Today, 49 year-old Anjem Choudhary was convicted at London’s Old Bailey court of using online lectures and messages to encourage support for the banned group, Daesh or Islamic State, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Prosecutors said that in postings on social media, Choudary and his close associate Mizanur Rahman, 33, had sought to validate the “caliphate” declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and said Muslims had a duty to obey or provide support to him.
In one hour-long speech, Choudary set out the requirements for a legitimate caliphate under Islam and why he believed the Islamic State met those criteria.
Time and time again in bomb plots in the UK, individuals who had come into the sphere of influence of Choudhary and groups that he helped set up, such as Al-Muhajiroun, were convicted of attempts to harm, maim or kill. In some cases, young men who had come into contact with Choudhary, were involved in brutal killings in the UK and in other countries.
Yet, there is also another story – that of media sources and editors whose natural reaction on stories about extremism, radicalisation or even on Islam, was to approach Choudhary, as the ‘go to’ person. This not only elevated him in the eyes of some sympathisers, it lionised him in the minds of sympathisers who were overseas who saw him as some form of Muhajideen (or holy warrior), ‘sitting in the land of the disbeliever and standing firm.’ What it did for community relations, was simply to toxify perceptions of wider British Muslim communities many of whom called for his arrest and conviction many years ago.
For some of these media sources, Choudhary was the gift that kept giving. He would raise viewer numbers, be the villain that they wanted him to be and highlight an extremist midst in the heart of our country. Choudhary knew this and played to the media sources knowing that any publicity was ‘good’ publicity for him. These sick and symbiotic relationships simply grew and grew to the point that Choudhary was on TV screens in the UK on virtually a weekly basis. From New York to Tokyo, Choudhary’s face was beamed to millions of viewers and what they saw was a Muslim who was extreme in his views.
Choudhary may well be looking at a ten year jail sentence in the coming weeks. Yet, there are more actors to this sorry saga than just Choudhary. His sympathisers and supporters, media platforms that held onto his every word to ensure higher viewing figures and those that gave Choudhary succour and support, all had a role to play. They had a role to play in creating this monster and in giving his toxic views a realism that may well have influenced others. Only time will tell on that score.
Commenting on the conviction, the Founder of Tell MAMA, Fiyaz Mughal stated;
“Anjem Choudhary was repeatedly the go to person for mainstream press sources. They knew this man craved the press and limelight and he sought to talk to vulnerable young men through those very same press sources and many willingly and obligingly gave him media platforms in a their ratings war. He served their purposes of raising the numbers of viewers and he received a platform for his horrendous and twisted abuse of Islam. It became a symbiotic relationship and some of these press sources should also hang their heads in shame after the verdict.
“Choudhary was made a household name by some of these media sources and he damaged the view of British Muslims by his extremist views. Today, he rightly has been convicted by a jury of his peers. Yet, editors of some of these media sources will be heading to pubs and drinking venues as if they played no part in the creation of Choudhary. However you slice and dice this, Choudhary, his supporters and sympathisers were given oxygen by some sections of the media. On that score, the public deserve an apology by some of these media editors.”