Is Anjem Choudary a joke or not? Maybe not, according to Sunder Katwala in the New Statesman blog (the Staggers blog called the Staggers).
Choudary backed out of a Panorama interview, apparently because he didn’t want to be pressed on his lack of truthfulness about how well he knew Michael Adebolajo, one of the accused in the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich.
Normal service was resumed this morning – as Choudary was given the prestige 8:10am slot on the Today programme. Choudary refused, as usual, to condemn a murder that he has previously been willing to condone and justify. But he was not asked the questions that he pulled out of thePanorama interview to avoid, or about whether his links with Adebolajo went deeper than he claims. Nor was any other British Muslim voice offered the opportunity to counter him, though the government’s anti-terror coordinator Alex Carlile was invited to offer context afterwards.
Doesn’t sound like a mere joke, being interviewed on the Today programme. Anyway even jokes can commit mass murder or organize others to do so.
No broadcast organisation has offered a clear account of how they make these choices – or whether they accept that there is any tension between the journalistic job of scrutinising extremism, the shock entertainment value of platforming the most outlandish and least representative views, and the role of contextualising those views too. Instead, they too often speak with forked tongues. Take Daybreak’s Jonathan Swain’s tweet last summer after Choudary popped up on the sofa to make the case for murder. “Just interviewed Anjem Choudary on @Daybreak who claimed the murder of Lee Rigby was justified. What a Disgusting and offensive view”. As Claude Rains might have said in Casablanca, how shocking it must have been for the programme to discover that they had booked such an extremist voice to express his well known and frequently repeated views.
Very well known. I’ve been following reportage on him for years. That’s why I’ve heard so often that he’s a joke.
It is difficult for the media to resist the temptation of platforming a man who often thinks like a newsdesk, and is willing to provide a cartoonish story, as with his recent protests against alcohol. But, as Hope Not Hate’sinvestigation into the Al Maharajoun hate group shows, there is a strong accumulation of evidence to support the view that Choudary is considerably more dangerous than his clownish media persona may imply. As Nick Lowles and Joe Mulhall write: “Behind his media-grabbing and provocative stunts lies a group that is a gateway to terrorism, at home and abroad. While Choudary might not have been directly involved in terror plots, he helped shape the mindset of many of those behind them”.
Perhaps he was doing a Hamlet, a Claudius, a Columbo – pretending to be a lot more of a joke than he really is, so that he can do the serious shit under the noses of the spies and journalists.
The important question again arising out of the Woolwich murder for Anjem Choudary is whether he may deserve somewhat more of the moral responsibility for the killing of Lee Rigby than he has sought to claim publicly. It is, as Hope Not Hate set out clearly, a recurring question across several attempts at violence and terrorism. That was probably a question to be scrutinised in a reported package, rather than letting Choudary tap-dance around John Humphrey’s questions in the style of a cabinet minister.
But would it have been good radio?