Britain's pernicious libel laws are in the spotlight again: recently the Spectator, a weekly publication focusing on politics, culture and the arts, settled an ongoing dispute with IslamExpo following legal threats. The organizers objected to an article by Stephen Pollard (editor of the Jewish Chronicle) which drew attention to the nature, background and politics of IslamExpo's organizers.
Documents registered with Companies House – a legal requirement for all incorporated companies in England and Wales – reveal that Mohammed Sawalha, Azzam Tamimi, Ismail Patel and Anas al-Tikriti are the registered directors and/or company secretaries.
It is worth, therefore, exploring these individuals in more detail.
Mohammed Sawalha is a Palestinian who fled to London in 1990 after discovering the Israeli authorities wanted to arrest him. An authoritative investigation for the BBC by John Ware – a formidable and robust journalist – made a series of startling revelations about Sawalha; they alleged that Sawalha "master minded much of Hamas political and military strategy" from London; then went on to describe him as a "fugitive Hamas commander."
Sawalha never sued the BBC over those allegations; instead he chose to focus on the substantially smaller resources of the Spectator. Of course, there is little for Sawalha to actually complain about when the Muslim Brotherhood's own website, IslamOnline, describes him as "manager of the political committee of the International Organization of the Brothers [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood] in Britain."*
Last year Sawalha also signed the "Istanbul declaration" after Israeli military action in Gaza during operation Cast Lead. In itself, it is a damning document. Framed as a "statement" addressed to "all rulers and peoples concerning events in Gaza." it condemns those who have "given up the choice of jihad in the way of Allah as an effective means in defeating the occupation."
It also urges Arab governments to open their border crossings with Gaza:
...so that they are able to live and perform the jihad in the way of Allah Almighty. The closure of the crossings or the prevention of the entry of weapons through them should be regarded as high treason in the Islamic Nation, and clear support for the Zionist enemy.
Not stopping there, the document also issued a number of "legal judgements," which include:
7. The obligation of the Islamic Nation to regard everyone standing with the Zionist entity, whether countries, institutions or individuals, as providing a substantial contribution to the crimes and brutality of this entity; the position towards him is the same as towards this usurping entity.
8. The obligation of the Islamic nation to regard the sending of foreign warships into Muslim waters, claiming to control the borders and prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza, as a declaration of war, a new occupation, sinful aggression, and a clear violation of the sovereignty of the nation. This must be rejected and fought by all means and ways.
Hazel Blears, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, interpreted this as a veiled threat against the Royal Navy after Gordon Brown had offered to deploy British warships off the Gaza coast to stop Hamas from smuggling weapons.
Further, there is Britain's arguably best known Hamas supporter: Azzam Tamimi. An interview with the BBC's "Hard Talk" program revealed this extraordinary exchange:
TIM SEBASTIAN: And meanwhile you advocate the suicide bombing. You said on an internet chat forum early in 2003: "For us Moslems martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the most wonderful of things." If it's so wonderful to go and blow yourself up in a public place in Israel why don't you do it?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: Martyrdom is not necessarily suicide bombings as you call them. Martyrdom is …
TIM SEBASTIAN: No, please answer my question. It was a serious question.
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: I'm trying to answer it …
TIM SEBASTIAN: Why don't you do it?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: I'm trying to answer it because this is a concept. Unless it is explained, how can you answer it? Because martyrdom means giving / sacrificing yourself for a noble cause. Now these bombings, the human bombs …
TIM SEBASTIAN: Are you prepared to do this or not?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: I am prepared, of course.
TIM SEBASTIAN: You would [go] and blow yourself up?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: No. I'm trying to explain to you …
TIM SEBASTIAN: Ah – so it's okay. So that's just for the poor and the disillusioned to go and blow themselves up? You would not be prepared to do it …
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: Most of the …
TIM SEBASTIAN: … you advocate other people to do it?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: Unless you give me a chance to explain …
TIM SEBASTIAN: Please … Please …
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: Not a single person of those who bomb themselves, bomb themselves because they are desperate or poor. It doesn't happen because of this. They do it because they want to sacrifice themselves for a cause after all avenues have been closed before them. If the Palestinians today are given F16s and Apache helicopters …
TIM SEBASTIAN: No – please come back to my question. Please come back to my question. Why if it is so glorious and honourable to do this, why don't you do it?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: I would do it …
TIM SEBASTIAN: When?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: If I have the opportunity I would do it …
TIM SEBASTIAN: When are you going to do it?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: When? If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not?
TIM SEBASTIAN: So what's stopping you?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: I cannot go to Palestine. I cannot go to Palestine.
TIM SEBASTIAN: You simply can't get in?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: No, I cannot get in.
TIM SEBASTIAN: Why not?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: I cannot get in because I am not counted as a Pales[tinian]. When my home town was occupied I was outside Palestine and I just wasn't counted. I'm not considered by the Palestinians as a legitimate Palestinian / by the Israelis as a legitimate Palestinian. So as much as they don't recognise me I don't recognise them.
TIM SEBASTIAN: So this is the reason – the only thing that is holding you back from strapping on a suicide belt is the fact that you can't get back to the Palestinian territories?
DR AZZAM AL-TAMIMI: You see sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity.
Since then, Tamimi has gone on to repeat his murderous desire time and time again.
During a talk at the School of Oriental and African Studies earlier this year, Tamimi told the audience:
Today Hamas is considered a terrorist organization because that is what the Americans and Israelis and cowardly politicians of Europe want, but what is so terrorist about it?
