Our Friends, Our Enemies

We have only begun to scratch the surface of Azad Ali‘s worldview. 

Reading habibi’s piece, what struck me was not so much Mr Ali’s views. It is unsurprising that an active Islamist should want to persuade us that jihadism should really be thought of as a noble struggle for justice. What shocked me more, is the depth of Azad Ali’s involvement with official and liberal bodies.

  • The Muslim Safety Forum, which Ali chaired, is “the key advisory body for the Metropolitan Police Service and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on issues concerning British Muslims”.
  • Ali also sits on the Strategic Stop & Search Committee and Police Use of Firearms Group with the Met. Azad is also a member of the IPCC’s Community Advisory Group and the Home Office’s Trust and Confidence Community Panel.
  • Ali is president of the Civil Service Islamic Society (patron and “ambassador”, Sir Gus O’Donnell)
  • Ali is a National Council member of Liberty

At the same time as he sits on these bodies, Mr Ali promotes the politics of Jamaat-e-Islami, whose Islamic Forum Europe blog he contributes to. He is quite open about his political views. They are those the Islamist extreme right.

What this reminds me of, most forcefully, is the “discovery” after the fall of the USSR, that Soviet agents had infiltrated British Universities, public sector bodies, and political and campaigning organisations.

I have put “discovery” in speech marks, because it really was no surprise to anybody at all that these organisations had been infiltrated by extremists. After all, those who repeatedly justified the worst excesses of the USSR, attacked those who criticised the USSR as ‘fascists’, and attacked both liberal democracies, and the principle of liberal democracy hardly made a secret of their views. In fact, they were quite open about them. And – quelle surprise – a number of them turned out not simply to be supporters of the USSR and advocates of Stalinism, but employees of these repressive totalitarian regimes as well.

Here’s a BBC piece on the unmasking, after the failure of Communism, of a number of British agents, working for Soviet block countries. They include Vic Allen, who was a prominent activist and one time leadership candidate in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:

Vic Allen, 77, a former National Council member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said he had “no regrets” over providing information to the East German Stasi secret police.

The retired Leeds University professor, from Keighley, North Yorkshire, said he did pass on information about CND’s activities. But he said he considered that perfectly legitimate because he belonged to a pro-Soviet, pro-East German faction of the group.

He told BBC Two’s The Spying Game: “I have no shame. I feel no regrets about that at all.

“My only regret is that we didn’t succeed.”

He and the former editor of the left-wing newspaper Tribune Dick Clements, were in regular contact with the East German secret police, the Stasi, according to the security service’s files.

Here’s CND’s response:

CND members are not and never have been as naïve as the Sunday Telegraph suggests. We all knew where Vic stood – he was entitled to his views and we were entitled to ours. He most certainly did not ‘swing CND behind the Soviets’ and nor did anyone else. CND was and remains independent of all governments and neither the Stasi, the KGB, the CIA nor our own MI5 have ever managed to change that.”

What a remarkable response that is. Vic Allen is a traitor, of course. But more than that, he was an open supporter of a murderous, horrendous, nightmarish political system. His colleagues in CND – and probably, to be frank, anybody who encountered him  – knew that this was where he stood. Were he an extreme right winger, a BNP member, he would have been ostracised. But somehow, this disgusting, evil man was mistaken by perfectly nice, middle of the road, liberal people for a comrade.

We’ve been here before.

Just as, in the past, Stalinists infiltrated progressive organisations with the intention of subverting or destroying them, those aligned with Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood are doing precisely the same. They’ve been doing it for at least a decade. Their feet are firmly under the table. 

How has this happened? There are, I think, three reasons. 

The first reason is that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-e-Islami have been promoted, successfully, as the “Islamists we can do business with”.

The Azad Ali article that we considered yesterday is on all fours with the promotion of the strategy. His line, you’ll remember, is that anti-extremism initiatives won’t work if you listen to Muslims who argue that Jihad is essentially about a spiritual struggle, and don’t acknowledge the importance of the military struggle (against British troops? Against the Shia?) in Iraq. He thinks we should take the our lead from the Al Qaeda ideologues, Abdullah Azzam and Anwar Al Awlaki. Above all, we shouldn’t look down on jihadism – instead we should think of it as a quest for “Justice”. A very particular kind of justice.

There are a depressingly large number of people out there who see nothing wrong with that line of argument. There is a line of thinking that is popular in parts of officialdom, and policywonkery, that Muslims are at any time, only minutes away from exploding, that their natural leadership is Al Qaeda, and that only last best hope – at home as well as abroad – is to make Jamaat-e-Islami, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood our best friends, in the hope that they’ll persuade Muslims to explode outside the United Kingdom only. This perspective is popular among some Foreign and Commonwealth Office types, who have a colonial mindset, and who naturally look for ‘headmen’ with whom they can do deals. It is also popular among white middle class and middle aged people who, quite frankly, don’t know that many Muslims socially, other than people who present themselves as “the leadership”. And “the leadership” in this country largely consists of a minority of ideologues aligned with Jamaat and the MB.

