The recent beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State sparked shock and outrage. And with the images spreading worldwide, the group seems to be achieving its goal. What’s driving the ideology and rise of one of the world’s most notorious terrorist organizations, and will its Caliphate ever be able to coexist peacefully with the community of nations? Oksana is joined by Anjem Choudary, British imam and lawyer, to reflect on these issues.
Oksana Boyko: Hello and welcome to Worlds Apart. Violence begets violence - this adage is as old as the world and yet it remains extremely relevant in describing the phenomenon of terrorism. And while the warring parties will never agree on who started this vicious circle of violence, can they ever settle on how it could be stopped? Well to discuss that, I'm now joined by Anjem Choudary, a controversial Islamic preacher and London imam. Mr Choudary, thank you for talking to us.
Anjem Choudary: You're welcome.
OB: Now, in my introduction, I just used terrorism, which is one of the most widely used terms in geopolitics these days. But despite its very broad use, the international community still hasn't managed to come up with a universally accepted and recognised definition of it. And I wonder how would you define terrorism?
AC: Well if you look in the Oxford dictionary in fact, the word terrorism is the use of violence against a community or a section of the community for political purposes. So I would say to you that the ordinary English meaning is precisely what the Americans and the British are doing in Afghanistan, and what they did before in Iraq, to establish their own military and economic interests no matter what the cost is to the life and wealth of the people. So I think that is one type of terrorism. But I think that there is terrorism which is pro-life, and there is terrorism which is against life. You know, you could terrorise the enemy in order to make sure that the war ends quickly. And I think this is what the Islamic State in fact are trying to do, to scare off the Americans and their own allies in Syria and Iraq. And then there is terrorism which is against life, which is like carpet bombing, dropping nuclear weapons, the shock and awe that we saw in Iraq before. So you know, I think it has many nuances, but if you look at the ordinary English definition, I think there is something called state terrorism, which in fact the Americans are in fact engaging in quite regularly.
OB:Well, Mr Choudary, I heard you make similar points before, and just recently on CNN you said that the decapitation of US photo journalist James Foley was in fact an attempt by the Islamic State to terrorise their enemy, which in this case is the United States. And on some level, that goal was achieved, given the publicity that that killing generated. But I wonder whether something like that could be justified under the Sharia law? Can you really hold an individual responsible for the actions of a collective? Is that legal in Islam?
AC: Well you know, as a lecturer in Sharia law, I will say to the people of Russia, the Muslims and the non-Muslims, that every action for a Muslim must be based on the Quran, the word of Allah, and the teachings of the messenger Mohammed, sallalahu alayhi wasallam [peace be upon him], who is the final messenger for mankind. I mean I would first invite the people to think about and embrace Islam. But those who are already Muslim must know that Allah mentions in the Quran in fact, if you look in Chapter eight, verse 60, he said “Prepare as much as you can steeds of war to terrorise the enemy.” So terrorising the enemy is in fact part of Islam, I mean this is something that we must embrace and understand, as far as the jurisprudence of jihad is concerned. Secondly, I think that think that people need to appreciate is that in war, the Muslims are not distinguishing in general between civilians and military. Because those very civilians are those that put the people in charge, and those people in charge – Barack Obama and others – are sending their troops to Muslim countries. So they're not making that distinction, let alone between people who are journalists, who are considered to be the right hand in fact, and the propaganda machine of the Obama administration.
OB:Mr Choudary, being a journalist myself, I'm not claiming any special privilege for journalists. But as far as I know, James Foley, right before his execution, publicly denounced the actions of his government, and for what we know, he didn't harm, he didn't kill anyone. The only thing that he was charged with is essentially his American citizenship. And this is something that you're essentially born with, you cannot change that. If you subscribe to the Islamic point of view, you can even claim that this is something that Allah wanted for him. So is it indeed legal under Islam to kill a person for essentially how he was born – not who he became later on, but who he was born?
