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24 September 2014

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Abu Izzadeen

Abu Izadeen heckling John Reid in 2006

Battle of Ideas

Just 36 hours before Abu Izzadeen's arrest Kurt Barling talked to him about how he justified saying that British Muslim soldiers should be beheaded.

Last week the man who put himself into the public eye by heckling John Reid in September 2006 was arrested and charged under the Terrorism Act 2006.  

Abu Izzadeen operates on the radical fringes of Islam in the United Kingdom and is accused of encouraging terrorism.  

Thirty six hours before his arrest Kurt Barling talked to him about how he justified saying that British Muslim soldiers should be beheaded.

Abu Izzadeen cuts a striking figure dressed in white robes.   Born into a Christian family originally from Jamaica, Izzadeen converted to Islam.   At 32 he has spent the last few years berating the British government for its policies in the Middle East and criticising what he perceives to be Islamophobic tendencies in Britain.

Last week he hit the headlines after footage showed him supporting the idea that British Muslims who join the British Army and then fight in Muslim lands could be beheaded.  He says if there were an Islamic State in Britain governed by the rule of Sharia law, this is what would happen.

This radical discourse evolved in Britain once the outspoken cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed (now back in the Middle East) split away from the British arm of Hizb-Ut Tahir and formed Al Muhajiroun.   Hizb-Ut Tahir is itself on the radical fringes of Islam and banned in countries like Egypt.

In the wake of 9/11 the voice of radical Islam seemed to successfully drown out in public the opinions of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain.   This voice of radicalism, which by its nature is intolerant, has since the London tube bombings of 2005 had to contend with strong challenges from within the Muslim community.

Once British troops began to fight in Afghanistan, Al Muhajiroun and its small band of supporters claimed that a “covenant of security” had been breached. 

This covenant had hitherto protected Britain and its citizens  from harm and attack.  As far as they were concerned from this moment on British targets could be seen legitimate like American ones.

The fundamental objective of all these radical groups is a return to the Caliphate in which all nations where Muslims are in the majority would serve under the jurisdiction of an Islamic leader. 

In Britain there is a tiny group of individuals who want to establish an Islamic State in Britain and introduce Sharia Law making it part of that Caliphate.

Kurt Barling

BBC London's Kurt Barling

Al Muhajiroun, which is now disbanded, never gave accurate figures for its membership, but it never numbered more than a few hundred.   Its successor Al Ghurabaa had even fewer associated members.  That group is now an outlawed organisation because the radical views it propagated glorified acts of terrorism.

There is a strong argument that this small band of men had a voice out of all proportion to their size because the mainstream media was busy looking for explanations in the wake of 9/11 and then the bombings on the London underground in 2005. 

Abu Izzadeen and his close associate Anjoum Choudhary both refused to condemn those who carried out the attacks on the tube.   This served to gain them more media interest through their growing notoriety.

There are those who wonder why on earth someone who wants to establish an Islamic State wants to try it here in the UK, given it is highly unlikely to happen, all but the deluded must realise that.  

When I put it to Izzadeen that he might find other countries to live in which are more open to his way of thinking so he can practice what he preaches his answer was revealing.

In short he believes that there is nowhere else in the world that would allow the establishment of the type of Islamic State with Sharia Law that he and his small band of sympathisers advocate.    In other words he has to stay here because no-one else would tolerate his views.

Although Izzadeen and close associates are undoubtedly devout and in some cases University educated they appeal above all to those young people who are most alienated from society.  

They appear to offer an explanation for all the difficulties that these young people face and a straightforward set of Islamic solutions.

But Izzadeen is a man wedded to the dogma of his faith and this appears to be having the opposite effect to the one he may have anticipated in convincing others to follow his path.  

It’s noticeable that since the bombings in London, his radical message has been more robustly countered by alternative young voices from within the Muslim community.  

Groups like the Muslim Safety Forum or the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) say that the best means of improving life in Britain is to engage constructively with the system.

These alternative groups are no apologists for the British state.   They are often highly critical of government policy and institutions like the police or more generally the portrayal of Muslims in the media.  

But what these groups have started is a more robust set of discourses within Muslim communities about what needs to be done to change the system from within.

Theological fanaticism when allied with a controversial political message is difficult to combat in purely rational debate, unless you separate the politics from the fanatic. 

In the battle for the hearts and minds of young muslims in Britain, there are now many young muslim voices denouncing fanatical interpretations of Islam and finding a different way of articulating genuine economic, political and social concerns.

Furthermore mainstream groups like the Muslim Council of Britain and even radical groups like Hizb-ut Tahir have disassociated themselves entirely from this radical current.

Perceived levels of rising Islamophobia are just one symptom of the Muslim community’s malaise.   The state of course has a critical role in shaping these perceptions.

One example is the length of time that terrorist suspects can be held for questioning.     This is still under review.  The government is pushing for 90 days; the police want 42 days whilst the existing 28 limit has still not been fully used.  

It is important for the Muslim community to see that justice can be applied fairly and openly and they do not feel unduly victimised by the criminal justice system.

last updated: 20/05/2008 at 14:05
created: 13/02/2007

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