So farewell then Anjem Choudary. At least for a few years. Britain’s biggest loudmouth Islamist has finally been convicted in the UK for encouraging support for Isis. He now faces up to ten years in prison.
There have been reporting restrictions on his conviction for several weeks now, as we waited for the conclusion of the trial of his associate Mohammed Mizanur Rahman. But now it’s over. At least for a while. There is much to say, but allow me one particular reflection for now.
Like his mentor and predecessor Omar Bakri Mohammed, Anjem Choudary was always a subject of enormous interest in Britain and abroad. Indeed you could argue that for some years now he has been Britain’s most famous Muslim. Most Muslims understandably hated this, but so did everybody else. I once ground my teeth hearing him introduced by a foreign interviewer as ‘leading British Imam Anjem Choudary.’ He was regularly invited onto television and gave other media interviews liberally, as it were.
Which was understandable because he was the perfect go-to guy. Where others ‘ummed’, ‘ah-ed’ and talked of ‘context’ Choudary could be relied upon to give his fundamentalist views straight up. Yet as a trained solicitor he knew where the lines were and carefully stepped away when he felt you encouraging him over them. This was always done in the mutual awareness that his views lay a long way over that line. Whenever people – especially Muslims – assured me that Choudary was merely a joker I always reminded them that in that case he was a joker with a particularly unfunny contacts book.
But all of this presented a problem for the media. You couldn’t avoid him – as some people insisted the media do – not least because (as with the murderers of Lee Rigby) he had a tendency to know the terrorists who were the story. But each non-avoidance of course also made him grow, which among other things risked further flagging him up for anybody attracted to his kind of extremism. But could someone so outspoken seriously be at the centre of anything? Surely every movement and word was listened into by someone?
In truth, like Omar Bakri, Choudary was a bit of a clown and also deeply sinister. His connection to multiple terrorism plots spelt this out very clearly. Research on all terrorist convictions that my think-tank carried out seven years ago showed Choudary’s associates were involved in more terrorism plots than any other group. And these contacts continued to be serious. When Choudary and his supporters once confronted me on a street in London the police came on hand to sort things out but also to record what happened. Sometime later one of the people standing alongside Choudary that day was caught and convicted of a plot to assassinate various public figures in the UK and carry out a Mumbai-style attack on the London Stock Exchange.
There never was any easy answer with Choudary. Other than waiting for what has now finally happened. He did finally put that foot wrong. And the secular law he so despised was there to notice and act when he did. A great day for secular law, and a bad day for its enemies.