If the U.S. authorities are beset by questions about their capacity for the prevention – or lack thereof – of Islamist terrorism, similar questions need to be asked about the response to terror conspiracies in Britain.
In the U.S., the debate is fed by the continuing, controversial aftermath of the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador John Christopher Stevens and three of his compatriots, last year, as well as by the recent bombings in Boston.
In Britain, two important legal proceedings have concluded, as announced at the end of April, in Birmingham and London. On April 26, three men, Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali, were sentenced. They had planned a bombing attack to rival the atrocities of September 11, 2001 in the U.S. and the London metro assault of July 7, 2005. Naseer and Ali received 18 years in prison, and Ali was ordered to serve 15 years. Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali will also see the judgments against them supplemented by probation ("licence," in British legal terminology).
The three headed a terrorist cell in which eight other participants were found guilty and face time behind bars, as well. Rahin Ahmed received 12 years, with a further five on probation; Ali's elder brother, Bahader, was sentenced to six years, and Mohammed Rizwan and Mujahid Hussain to four.
Four more members of the cell had gone to Pakistan for terrorist training, but had drawn back from participation in criminal acts. Nevertheless, the four – Ishaaq Hussain, Shahid Khan, Naweed Ali and Khobaib Hussain – each received penalties of 40 months in prison.
Second, on April 30, six men – Anzal Hussain (brother of Ishaaq Hussain, above), Omar Khan, Mohammed Saud, Zohaib Ahmed, Mohammed Hasseen, and Jewel Uddin (also suspected of involvement in the previously-mentioned case) – pled guilty to plotting an attack on a political demonstration by the anti-immigration English Defence League (EDL). When they arrived at the scene of the event, however, it had already ended, and the EDL members had left. Evidence against the six in the EDL assault plan included sermons by the late Yemeni-American Al-Qa'ida leader, Anwar Al-Awlaki. The six await sentencing in June.
Although it would appear that Britain has been successful in thwarting such conspiracies, the UK government, simultaneous with its legal pursuit of extremists, has attempted to resolve the challenge through political accommodation with Islamist fanatics.
In an example of such conduct, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Pakistani-born minister for faith and communities in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, spoke in March at a meeting of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS).
FOSIS has been criticized by Cameron's home secretary, Theresa May, for its failure to distance itself from extremist ideology; May has refused to meet with FOSIS leaders. The organization has been similarly censured by Liberal Democrat leader and current deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
Guest speakers at past FOSIS annual conferences have included Al-Awlaki, as well as other prominent fundamentalists, such as Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian-British academic aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Baroness Warsi, an advocate of "engagement" with radical Islam, was until last year, a co-chair of the Conservative Party. Nobody believes she supports terrorism, but her approach to the problem betrays, at least, a lack of coherence. One cannot oppose radical Islam by "dialogue" with its exponents. Such an approach reveals at worst, a failure of will and nerve on the part of British authorities. Radical Islam must be confronted openly and defeated categorically.
Her stand in favor of a "conversation" with Islamist zealots is not a new phenomenon in Britain. In 2009 then-Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith unveiled a revised government approach entitled, "Contest" based in four principles: "Prevent, Pursue, Protect, and Prepare."
Conservative member of the British parliament Patrick Mercer stated at that time that 100 million British pounds – about $150 million – had been spent on an overall set of anti-terrorism programs known as "Prevent," in the period 2007-09. This amounted to about 90,000 UK pounds per day (then equivalent to $135,000) on schemes to abate radicalism by "soft" methods.
These included the "Radical Middle Way" project, in which fundamentalist Muslim preachers were hired to travel around Britain with the message that while radical ideology is acceptable in the marketplace of ideas, the violence that it has produced is not.
Nevertheless, the "Radical Middle Way" – which received 1.2 million British pounds [$1.8 million], including 54,000 [$80,000] for its website, up to 2009 – continues to function. Its main participants include Abdur Rahman Al-Helbawy, son and colleague of Kemal Helbawy, the long-time representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain.
Other leading figures in the "Radical Middle Way" are highly-placed partners of the Egyptian-born, Qatar-based, Muslim Brotherhood-supporting hate preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. These associates include the Muslim Brotherhood's star among Western-based intellectuals, Tariq Ramadan (grandson of Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna).
Another leading figure in RMW is Jamal Badawi, a Canadian academic known for his defense of wife-beating and polygamy, and arguments against female participation in politics.
