I've written a piece for today's Wall Street Journal about the staggering decision of the US embassy in London to visit the East London Mosque.
I reproduce it in full below.
Repeating U.K. mistakes, Obama's ambassador to Britain reaches out to Muslim radicals.
The East London Mosque is among Britain's most extreme Islamic institutions. Built with financial aid from Saudi Arabia, the sprawling facility is home to the London Muslim Center where incendiary preachers are regularly welcomed. On Monday, the East London Mosque hosted a very different kind of visitor-the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, Louis Susman. Urged by President
Barack Obama to engage with British Muslims, Mr. Susman spoke of his "great admiration" for the mosque and his enthusiasm for meeting its staff.
By any measure the East London mosque is a troubling institution. Last year, for example, it hosted an event titled "The End of Time: A New Beginning," where pamphlets were distributed showing Manhattan crumbling under a Hadean apocalypse of meteors, which shattered the Statute of Liberty asunder and set the city ablaze. One of the invited speakers, Khalid Yasin, described the beliefs of Christians and Jews as "filth." Most worryingly, the event also featured a live video question-and-answer session with Anwar Al Awlaki, the U.S.-born preacher aligned with al Qaeda.
Awlaki's terrorist credentials rival those of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Two of the 9/11 terrorists as well as Major Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 U.S. soldiers in Fort Hood last year, attended his sermons in Washington. From his new base in Yemen, Awlaki called Major Hasan a "hero" and boasted of having directed the "underpants bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in his bid to blow up a Delta airlines flight last Christmas.
Last year was not the first time Awlaki's vitriol resonated through the East London Mosque. In 2003 the mosque hosted him for an event on policing where he told the audience that "A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim, he does not oppress him, he does not betray him and he does not hand him over... You don't hand over a Muslim to the enemies." The enemies in this context were the police.
A trustee of the East London Mosque, Azad Ali, has been quite explicit about his feelings in this regard. "I really do love [Awlaki] for the sake of Allah, he has an uncanny way of explaining things to people which is endearing" Azad Ali said, before going on to support the killing of British and U.S. troops in Iraq.
Mr. Susman's visit illustrates the blunders Western politicians often make by reaching out to the wrong Muslim "dialogue partners." The U.S. ambassador could have easily found out about the mosque's sympathies for reactionary Islamism by consulting the British government. A report published last year by the Department for Communities and Local Government on the Pakistani Muslim community in England states that "the East London Mosque [is] the key institution for the Bangladeshi wing of JI [Jamaat-e Islami] in the U.K."
Jamaat-e Islami is the radical South Asian party created by Syed Abulala Maududi, which aims to create an Islamist theocracy. The Bangladeshi government is currently investigating scores of Jamaat
members for alleged war crimes during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
None of this should come as a surprise to Mr. Susman. Congressional reports from as far back as 1993 have warned of Jamaat's links to terrorism, particularly in Kashmir.
Ironically, two years ago Jamaat was virtually eliminated as a political force in Bangladesh, winning just two out of 300 seats. By contrast, their allies in Britain still claim to speak for British Muslims while their "mother party" has been decisively rejected at the ballot box.
In contrast to the determination of the Bangladeshi people to reject extremist politics, Mr. Susman has emboldened their British counterparts. This visit comes as a bitter blow to those secular and
genuinely progressive Muslims in East London who have been pushing back against the mosque's extremism. Mr. Susman's visit to the East London Mosque emboldened robed reactionaries at the expense of their more moderate counterparts.
The repercussions of the ambassador's decision to attend and praise the East London Mosque are already reverberating through Westminster. Prime Minister David Cameron has asked Lord Carlile, the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws, to oversee an exhaustive review of its "Preventing Violent Extremism" program, including the manner in which communal partners are selected. There is no suggestion, however, that the British government recommended the East London Mosque to the Americans.
Hopefully, the review will reject the dangerous thesis that political Islamists who claim to be non-violent should be bolstered in an attempt to divert angry young Muslim men away from terrorism. This is the premise on which much of Britain's "Prevent" strategy has operated to date. It has previously sought out reactionary groups believing that only they possess the necessary credibility to "deliver" people from violence. At times, this has included turning a Nelsonian eye to hate preachers such as the notorious former imam of Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza, best known for his distinctive eye patch and hook.
As Britain is slowly realizing that empowering Islamists-even if they claim to reject violence-is counterproductive, the U.S. ought to learn from those mistakes rather than repeat them.
Focus on Islamism is a blog dedicated to analysing and exposing the modern ideological phenomenon known as Islamism.
Shiraz Maher is a writer and broadcaster.
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is a PhD student at King's College, London. He has contributed to various online and printed publications including, The Daily Telegraph, Lebanon's Daily Star, Standpoint and NOWLebanon.
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