Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious Jihadist rabble rouser, has – at long last – been found guilty of “inviting support for a proscribed terrorist organisation”. On the surface, it looks like good news, but look deeper and it is hard to take much comfort.
CST has been raising strong concerns about Choudary and his predecessors for over 25 years, warning the authorities that open incitement for Jihadist extremism and terrorism was causing not only antisemitism, but all manner of radicalism that could literally explode against the British public at any time in the future: as it is still doing, both here and across western Europe, fuelled by events in Syria, Iraq and beyond.
The 1990s were especially frustrating for CST. Colleagues and I would go to meetings at Scotland Yard and warn about the fully public Jihadist incitement that was increasingly building on university campuses, and on the streets of London, Manchester, Luton and elsewhere throughout the UK. We were always politely heard, but it was hard to escape the feeling that nobody actually believed such terrorism would occur here: not even as France was suffering Algerian Jihadist terrorism, part facilitated from Finsbury Park mosque.
I would emerge from those Police meetings with Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics from the song Blinded by the Light, ringing in my ears, “Scotland Yard was trying hard, sent some dude with a calling card, he said ‘do what you like but don’t do it here’ ”.
Then again, perhaps that was very unfair, with occasional nods and winks hinting that the authorities (understandably) wanted to keep the danger where it was most visible. It is an old problem: crack down and you risk sending the danger properly underground, where you risk losing all sight until it is too late. CST’s perspective was that this only stored up more trouble for the future. Leave terrorist sympathisers in full view and how many people will flock to their flag, and how many others will hear the message, softening them up for future recruitment?
After the 9/11 terror attacks in America, we thought things would finally change, but they didn’t really. Instead, it took another four years and the 7/7 attacks in London for that to happen. The public groups led by men like Anjem Choudary and his predecessor Omar Bakri Mohamed (now in Lebanon) underwent various changes and various banning orders. Over time, their activities became more secretive, but the sheer quantity of British Jihadis literally passing through such groups is impossible to ignore.
Perhaps the reason Choudary got away with it for so long is because he was actually innocent, in the sense that he did always manage to dance on the very edge of the law (he is a solicitor by trade and obviously a very clever man). It is, however, hard to shake the suspicion that he has only now been convicted, because the danger he has posed in recent months or years, demonstrably outweighs whatever intelligence benefits were believed to be being gained by letting him stay at large. If so, this would be very worrying, because it would be a sign that the danger posed here and now by British Jihadists has never been higher.