This article appeared originally on GatestoneInstitute.org
On January 6, British MP Yasmin Qureshi hosted the launch in the House of Commons of a report by the lobby group Claystone. The report, entitled, "Rethinking Radicalization and Extremism," argues that "extremist ideology" is not the root cause of terrorism, yet it posits that proposed government legislation to limit freedom of expression (for extremists) is expected to galvanize recruits to terrorist causes.
Claystone has received a great deal of press in the past few months. In November 2013, the British media widely reported the release of another Claystone study, which claimed that Muslim charities were subject to unjust scrutiny because of suspicions they were "involved in radicalisation and extremism." The report was featured on both the front page and editorial section of The Times, which described Claystone as "a London-based think-tank specializing in Muslim issues."
Claystone, however, is no ordinary think-tank. It is a front group for a Salafist network run by Islamic preacher Haitham Al-Haddad. Haddad, frequently reported to be one of Britain's most extreme Islamic preachers, describes Jews as "apes and pigs" and "enemies of God;" quotes the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and speaks of a "conflict" between Muslim and Jews.
In 2011, after Osama Bin Laden's death, Haddad wrote an article for Islam21C in which he said that Bin Laden was a "martyr" who would enter paradise. Haddad was also a guest speaker at the Al Manar Centre in Cardiff, where young British jihadists are believed to have been radicalized to fight with ISIS. In addition, several years ago, the "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, penned a short autobiography that mentioned his contact with Haddad a few years earlier.
Claystone's "research director," Adam Belaon, who has written most of Claystone's reports, is in fact a writer for Islam21C, an Islamist news website founded and run by Haitham Al-Haddad.
The editors of Islam21C have published endorsements of Claystone's "campaigns," including this latest report. Claystone's company directors are also directors of other organizations run by Haitham Al-Haddad, such as Amaana Tours Ltd, a travel agent for which Haitham Al-Haddad is the "resident religious guide."
Nevertheless, there has been what looks like a weak attempt to conceal the connection between Claystone and Haddad. Articles written by Adam Belaon on the Islam21C website have had the author's name changed to "Zeeshan Khan." Islam21C's Twitter account, however, shows that Adam Belaon was in fact advertised as the original author
Claystone's event in the House of Commons was attended by a number of Islamist activists, including Azad Ali, a supporter of the late Al Qaeda terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki. In addition, Azad Ali works for the Islamic Forum of Europe, the British branch of Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent Islamist organization responsible for war crimes during the 1970s in Bangladesh.
The report launched at the Commons event, "Rethinking Radicalization," was authored by the non-Muslim British activist, Arun Kundnani.
Kundnani writes that the "official narrative on the causes of terrorism… is not based on solid evidence but rests upon the assumption that 'extremist' speech and beliefs are the most significant factors in causing terrorism."
Kundnani argues that, instead, "the term 'extremism' is used selectively and inconsistently to construct Muslims as a suspect community and to discourage the expression of radical opinions." He also cites a quote by the academic John Horgan, who makes the baffling claim that, "there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs." That may well be true, but not necessarily in this instance.
Kundnani believes that there is little evidence that extremism drives young Muslims to commit acts of terrorism. He argues that, instead, it is the government's counter-terror policies that "foster social divisions, undermine civil liberties and counter-productively make terrorism more likely."
Most importantly, Kundnani's report works hard to dismiss the notion of a particular connection between Salafi Islam and terrorism. He concludes that radicalization studies of Salafist ideology are inaccurate because they have contained "no control group of individuals who adopt a Salafi ideology but do not become involved in violence or a consideration of individuals who are involved in terrorism without having first adopted a Salafi ideology."
It should not be much of a surprise that a self-declared think-tank, fronting a Salafist network run by Haitham Al-Haddad, has declared that extremist ideology should be tolerated, and that there is no evidence linking Salafist groups to terrorism. As Mr. Kundnani is probably well aware, there is rather a lot of evidence that links Salafist preachers, including Haitham Al-Haddad, to the recruitment of jihadists.
By claiming that there is no link between extremist ideology and acts of terrorism, the report attempts to insulate Haitham Al-Haddad and British Salafists against charges that his organizations, and the like-minded preachers with whom he is involved, are part of the "conveyor belt" of radicalization, whereby young Muslims begin the journey from radical to terrorist.
