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November 29, 2007

Death Threats against a Newham Councillor who opposes the proposed Mega-Mosque in East London: Anthony McRoy - author of From Rushdie to 7/7 - asks, why have the police done nothing?

Posted by Anthony McRoy

Anthony McRoy - the author of From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain - investigates a disturbing case of police inaction.

The Evangelical Christian press is often replete with articles detailing violent sectarian attacks and death threats against Christians in various Muslim countries, such as Pakistan or Egypt. Frequently, leading politicians and the police in those countries are accused - with great justice - of failing to take attacks against Christians seriously. We might need to get used to reading such stories in the British press as well.

Recent reports in the media concerned an alleged death threat against Councillor Alan Craig, leader of the Christian Peoples' Alliance group on Newham Council in London. Craig has been campaigning against the proposed "Mega-Mosque" to be built in West Ham, near the site of the Olympic village. It will be both the largest mosque and indeed the biggest religious building in the British Isles. Craig, who recognises the right of Muslims to build ordinary mosques, has been concerned about the lack of public consultation surrounding the "Mega-Mosque", the possibility that sectarian and extremist figures - especially from Saudi Arabia - might disturb local community relations (Newham is very diverse) and finally, that in imitation of Dewsbury, where the group behind the proposed mosque - Tablighi Jamaat - have their UK HQ, the construction might encourage "non-Muslim flight" and the creation of a sectarian ghetto.

The threatening video was posted on Youtube (since removed by the company) entitled "In memory of Councillor Alan Craig". Beyond Elvis Presley singing "You were always on my mind", the video contains no verbal commentary. Pictures of Craig, which included his wife and young children, then follow.

It is the involvement of his wife and children that Craig has found most objectionable. In a video posted after the media attention, the video's author - Abdullah1425 - claimed that he was not making a death threat, but rather engaging in "light-hearted political satire".

However, many people might find it difficult to spot the humour. For a start, what is amusing about a video with an "obituary" theme? Surely the message is: "we wish you were dead!"

Furthermore, the video contains the quotation of the Qur'anic verse Surah Al-Baqarah 2:156

From Allah we all come and to Him we all return.
That it is a quotation from the holy Scripture of Islam is vital: I have been studying and interacting with Muslims for many years now, and have a PhD in Islamic Studies. Whilst I have heard Muslims joke about polygamy (one Muslim leader told me "what we always say is: if you have four wives, you get four mothers-in-law!"), or about Shari'ah punishments in certain contexts (such as when a US imam told of how a mugger some Muslims had apprehended in America feared that they would cut-off his hands, affording the listening audience much amusement), I have never known any to joke about the Qur'an. Such conduct would be seen as disrespectful to Allah, and even blasphemous.

Indeed, this particular Qur'anic verse is usually employed by Muslims when someone dies. This is enjoined by Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh us Sunnah 4:19). The video ends by reciting the Muslim creed the Shahadah:

La ilaha illallah
[there is no god but Allah]
Muslims often recite this in various situations, but in this context it may have a specific funerary implication, since Islamic funeral etiquette is to recite the Shahadah: Fiqh us Sunnah 4:16:
Among the actions which it is sunnah to do when someone dies is to advise the dying person to say:
La ilaha illallah
[there is no god but Allah].
As for the pictures of Craig's children, Shari'ah funeral etiquette (distinctively with respect to non-Muslims) enjoins:
A Muslim may not pray for a non-believer… Likewise no prayer may be offered for their children, for what applies to their parents applies to them as well…
[Fiqh us Sunnah 4:51-a]
The practices of quoting from Surah 2:156 and the recitation of the Shahadah in the context of death derive from the Hadith, the sayings and deeds of Muhammad. Once more, I have never encountered a Muslim joking about the words and deeds of his Prophet. For these reasons alone, it will take a lot of convincing that this video was "light-hearted satire".

Moreover, the author, identified as 23-year-old Muhammad from Stevenage, has attacked Cllr. Craig in several Youtube videos before, and in none of them is his approach humorous. Indeed, in every case he is belligerent and denunciatory, to the point of accusing Craig of being Islamophobic, a political opportunist, having a "twisted agenda" and of fuelling the BNP campaign (see: Re: The 2012 Olympics: ONE LONDON!). The "obituary" video defiantly states that:

The mosque will be built in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. We must ask Allah to strengthen us.
Craig has expressed his determination not to be intimidated, and will continue his campaign against the mega-mosque.

Abdullah1425 has also attacked Jay Smith, the UK-based American Christian apologist who debates Muslims at Hyde Park. In the video Mr Alan Craig Is Raising Funds For Abbeymills Mosque he attacks Craig for speaking alongside Smith at one such Speakers' Corner debate. In regard to Smith, the hostile tone of "Abdullah1425" is demonstrated by the title of one video, HOLY SPIRIT, HOLY DEVIL, HOLY JAY SMITH. Another video is entitled THE DAJJAL, JAY SMITH - "Dajjal" being the Islamic term for the Antichrist.

