On June 16, 2023, a violently extreme Islamist preacher from Bangladesh named Dr. Anayetullah Abbasi announced he was in the United Kingdom, declaring his participation in eight Islamic events across the country, at the invitation of British Bengali TV station iON TV.
Abbasi, a 45-year-old imam, runs an Islamist group in Bangladesh named Tahreek-A-Khatme-Nabuwat Bangladesh. Known as the "Helicopter Huzur" in Bangladesh (a Huzur [an honorific title] who uses helicopters and other extravagant means of travel to preach his message across Bangladesh), this leading Islamist voice openly calls for the killing of Ahmadiyyah Muslims (a minority Muslim sect rejected as deviant by Islamists), Hindus, atheists, Jews, among others.
Following an outcry from secular Bangladeshis, counter-extremism activists and the British media – which cited my own previous reporting – at least two of his planned talks have now been cancelled after British police contacted the hosting mosques.
There is good reason for the outrage. Speaking about Ahmadiyyah Muslims, Abbasi once declared "These Qadianis are reformists and worse than non-Muslims. And the only punishment for these reformists is to kill them. ... the Qadianis [one of the two Ahmadiyyah branches, although the term is also used pejoratively] will get their heads chopped off wherever seen, according to Sharia law."
Abbasi also urges the slaughter of those deemed un-Islamic, reportedly stating, "In this democratic Bangladesh, if anybody dares to criticize God, no matter that person be an intellectual, atheist or blogger, that person's head should be chopped off."
As for Hindus, he advises Muslims: "if you have a weak Hindu neighbor, you can possess his land and house." He adds that God will "not send you for hell" if they "torture that weak Hindu."
He cites Al-Qaeda and Taliban as ideal Muslims. He refers to the Taliban as "brave lions," and also promises "we will fight against non-Muslims until our last breath, until we reach God."
In another of his lectures, the Helicopter Huzur states: "If anyone tries to take control over Bangladesh, every madarasa [Islamic school] will be converted into a camp well equipped with arms."
Abbasi claims to have participated in eight other events, it appears he in fact arrived in the United Kingdom as early as June 10. There is no telling how other events he has spoken at.
The key question here is: why did someone as extreme as Abbasi get clearance to enter the United Kingdom in the first place? His violence and support for terror have been extensively documented. The most cursory of online searches by the British embassy would have revealed the violent nature of Abbasi's preaching.
Meanwhile, in Britain, we know from GB News that the hosting media station, iON TV, is denying any knowledge of Abbasi's well-publicized radicalism. As a Bangladeshi myself, living in exile after fleeing religious extremism and arrest warrants in my home country, I can confidently declare such denials to be completely unbelievable. If iON TV knew of someone as infamous as Abbasi, then they knew of his violent rhetoric.
Even if we were to believe iON TV, after being informed of Abbasi's incitement of violence against non-Muslims and minority Muslim sects, on June 22, the CEO of iON TV declared they went ahead with the conference nonetheless.
As an ex-Muslim and atheist, I have chosen to reject Islam. But I still draw a distinction between Islam and Islamism. An Islamist believes in Islam blindly, silencing dissent, and forcing all to surrender completely to the imposition of totalitarian religious law and its violent consequences. Abbasi is a perfect example of such an ideologue.
This hate preacher may be treated differently from a terrorist, and yet in the long run he is perhaps more dangerous. Unlike a terrorist's, Abbasi's message disseminates more easily, propelled by visas issued by Western countries consistently failing to check the violent ideas of their visitors. Soon, upon his return to Bangladesh, Abbasi will enjoy even greater legitimacy, fresh from the grand spectacle of his United Kingdom tour.
Asad Noor is a blogger and secularist activist currently living in exile.