The second reason is that the democratic Left has lost its moral compass on Islamism, just as it did on Stalinism. If you were to show most people active on the Left, political writing that talked about the Norse-Celtic-Anglo-Saxon Racial Folk Community, and that referenced Mein Kampf, they’d quickly and correctly identify it as the product of a fascist movement, and avoid it like the plague. If you show them political writing that longs for the time that the Ummah will rise and create a glorious Caliphate and praises Abdullah Azzam and Anwar Al Awaki how many of them will recognise the writer as a supporter of jihadist politics? How many will appreciate what that means, or even be concerned about it? If you pointed out that a writer was an activist with Islamic Forum Europe, and therefore aligned with Jamaat-e-Islami, how many people would regard that as a problem?

The sad truth is, much of the progressive Left doesn’t have any problem with working with jihadists. Just as Vic Allen was no doubt thought of, by his colleagues, as ‘good old Vic, silly old Vic, always banging on about the revolution, but one of us’, Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood activists are thought of as ‘good sorts, a bit religious, sometimes a little bit too impassioned, but basically on our side’. Their politics is contextualised as a form of anti-colonialism or a reaction to racism. Very occasionally, you get a little friction: as the Stalinists remember that they were on different sides when the USSR was fighting in Afghanistan. But, mostly, they rub along just fine.

The problem with both these justifications for engaging with extremists, is that they’re wrong. These guys have no interest in opposing imperialism, or creating a pluralist democratic society that respects human rights. They want to create a theocracy. They’re not our allies. They’re our enemy. We’re also dangerously mistaken to believe that the propagation of jihadist politics will have no consequences for this country, as long as each diatribe ends with the words, ‘remember kids, don’t try this in the United Kingdom’. It will, just as surely as a sustained campaign by a fascist group praising ‘our proud white soldiers in the coming race war’ will help to raise up a generation of racist terrorists.  We need to oppose these groups, not partner with them.

The third and final reason is, perhaps, the most worrying part of the story. Strong social and political bonds have now been formed between prominent Islamists and members of the police, the civil service, and progressive Left wing campaigning groups. Those connections give them a certain degree of immunity from criticism.

By “immunity”, what I mean is this. You’ve looked at what people like Azad Ali say on their blog, it seems a bit odd, but – you might ask yourself – if they were really as extreme as all that, would they be meeting the police, palling around with Sir Gus O’Donnell, being consulted on terrorism? If calling for a Caliphate and looking to Al Qaeda ideologues for inspiration was really that extreme, could such a person really have been elected to the National Council of Liberty?

Who are you going to believe – the people who run this country, the people who campaign for freedom, or some blogger with a bee in his bonnet about these things?

Working the system, gaining respectability, getting the great and the good to vouch for them, allows these groups to leverage their credibility and trustworthiness. Bangladeshis will tell you that the East London Mosque is the base of the fascist Jamaat-e-Islami political party. But nobody told the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, that when he toddled on on down to that establishment, to deliver the message that he saw nothing wrong at all with subjecting British Muslim women to family law Sharia courts.

Let’s have a quick look at some of Mr Ali’s achievements with the Muslim Safety Forum.

First, from The Times

POLICE have agreed to consult a panel of Muslim leaders before mounting counter-terrorist raids or arrests. Members of the panel will offer their assessment of whether information police have on a suspect is too flimsy and will also consider the consequences on community relations of a raid.

Members will be security vetted and will have to promise not to reveal any intelligence they are shown. They will not have to sign the Official Secrets Act.

The first panel, expected to consist of four people, will be set up initially in London. Tomorrow representatives from police forces across England and Wales will decide whether to make the scheme national.

Muslim groups have welcomed the move, which is understood to be backed by Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner.

This week the Association of Chief Police Officers will discuss with MI5 and the Home Office whether to reveal to the panel intelligence information from the security service.

The idea came from the Metropolitan police and the Muslim Safety Forum (MSF), which works for better police-Muslim relations.  

This, from The Guardian:

The police are considering a proposal to let selected British Muslims examine the intelligence used to mount anti-terrorism raids before they take place, the Guardian has learned

The review includes members of the Muslim Safety Forum, which aims to improve relations between police and British Muslim communities.

Azad Ali, its chairman, said fresh measures, such as British Muslims being able to advise the police on their intelligence and how to act on it before any raid, must be found. “Greater cooperation with the police is possible, but it needs the police to take creative steps to build trust,” he said. “There are people keen to help the police, but episodes like Forest Gate and the way it was mishandled stoke up the mistrust.”

Or this:

[U]nder the stewardship of an able and energetic chairman, Azad Ali, a member of the Islamic Forum Europe, the MSF has become fully independent and developed a more proactive role involving closer liaison with the police. It has developed a protocol for cooperation with the police, which ensures more effective influence and access to senior police officers. It has now been able to open an office with a full-time staff member, thanks to a start-up grant from the Greater London Assembly.

We are a generation behind in this struggle, as we were a generation behind the struggle to keep Stalinists out of progressive, democratic and liberal politics.