AC: Well you know, at the current time, what I would say is that in places like Syria and Iraq, and in fact in any Muslim country, there was no sanctity for the non-Muslims, because there is no one to give them that sanctity. Now we have a Sharia and the Khilafah [Caliphate], and they offer to the non-Muslims to either embrace Islam or to live as dhimmis and abide by the law of the land. But as for the other people, you know, when the Sharia comes to that area or when the Muslims come to that area, and they find the people who are civilians for example, who voted or who are part of the American establishment, or who are journalists who are tarnishing the image of the Muslims – the general rule for these people in the battlefield, in these battlefields, in these areas, is that there is no sanctity. So this individual was taken as a hostage. Now, obviously the Muslims, they have a choice – they can either transfer him, they can ransom him for Muslims, and indeed they offered to exchange him for sister Aafia Siddiqui, they offer to offer him for money, but the American government obviously didn't want to have any kind, if you like, thing to do with their own civilians. How is it that the Italians and the French and others in fact exchanged their own hostages for Muslims? And yet the Americans do not want to do that. So...
OB:Mr Choudary, I'm sorry for interrupting, but we are not talking about the actions of the American government. I'm asking you specifically about the actions of Muslims here. And I'm obviously not an expert on Islam, but one thing I know is that unlike Christianity, Islam rejects idolatry – giving this symbolic, divine meaning to people and things. And when a person is killed specifically for his citizenship, what is it, I think it looks very much like an act of idolatry, he is turned into this symbol of the United States...
AC: Well, look, you want to talk in terms of individuals, and if I was to talk in terms of individuals that have been killed by the Russians in Chechnya, or individuals that have been killed by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay, in Bagram, in Iraq and Afghanistan... Obviously we don't know their names, because we're not really interested in the individuals of the Muslims -
OB:- And I agree with you on that, but I'm asking you -
AC: - Well wait a second, let me just finish my sentence. So we're talking in general terms, and I'm telling you in general terms, because I don't know the details of Mr James Foley. This is what you're saying, obviously the Muslims may have another perspective. It could be that they see him as someone who is making propaganda against the Muslims, they could see him maybe spying upon the Muslims. So I don't know the full details. But what I can definitely tell you is that journalists in general from the West, the civilians from places like America, at the current time are in a position where there is no sanctity for them in Muslim countries. There is no one to give them that sanctity. We are uprising against our own regimes, and they are seen as enemies of the Usama Muslims. And you only need to see, obviously, the coverage for example of Gaza, to see how 2,000 people who were slaughtered is considered by these Western journalists as defending yourself, or the jews. So, you know, I mean the propaganda is there, and quite frankly, nobody needs the CNN or even RT or Fox News or the BBC any more. Everybody has a mobile phone, everybody's on social media. So they can get the first hand. I don't need you to tell me about James Foley. I can phone up my friends in the area, and they will tell me that this is the situation. So I think you need to be careful, people are not really referring to you for the facts any more.
OB:Well, I'm not claiming to be the ultimate authority here, and I think we, both of us, let's respect the people who have turned to watch this broadcast. I mean, for some reason, they decided to spend this time and they are listening to you right now, so let's not disrespect them. That's the least we can give to them. But, you know, my point was different. I'm not defending here the actions of the American government. I'm not defending the actions of the Russian government. I'm not even defending the profession of journalism here. I'm asking you, as a legal scholar on Islam, whether you can really hold an individual accountable for the actions of his state? Can you turn him into a symbol of the sins committed by his country?
AC: In fact, you know, if you look in the time of the messenger Mohammed sallalahu alayhi wasallam [peace be upon him], you know the Prophet himself took hostages from a tribe which had an alliance with another tribe, who had actually taken the Muslims hostage. And he said that he will keep them until the Muslims were released, his own companions. So you know, there are certain examples in the history of Islam, from the time of the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasallam [peace be upon him] and later, which tell you that, you know, the hostages will have different situations, depending on the scenario. So I'm not assessing the reality. But what I can say to you definitely is that at the current time, in Muslim countries, there is no sanctity for non-Muslims who are citizens of those regimes who are fighting against Muslims. So my advice to you, which is good advice, is to withdraw completely your own civilians, and your own journalists, and your own armies from Muslims countries. Because it is a cause of instability in those countries, and it is a cause of insecurity, not only there, but also back home. And you know, when you say to disrespect the people who are watching this program – the people who are watching this program should know there is another perspective. There is the perspective of the people in Chechnya, there is a perspective of the people who are suffering for example in Ukraine. What kind of media coverage has been given in Russia about the people there? You can see that there is propaganda. So -
OB:Well, Mr Choudary, if you bothered to watch RT, you would find that a lot of media time, a lot of air time has been given to both the perspective of the Ukrainians and the perspective of the Chechens. But since you're talking about propaganda here, Mr Foley, as far as I know - and I covered the Syrian conflict extensively myself – Mr Foley covered that conflict on the side of the rebels. So, if anything, the material that he produced played into the hands of some rebel groups there, and perhaps helped the Islamic State get as strong as it is now. So, if you look at that from the other angle, you can actually claim that he was actually working – if not for the ISIS, then his work in some way benefited the rise of ISIS?
