The progression from being a radical to being a terrorist has been referred to as the extremism "conveyor belt." Although the government has acknowledged the fundamental role of so-called "non-violent" or "soft Islamist" extremists in this progression, taxpayers continue to fund extremist groups.
Michael Adebowale, one of the two British jihadists found guilty of murdering soldier Lee Rigby near London's Woolwich barracks in May 2013, has recently attributed his radicalization to Islamic preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin.
According to the Daily Mirror newspaper, Adebowale, who refused to give evidence during his trial, stated that he converted to Islam after listening to cleric Sheikh Khalid Yasin's lectures, which he said taught him "the purpose of life."
Yasin, an American-born Islamic preacher, claims Christians and Jews are "kuffar" [infidels] and their beliefs are "filth." Yasin has called for the killing of homosexuals and claims that "Christian groups" have deliberately infected Africans with the AIDS virus. He further adds that the Koran gives men permission to beat women.
Adebowale is not the first violent extremist to name Yasin as his muse. In 2011, Khalid Yasin was invited by three men, later convicted of inciting terrorism, to address a meeting of young Muslims in Manchester.
While Yasin's views are rejected by many, he is by no means a pariah figure. In February 2011, the BBC interviewed Yasin for a documentary on Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The program introduced the Sheikh as a "moderate" preacher "engaged in de-radicalising youth."
It seems to be self-proclaimed "moderate" organizations and mosques that are involved in the radicalization of young Muslim men. In May 2013, The Daily Telegraph reported:
[Adebowale's] mother was advised by a neighbour to take him to the head of the Woolwich mosque for spiritual guidance. He was converted to Islam by the head Imam, and taken for weeks of "further training" at a centre near Cambridge. When he returned, however, he was even more "radicalised" and his mother could no longer "get through to him".
In 2010, a Freedom of Information request revealed that, since 2007, the local Government had provided the very same Woolwich Mosque, also known as the Greenwich Islamic Centre, with a public grant of £62,500, supposedly to counteract violent extremism.
The media's curious habit of separating extremist preachers from the very terrorists they appear to have inspired has previously been examined; journalists and politicians, however, seem unable to accept that some Islamist groups might say one thing in public but promote a very different thing behind closed doors.
The Muslim Association of Britain, for instance, responded to the Woolwich killing by stating that they "deplored the horrific attack, murder and mutilation upon an off-duty soldier ... They deserve punishment with the full force of the law."
The president of the Muslim Association of Britain, however, has endorsed the killing of troops in Israel and Iraq; and Dr. Azzam Tamimi, another senior member of the Association, has expressed his desire to become a suicide bomber.
Angel Rabasa, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, has observed:
"In our own studies of radical recruitment in the Middle East, we found that individuals recruited into Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood groups decide at some point that their mentors are not Islamic enough and move on to even more extreme and violent groups. This progression from religious radicalism to violent extremism is made possible by the absence of firewalls between mainstream Islam and radicals and violent extremists. Violent extremists can derive scriptural justifications for their actions."
Woolwich terrorist Adebowale also attended sessions at the Glyndon Community Centre, where another extremist, Usman Ali, presented sessions. Ali had previously used the Woolwich Mosque to show children videos of the 9/11 attacks while chanting: "God is great." The local government authority owns the Glyndon Community Centre, and the charity that manages the centre is largely taxpayer-funded.
Ali was a member of the centre's managing committee the same year that the council provided a grant of £137,000. Ali was later employed by a local public hospital as the official Muslim chaplain.
The individuals attached to the radicalization of the Woolwich killers were not unabashed advocates of terrorism, but so-called "soft Islamists" -- afforded money and responsibility by the government in the vain hope that "non-violent" Islamism would temper violent Islamism.
This process seems also to have occurred, for instance, to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed "underwear bomber," who attempted to detonate an explosive device he was wearing on Northwest Airlines 253 on December 25, 2009.
Years earlier, Abdulmutallab had been a student at University College London, where he was president of the Islamic Society. After the bomb failed to detonate, he told his arresting FBI officers in Detroit that he was seeking martyrdom for the glory of al-Qaeda. At the time of his arrest, he was the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to attempt an act of terrorism in three years.
