In July 2016, radical preacher Anjem Choudhary and co-defendant Mohammed Rahman were convicted of supporting and encouraging support of the Islamic State. The pair encouraged their followers to support ISIS via a series of YouTube videos, praised the ‘caliphate’ and urged many to travel to Syria. While Choudhary’s conviction may seem to prove that the UK is taking a firm stance against terrorism and its supporters, a more detailed look into this case and others like it shows that the sentences in these types of convictions are often too lenient and take too long to materialise. More evidence of this can be found in the case of Abu Hamza, the radical cleric of Finsbury Park Mosque who has now been sentenced to life imprisonment in New York after years of avoiding imprisonment despite his obvious support of terrorism. Another example is the ‘Trojan Horse Plot’, a plot by several Muslim conservative groups to install sympathetic school governors and take over city schools in Birmingham. These cases prove that the UK is too politically correct when it comes to tackling terrorism, especially in our social media age where opinions and influence are free to disperse across the globe in an instant. By ‘politically correct’ I mean that there is a prevalent fear that taking a firm stance against a particular ethnic or religious group different to our own will be perceived as racism. Ultimately this means that even in cases of inciting terrorism, these cases are tackled in too cautious a way so as to avoid being accused of racist prejudice.
In September 2016, Anjem Choudhary was sentenced to a mere five and a half years in prison despite his offence carrying a maximum of ten years of imprisonment. Of this, he will only realistically spend two years in jail. For a man encouraging support of ISIS and who publicly refused to condemn the Lee Rigby murder that shocked the nation in 2013, this seems to be a far too lenient sentence. What makes Choudhary’s case so important in illustrating the overt political correctness of the UK is the fact that he has been a preacher of hate with links to extremist groups since the 1980s. Dean Haydon, Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, stated that, ‘These men have stayed just within the law for many years, but there is no one within the counter-terrorism world that has any doubts of the influence that they have had, the hate they have spread and the people that they have encouraged to join terrorist organisations.’ Choudhary has been involved in a range of groups; in the 1980s he was a part of al-Muhajiron in the 1980s, a group that supported the 9/11 attacks and called for Sharia law to be enforced in the UK, and later he became the media spokesman for Islam4UK, a group best known for attempting to protest in Wotton Bassett against the Iraq War while dead British soldiers were being honoured. The group was officially declared a terrorist organization in 2010. It therefore seems surprising that Choudhary was not convicted until 2015 despite actively praising ISIS leader al-Baghdadi and posting an oath of allegiance on the ninth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings with Rahmann under their respective Islamic names Abu Luqman and Abu Baraa on an Islamic website. Even more interesting is the significant media platform granted to Choudhary over the years, including Channel 4, the BBC and Newsnight, despite his extremist views. Even David Cameron has long questioned his actions and opinions. Choudhary was even granted police protection after his arrest and his trial was shrouded in secrecy, an interesting privilege given his very public and outspoken profile.
Unfortunately, Chouhardy’s case is not a unique one regarding how the UK tackles hate preachers and terrorism. Abu Hamza similarly avoided a conviction when he was arrested in August 2004. The charges were dropped, and he still continued to preach outside the mosque. Abu Hamza led the Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s, attended by 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoi and shoe bomber Richard Reid, despite claiming he had never met them before. He was jailed for seven years in the UK, and it took nearly ten years to deport him to the US to face fifteen terror charges regarding conspiracy to take hostages in Yemen, funding terrorism and organizing a terrorist funding camp in Oregon. Such a lengthy extradition process begs the question: is the UK placing the human rights of suspected terrorists and hate preachers inciting terrorists over its own citizens? The evidence is quite clear. Even in 2001, two years before the raid on Finsbury Park Mosque, he publicly declared his support for Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks and has also been linked to the terrorists responsible for the Paris Terror Attacks of November 2015. The US has clearly illustrated the UK’s weak and politically response by forcefully sentencing him to life imprisonment in August 2015. As our own Home Secretary and now Prime Minister remarked, ‘I am pleased that Abu Hamza has finally faced justice. He used every opportunity, over many years, to frustrate and delay the extradition process.’
The ‘Trojan Horse Plot’ is also illustrative of the UK’s overt political correctness when it comes to terrorism and the treatment of suspected terrorists. In Birmingham, a group of conservative Muslims were able to proudly boast of ousting four non-Muslim head teachers and intimidating non-Muslims, which ended in a massive investigation and probing of Birmingham City Council and the Department for Education. It is quite clear from the case that for it to have reached this stage, a fear of appearing racist and an inclination to err on the side of caution regarding political correctness was strongly present. The plot itself was only uncovered because of a letter written by the Islamists which took responsibility for the removal of staff, encouraged parents to spread false accusations regarding sex education, and forced Christian prayer and mixed physical education. Such accusations clearly illustrate the institutionalized political correctness that dominates the UK school system.
Ultimately these cases prove that political correctness in the UK regarding terrorism has gone too far. There is a difference between avoiding racism and racial hatred and blatantly ignoring hate speech and incitement of terrorism against us, within our very own nation. If we want a more forceful response, which is very much needed, we need to take some lessons from the US.