Convert who calls for Islamic state
THE scene was peculiarly British. In an old cricket pavilion adorned with photographs of long-forgotten Essex batsmen, the Home Secretary was making much of being descended from an oil-and-water mix of Irish Catholics and Scottish Presbyterians, and of his ability to think on the dual level of being Scottish and British at the same time.
What was less cosily British was that John Reid, addressing an Islamic audience on their own turf in the northeast corner of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities and inviting them to consider that they could be both Muslim and British at the same time, got a good old British-Muslim barracking for his trouble.While the majority of his 40-strong audience listened in respectful silence to his sermon on the need for openness and understanding, several vociferous and well-known hardliners heckled him from the back of the room and had to be persuaded to leave by stewards and a single diminutive uniformed police officer.
Mr Reid had decided to deliver his message, his first to a predominantly Muslim audience, in the lions’ den close to Forest Gate and Walthamstow, two areas of northeast London subject to a recent spate of arrests of Muslim terrorist suspects. The lions roared but did not bite; there was no violence beyond a mild scuffle with stewards at the back of the room, well away from Mr Reid.
His audience had been rounded up by the local council at short notice, and comprised community leaders, councillors and a surprising number of Muslim women. They huddled together in the back rows of plastic chairs, paying the Home Secretary polite attention. Without warning, a large, bearded man in a full-length white Arab robe suddenly gave voice from the back of the room, 30ft away. “I am very irate,” said Abu Izzadeen, a prominent militant voice in the area. “How dare you come to a Muslim area when you are arresting so many Muslims — over a thousand.
You are an enemy of Islam and Muslims. Shame on all of us for sitting down and listening to him.” He went on about how Muslim women were dragged from their beds by police and hauled off without even the chance to cover themselves. “I am furious. We don’t want to see John Reid. We don’t want to see Tony Blair, or any of their cronies.” Abu Izzadeen was accompanied by a young boy, who stuck to his side but said nothing. Shouting “Don’t touch me”, he resisted attempts by stewards, a police officer and a community support officer to persuade him out of the back door.
After five minutes and much jostling he was coaxed outside, where he continued his rant to the TV cameras. Mr Reid was forced to pause briefly in his address, which had reached the point where he was listing terrorist activities around the world and claiming that the war on terrorism was not an attack on Islam, but a defence of values shared by both Westerners and Muslims.
Hardly had he got going again when another white-robed figure at the back of the room held up a poster reading “John Reid go to Hell”. The Home Secretary took no notice until the figure began to chant over and over: “Enemy of Islam and the Muslims. Free the hostages” — apparently in reference to the Muslims who are on remand at Belmarsh prison, in south-east London.
He was pounced on by the stewards and ejected after only a feeble struggle. Praising the rest of his audience for their courage in attending, Mr Reid said: “You have seen that there are people who don’t want you to be here.” Calling for questions, Mr Reid came up against yet more opposition in the shape of the prominent activist Anjem Choudary. Mr Choudary spoke with restrained anger, and no one tried to eject him. “Muslims have their own set of values — they do not need British values. We believe Islam is superior; we believe Islam will be implemented one day.
It is very rich for you to come here and say we need to monitor our children when your Government is murdering.” But Mr Reid refused to answer any more of his questions, saying that he had to dash to a memorial for terrorist victims.