Over the weekend, I had travelled down to join a panel of media experts and film-makers at the annual "Bite the Mango" Bradford Film Festival at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. Our panel hosted two seminars at the Festival, the first on 'Faith in Film', and the other on 'Representation of Muslims in Media'. I was invited at the last minute in a frantic telephone call from one of the coordinators of the festival, and drove down with my family on Friday so that I could arrive comfortably in time for the Saturday morning workshops.
Among the issues I discussed in the Q & A sessions was Home Secretary John Reid's face-off with self-styled "radical cleric" Abu Izzadeen, where Reid took it upon himself to warn Muslim parents to watch out for "signs" of their children turning into dangerous extremists. Izzadeen's heckling diatribe in response, was followed by more heckling diatribe from Anjem Choudray. Reid pointed at the conduct of these two imbeciles as proof of his point.
In reality, the very fact that Izzadeen and Choudray are free to run around heckling a British Minister is precisely the evidence that disproves Reid's Islamophobic attempt to pin responsibility for terrorist-extremism on Muslim parents.
Both these individuals are notorious extremists affiliated to the proscribed al-Muhajiroun network linked to al-Qaeda and chaired by Omar Bakri Mohammed, a network re-named as the Saved Sect and then Al-Ghurabaa. Despite apparent proscription, the group's key members and activities operate intact, quite unhindered. To date, the government refuses to arrest and prosecute these individuals in spite of their repeated violations of British law, including incitement to violence, racial hatred and terrorism, and in particular despite their open admission of engaging in terrorist-training with confessed intent to target Britain.
Consider Izadeen's statement a week after 9/11 cited on p. 77 of my book, The London Bombings: "There are a sizeable number of Moslems undergoing military training in the UK... If America decides to bomb Afghanistan, then we'll wake up. If they're going to attack Afghanistan then what's my duty? It's going to be a new chapter." The day after, his colleague Zahir Khan told an al-Muhajiroun meeting in Birmingham that: "If Britain helped attack Afghanistan, it would be allowable for Moslems to attack military targets in Britain."
A Sunday Times investigation recorded Izzadeen's declaration to a group of teenagers on 2nd July 2005, that it was imperative for Muslims to “instil terror into the hearts of the kuffar”, and indeed that: “I am a terrorist. As a Muslim of course I am a terrorist.” Claiming to have engaged in military training in Pakistan, he said he did not want to go to Allah while sleeping in his bed “like an old woman”. Instead: “I want to be blown into pieces with my hands in one place and my feet in another.” That was five days before the 7/7 atrocities.
Six months before the London terror strikes, Izzadeen's mentor, Omar Bakri, had delivered a fatawa over the internet urging British Muslims to join a global al-Qaeda jihad. He explicitly described Britain as a legitimate target, condoned the killing of civilians, and condemned the British government's deployment of anti-terrorist legislation -- which had been used not long before to arrest Bakri's close associate Abu Hamza, whose trial was scheduled for 7th July 2005.
But the British government wasn't interested in investigating Bakri. Instead they allowed him to travel to Lebanon, upon which they debarred him from returning to the UK, and thus ensured that he is permanently outside British jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Bakri himself -- who continues to indoctrinate and guide a small circle of extremist fixers in the UK -- boasts that he is regularly called in for questioning about terror-related issues by the Lebanese on behalf of the British government -- a matter on which the Foreign Office has "no comment".
And of course, Reid wouldn't want us to consider the role of MI6 in the mid-1990s in actively using Omar Bakri, Abu Hamza and suspected 7/7 mastermind Haroon Rashid Aswat to recruit British Muslims to go fight in Kosovo, as reported by multiple American and French intelligence sources cited in the New Criminologist, and elsewhere. Reid's reluctance to take serious, meaningful legal action against Bakri's boys, like Izadeen and Choudray, does not square with his eagerness to blame Muslim parents for the same failure.
That was the thrust of my observations on this televised debacle at the film festival.
We got back from Bradford on Sunday evening. I had forgotten my mobile at home, and had a backlog of messages, one from my Dad, so I called him back. He had very bad news.
My uncle in Bangladesh had been shot on Saturday morning while I was speaking on my panel in Bradford. A nationally-respected professor of political science at Dhaka University, Dr. Aftab Ahmed, had been attacked in his own home on the university premises by unidentified gun-men, who had pushed their way into the apartment and shot him four times at close range in the upper body, in the presence of his wife (my aunt) and 9-year old disabled daughter (my cousin).
This evening, at around 8 pm, my Dad called to let me know that my uncle passed away earlier this morning. He had been recently demoted from a government-appointed post as Vice-Chancellor at Bangladesh's National University. In that position, he had tackled entrenched issues of political corruption and bribery, the legacy of the previous Allawi League government, when hundreds of university staff had been systematically recruited solely for their political support of the govt, as opposed to their merits as teachers. In a politically explosive and unpopular move, he had fired all staff recruited on the basis of corruption and moved to revitalize academic standards in university recruitment.
This wasn't the first time my uncle had made enemies. He was well-known as a Marxist dissident, and had often been imprisoned by previous governments for his loud opposition and participation in demonstrations and strikes. In 1995, he co-authored a powerful critique of the lack of accountability Bangladesh's purportedly democratic institutions, warning of "the intransigent attitude of the bureaucracy" and highlighting "the lack of willingness and ability ofMPs to seriously enquire into government policies and operations."
In another notorious episode, my uncle had made a few off-hand televised remarks suggesting the Bangladeshi national anthem be amended for a new time, and to give new impetus to the people. He was harshly criticized by hardline nationalists in a concerted campaign that almost lost him his job. But such things never bothered him.
My uncle was a courageous academic who stuck by his principles, and spoke what he believed. For unswervingly doing what he was convinced was just, he was murdered in a brutal assassination, unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh. As the world turns and the newsbites chatter, I pray for uncle's soul, and hope that his legacy of political activism on behalf of freedom and, always, against oppression and corruption, will be carried forward in Bangladesh, this beleaguered icon of Third World devastation from which I am descended. To those out there who believe, please pray with me.
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