Or, as Prime Minister David Cameron put it in 2011:
"As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called 'non-violent extremists', and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence. … Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism. As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement."
Writers such as Arun Kundnani and politicians such as Yasmin Qureshi seem happy to work with just such preachers. In an interview with Foreign Policy in Focus, Kundnani expressed admiration for the "idea that the best counter-terrorism partner in the Muslim community may well be Islamists or Salafists."
British parliamentarian Yasmin Qureshi, meanwhile, has also expressed support for Islamic extremists. In 2011, she agreed to speak at an event with Raed Saleh, an Islamist preacher who has admitted helping organizations that fund Hamas; has claimed that 4000 Jews skipped work at the World Trade Center on 9/11; and has stated that those who killed the "Martyr, Sheikh Osama Bin Laden" had "sold their consciences to Satan."
Qureshi, writing in the Huffington Post, recently promoted the new Claystone report. She wrote that, "The previous and current government introduced strong and often arbitrary pieces of legislation to address the perceived root causes [of terrorism] and tomorrow we will see further such legislation beginning its passage through Parliament. Yet all of this comes in the face of growing academic opinion that questions the very essence of the apparent root causes of terrorism."
The author of the Claystone report, Arun Kundnani, concluded that, "The newly proposed counter terrorism laws far from making Britain safer, are actually counterproductive. We must avoid nurturing a new generation of antagonised and disenfranchised citizens. Such an approach is likely to contribute to radicalisation not stop it."
Claystone and Haddad's network, by securing a non-Muslim academic and a British Labour MP, have found a suitable means to legitimize their attempts to portray themselves as victims of an oppressive anti-Muslim climate; to paint Salafist ideology as an important component of British Islam; and to denounce those who point out the Salafist role in terror radicalization.
The report's most compelling point, perhaps, is the claim that it is the government's narrative on extremism that has led to the suppression of civil liberties. Ironically, although the report may serve a pro-extremist cause, it is not completely wrong.
The current British government has indeed turned to ineffective bouts of censorship to fight some elements of British Islamic extremism. Proposed legislation is alarming. The Daily Telegraph has reported that the Home Secretary Theresa May has "promised a ban on extremists being interviewed on television, speaking at public meetings or using the internet, as well as an extension of ministers' authority to outlaw groups suspected of encouraging terrorism or violence." Moreover, the planned use of "Extremist Disruption Orders" will mean that Facebook and Twitter posts by designated "extremists" will have to be approved by the police in advance. The Home Office also says it wants to require companies to maintain records of people's internet, email and mobile phone activity.
During the 1980s, similar bans were enforced against extremist individuals. Padraig Reidy writes in the Telegraph that this "led to the ridiculous scenario where Gerry Adams and other republican representatives had their statements dubbed by actors before interviews were broadcast, as if it were not their words but their very voices that might attract sympathy for terrorism."
There is also the strong possibility that these new measures will be misused. Under existing powers, in 2012, the civil liberties watchdog group Big Brother Watch reported that during three years, local governments had carried out over 9,000 surveillance operations, some of which were used to "catch dog owners whose pets fouled the streets and to investigate breaches of the smoking ban." Other examples included councils using powers for "investigations into a fraudulent escort agency and the movement of pigs."
There is good reason to be concerned about proposed counter-terror measures. There is an equally good reason to also be concerned that Islamist extremists, such as Haitham Al-Haddad, have so adeptly figured out how to exploit genuine democratic debate to serve extremist interests.
Haddad's main fundraising charity, the Muslim Research and Development Foundation, encourages its donors to sign a "Gift Aid" pledge, with which the charity can claim taxpayers' money to supplement, by 20%, each qualifying donation. It is unclear how much public money Haitham Al-Haddad's groups have received.
It is probably not surprising that some politicians and so-called academics are involved with groups such as Claystone. One of the more important ways to fight extremism — and isolate those who radicalize young Muslims — is to stop providing extremist groups with public funding and the cloak of political and academic legitimacy.
Sam Westrop is a Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and also Director of Stand for Peace, a counter-extremism organization based in London. He appears regularly on television and radio to discuss the problem of Islamist, far-Left and far-Right extremism.