AC: You know, your obsession with James Foley, and your continuation to question me about this one individual and his own sanctity, shows me that you and your channel don't really care about the Muslims. You know, the Americans have carpet bombed Afghanistan and Iraq. The shock and awe which you seem to have about James Foley was in fact the American policy, remember, in 2003, when they killed hundreds of thousands of people. How many Muslims have been tortured in Guantanamo Bay, in Abu Ghraib, in Bagram? And yet, you don't know their names, you don't ask me about every single one of those individuals, what he was doing. People are innocent, you know, young children have been kept and they've grown old in Guantanamo Bay – we don't know their names because we're not really interested in the Muslims.
AC: - Wait a second. The Muslim blood can run like water because it's not real blood. Only the blood of the Russians, the Americans -
OB: (crosstalk) That's not true. Well, that's not true, to be honest with you.
AC: … and those people who are now conspiring against the Muslims, is real blood. We are not the people occupying Chechnya. We are not the people occupying Kashmir. We are not the people occupying Burma and other places. I think that is your policy. So you know, when people are uprising against regimes, and they see people who are the propaganda of those regimes, don't be surprised by this. People kill each other in war. They don't make love. This is the reality of war, and that is what is taking place in Syria. So James Foley and other journalists, they should have cleared out of the area.
OB: - Mr Choudary, can I just – so the video that we just showed, it showed a Muslim man - who perhaps had very legitimate grievances – but it shows Muslim men as heartless aggressors, and it shows an American journalist as a victim. And my question to you is whether you think that sort of video could actually play into the hands of the Americans? Because that gives them a perfect pretext to justify what they have been doing all along. The US military commanders are already drawing plans for additional strikes in the area. So that seems like something that may, again, impact the lives of innocent Muslim women and children. Aren't you worried about that?
AC: You know, we live under a very strange idea that the Muslims were never targeted. The Americans are already supporting the pirate state of Israel who slaughtered thousands of people. They unilaterally bombed Afghanistan and Iraq, they didn't need any permission from anyone. They killed hundreds of thousands of people. They tortured people. They changed their own laws and principles and values, in order to keep people in Guantanamo Bay, to ritually abuse them in Bagram. You know, the killing of James Foley is not going to make a difference to the heinous, very barbaric, criminal nature of the American regime and the history of atrocities against Muslims. You know, if anything, this will show that every cause has an effect. The American policy over the last decade has a very brutal effect upon the whole region. You can see that what happened with the Taliban, and what's happening with the Islamic State, and what's happening to the Americans and their own allies in the area, is a direct result of their own policy over the last decade. I think now that you have things like James Foley, and you have things like, you know, what's taking place with the Aziris and everything else – this shows you that there is a real conflict taking place. Now the Americans are no longer dealing with guerrilla warfare. They are dealing with a state, and they're dealing with a state army. And you know, that's why now suddenly, the Americans are friends now with Bashar al-Assad, and they're friends with the Iranians, and everybody can gather together. But at the end of the day, if you look at all of these regimes, China occupies and tortures people in the Xinjiang. The Russians do it in Chechnya. The Burmese do it to the Muslims in Burma. The Indians do it in Kashmir. We are the only ones defending ourselves, we are rising up. You know, when people rise up, of course there will be casualties. So what I say to you is look at the whole picture.
OB: (crosstalk) Well Mr Choudary, I have to stop you here for the break, because we have to take a break now. But Mr Choudary, since you seem to be such an expert on Chechnya, I wonder when was the last time you visited there? Because Chechnya now is one of the most developed regions of Russia. Nobody oppresses Chechens any more. I think they have living standards better than most Russians. But we have to cut to the break here, we will come back to this very heated discussion in just a few moments.
