This is a cross-post by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens
The Quilliam Foundation announced yesterday that they will soon be releasing a report on the UK’s Islam Channel. Quilliam co-director, Maajid Nawas, has sent around a text message publicising the upcoming release, claiming that the channel is a portal for ‘extremism, bias, sexism, sectarianism and attacks on mainstream Muslim practices.’ In response, the Islam Channel has issued Quilliam with a pre emptive libel threat, claiming that the report they haven’t seen yet is defamatory.
As anyone who has followed the Islam Channel knows, its CEO is Mohammed Ali Harrath – a man for whom Interpol have issued a Red Notice for offences involving ‘the use of weapons/explosives, and terrorism.’ Tunisia, his country of birth, has already convicted him in absentia on terror charges.
In November, Quilliam released a short briefing which identified the Islam Channel as one of the UK based groups that promotes al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki (for more on the UK Awlaki support network click here). Islam Channel has also threatened to sue because of this, claiming in their letter that ‘the accusation that the channel distributes Awlaki material is also untrue. The material does not feature on our website and no audio or video is either accessible or downloadable from the website’. This is technically true as they have now wiped all of the Awlaki material from their site. But the press release was accurate at the time (see below picture for screenshot from 12 November 2009 of Islam Channel’s website providing links and downloads to Awlaki lectures), and Islam Channel made no effort to remove the material until two months later when the story was picked up by the Observer.
The letter also points out that among other organisations, Amazon also provide links to Awlaki material. This is a weak defence: Amazon is not an Islamic organisation, and it sells books by writers of all shades, including Hitler and Sayyid Qutb. Islam Channel is, as its name suggests, Islamically orientated, and should therefore bare more responsibility for distributing extremist Islamic material.
Awlaki and Harrath are not the only questionable elements of the channel. It also produces talk shows presented by members of Islamist revolutionary group, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). HT employees of Islam Channel include Sajid Varda, Ibtihal Ismail Bsis, Aamna Durrani and Basharat Ali.
The channel also has a regular news bulletin, and when reporting on suicide attacks presenters make a specific effort to refer to these as ‘human bombs’. At first, this may seem an innocuous phrase, but there is more to it. One of the Islam Channel’s favoured preachers is Bilal Philips, a well-known American Salafi. They regularly broadcast question and answer sessions with him and recommend his scholarship. In one of his lecture series (see below video), he touches upon the issue of suicide bombings and gives a typical Salafi-jihadi justification for it. He explains that this type of attack is not an act of suicide, which is forbidden, but instead a ‘military act’ of shuhada (martyrdom). This type of theological justification is how Salafi-jihadis are able to carry out suicide attacks without the fear of being cast into the depths of hellfire. The fact that Islam Channel refuse to refer to these attacks as acts of suicide suggests that the production staff have adopted at least some of Philips’ extreme Salafi interpretations.
The concerns raised by Quilliam are based around Islam Channel’s high number of Muslim viewers and its attempts to present Salafist Islam as part of the mainstream. The content of both its website and programming does suggest that these concerns are, to some extent at least, justified.