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Sister Yvonne: An Observer Profile

There’s a really great profile of Yvonne Ridley in The Observer life and health section:

Pay even the briefest of visits to YouTube and Google, and you can turn up footage of Ridley, and articles that she has written, that fairly make the eyes pop. Where to begin? With her description of David Miliband as ‘a gutless little weasel who lost more than his foreskin when he was circumcised’? Or with her assertion that the Chechen terrorist leader and architect of the Beslan school massacre, Shamil Basayev, was a ’shaheed’ or martyr? After the Amman bombings in 2005, Ridley appeared to be reluctant to condemn the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Jordan. When Al-Zarqawi was denounced by his own family, she thought this ‘cowardly’ and said she would ‘rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi any day than have a traitor or a sell-out for a father, son or grandfather’. In front of the right crowd she goes down a treat. She knows exactly which strings to pull and, judging by the footage I’ve seen, enjoys the attention. ‘Drinking Coca-Cola is like drinking the blood of Palestinian children!’ she will shout, and up go the cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ It’s not my place to question Ridley’s faith. But perhaps this – the attention, I mean – also plays its part in her agenda.

I try to talk to her about some of this, but it is not easy. How, for instance, did she feel after the 7/7 tube bombings? ‘I was horrified,’ she says. ‘It had two effects when I travelled on the tube. People were either looking or smiling kindly, trying to say: we’re with you. Or they would try to catch your eye and really glare at you as if to say: it’s all your fault.’ No, I say. That’s not at all what I meant. How did she feel about the bombers? ‘As Bob Crow [the general secretary of the RMT] said: this is what happens when you go into other people’s countries and start bombing them. This was inevitable. When you’re sodomising boys in Cuba, it will impact somewhere else in the world.’ She will not condone their actions – ‘I’m not saying anything nice about those boys; they are terrorists’ – but she likens the tactics of suicide bombers elsewhere to those used by the ANC in South Africa and by the International Brigades in Spain. ‘You tell me,’ she spits. ‘Why did 60,000 foreign fighters go to Spain?’ To fight Franco. ‘And they’re treated like heroes! I’m asking you: why?’ We argue for a while about the difference between joining an army and attacking a civilian population. We go round in circles, so I change subject.

There’s something very endearing about Yvonne Ridley. I’m not sure what it is.

Don’t get me wrong. Yvonne Ridley has devoted the last few years to travelling around the world – the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and beyond – making demagoguic speeches that have played to the worst tendencies in the Islamic world’s politics, on behalf of the range of vicious and totalitarian political movements which she supports.

But sometimes, I do wonder if she’s not just going along for the ride: winding up the funny foreigners until they ululate and leap around. There are some people who think she’s an MI6 agent of some sort: deep undercover. But her life history makes that claim incredible. People always say that sort of thing about those who are active in extreme politics who are a little odder than yer run of the mill extremists.

I think that Yvonne is essentially a drama queen. Wherever she goes, chaos follows. If you’re trying to run a TV station – as Al Jaz and the Islam Channel found out – you’re going to have trouble. But if you want your crowd to be punching the air, with cries of Allah Akbar. Well – she’s your woman.

She’ll be a fixture on the international Islamist and pro-jihadist scene for years to come.