OB:Welcome back to Worlds Apart where we are discussing the origins of violence in the Middle East with imam Anjem Choudary. Mr Choudary, just before the break we were having this very heated discussion about violence, and the fact that Western policies towards Muslim countries are extremely violent, and that some Muslims respond to it with violence. And I agree with you on the point that the West, and perhaps even the broader international community, is complicit in the bloodshed and the chaos and the suffering that is taking place in the Middle East. But having said that, I wonder if you ever feel uncomfortable with the kind of footage that we see coming from Syria, from Iraq, some of the tactics that the Islamic State is using – does it ever make you feel uncomfortable, or even perhaps lead you to question what they are doing? Not as a Muslim, but as a human being, for example?
AC: You know, I believe that ah... yeah, of course, I'm a Muslim human being, but the point is that of course, I believe as a Muslim, women and children should never be targeted, and I don't believe that they are, by the Islamic State. I also believe that people should be offered to embrace Islam, and if people embrace Islam, by all means all their previous sins will be forgiven. They should live under the Sharia according to Islamic law. But I also believe that the journalists at the current time should withdraw from Muslim countries, because they are perceived to be the propaganda of America and their own allies. And therefore this is my plea. I think there's instability caused by the propaganda. And you know, nowadays we find that it's not just the fact that you have military occupation of Muslim countries. We also have very, very vile propaganda, which is the precursor, you know, for vacuum bombs, and daisy cutters, and drones, and all the other things that we see. You know, definitely people make mistakes. The messenger Mohammed sallalahu alayhi wasallam [peace be upon him] said every son of Adam makes mistakes. And the best among them are those who ask forgiveness. So I have no doubt, even in the battlefield, mistakes will be made.
OB:Well, Mr Choudary, I think the word mistakes is probably a bit too soft to describe some of the tactics that are, have been employed by the Islamic State. And I think it's hardly surprising that even Al-Qaeda – it's been reported at least – found their tactics, well, way too strong. That is believed to be the reason why these two groups split. But -
AC: No, no, it's not, it's not actually true. Al-Qaeda, Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri may Allah protect him, you know they have a juristic difference, they're not condemning the Muslims in the Islamic State. They're just saying that the criteria at the current time for them -
OB: (crosstalk) But I think they also differ in the way that they approach this propaganda thing. But my point is that if we look at how Al-Qaeda used its outreach program for recruitment, they primarily focused their message on the suffering of innocent women and children. That's how they recruited new converts. If we compare that to what ISIS is doing, they're very, very graphic about documenting their own killing. And I wonder how you explain this shift from focusing on the suffering of innocent women and children, to actually doing the killing themselves and killing the infidels, what have you?
AC: Well I will say to you the following. It is never justified to kill women and children, as a general rule. And nobody will glorify the killing of women and children. Many of the images that you see are from other battlefields, from the Nusayris [Alawites] for example in Syria, from Hizbullah in Iran, who have killed women and children, and then they're blaming the Muslims, they're covering them up with different garments, and they're saying in fact the Sunnis did this. And they did this for a long time, by the way, before the Islamic State was announced. And secondly, you know, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – none of the mujahideen in the world disagree with the fact that they're against the American establishment, and the foreign policy of occupation. So they're all agreed about this. They may have juristic differences as to what is the criteria for the Khilafah [Caliphate], is this the right time to declare the Islamic State. But what I will say to you is that the images that are coming from the war, from the Islamic State itself, are not about children and women. They are about the people living peacefully, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, under the Islamic State, under the Sharia. They have free food, clothing and shelter. Their life, their honour, their wealth is protected. Even they can have their own churches and the synagogues. Yes, the shrines are being destroyed, because we don't have shrines and idols in the public arena. On top of that, you can see images of the Christians coming back to Mosul, the Yaziris, many of them are embracing Islam. The lies about these have been exposed by the Muslims -
OB: (crosstalk) But Mr Choudary, we can also see images of people being executed, soldiers, Syrian soldiers being executed en mass and being put into mass graves. I mean, those images exist.
