When Abu Qatada was released, I wondered who would be the first to leap to his defence.
No surprise: it was Mohammed Ali Harrath, the CEO of the Islam Channel. This is what he told the BBC:
Mohamed Ali, who runs the Islam Channel on satellite television, has known the cleric for years and held talks with him during that period out of prison.
He told the BBC: “Abu Qatada has no links with terrorism [or] al-Qaeda and he never ever agreed or endorsed what was done in 9/11 in America or 7/7 in the UK.
“He said that if he had known that something was going to happen, he would lock them up. He thinks that jihad is limited to either defending Muslim lands when invaders come to Muslim lands or if force is being used to overthrow dictatorship regimes.
“He believes that the covenant between any Muslim coming to this country and the government stands and it should be honoured by both parties.”
The reality of Abu Qatada’s politics is rather different:
During his early years in London, Abu Qatada preached at the Fourth Feathers community centre near Regent’s Park and held meetings in his own home.
He was part of a broad movement that advocated imposing Islamic government on Muslim lands. He said that Islamic law justified taking up arms against despots and foreign invaders because they were the enemies of Muslims.
These ideas, developed over many years by hardline scholars, were part of the ideological roots adopted by al-Qaeda’s to claim religious justification for its violence.
As the UK’s security agencies tried to make sense of the Islamist scene, MI5 approached Abu Qatada on more than one occasion to ask for his help in minimising the threat to the UK.
By 1995, it was clear that Abu Qatada’s influence was broad, particularly among Algerian and Egyptian armed Islamists. His religious rulings were taken very seriously by those who followed him.
In one religious opinion that year, he said it was Islamically lawful to kill the wives and children of “apostates” – those who have rejected Islam – in order to stop oppression in Algeria.
The practical effect was that armed Islamists in the country used his ruling to justify their attacks against civilians on the basis that anyone who wasn’t with them was against them.
But the authorities believe his views were hardening, particularly after a sermon targeting Jews. And by 2001, the cleric had issued rulings justifying suicide attacks, as seen in a BBC Panorama interview the same year.
A Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, described Abu Qatada as the “spiritual head of the mujahedin in Britain” – so the question for the British authorities was whether Abu Qatada now supported “martyrdom operations” against Western targets.
The Security Service and police eventually concluded that Abu Qatada was a threat. In a court statement they said he was providing advice which gave religious legitimacy to those “who wish to further the aims of extreme Islamism and to engage in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings”.
The authorities said that a number of people arrested in connection with terrorism had described Abu Qatada’s influence. Richard Reid, the would-be mid-Atlantic shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, both jailed for involvement in terrorism, are said to have sought religious advice from him. The cleric’s sermons were found in a Hamburg flat used by some of those involved in 9/11.
When Abu Qatada was questioned in 2001 over his alleged connections to a German cell, police found £170,000 cash in his home, including £805 in an envelope labelled “For the mujahideen in Chechnya”. No charges were brought.
Just a quick recap on Mohammed Ali Harrath.
Harrath is is a senior member in the An Nadha/Muslim Brotherhood group in Tunisia, where he ran its armed wing, the Tunisian Islamic Front. He fled to London in 2000, and became a key figure in British Muslim Brotherhood politics: although he was not popular with certain of its other leading lights. As CEO of the Islam Channel, he has played a key role in the pumping out of sectarian and extremist material into the homes of British Muslims. In 2010, the Islam Channel was censured by OFCOM for promoting marital rape and violence against women. The channel has also become a happy home for notorious hate preachers. In addition Harrath is a trustee of iENGAGE, a group which attacks Muslim liberals, and which was successfully prevented from obtaining the secretariat of the APPG on Islamophobia.
Here is Harrath at at Hizb ut Tahrir meeting in London last year.
The definitive post of Harrath is here.
The purpose of this post is twofold. First, as you can see, there is a very thin dividing line indeed between the ‘moderate Islamists’ of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing that these men can say or do which can shake the conviction of some, that they are progressive and moderate community leaders.