While Abdulmutallab was in charge of his university's Islamic society, he did not invite barefaced extremists involved with violent acts to address students; instead, he invited dozens of popular, well-known British Islamist preachers, who still frequently speak on university campuses, share platforms with British politicians and are frequently invited by the media to give comment on "moderate" Islam.
These preachers included: Murtaza Khan, who claims women who use perfume should be flogged; Abdurraheem Green, who has spoken of a "Jewish stench" and says it is permissible to beat women to "bring them to goodness;" Haitham Al-Haddad, who describes Jews as "pigs and apes;" and Yasir Qadhi, who claims the Holocaust is a hoax and has said: "Why are Jews studying Islam? There is a reason, not that they want to help us, they want to destroy us."
By Abdulmutallab's own admission, it was these "non-violent" Islamist preachers who radicalized him. In 2008, in a short autobiography, he cited the influence of Haitham al-Haddad. The same year, Abdulmutallab had attended seminars organized by the Al Maghrib Institute in both London and Houston. The Institute's founder, Muhammad Al Shareef, has written a paper entitled, "Why the Jews Were Cursed" -- in which he claims that Jews control the media and were responsible for the murder of prophets. A number of the Institute's staff, described as extremist preachers, frequently speak on platforms provided by British Muslim groups.
In 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged the problem of "the conveyor belt," during a much-discussed speech in Munich, and signalled that the government's approach would change:
"As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called 'non-violent extremists', and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence. ... Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism. As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement."
Following this testimony, however, taxpayer-subsidised extremism did not meet a sudden end. Since Cameron's Munich speech, for example, the East London Mosque, has received at least £150,000 of taxpayers' money. In December 2013, the East London Mosque invited Shakeel Begg, who describes jihad as "the greatest of deeds," to speak at the institution.
Moreover, in 2012 – after the Prime Minister's Munich speech and the year in which £150,000 of public grants were provided – one invited speaker at the Mosque was Saad al-Beraik, a "prominent [Saudi] government official cleric," who refers to Jews as "monkeys" and has said: "Muslim brothers in Palestine, do not have any mercy neither compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh. Their women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don't you enslave their women? Why don't you wage jihad? Why don't you pillage them?"
The East London Mosque, which receives government funding, hosts extremist speakers. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
The greatest obstacle remains the failure of government, media and academia to accept that some "moderate" Islamists are frequently the cause and Adebowale merely the symptom. Policy makers and academics, however, continue to insist that "non-violent" Islamists should be part of the fight against radicalization.
Several months after the Prime Minister's Munich speech in 2011, Lord Carlile published his review of the government's counter-terror program, a report that further affirmed the importance of countering "non-violent" extremists. Nonetheless, since the review was published, even though official funding from the government's counter-terror program has dried up, taxpayer money continues to find its way into the pockets of extremist Islamist groups through other means, such as taxpayer-funded interfaith programmes and publicly-funded faith schools.
The author and political commentator Douglas Murray has noted that the failure properly to confront the danger presented by "non-violent" extremism is primarily a political one:
Shortly after Mr. Cameron's [Munich] speech, the Liberal Democrat leader (and Deputy Prime Minister) Nick Clegg gave an almost exactly opposite speech in Luton. He argued, among other things, the importance of engagement with nonviolent extremists.
Academia, too, seems blind to the problem: the inquiry set up by the University College London to examine Abdulmutallab's presence at UCL, for instance, included Muhammad Abdul Bari on its panel of experts. In 2006, while Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Bari offered the East London Mosque as a platform to Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Jamaat-e-Islami vice-president who has since also been sentenced to death in Bangladesh for his involvement in acts of genocide during the 1971 War of Independence. Muhammad Abdul Bari has also defended the East London Mosque's decision to host an event with Anwar Al-Awlaki, the late Al Qaeda leader.
The process of radicalization seems institutionalized within Britain's leading "moderate" Islamist groups. Until the government chooses seriously to challenge the extremism promoted by these organizations, withdraws all public funding and puts a stop to the inclusion of "non-violent" extremists in the discussion of public policy, the "conveyor belt" will continue to release more and more radicalized youth onto the streets of British cities.