Dominic Casciani takes a closer look at Anjem Choudary’s conviction, in a piece that was clearly already written and just waiting for the news to go public. Maajid Nawaz also has an already-written piece, that will be in the Times tomorrow.
The scenes would change – but not the words.
The flag of Islam will fly over Downing Street, was his favourite prediction, followed by some kind of rhetorical flourish. “The Muslims are rising to establish the Sharia… Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps, my dear Muslims, Londonistan.”
He would greet the journalists with a smile, and some guile, dressed up as charm.
One day outside Regent’s Park Mosque (he was banned from ranting inside its premises) he told the crowd he was honoured that I had turned up to hear him speak. He liked playing games. It gave him a sense that he was winning.
I suppose that’s why so many people thought he was a joke. But people can be ridiculous, ignorant, stupid, inadequate, and still do horrific things. Hitler looks like a screaming nonentity to us; Trump looks like a clown; Eichmann was a damn fool; it doesn’t matter.
Except it wasn’t a game. The evidence now shows that Anjem Choudary is one of the most dangerous men in Britain. Not a bomb-maker. Not a facilitator. But an ideologue, a thinker, who encouraged others not to stop and think for themselves before they turned to violence to implement their shared worldview.
Not a game at all.
Choudary’s mindset is really simple. There are two worlds – the world of belief, meaning Muslims, and the world of disbelief, everyone else. Assuming for a moment that the world neatly divides into such camps, these worlds are incompatible because the way of life of one threatens the existence of the other.
In his head there can be no compromise, no meeting of minds. Liberal democracy, personal freedom, the rule of law mandated by the people is all an affront to the will of Allah.
And the solution to all of this? A single Islamic state, under Sharia, for the whole world, for all areas of life.
What if you disagree? Well then you are not with him. You are against him – you’re a hostile.
And that’s not specific to Choudary, of course; it’s the theocratic mindset in general.
“I never heard Anjem overtly condoning acts of violence and terrorism,” says Adam Deen, who now works in counter-extremism for the Quilliam Foundation think tank.
“But there was an attitude and atmosphere that would tacitly approve it and at one point it became policy not to condemn acts like 9/11 because it would be seen as supporting the kuffar [disbelievers] and the infidels. So there was a tacit approval behind closed doors.”
And that’s why the charge that led to Choudary’s conviction was perhaps the only one he would ever face – inviting others to support Islamic State, a banned organisation bent on doing what he would never actually do himself. But it would take years, and the freak circumstances of the war in Syria, to lead to the evidence.
And yet he was inspiring murderers long before that.
One man who took Choudary very seriously was Michael Adebolajo. Alongside Michael Adebowale, he murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in south-east London in May 2013. Adebolajo once stood alongside Choudary at demonstrations.
When this self-proclaimed “holy warrior” recorded his murder scene video, the rhetoric was straight out of the Choudary network’s book of soundbites.
Choudary said he didn’t “agree” with the killing. But he didn’t condemn it. And he didn’t condemn the 7/7 bombers either.
When IS burst on the scene in June 2014, Choudary’s hand was forced. His acolytes pushed him to announce his support.
One of his closest confidants, Siddartha Dhar, demanded action. “We have to declare our position – enough stalling!” he said in a private social media message.
Choudary and his lieutenants met and ate in one of their favourite Indian restaurants on the Mile End Road in London’s East End.
Two hours later he sent a single word message to his wife, Rubana. “Done,” he wrote.
“Allahu Akbar,” she replied. “I’m so happy.”
And later that night he sent a simple tweet. “May Allah grant success to the Caliph.”
He had backed the Islamic State – and went about telling others in more long lectures about how it met the historic and long-hoped for criteria that he was in a learned position to judge.
He thought he had avoided breaking the law because he was supporting a political concept – not the proscribed terrorist group behind it.
But he was wrong.
He told anyone who would listen that he would love to go there himself if only he could find his suitcase.
Was there now an opportunity to charge him? Scotland Yard reviewed 20 years of intelligence. The Crown Prosecution Service found the key in Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Anjem Choudary was charged not because of his beliefs in “an” Islamic state – but because he had invited others to support “the” Islamic State group.
Police arrested and later bailed him as they began months of trawling social media for precise evidence that could meet the prosecution test.
When I spoke to Choudary last year, he thought he’d beaten the rap and was absolutely fired up by what was coming over the horizon in Syria and Iraq.
He wasn’t the least bit concerned about the beheading of hostages, the taking of slaves and rape of women and girls by IS fighters.
Of course he wasn’t. That’s the whole point – turning your back on all this sissy compassion and fairness and equality nonsense and getting down to the business of treating people like shit. It’s the Glorious Empire of Sadism.
He didn’t rant in the witness box – he kept his cool – and there were flashes of the old Anjem. Confident, witty and, in his head, winning.
We debated how he would react as the great victim, were he to walk free from court.
Instead, when the guilty verdict came, he said nothing.
Anjem Choudary’s mouth had finally shut.
But he won’t be beheaded or tortured or set on fire. He’s lucky to live where he does.