also tend to subject Ahmadi Muslims to angry denigration, insisting that they are not Muslims and are a threat to the true faith. This is why the UK is home to a sizeable Ahmadi community – its members fled hatred and persecution in Pakistan.
One might think such views would prompt the UK to exclude these preachers. After all, in 2016 the UK lost one of its own MPs, Jo Cox, to a far right assassin in a national calamity that shocked the country. It has also seen anti-Ahmadi violence – in 2016 the Glasgow Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper Asad Shah was murdered by Tanveer Ahmed, a fanatic from Bradford who idolized Mumtaz Qadri and saw Asad Shah as an enemy of Allah.
Furthermore, the government has insisted that it does and will take action in this field. In 2016, James Brokenshire MP, then the Home Office security minister, was probed by the Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who has campaigned passionately for Ahmadi Muslims in her south London constituency. Brokensire responded with these words:
“I, for one, stand up and defend the right of members of that community to profess and practise their faith without fear of intimidation or violence.”
Indeed, he added:
“I want to reassure her about the importance that we attach to the issue and the steps that we have taken to prevent preachers of hate from coming into this country.”
This means visa action:
“It is of paramount importance that immigration processes ensure that individuals who have come to notice as a threat to the UK’s security and society, or who may present such a threat, are prevented from coming here to spread their messages and incite violence.”
In addition, Sara Khan, the Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism, spoke up for Asia Bibi in November 2018:
“I am calling on the Government to offer asylum to Asia Bibi. Despite the verdict of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Asia Bibi’s life remains in grave danger at the hands of religious extremists.”
For Khan, this story is clearly part of the UK’s fight with extremists:
“Countering extremism means standing for human rights, religious freedom and equality, and standing firm against extremists who seek to do away with these fundamental rights and freedoms. This is an opportunity to send a clear message to extremists that our country will stand up for our values.”
Rhetoric versus Reality in Luton
Let’s go back to the lines, this time in Luton, a town outside London with a troubled history of Islamist and far right extremism. One of its mosques, the Jamia Islamia Ghousia Trust, is part of the problem. For years, it has hosted aggressive Pakistani preachers who support killing the blasphemous for Allah. They include Hanif Qureshi, an especially fiery preacher who allegedly inspired Mumtaz Qadri to murder Salman Taseer.
The mosque has also openly backed Khatme Nubuwwat, a movement dedicated to hatred of Ahmadi Muslims.
Yet the mosque is not under pressure. It has instead been feted in the local community and even received significant local authority public sector funding.
Nor has it changed its ways. On 20 November, it gave prominent billing to the Pakistani preacher Hamid Saeed Kazmi at a conference at the mosque.
Kazmi can be seen on Facebook in a video filmed in November 2018 taking Pakistan’s Supreme Court to task for acquitting Asia Bibi, hinting absurdly at foreign conspiracies, and promising unyielding opposition:
“But what we cannot accept is how the Supreme Court dismissed the case against her on technical grounds. Obviously we cannot compromise on any slights made against the prophet. If we accept this then it renders pointless all our other protests associated with this issue, for example the protests against the US and Danish cartoons and so on. If the Supreme Court does not reconsider its judgement then there will be issues related to potential foreign involvement and fabrications of accounts that will come up since our demands are very legitimate. We are going to exercise our right to legal recourse in terms of a review petition since this is a case of ghairat-e-emaani (the dignity or integrity of faith) on which there cannot be any question nor compromise.”
In another video on Facebook, Kazmi stands up for the assassin Mumtaz Qadri, saying he “did a service for the whole of the ummah (community of believers)”. Actually, Qadri is “to be celebrated and respected and given due honor” for his deed.
Pakistan executed Qadri for his crime in 2016. Kazmi’s response was to attend Qadri’s funeral, as reported by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn:
“The government protected terrorists and delayed their cases for several years despite the fact they killed hundreds of people but it executed Qadri in haste,” said Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi, a former federal minister for religious affairs in ex-prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani’s cabinet, while talking to Dawn.
Mr Kazmi, who arrived in the city to attend the funeral prayers, said Mumtaz Qadri killed the former governor out of his love for the holy prophet (peace be upon him). He said the huge gathering at the funeral was enough to prove that people considered Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr.”
Hamid Saeed Kazmi speaking at the Jamia Islamia Ghousia mosque in November 2018
Muhammad Iqbal Chishti was another Pakistani preacher at the Luton conference. He appears to be in the same camp. In the aftermath of the murder of Salman Taseer, he signed a statement with other religious leaders which asked people “not to express regrets or sympathies over his assassination”.
When Mumtaz Qadri was sentenced to death in 2011, Chishti attended a conference where “various Barelvi clerics demanded the release of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, whom they described as “Ghazi” – someone who fights an Islamic war.”
Another speaker given top billing at the Luton conference was Abdul Qadir Jilani, a prominent religious leader in Walthamstow, a town on the periphery of London. He too is a Mumtaz Qadri supporter and his mosque has a poor record.
Abdul Qadir Jilani supporting Mumtaz Qadri
None of this seems to be of concern to local police officers. In fact, one of them appears in the Luton mosque’s photographs of the November event, seemingly happy to take part in the proceedings.
A police officer at the Luton conference in November 2018
Nor have commanders been apprehensive, it seems. This picture shows Bernard Hogan-Howe, then the top man in London’s Metropolitan Police, receiving flowers from Abdul Aziz Chishti, the leader of the Jamia Islamia Ghousia mosque.
British Ahmadi Muslims in particular and liberal and secularist British Muslims in general look upon scenes like this and despair. No one cares about them, they sometimes feel, while their nemeses have carved out strong social positions.
If it is to be true to its official words and send a powerful message, Britain would do well to attend to the palest of its supposedly deep red border lines.