The Saudi-based Islamic jurist Abdullah Bin Bayyah is also active in the "Radical Middle Way." Bin Bayyah is a leading member of the so-called European Council for Fatwas and Research [ECFR], established by Al-Qaradawi and his Brotherhood supporters as an Islamic law body to "govern" the conduct of Muslims living in Europe. The very concept of ECFR violates the norms of traditional Islam, which hold that Islamic Shariah law cannot be exported to non-Muslim countries.
As pointed out by the leading German scholar of Islam, Matthias Rohe, "with respect to the legal rules of shariah it was broadly accepted since the Middle Ages that they cannot be applied outside 'Islamic' territory and that Muslims are obliged to either respect the law of the land or to leave the country and to return to countries ruled by Muslims." Rohe, in an article titled "Application of Shari'a Rules in Europe – Scope and Limits," in the Special Theme Issue – Shari'a in Europe, published by the authoritative journal Die Welt Des Islams, in 2004, cited this principle from Islamic legal works in Arabic published in Kuwait in 1990 and Lebanon in 1998. Every Muslim is taught that when the first Muslims fled from Mecca to Christian Abyssinia (today's Ethiopia) they were commanded by Muhammad to obey the Christian ruler or return to Muslim territory.
Finally, RMW has also recruited Ibrahim Osi-Efa, a British-born fundamentalist who runs a Micro-medresa [Islamic religious school] program throughout the UK, recruiting mainstream Sunni Muslims and converting them into sympathisers of the South Asian jihadi Deobandi movement. Osi-Efa is currently raising more than 200,000 British pounds to open a headquarters for his organization, called the Greensville Trust. The building, Felicity House in Liverpool, will consist of a Micro-Medresa Academy for Adult Education, a Dawah [religious outreach] Drop-In Centre, and a Children's Nursery.
ECFR fatwas have included demands that Muslim women living in Europe and facing domestic problems allow their issues to be handled by "family tribunals", i.e. Shariah courts. These institutions have proliferated in Britain: countless Muslim women, married in Pakistan, have failed to register their weddings in Britain, and therefore cannot obtain a UK divorce.
Mandates by ECFR include judgments that Muslim women may be ordered by their husbands not to visit female friends of the wife, if the husband suspects such relationships will harm the family or relations between the couple. Under ECFR rules, Muslim women must obtain permission from their "male guardian," that is, a family member, before marrying. Al-Qaradawi's effort to establish "parallel Shariah" in Europe legitimizes four wives for Muslim men living in non-Muslim Europe. ECFR reserves the right of husbands to initiate divorce from Muslim wives, unless a right to divorce by action of the wife is written into their marriage contract. It prohibits gender mixing between unrelated men and women, unless women are entirely covered except for their face and hands. It forbids Muslim women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a "male guardian."
These concepts contradict European civil law, but ECFR does not represent Muslims living in Europe and integrated into Western society. It has excluded moderate French and German Muslim leaders, and nearly all of its members are immigrants from or residents in Arab or African countries. It is, however, affiliated with the Turkish Milli Gorus [National Vision] movement, an ultra-fundamentalist trend associated with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Milli Gorus has a significant, if low-key presence in Germany and the Netherlands.
Members of the "Radical Middle Way," such as Tariq Ramadan, Ibrahim Osi-Efa, Jamal Badawi, and Abdullah Bin Bayyah, are not moderate Muslims. They have demonstrated this by their commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood and the South Asian jihadi Deobandi movement, their defense of wife-beating, and their support for Wahhabism. Moderate Muslims have repudiated all these interpretations. These Islamist personalities are not appropriate partners for the British government in its effort to obstruct radicalization.
In 2011, the Cameron government announced a new direction for the "Prevent" program, which would emphasise its opposition to Islamist ideology and not simply try to obstruct terrorism. But Cameron was opposed within the ranks of his cabinet by some, including Baroness Warsi, who called for maintaining a posture of amelioration with the acolytes of Muslim fundamentalism.
The planning of violent atrocities continues in Britain; the government has still failed to curb the spread of radical agitation, and actions like the visit of Baroness Warsi to FOSIS illustrate that a necessary, firm, and united opposition to radical Islam remains lacking at the official level. Nobody in the UK government should ask Muslims to abandon Islam as a religion, but a significant struggle against radicalism is justifiable and necessary.