AC: Remember, we're talking about people who are criminals. The soldiers of the Syrian regime committed horrendous crimes. Remember, the Nusayris [Alawites] in Syria are people who consider the Sunnis to be like animals, even the children and women are animals. They slaughter them the way they would a dog or a cat.
OB:Well, Mr Choudary, this is simply not true. I don't know if you've had any chance to talk to these soldiers in the Syrian Army, I had. And many of them are conscripts, they're like 18 or 19 year-old boys. I mean, what do they know, they were just given commands to go to the battlefield. Don't you have any mercy for those very young males?
AC: Look, I know you don't like to hear the truth, you know. But the reality is that the soldiers who are fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, and on behalf of the Nusayri regime in Syria, and the people who are fighting for Nouri al-Maliki – remember the Yaziris were supporting Nouri al-Maliki for the American occupation. So there are some among them, obviously, who committed many crimes. Now I think that those people are being tried, and many of those, obviously because of the crimes that they committed, are facing capital punishment. But it's not a case of people just going into the village and just killing anyone, like the Americans and others would have you believe.
OB:- But Mr Choudary, they are being killed in their hundreds, I just wonder how can you really -
AC: - So what I'm saying is please verify from the Muslims.
OB:Since people are being killed in their hundreds, and we saw some of those mass executions of the Syrian soldiers, how can you even establish their guilt? I mean, they are being killed in the field, there's no time for any sort of proceedings to take place?
AC: Ok, let me ask you something. What do you think the Syrian soldiers have been doing for the last few years? How do you think the 200,000 people were slaughtered? Do you think they just died, like, natural causes, or do you think it was the Syrian soldiers who were committing the crimes?
OB:Well, I think there was, there is still a civil war going on in Syria, and I don't -
AC: (crosstalk) Exactly. You know very well it was the Syrian soldiers, so let's not pretend that the Syrian soldiers were sitting and having coffee in the cafes -
OB: (crosstalk) I'm not pretending, Mr Choudary, I've spent quite a lot of time in Syria, and I'm entitled to my point of view, just as you are.
AC: Wait a second, so they were committing crimes, weren't they? What exactly happened in the Nuremberg trials? How many people were executed from the Nazis in the Second World War? We need to wake up and realise that people are committing crimes against Muslims, and definitely they need to be tried. So, don't look at just the images of someone being killed. You know, quite frankly, if someone was run over by a bus and we didn't know his name -
OB: But Mr Choudary, that was my exact point. When were they tried? They were executed in the field – when were they tried? How could you establish their fault, their guilt rather?
AC: Bear with me one second. If you see an ordinary man run over by a bus, and we don't know who he is, we will feel sorry for him. But if was Ariel Sharon, for example, or if it was Barack Obama – I think the Muslims would be celebrating, quite frankly, because these people are criminals. So I think it depends on who it is. Now you agree with me [inaudible] Syrian soldier, and by all accounts, I believe the people were probably tried, and maybe they're facing capital punishment. It's not a case of just picking people randomly. You know, in war, people kill each other, let's face it. How many have the Russians killed from the Chechens? How many have the Chinese killed from the Xinjiang? Why is it that you always point the finger at the Muslims, you don't care about the other people who are being killed from the Muslim ranks?
OB:I'm not pointing the finger at the Muslims. I think many of those Syrian soldiers also considered themselves Muslims. But anyway, let's switch gears a little bit here. Because what I'm interested in here is how this violence could be ended. And my question to you is, when we look at media accounts, it is true that many of the IS fighters are being described as barbaric, they've been called in Western media sadistic, psychopaths, what have you. But I think that's very typical of the Western portrayal – you know, to demonise their opponents. But what I'm asking you is whether there's any chance whatsoever of the United States and the Islamic State having some sort of talks? Because, you know, a couple of years ago, the talks with the Taliban were completely ruled out, but the United States changed its tune later on. Do you think something like that could happen in this case?
