On hate preacher Abu Hamza’s trial
The only solution to extremism must be ideological and neither security-related nor judicially-related
We didn't know his name but we knew him by his nickname, Abu Hamza. Mustafa Kamal Mustafa is currently being tried in New York as one of the worlds' most dangerous inciters of extremism. The trial exposed his character and how he shifted from utmost absurdity to utmost religious extremism. The trial exposed his several characters - from working as a night club manager to dealing with British intelligence to becoming an extremist leader. He lost both hands and one eye while building a road in Pakistan for the Pakistani army and not during jihadist work as he claimed. He then went to Britain and imposed himself as imam of Finsbury Park mosque in London where he rose as a hate preacher. He became a TV star who distorted the image of Islam and Muslims. Abu Hamza, with his glass eye and prosthetic hook for a hand, became a fitting image of the villain who scares children. He's now being tried on several charges, including conspiring to carry out an abduction in Yemen and establishing a terror camp in the United States.
It's not strange that several extremist groups are led by men who worked in fields irrelevant to piousness - fields like night clubs, drug dealing and theft. Some of these men graduated from religious awareness courses in jails and some repented before shifting from one type of extremism to another. The latter type of men are characterized by their bold characters.
A secret weapon?
According to what was leaked about him, Abu Hamza worked as a British intelligence services' consultant for a while, but we don't know the depth of this relation and whether he only consulted as an expert in extremist Islamist groups or whether he was also an informant. Was he an agent who deceived innocent men? Or was he a terrorist who deceived intelligence? We don't know. Security services have tirelessly infiltrated secret groups - either by recruiting extremists from within them or by planting people inside them. This is their secret weapon when fighting these groups. However recruiting extremists is a double edged sword and although it may succeed at capturing a few members, it may be reason to further complicate the problem. The problem in fighting terrorism lies in the ideology and not the individuals.
The only solution to extremism must be ideological and neither security-related nor judicially-relatedAbdulrahman al-Rashed
A number of extremists who were active on several websites in the late 90s and the later years turned out to be informants. They were traps set to penetrate al-Qaeda and extremist preaching organizations. Such operations were smart as they succeeded at capturing some terrorists and helped collect precious information about these groups' secret rings and activities.
A suspicious Abu Hamza
The downside to these methods - of recruiting extremists or planting members in extremist organizations - is that they expand the call for terrorism. For society, they become part of the problem though for the services tasked with monitoring them, they were part of the solution. They establish extremist websites and market inciting videos and ideas. These activities may allow authorities to succeed at arresting some terrorists or expose their operations. I've always felt suspicious myself when it came to the acts of some famous agitators and I've wondered whether they are really extremists or men planted by security services. I've particularly had suspicions regarding those who were overly agitators, like Abu Hamza. He defied the police and took no one into consideration. He insisted to deliver hate and threatening sermons in front of authority representatives in the street despite all banning orders. However during the New York trial, we see a servile Abu Hamza exonerating himself of most of his actions and words. This mysterious preacher greatly harmed the Muslim community which he lived within in Britain and was also behind the extremism of many young men.
It's not strange for someone to move from one camp to another. Osama Bin Laden himself was pushed towards performing jihadi work in Afghanistan. One of his services was to deliver funds to those involved in the war against the Soviets. Influence of some leaders, like Abdullah Azzam and Ayman Zawhiri, led Bin Laden to revolt against his sponsors and become a hardened terrorist himself.
The only solution to extremism must be ideological and neither security-related nor judicially-related. No matter how successful security services are, the terrorism and extremism crisis will not end unless Islam is saved from extremist preachers and unless a method is devised to guide society towards moderation.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 11, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.