The recent videotaped beheadings of Western hostages by ISIS have provided fundamentalists in the West with the opportunity to express shock and outrage at such barbarism -- and implicitly to claim their own Islamist narrative as good.
It is difficult to find an Islamic charity or lobby group in Britain that has not publicly voiced its disgust at ISIS. On the face of it, this is welcome news. After all, if Muslim community organizations were releasing statements in support of ISIS, Britain's prospects would look fragile indeed.
Many of those Muslim groups that have condemned ISIS, however, have a long history of promoting extremism themselves. It turns out, for example, that senior officials at Al Muntada Trust -- which recently published a statement condemning ISIS, signed by nine other Islamic organizations -- have worked closely with Nabil al-Awadi, a "key financier" of ISIS.
In 2012, the Al-Muntada Trust invited al-Awadi and another jihadi cleric, Muhammad al-Arifi, to speak. Al-Arifi has been linked to the radicalization of Muslim youth in Cardiff. He was recently banned from entering the UK, then went to fight for ISIS. Further, the Nigerian media have accused Al Muntada of funding al-Qaeda affiliate Boko Haram.
The other nine signatories to the letter denouncing ISIS include:
Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque – In 2008, a British television documentary filmed preachers at the Centre calling upon Muslims to murder homosexuals and adulterers, stating that Muslims who convert to another religion should be slaughtered, and branding the behaviour of other races as "vile". The director of the centre is Ahmad Al Dubayan, a "Saudi diplomat" who is also a trustee of a school named the King Fahad Academy, which taught pupils that Christians were "pigs" and Jews were "monkeys." Students were even asked to "mention some repugnant characteristics of Jews."
Muslim Welfare House – a Muslim Brotherhood-run institution, the founder of which, Kamal Helbawy, is an outspoken supporter of Bin Laden and once said, "[The Palestinian cause] is an absolute clash of civilisations: a satanic programme led by the Jews and those who support them and a divine programme carried by Hamas and the Islamic Movement in particular and the Islamic peoples in general."
East London Mosque – one of the leading centers for hate preachers in Europe. Most recently, the mosque organized a "six-week evening course" with Imam Fadel Soliman, an extremist Egyptian preacher who has called for the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and claims that the punishment for "fornication" is "100 lashes."
Finsbury Park Mosque – a leading centre for the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK. Its director is Mohammed Sawalha, who is described by a Brotherhood website as being "responsible for the political unit of the international Muslim Brotherhood in the UK." Sawalha is also "said to have masterminded much of Hamas's political and military strategy" out of London, as reported by the BBC.
Al-Tawheed Mosque – a mosque in East London that has provided a platform to terrorist ideologues such as Anwar Al-Awlaki and Abu Qatada.
Green Lane Masjid – One of the Imams at this Birmingham mosque is Abu Usamah ad-Dhahabi, who has called for the killing of apostates and homosexuals; has advocated holy war in an Islamic state, and teaches that women are inferior to men.
This condemnation of ISIS was re-published by groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain, as well as the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, which claims to advocate for better relations among religious communities.
Outside the UK, even Al Qaeda has suggested that ISIS might be a bit too extreme. Al Qaeda, appearing, by comparison suddenly "moderate," has, in fact, issued an appeal asking ISIS to release the British hostage Alan Henning, ostensibly because he is an "innocent aid worker."
Alan Henning originally travelled to Syria with an aid convoy organized by a number of extremist charities. As first reported by Gatestone Institute earlier this year, these convoys named their vehicles after jihadists such as Aafia Siddiqui, an Al Qaeda operative now languishing in jail.
Staff working for one of these charities have also publicly expressed disgust at ISIS. One activist told the Daily Telegraph, "If there was ever anyone who had any sympathies with Isil [ISIS], I would have thrown them out."
Al Fatiha, another of the aid convoy charities, has recently produced a video appeal calling upon ISIS to release Henning. In the appeal, a charity worker greets Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, as a "brother" and offers assurance that Henning "is not an enemy of Islam or the Islamic State." ISIS is, seemingly, not the embodiment of barbarity but simply the result of waywardness.
Further, according to The Times, the British security services are investigating whether Henning's kidnappers were given a tip-off from one of the aid convoy members. In addition, according to the Sun newspaper, "investigators" are looking into claims that "Jihadi John", the British ISIS terrorist featured in hostage beheading videos, arrived in Syria on one of Al-Fatiha's convoys.
Such an investigation leaves open the possibility that the gulf between ISIS and the ideology which drives these aid convoys may not be so wide, after all.
By denouncing ISIS, extreme Islamist groups can, by comparison to ISIS, shore up their credentials as "moderates." The media in Britain have praised these aid convoy charities, and extremist groups that were formerly ostracized, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, have now been embraced by Jewish community organizations.
The East London Mosque, as another example, regularly provides a platform to extremist preachers. Abdul Qayyum, the mosque's chief Imam, is a signatory to the Istanbul Declaration, which calls for terrorist attacks on British troops and Jewish communities around the world. One newspaper, however, recently printed a puff piece about the East London Mosque, which extolled the mosque's supposed stand against the radicalization of Muslim youth.
One letter condemning ISIS authored by "British Muslim leaders" included prominent politicians, shadow cabinet ministers and counter-extremism advisors as signatories.
Their co-signatories, however, included extremists and representatives from groups such as:
The World Association of Muslim Youth, a Saudi youth organization, which various government agencies and officials have accused of sponsoring terrorism in places such as Bosnia and Israel.
Muslim Hands, a charity that has funded groups run by the terror group Hamas. Muslim Hands' chairman, Musharaf Hussain, stated in 2010 that it is a "wise cause" to fight non-believers "because they are tyrants," and encouraged Muslims to "take part in this jihad."
Dawatul Islam, a group established by Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, a wanted war criminal in Bangladesh. In November 2013, the Bangladeshi War Crimes Tribunal sentenced Mueen-Uddin to death for his role in the abduction and murder of 18 journalists and intellectuals while he led the Al-Badr killing squad.
Rizwan Hussein, a presenter for the Islam Channel, a British television station that in 2010 was censured by the public watchdog for promoting violence against women and advocating marital rape. The channel has also broadcast advertisements for a collection of speeches by the late al-Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki.
A number of writers have criticised the seemingly dogged requests made upon British Muslim groups to condemn ISIS. Are these Muslim groups, then, blamable if they do and blamable if they don't?
It remains entirely possible for the most prominent British Muslim organizations to condemn ISIS vocally and also to reject extremism. The much-persecuted Ahmaddiyah community's recent demonstrations against ISIS are proof of that. But when the British Islamist preachers Haitham al-Haddad, who describes Jews as "apes and pigs", and Shakeel Begg, who describes jihad as the "greatest of deeds", recently issued an appeal for ISIS to release their hostages, critics would have perhaps shown greater enthusiasm for their intervention if they had also renounced their earlier extremist statements.
The problem with an intense focus on violent extremism abroad is that it can distract the West from the equally dangerous problem of the "moderate" Islamists now in our own back yards.