In another video attacking Smith, Jay Smith Exposed PART 2, he questions how Smith can afford to travel the world for speaking engagements (reality check: when I was invited to America this year, the churches inviting me paid my expenses. When I was invited by Islamic religious institutions in Muslim countries, they paid my expenses. One assumes it is the same for Smith). The video states:

Jay gets paid to push his turd.
In answer to Smith referring to jihad verses in the Qur'an, the video states:
Muslims are not pacifists! They will fight in Gods [sic] way.
It can be seen that Abdullah1425 has a belligerent and hostile tone in regard to confronting those with whom he disagrees.

It must be emphasised that neither Craig nor Smith have engaged in violence against Muslims or incited physical aggression against British Muslims. If Abdullah1425 wants to oppose them, that is his right: inciting violence is a different matter. Of course, he denies now that this was his intention, and we might charitably ascribe his outburst to youthful bravado, but what if someone were to act on what he or she saw as the video's message and actually try to murder Craig or his family? Abdullah1425 cannot escape his responsibility in this.

After the purported death threat itself, the most distressing aspect of this incident is the reaction of the police, politicians and community relations officials.

If Far Right extremist had issued such a video against a Muslim or some other minority, one imagines that leading politicians of all hues would have fallen over themselves, and the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights would have demanded immediate action and prosecution. However, Cllr. Craig has informed me that no leading politician has even commented on the video, and he has heard nothing from the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, whose brief does include religious community relations.

More disturbingly, the police only acted three weeks after Craig made the complaint - and remember, this was not a report about a noisy neighbour, but about possible incitement to violence - and this against an elected Councillor. Even then, the author of the video was merely arrested and bailed to return in February.

Why the lack of action and urgency? Certainly Evangelical Christians in the East End are wondering if the police are guilty of deliberate foot-dragging. It should be remembered that the Metropolitan Police were much criticised at the time of the Danish cartoon crisis for allowing militants to parade in London bearing placards advocating

Annihilate those who blaspheme Islam,
and for allowing the same radicals to demonstrate outside Britain's leading Catholic Cathedral at Westminster after the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor about Islam, despite the fact that some placards stated
May Allah curse the Pope.
Many people will feel that the police may not take the threats against Craig too seriously for fear of being accused of racism or Islamophobia. We should recall that the botched Forest Gate terrorism raid occurred in Newham, perhaps making the police wary of the speedy action that would be expected in hate crimes against other minorities.

It must be feared that the police are not concerned by accusations of "Evangelophobia". Many Evangelicals feel that we are the only minority against whom it is safe to promote hostility. The media scarcely notice us save when some pastor is involved in a sexual or financial scandal, or when some (usually American) Evangelical makes provocative comments about the Middle East, or threatens the Venezuelan President with kidnapping or assassination.

My book, From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) received positive reviews and reception, including praise by leading Muslims for its objectivity. The one exception came in a review by a "moderate Muslim" (not associated with leading Muslim organisations) in The Independent in which the reviewer quite irrelevantly emphasised my being an Evangelical Christian - although I did not make an issue of this in the book beyond mentioning it in the preface.

Specifically, in regard to my reference to Offensive jihad, he stated

he screams with evangelical zeal,
as though "screaming" and "zeal" (in the negative sense) are intrinsic components of Evangelical Christianity. Think about that: if a book were published by a Catholic, a Jew or a Hindu - or by a Muslim - and someone commented "he screams with Islamic zeal" or the respective religious confession, he would doubtless be accused of sectarian prejudice. It is hard to imagine anyone daring to ascribe "screaming" in this way to any other community.

Certainly, many Evangelicals will feel that the toleration of Evangelophobia, as evident by the deafening silence from politicians and community relations officials, have left the police with something less than a sense of urgency in the face of an alleged death threat, especially since they are probably concerned not to damage relations with Muslims in consequence of the Forest Gate incident. Thus, the parallels with Egypt and Pakistan are not necessarily exaggerated. Indeed, a recent Dispatches programme showed that attacks on converts from Islam to Christianity are occurring in the UK - not just in Muslim countries.

Officials for the Abbey Mills Mosque - the local Tablighi Jamaat group responsible for the proposed structure - having admitted that their website originally gave a link (since removed) to the video threatening Craig, have since dissociated themselves from its author, stating that they condemn anyone inciting violence.

It must be recognised that - in the light of 7/7, news of attacks on churches by Muslim youths in northern England, recent reports of harassment of converts from Islam in the UK, and arrests in the Midlands of Muslims planning to kill a Muslim British soldier - that many Britons have concerns and questions about some British Muslim youth. It is not difficult for such fear to metamorphose into suspicion and antagonism.

All Abdullah1425 has accomplished is to accelerate this process - to further alienate ordinary peaceful Britons from the Muslim community, to increase fear and suspicion that there is hard core of militants here who are prepared to use violence against peaceful residents of the UK, and thus to encourage those who wish to promote more intrusion and deeper antagonism against British Muslims.

Dr Anthony McRoy is a writer on Islam in the UK. He is the author of From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain, (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).

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"Even then, the author of the video was merely arrested and bailed to return in February"
Dear Sir,
What action from the police were you hoping for?
If the suspect has been arrested then bailed, presumably for further enquiries or CPS advice, there has been action.
I imagine that whoever is dealing with this has quite a considerable caseload of offences to deal with, some more pressing than others.

Posted by: Brendan at December 3, 2007 04:28 AM
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