There is nary a word about the stealth jihad, or any consideration of the possibility that this condemnation of Al-Qaeda heralds a change in tactics, but not in goals, in this article: “Al-Qaeda: the cracks begin to show,” by Abul Taher in the Times, June 8 (thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist).
During Friday prayers this weekend, Dr Usama Hasan stood at the pulpit of his Tawhid mosque in Leyton, east London, and delivered a sermon on the sinfulness of alcohol and drugs.
It was quite a sedate affair compared with some of the sermons the 36-year-old imam has given. He often uses his platform to rally his congregation against terrorism, condemning Osama Bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri as unIslamic criminals.
This has earned Hasan death threats from some worshippers, while others have called him a “sell-out” and a “government stooge”.
Has he reported them to British authorities?
Undeterred, Hasan has vowed to continue his fight against extremists. “It’s a hard struggle,” he said last week. “I”ve had people storm out in protest, but I”ve been involved in this mosque for 20 years so the vast majority of people still respect me.”
There is another reason why many of the young worshippers respect him: Hasan was himself once a jihadi. This has, he says, given him “street cred”.
In 1990, while an undergraduate at Cambridge University, he fell in with an extremist group which led him and three others to travel to Pakistan and then into Afghanistan.
There, Hasan says, he learnt how to use Kalashnikovs, M16s and hand grenades. He returned from his training after about two weeks and throughout the 1990s remained an admirer of Bin Laden.
After the 9/11 attacks on America, and especially since the 7/7 bombings in London, Hasan began to question Al-Qaeda. He was particularly horrified that a Tube train on the Piccadilly line was blown up. “To me the Piccadilly line was home, because my house in north London was near one of its stops,” he said. “I just could not understand why anyone would attack London.
“I realised that Muslims had to speak out against the extremists. We had to teach that jihad is a just war, but groups like Al-Qaeda have perverted it.”
His journey is a reflection of one which is being taken by a number of leading figures in the extremist milieu. An article published recently in The New Republic, the American journal, by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank — both respected experts on terrorism — outlined a radical change in thinking on Al-Qaeda’s strategy among some of the most respected thinkers in the Islamist world.
For the first time, they reported, men whose previous pronouncements had been used as a justification for jihad were speaking out against it. They were not embracing the West, by any means, but they were questioning the ideological basis upon which Al-Qaeda, as a scattered movement, relies. In the battle for “hearts and minds” the group appeared to have scored an own goal.
There is no recent polling data, but anecdotal evidence suggests that support for Al-Qaeda is waning and that the recent intervention of the jihadi thinkers is significant.
Hasan said that when clerics of the stature of Oadah break ranks and criticise Bin Laden, it gives him more ammunition on the streets of the capital, dubbed “Londonistan” for its high concentration of extremists and its significance in the battle against terrorism. “We can tell our youths that even Oadah has turned against Bin Laden and they listen, because Oadah is revered among the young here. Whatever he says, they listen,” Hasan said.
A sign of Oadah’s popularity is that in 2006 he attracted 20,000 people to London’s Excel conference centre when he was a speaker at a rally organised by the Islam Channel, a satellite television station.
Hanif Qadir, another former jihadi sympathiser turned “deradicaliser”, who runs a mosque in Walthamstow, north London, claims that radical groups have been forced out of mosques and community centres. Instead, they preach on street corners and then invite individuals who show interest to safe houses.
Similarly, in northern cities such as Bradford and Leeds, home town of three of the four 7/7 bombers, Muslim leaders say they are noticing a decline in the interest in radical groups. Radicalism in these areas is considered more difficult to counter because they do not have the social or economic opportunities that metropolitan London can offer.
Azmat Ali, who works with youth groups across West Yorkshire, said: “Before 7/7, you go to any mosque and there would be people standing outside with their faces covered distributing extremist leaflets. But now you don’t see any of that. I think things have improved for the better now.”
West Yorkshire police, however, paint a different picture. Senior officers say they are concerned that in places such as Dewsbury, Islamic extremists are now targeting children as young as 13 in a bid to find new recruits.
Indeed, MI5 and antiterrorist police maintain that the threat from Al-Qaeda in Britain has not declined, with more than 2,000 individuals being monitored, up from 1,600 two years ago. They point out that there have been 40 convictions of people linked to Islamic terrorism in the past 14 months. A further 160 people are awaiting trial.
Paul Wilkinson, a terrorism specialist at St Andrews University, is also cautious. He says that while its policy of attacking co-religionists was “probably its biggest mistake”, Al-Qaeda does have the ability to strike again. “We must remember Al-Qaeda is not a mass movement and you don’t need that many people to hatch a plot — 9/11 only took 19.”…