We were warned, we knew it was coming, but we were not prepared. Manchester responded with resilience and heart – this is undeniable. Salman Abedi had been reported multiple times to the police by members of the Muslim community, and even by his own family who warned British authorities that he was dangerous. Why then was he not in, as Theresa May put it, our current “intelligence picture”? Surely Abedi was a walking red flag?
But our security forces are at maximum capacity, actively monitoring 3000 suspected British terrorists from a pool of 23000 extremists. They simply cannot keep up. The problem of identifying and eradicating extremists requires a deeper solution. Though reporting suspicious behaviour is important and must continue, the Muslim community must do more to challenge the kind of normalised everyday extremism that provides an optimal breeding ground for more vicious ideology to foster and develop.
The Manchester Islamic Centre is a case in point. Also known as Didsbury mosque, this is a place that Abedi frequented. The Centre has announced that the attack “has no place in Islam or any religion” and that they serve people from “all background and faiths, from our food and clothes banks, to all our interfaith dialogues.”
While these sentiments are hard to fault, a closer look at the mosque’s past preaching reveals a different picture.
Trustee of Didsbury mosque Farzi Haffar has previously sent a number of inflammatory anti-semitic tweets, including one that states: “The more these radical and fundamental #Jewish invaders attack #Moslem and #Christian #Arab holy areas in Palestine, the more hate there is.”
In another, he retweeted someone writing about “joy/applause for breaking taboo, comparing Israelis to Nazis”.
Didsbury mosque has also hosted speakers with anti-Semitic, homophobic, and other worrying views. Among them have been Abdullah Hakim Quick, Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, and Abu Eesa Niamatullah.
The following provides only a slight glimpse into the dangerous drivel being preached on British soil by such speakers:
Hardline preacher Abu Eesa Niamtullah has said, “Is it halal to love one’s nation? […] The problem of course comes when you want to put your identity above that [the Ummah] and you start to be more loyal, and start to be more favourable to the people from your own nation and praise them, and support them, and look after them more so than the people from your primary nation which is the nation of Islam.”
He also exclaimed, “…they [Jews] have a track record in this insanity […] Look at them today. Look at the way that they massacre. They blow up babies like as if it’s a computer game. They have no humanity, no morality, no ethics, no deen (religion), no guidance, no light, nothing” and, “we want to warn our community that these secularists, that these liberal people who call themselves Muslims are the biggest danger within our community at the moment. And we have nothing to do with them” and finally “I also want to briefly mention something about women in the workplace: I am an absolute extremist in this issue in that I don’t have any time for the opposing arguments. Women should not be in the workplace whatsoever. Full stop.”
Muhammad ibn al-Kawthari has said, “The reason for this impermissibility of saying peace (salam) to non-Muslims is not to show them respect. When one greets them for a need, it is not out of respect.”
He has also said, “It has been prohibited in this verse of the Qur’an to make close friendship and have intimacy with the non-Muslims […] Our scholars (Hanafi) say: There is nothing wrong in seeking the assistance of non-Muslims in order to fight a common enemy as long as the Muslims have the upper hand.”
Abdul Hakim Quick has said, “Muslims are going to have to take a stand [against homosexuals] and it’s not enough to call names”
Along with Salman Abedi, Didsbury mosque has also been associated with other Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members, most notably Salah Mohammed Ali Aboaoba, who told a court he had previously lived in Manchester, where he raised money for the al-Qaeda-linked group at Didsbury mosque after being granted asylum in the UK. Forgive me then for not sympathising with Didsbury Mosque when they try to clear their name from this story and distance themselves from Abedi.
The real problem is that these kinds of views aren’t limited to fringe mosques or outlying individuals, but have seeped through a significant portion of our Muslim communities, normalised to the point of becoming an accepted part of ‘Islam’ in some circles.
To understand how deep the problem goes, look to Manchester’s government employed counter-extremism Prevent coordinator Samiya Butt. Butt’s taxpayer-funded job specifically requires her to challenge extreme Islamist views and safeguard individuals from exploitation. Instead, Butt has actively endorsed the extremist views supported by a group called MEND. On her social media page Butt has added a badge promoting this organisation and posted a photo from an event hosted by them. She is an associate of one of organisation’s directors, Azad Ali, an extremist who has supported the killing of British troops, praised al-Qaeda lecture and recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, and said that “democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the Sharia, of course no one agrees with that.”
If this is the state of our Muslim Prevent officers, whose job is to vigorously challenge the views of extremists like Azad Ali, not to work with them, then how can we expect to effect change in the rest of the British Muslim population?
Programs like Prevent may be imperfect, but we must reserve our real vitriol for those who espouse extremist rhetoric. One wonders why then, there appears to be more opposition in our communities to the Prevent programme – even by those earning a living off its name – than against the very extremists it sets out to challenge.
Reporting individuals like Salman Abedi is important, but how much praise does anyone really deserve for reporting an ISIS jihadist who is planning to mass-murder our children. Even al-Qaeda fights ISIS. This sets a very low bar. Counter terrorism is not to be confused with countering the extremism that breeds it. Here is where the real work lies. And it is this harder task of challenging Islamist extremism within our communities that most politicians, so-called community leaders and media voices are shying away from.