You shouldn't be afraid of being labelled extreme, radical or terrorist. If fighting for your home land is terrorism, I take pride in being a terrorist. The Koran tells me if I die for my homeland, I'm a martyr and I long to be a martyr.
If the world felt so guilty about the Holocaust, the Jews should have been compensated, not brought to my country at the expense of my people.
Israel does not belong to my homeland and must come to an end. This can happen peacefully if they acknowledge what they did — or we will continue to struggle until Israel is no more.
The following month when a Pakistani Sufi cleric issued a comprehensive fatwa (religious edict; this one was over 600 pages long) against suicide bombing and terrorism – in all circumstances, including against Israel – Tamimi went on the BBC to ridicule the author.
Tamimi started by saying that suicide bombings are valid in cases of "self defence" before going on:
Then there is the question of utility and whether this is actually good for the cause or bad for the cause and in most cases it is not good for the cause. And I think this is the argument we need to push forward rather than resorting to fatwas because for every fatwa, there is a counter fatwa.
British young Muslims; I would advise them against resorting to any of these tactics because they are counterproductive. But I cannot apply the same thing for people who are defending their country and defending their homes and for people whose families have been wiped out completely by coward pilots flying F16's and Apache helicopters.
For Tamimi, then, suicide bombings in Israel are not just to be welcomed – but actively encouraged. By contrast, his opposition to bombings in the West appears to be based merely on the fact that such a move would be "counter-productive." Presumably, for him, 9/11 and the 7/7 terrorist attacks are wrong because they are misguided, rather than monstrous.
That much was confirmed by Tamimi in an interview he gave to the Spanish Newspaper, La Vanguardia, in November 2001:
Headline: "I admire the Taliban; they are courageous."
Tamimi begins by assuring the interviewer that "everyone" in the Arab world cheered upon seeing the Twin Towers fall. "Excuse me," says the interviewer, "did you understand my question?" Tamimi: "In the Arab and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy. That's what you asked me, isn't it?"
An entire book could be dedicated to Tamimi's indiscretions, although this sample adequately illustrates his opinions.
Next is Ismail Patel, who founded "Friends of al-Aqsa" in 1997. In addition to being connected to Tamimi and Sawalha through IslamExpo, he is also a spokesman for another one of their groups. the British Muslim Initiative (BMI). The BMI regularly plays an important role in organizing and leading anti-Israel demonstrations in the UK. Many of its placards bear slogans like: "Stop the Holocaust in Gaza." During operation Cast Lead, Patel told a rally in London:
Hamas is no terrorist organization. The reason they hate Hamas is because they refuse to be subjugated, occupied by the Israeli state, and we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel.
…to the state of Israel: you no longer represent the Jewish people. You have no moral authority to speak for the Jewish people when thousands of Jews are against what you are doing. And finally, to the British Jewish Board of Deputies, shame on you, to work, to promote the genocide of the Palestinian people and the war crimes of the Israeli government. You do not speak for the British Jewry who today have signed in the Guardian against the Jewish government, what it is doing to the Palestinian people. Shame on the British Jewish Board of Deputies.
At another rally he told the audience:
To the Palestinian resistance, we say we will support you until you gain your freedom!
Finally, there is Anas al-Tikriti. During a "live dialogue" session with Islam Online, al-Tikriti explained:
The struggle of the Iraqi people, militarily and politically must continue until the occupier leaves and a true patriotic and democratic government is elected, In sha'a Allah...
When asked whether this meant he supported the insurgency, he replied:
I am all for the effort and struggle to free Iraq and end the occupation. I would rather that happen without any spillage of blood on any side, the coalition forces or the Iraqis. If there are political avenues that are efficient and would work, then they must be exhausted. However, to expect to rule people with guns and missiles and not expect a reaction in kind is extremely foolish and naive. Also, to occupy a people and expect them not to retaliate is also unrealistic. Even the United Nations recognizes the right of an occupied people to free themselves using any means and methods, and the Iraqis aren't exempt from that liberty. However, my wish is that not one single Iraqi is killed, not one single American or British soldier is killed...and Iraq is freed from occupation. If that can be achieved, then I'm all for it.
[The Iraqi people] have been wronged for far too long, but now they are fighting for their freedom and future. I can only remind them that it is with unity and standing together that we can achieve our goals and realize the objectives that have been beyond us for so long. Also, if anything, we have learnt from the dark era of the Ba'ath regime, never ever to allow injustice to go unpunished and unchecked. We must never ever allow a tyrant to flourish or a wrong-doer to get away with any in the future.
It is not the first time al-Tikriti has espoused such views. A report on the Muslim Brotherhood's official English language website says:
Al Tikriti called upon members of the Iraqi resistance to embolden its true patriotic image before the world and refrain from killing for the sake of killing but only to resist the occupation. He concluded by reaffirming the right of the Iraqis to engage in legitimate resistance against foreign occupation abiding by the international laws and traditions.
Al-Tikriti has also been critical of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) after it reversed its decision to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day services in the UK. For al-Tikriti this was a betrayal of the MCB's "previous[ly] principled stand."
Surveying the repeated encomiums heaped on Hamas, terrorists, and suicide bombers by the quartet behind IslamExpo is a journey into the very worst of what British Islamists have to offer. That they could have used Britain's arcane libel laws to attack the Spectator reveals just how urgent the case is for reform. The new Conservative-Liberal alliance has promised a review of libel legislation -- and not a moment too soon.
*(The description of Sawalha as a manager of the political committee of the International Organization of the Brothers appears in Arabic and reads: وأضافت أن "محمد صوالحة المسئول باللجنة السياسية للتنظيم الدولي للإخوان في بريطاني)