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Paul T Horgan: The BBC gets it right by standing up to an Islamic extremist


Up until 1978, the religion of Islam was pretty much outside public consciousness. Two events caused that to change.

The first was the Iranian Revolution that toppled the America-supporting Shah and replaced his kingdom with a theocracy. The second was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Both of these events thrust the religion of Islam into international politics as the faith was used to oppose the Cold War superpowers in their ambitions.

Islam has not left the news media since. Instead of being portrayed as a benign religion, it is largely associated with violence. However, this is to regard Islam with its most extreme interpretations and the actions based on them. This is largely due to the habit of some religious scholars to use Islam to encourage violence. Shorn of this extremism, it is conceivable to share the planet with followers of this faith in a way that is impossible with Marxists.

Andrew Neil singled out Shakeel Begg, the Chief Imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre, on his Sunday Politics programme back in 2013, stating:

“…The East London Mosque… it’s also the venue for a number of extremist speakers and speakers who espouse extremist positions. This year Shakeel Begg, he spoke there and hailed jihad as “the greatest of deeds”.

Begg complained to the BBC, which upheld the complaint. Then the BBC did something new. It reversed its decision. Begg sued the BBC.

According to Douglas Murray’s article in the Spectator, this appears to be routine. Reporting of extremists is being suppressed.

“Well here is where the extremists have their final advantage. Which is that they can always revert to the law. […] They never really want to get to court, because they know if they do, they might be caught telling the truth on the record. But they do want to make the cost of questioning their views exceptionally high.”

In this case, the BBC did not back down. The case went to court, in front of Mr Justice Haddon-Cave.

Begg lost.

How does a court pass judgement on the words of a Muslim scholar? Begg travelled to Saudi Arabia and attended the Islamic University of Medinah (“IUM”) for five years, where he studied classical Islamic disciplines, including Islamic sciences, theology, Shari’a law, Arabic language and Qur’an recitation. He obtained an MA in Islamic Studies from Markfield Institute of Higher Education in Leicester in 2005-2006 and diplomas in Islamic Finance, Chaplaincy and Jurisprudence in 2008-2009.

To try the case, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave stated:

“In view of the numerous references to the Qur’an by the witnesses in their written evidence, I have read and studied the entire Qur’an (using the translation referred to by the Claimant […]). I have also read the copy of Sayyid Qutb’s book “Milestones”[…]”

To hear a case involving a complaint from a Muslim scholar, the judge became his own Muslim scholar. Since the issue concerned the meaning of a number of speeches made by Begg, these were dissected and analysed in detail, in isolation and in the context of the Islamic faith, like the following:

“You want to make jihad? Very good. Don’t shout and scream and fight with your Muslim brother who is doing something else for the deen. Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists in Palestine if you want to do this.”

Begg’s legal team tried to defuse these words and other pronouncements. This did not convince the court. Begg was described as:

“[…]something of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character. He appears to present one face to the general local and inter-faith community and another to particular Muslim and other receptive audiences. The former face is benign, tolerant and ecumenical; the latter face is ideologically extreme and intolerant. He has worked hard to cultivate an image of himself as a highly respected figure in the Lewisham community. However, it is clear that on occasions when it has suited him, and he was speaking to predominantly Muslim audiences and/or audiences who might be receptive to his message, he has shed the cloak of respectability and revealed the horns of extremism.”

At the time of writing, Begg has yet to respond to the judgement.

It is a landmark case. The judgement runs to ninety-two pages and explores the religion of Islam and the concepts of jihad and other terms in fair, clear, uncomplicated prose and describes how these are interpreted but also misinterpreted by extremist speakers, of which the aforementioned Sayyid Qutb was one.”

The casual reader will benefit greatly from the explanations made in this judgement and I do urge anyone who is concerned about Islamic extremism to make time to read this judgement. For instance, the judge makes clear that terrorism is explicitly forbidden in the Koran, as are human shields. Prisoners of war should be humanely treated.

By providing explanations and definitions in a case under English Law, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave has provided a public service. A legal standard has been set for extremist speech which may be used in future cases of this kind.

Rather than a triumph of English Law over a religion, the judgement serves to allow greater understanding and ultimately control and prevention of a religious extremism that appears to have been unfettered for decades through its exploitation of our freedom of speech and also the English laws of defamation. This exploitation seems to be now coming to an end.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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