Why Lambert and Githens-Mazer are wrong on radicalisation

This is a guest post by Robin Simcox

It seems increasingly trendy to believe that ‘non violent’ Islamists can be a bulwark against al-Qaeda in preventing terrorism in the west. Chief proponent of this thesis is Robert Lambert, director of the European Research Muslim Centre (ERMC). Along with Jonathan Githens-Mazer, his co-director at the EMRC, Lambert believes that Salafi and Ikhwani ‘street’ legitimacy and religious knowledge work as a safety valve in reducing the threat.

This is convenient, considering the ERMC receives all of its funding from Ikhwani-sympathetic organisations. The Cordoba Foundation, described by the Prime Minister in March 2008 as a ‘front for the Muslim Brotherhood’, donated £50,000 to the ERMC for the year 2009/10; and Islam Expo, whose registered directors and companies secretaries have a variety of links to the Brotherhood, another £50,000.

Director General of the OSCT, Charles Farr, appears to have bought into ‘Lambertism’. There is little other explanation for Farr’s attempt to reverse the government’s decision to ban foreign advocate of terrorism Zakir Naik coming into the UK (it is also significant that helping him come to this decision was another individual of dubious merits, Inayat Bunglawala, owner of the website domain Muslims4UK).

Yet once Lambert and Githens-Mazer’s ideas are held up to any proper scrutiny, their thesis quickly falls apart – for example, see their recent article for International Affairs titled ‘Why conventional wisdom on radicalization fails’. In an attempt to prove that ‘conventional wisdom’ (defined as either ‘a lack of integration, a lack of secularism, the existential threat posed by Islam to the West, or external influences from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East’ being the root causes) on radicalism has failed, Lambert and Githens-Mazer use a case study of three ideologically extreme brothers – Lamine, Ibrahim and Rahman Adam (aka Anthony Garcia).

According to Lambert and Githens-Mazer, ‘there was little doubt that Lamine Adam was the leader of the three, with Rahman and younger brother Ibrahim tagging along’. Compared to the highly ideological Lamine, who regularly proselytized jihadist rhetoric, the only notable thing about Rahman ‘was his silence…Rahman was far less vocal’. Yet it was Rahman who was sentenced to life for his role in the ‘fertiliser bomb’ cell, which discussed attacking a variety of targets, including shopping centres and nightclubs. Lambert and Githens-Mazer ask:

[W]hy should it have been someone [Rahman]…who was directly implicated in a terrorist plot, rather than his overtly ideological sibling?

It appears that Lamine posed the greatest threat; yet it wasn’t Lamine who would go on to commit a terrorist attack…Lamine could be drawn into lengthy discussions about Islamic practice and belief, whereas Rahman was drawn instead to “doing”, not “talking” or “thinking”…If conventional wisdom cannot properly explain the differences between the Adam brothers, then what explanatory value does conventional wisdom have in understanding terrorist violence?

Clearly then, they regard Lamine Adam as proof that ideology does not cause terrorism.

Yet there is a slight problem with all this.

Both Lamine and Ibrahim Adam were placed under control orders in February 2006 because the Security Service assessed that ‘there were reasonable grounds to suspect that they were intending to engage in terrorism-related activities [that] involve assisting in fighting against western forces in Iraq or Afghanistan or training for such fighting’. Both men escaped their control order in May 2007, and neither has been re-captured.

It gets worse. Lamine actually introduced Rahman to Omar Khyam – head of the ‘fertiliser’ cell – and was repeatedly mentioned as an associate of those convicted during the trial. Al-Qaeda supergrass Mohammed Junaid Babar testified that Khyam gave Lamine bomb-making instructions, and that:

[Lamine] said he wanted the formula because he wanted to do an operation himself in the UK. He didn’t know how to make a bomb. He said he wanted to do something with someone else as far as making a bomb and hitting a nightclub. [source available from the author]

Babar also said that Lamine shipped camping equipment to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in 2003.

So Lambert and Githens-Mazer’s poster-boy turns out to be a suspected terrorist on the run from the authorities, who has been identified by a member of al-Qaeda as connected to one of the largest terrorism plots the UK has ever faced. As far as disclaimers go, these seem like awfully big ones to miss out.

Ibrahim, meanwhile, has turned up again recently – though not in a way that Lambert and Githens-Mazer may hope. He was recently identified by the Security Services as part of a significant terrorist network, and is currently in Pakistan attempting to obtain a false passport to return to the UK. Passport photographs of Ibrahim were discovered in an Oslo flat, following the arrest of an alleged terrorist cell in Norway. Security sources told the Daily Telegraph that they ‘have been aware of his involvement in terrorist circles’ and ‘there are concerns about his desire to return to Britain and engage in terrorist activity’.

Lambert and Githens-Mazer are quick to get excited when others apparently fail to offer ‘no evidence base’ for the argument that ideology may just have something to do with terrorism. But they have a pretty significant ‘evidence base’ problem here themselves.

If ‘Lambertism’ is OSCT’s answer to the terrorist threat, it is hard to fathom what the question was.