From a British Correspondent
The Disputed Wisdom of Tolerance
For many Britons, tolerance is not a wearily accepted cost of an open society. No, upholding it is a prized virtue, above all in trying circumstances.
It is important too: here we have a hallmark of a successful, confident and strong nation. Mass panics, brutal crackdowns, and crude silencing of dissent are for excitable foreigners, not us. We prefer the Speakers’ Corner way. Go to Hyde Park, shout yourself hoarse, knock yourself out, we find it much more entertaining than worrying.
A scene from Speakers’ Corner
There is wisdom in this, one might think. Don’t trap social and political pressures. They will only build up and then explode. Instead, just open the valves and let them out, calmly, consistently, and with intelligent self-confidence.
One can argue that this is a mythical vision, deeply tarnished by the reality of our times. The truth is that abuse designed to silence is common in politics. Fury is in, forbearance is out.
Brexit is fuel for the fires. It bitterly divides not just the nation but major political parties too, where one finds collegial consensus and good-natured banter about any differences replaced by warring factions hurling insults across the divide.
The authorities are in the game too. A stupid and offensive but ultimately harmless Tweet can earn you a visit from the police, who may go on to haul you before the courts.
An Easy British Mark
Islamist extremism features prominently in all these troubles.
There is no doubt that the UK was an easy mark in the 1990s. Loathed and oppressed by Arab governments and unwelcome in many European countries, prominent Islamists turned to London, where they found a refuge. Those were the years when the disparaging term “Londonistan” emerged. This tolerance was foolhardy and dangerous, not wise and harmless, London’s critics maintained.
In the “Cool Britannia” late 1990s, few cared. Tony Blair was popular and successful, the economy was strong, the Cold War was over, life was good. Let the nutters rant, they’re no threat to us.
Then came 9/11 and the 7/7 London bombings of 2005. The mood shifted and popular patience was sorely tested. Why, for example, was hook-handed Abu Hamza, the very caricature of an evil extremist, allowed to spread his poison right out in the open on London’s streets?
And why did the authorities take so long to tackle al-Muhajiroun, a band of hardcore extremist hooligans, many of whom went on to become terrorists?
A Changed Nation
Much has changed since 7/7. Important “Londonistan” territory has been encircled, degraded, and reclaimed.
Abu Hamza was finally convicted of soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred in a British court in 2006. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2012, he was extradited to the United States, where he was found guilty of terrorism offenses in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison in 2015.
Omar Bakri Mohammed, a key al-Muhajiroun leader known as the “Tottenham Ayatollah”, was banned from Britain just weeks after the London bombings. He had called the 9/11 hijackers “the magnificent 19”.
Al-Muhajiroun was proscribed under terrorism laws in 2010. Anjem Choudary, who took up the Muhajiroun reins after Bakri Mohammed was banned, was brought to book in 2016 and found guilty of calling for support of the terrorists of Islamic State. He was sent down for five years.
Today, the UK is practically unrecognizable when compared to the cheerily indifferent country of decades past.
The security services have been granted ample new resources and powers, which they are using to foil plot after plot. The government’s “Prevent” program is tackling extremism across the land. Even teachers and nurses have been drawn into the effort. Scores of foreign hate preachers, once welcome, have been banned from these shores. On city streets, rather than the unarmed bobby coolly policing the community “by consent”, one often finds grim-faced officers in body armor carrying powerful rifles. Popular anger is high after a string of gruesome terrorist attacks in 2017.
So, is “Londonistan” dead? In a word, no. And there is a looming test in the shape of the self-styled Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), a Khomeinist group which will stage its annual “Al Quds Day” march in London on June 10.
We Are All Hezbollah!
On Al Quds Day, the classy cosmopolitan heart of the capital looks more like south Beirut than London. Throngs of marchers carry Hezbollah flags and images of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Shouts of “We are all Hezbollah!” ring out.
Israel is taunted.
The US embassy in London has long been the focal point of the rally. This year, in a sign of the times in the troubled Middle East, the Great Satan gets a break – the marchers will assemble at the Saudi embassy.
It may be another day of ugly scenes, like last year’s march.
The horrific Grenfell Tower fire occurred in London weeks before the 2017 march, claiming 71 lives. London was reeling, but the IHRC spotted an opportunity. The march leader Nazim Ali, a director of the IHRC limited company, blamed “Zionists” for the tragedy:
In video footage posted online, Mr Ali goes on: “Let us not forget that some of the biggest corporations who were supporting the Conservative Party are Zionists. They are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell, in those towers in Grenfell, the Zionist supporters of the Tory Party.”
In another heated outburst, he says: “It is the Zionists who give money to the Tory party, to kill people in high rise blocks…. Careful, careful, careful of those rabbis who belong to the Board of Deputies [of British Jews – ed.], who have got blood on their hands.”
This prompted a bleak observation from a spokesperson for the Community Security Trust (CST), which safeguards Britain’s Jews:
“In any circumstance, these comments would have been utterly hateful, but to hang them on what happened at Grenfell Tower beggared belief. It was, of course, a pro-Hizbollah demonstration, but such hatred would have been staggering even in Beirut or Tehran, never mind the streets of London.”
The march also featured “Khaybar, oh Jews!” chants from some in the crowd. Khaybar is a rallying cry for violent antisemitism, only heard in the UK in hardcore extremist circles.
The countless Hezbollah banners too cause consternation. How can this happen in London, a city that has itself been deeply scarred by extremist violence, and in a country where the authorities have powers to tackle “incitement” and the “glorification of terrorism”?
The answer, it seems, is diplomatic sleight of hand. The UK has proscribed the “armed wing” of Hezbollah but not its “political wing”. This distinction is seen as a handy tool in Middle East diplomacy. It is a silly fiction, of course, even according to Hezbollah itself, as this damning CST briefing shows. But as of late May 2018, the policy seems to be standing.
Pleased, the IHRC uses the fiction on Quds Day for the Hezbollah cause.
In addition, in December 2017 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge Nazim Ali for his caustic remarks at the 2017 march.
A Curious Spectacle
In general, the Conservative Party is widely seen as a stronger opponent of Islamist extremists than the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, in a clip filmed in 2010 outside the Islamic Centre of England, a London outpost of the Tehran regime, Corbyn can be seen heaping praise on the IHRC:
These are Corbyn’s words:
I like the way it works, I like the sense of values surrounding it, and I’ve found them extremely helpful in bringing cases to my attention of individual abuses of human rights that they’re concerned about. But also general issues concerning the rights of people in the Middle East. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I’ve found them generally extremely helpful, extremely positive, and help to challenge the notion that human rights is somehow or other something based on Romano-Christian law and based on Europe rather than the rest of the world.
I like the concept that Islamic Human Rights Commission represents all that’s best in Islam concerning the rights of individuals to free expression, to peaceful assembly, and the rights of individuals within a society.