AC: I believe that what we are seeing is the fulfilment of the prophecy of the messenger Mohammed salalahu alayhi wasallam [peace be upon him]. The Prophet said that Allah showed me the East of the East and the West of the West, and the authority of my Ummah was over the whole of it. So I believe that one day the Sharia will be implemented in Russia and in China and America. There is no, if you like, permanent treaty between the Islamic State and any nation which is implementing non-Islamic law. There could be a temporary ceasefire with those people who are not enemies to the Muslims. But definitely, because of the aggression of the Americans, and the British and others, there will never be a treaty with these people. I think eventually they will be conquered. And I can tell you another thing – that the history of the Islamic State, if you look at it before – in fact, the Islamic State was destroyed at the hands of the French and the British, with their own stooge Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in 1924. And you know, Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Minister at that time, said that “we have killed the strength of the Muslims, destroyed it”. Now we see the re-emergence of the Khilafah [Caliphate], we can see a new world order. Finally, we have a state where the Muslims are implementing Sharia, and it is expanding once more, and inshallah all the world will be governed by the Sharia. So I don't see that the Muslims will ever recognise the United Nations, or NATO, or America.
OB: This is one of the fears that many people in Western countries have. But as far as I know, and correct me if I'm wrong, Sharia is not something that could be forced upon a person. You know, Sharia is something that can only be accepted by the person when he or she submits to Islam. So when you say that those people, those countries will be conquered, aren't you actually mis-quoting the message of your own Prophet?
AC: No, no, I'm not at all, no. You said correct you if you're wrong – you're wrong. The fact is, as a foreign policy of the Islamic State, they must remove the obstacles in the way of implementation of the Sharia. There's no person forcing anyone to become Muslim. But definitely, as far as the law and order is concerned, this will be forcefully implemented. The Sharia, the divine law will be implemented, and the corruption and the oppression and the injustice of man-made law, wherever it is in the world, will be removed. So there is forceful implementation of the Sharia, and abiding by the command of God, as far as the public arena is concerned, socially, economically, judicially, in terms of ruling from policy. And if you look at the history of the Islamic State, all the way from China into the heart of Europe – you know, the Jews and Christians were very happy. You know, in Europe it led to the Renaissance. Eight hundred years of the Sharia in the heart of Europe. So this is not alien to Western civilisation. Let us have a good look at our history and see the beauty of Islam, when people were living in the Dark Ages, the Muslim civilisation was at the forefront of material development, and this is because of our own aqidah, our belief.
OB: Mr Choudary, I think Muslim civilisation certainly has its due place within the broader human civilisation. This is not what we are talking about here, and nobody is actually trying to insult Islam, despite what you are trying to suggest.
AC: I'm just giving you an insight about what the Sharia does when implemented on state level. You know, we have already an example through our history, and we will see another example inshallah in the years to come.
OB:Well Mr Choudary, since we are running out of time, let me pose to you one final question. You just mentioned that the Islamic State will not recognise any of the existing international organisations or institutions. So no wonder many governments are so concerned, including the British government, the government of your own country, which is now considering a raft of measures, including stripping potential jihadis of their own passport. And the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, even suggested treating those people as guilty until proven innocent, which is a very, very interesting take on human rights and equality. But given what you said about the law of the land, and having to accept the rules of the land where you live, don't they have a right to do that?
AC: You know, the British and their own allies, they make the law up as they go along. They change the boundaries, and they change the principles and values. You know the qureshi, the idolaters at the time of the Prophet, they used to make idols with dates. And when they become hungry, they used to gobble them up and eat them, and make other idols. Similarly, you know, the British make up laws, they have certain values - innocence until proven guilty, freedom of expression – and when they become hungry, they eat them up and make new laws. So, it doesn't surprise me, that's the nature of man-made law, it's oppression. You know, if freedom and democracy and liberalism etc. are not good enough for the British, why are their own soldiers dying for it in Afghanistan and Iraq? It doesn't make any sense. This is why we say [in Arabic], Islam is superior, it will never be surpassed. We never change our own values, we never change our principles. They are the same from the time of the Prophet, salalahu alayhi wasallam [peace be upon him], until today. You're the ones who always change your laws. And then you back-date them. You do something perfectly legal today, and then they're back-dated, and you're arrested for something you did yesterday.
OB:Well, Mr Choudary, since we've gotten to a point when you put me in the same category as Western decision makers, which regular viewers of this program would know I'm no fan of, I think it's a good note to end this program with. I appreciate you being here.
AC: You're welcome.
OB:And to our viewers, please keep the conversation going on our Twitter, Youtube and Facebook pages, and I hope to see you again, same place, same time, here on Worlds Apart.