Interesting contrast on BBC Newsnight last night.
First, Islam4UK spokesman Anjem Choudary and Maajid Nawaz, from the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, joined Jeremy Paxman to debate the implications of a government ban on the radical Islamist group Islam4UK.
Chaos. Maajid Nawaz put two very relevant questions to Mr Choudary, the first being, "Is it not the case that if Isalm4UK succeeded in its aim of turning the UK into an Islamic state, that you would have me executed". We never heard the reply, because Maajid began talking over him, in best BBC fashion. Clearly, Choudary was not going to give a straight answer, which raises the question of how interviewers should treat non-answers. I would suggest that the interviewer should respond with a comment that the interviewee is not answering the question, and then putting it a second time in a Yes or No format. After that, proceed as if the answer is the least comfortable option, and discuss that.
Maajid Nawaz does deserve an answer, because if it is affirmative, as seems to be the case, then he is issuing a death threat, which is or should be against the law in the UK.
Islam4UK an offshoot of Al-Mahajaroon. Seven ex-members or people connected to this group, have been involved in acts of terrorism. In this respect, it could be described as a proto-terrorist organisation. Its aim is to replace democracy in the UK with Sharia law.
Alan Johnson has moved to ban it, and the ban will come into force on January 14th if Parliament agrees.
There will be hand-wringing in some quarters over this kind of ban. On one hand it is reasonable in view of the death threat against those the group considers apostate, and the violent acts that ex-members have committed. On the other hand, bans on political groups are a slippery slope.
The war on terror is a total nonsense, and there can be no doubt in the minds of reasonable persons that the military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has only created more terrorists, and more with the kind of mindset that Choudry shows. But society is right to defend itself by efficient and accurate action by police and intelligence services, and also by banning organisations that foment hatred and violence.
What was clear on Newsnight was that there was no dialogue, no meeting of minds, just polarisation of views. Listening Choudry talk was like hearing a paranoid schizophrenic talk. They can be perfectly rational in their own terms, but without any overlap with the views of anyone else.
The following piece was a pleasant contrast, a report on the reunion between former Guantanamo prison guard, Brandon Neely, and two of his former prisoners from Britain, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed. Brandon came to say sorry. There was a real human dimension to this contact, which gave grounds for hope for humanity. If there is such a thing as human spirit, it was operating here.
Strict adherence to fundamentalist ideology leads to violence and death, but the exercise of humanity gives life. They should teach that in schools.
[Update 14th Jan 2010]
In the Guardian, Deborah Orr argues that the ban allows Choudry to claim that democracy is not absolutely liberal. We know that already, Debs. He presents us with a koan, a rationally insoluble problem - neatly expressed by and Islam4UK banner reading "Freedom=Dictatorship" (see the next link).
Politicians have to make a choice, based on what is the best way to protect British citizens from attack. Military action is counter-productive, police and intelligence action is productive. Let's hope the ban is more like the latter than the former.
Also today in the Guradian, Timothy Garton Ash says "Banning these showmen is not a clever way to tackle [the real danger]". TGA believes that the ban gives Choudry a propaganda victory. How much better to ignore them until they go away, with "civic and civil intolerance" as meted out to the BNP (or indeed, media ignoral of the kind meted out to the pre-leader Green Party).
TGA writes: "But if you discriminate against a whole social group, you not only violate the basic principles of a free society, you may also achieve the opposite of the desired effect".
Will the ban be as counter-productive as the invasion of Iraq, or UK support for Israel?
I doubt it.
Mainstream Muslim opinion is as offended by Islam4UK as they are by the British invasion of Islamic lands.
He goes on: "A recent report by the Quilliam Foundation produced alarming evidence of how some people are actually being turned into violent Muslim extremists inside British prisons."
This is a different problem, a failure of control in prisons, which is to do with low staff-prisoner ratios, which is in turn due to mistaken use of imprisonment of offenders who pose no real threat to society, and who should be given Community Service orders.
TGA concludes that the ban is another instance of the Government's worrying and undeniable use of the terrorist threat to undermine civil liberties. I still see it as a reasonable response to a proto-terrorist groupuscule.