Hannah Baldock, a freelance journalist and risk consultant with a focus on the origins, goals, and methods of Islamism, spoke to a November 27 Middle East Forum Webinar (video). The following summarizes her comments:
The "march in support of Palestine" in the UK on Armistice Day, November 11, drew hundreds of thousands demanding a ceasefire in Israel's war against Hamas. The terror group's invasion of southern Israel on October 7 resulted in the massacre of twelve hundred people in a single day in Israel and the kidnapping of over two hundred hostages into Gaza.
Placards at the march were "openly antisemitic" and demonized Israel. The demonstrations are exposing societal divisions because the leftwing and "Muslim civil society groups of an Islamist slant" have failed to condemn or, in many cases, even acknowledge that the October 7 atrocities occurred at all.
Narratives advanced by UK Islamist groups such as Five Pillars, CAGE, and Mend "sowed the seeds of doubt" in their target audience over the attacks' occurrence. The level of Islamist propaganda expressed by the marchers reflects the success of the "information war" launched to mobilize the large number of young people across the UK Muslim diaspora. By failing to condemn Hamas's barbarism of October 7, the Islamist "fundamentalist lobby" groups show their "true colors."
Fault lines in Britain's civil society are laid bare now and reveal a divisiveness that is also a source of radicalization. One group carrying placards called for Gaza to be rescued by Muslim armies, and when asked, supported restoration of the caliphate, claiming it was the view of every Muslim. Suella Braverman, UK's Home Secretary at the time, called the pro-jihadi march a "hate march" that was not so much about Gaza as "an assertion of primacy," particularly by Islamists. She was ousted from office, and with her went the ability to expose the Hamas apologists and their narrative of victimhood.
The left was "outraged" by her comments because, although the march was "peaceful," they dismissed the antisemitic placard carriers as only an "extremist fringe." That claim was not borne out by a Labour party activist who carried a placard with a merged image of a swastika and Star of David. The intersection of the leftist worldview with "Islamist narratives" is "providing cover for the advance of Islamist ideology" at a rapid pace.
With their "anti-capitalist, anti-Western" radical catchphrases, jihadi supporters use rhetoric similar to that employed by the left during the 1970's. Politicians and media fretting about the threat posed by far-right British nationalists ignore the antisemitism of the Islamists. Antisemitism was in play in 2021 when the jihadi who murdered British MP Sir David Amess cited Amess's affiliation with the Conservative Friends of Israel as a motive. As such, Islamist groups are "counterparties on the far right" that are hostile to minorities, secular democracy, and the social freedoms of the West.
With the success of their 2018-19 campaign to advance their definition of "Islamophobia," which has been adopted by all political parties sans conservatives, including "one in eight" universities, the Islamists have made significant inroads. By conflating "anti-Muslim hatred with criticism of Islamism," Islamists even "take exception to historical facts, like the idea that Islam was spread by the sword."
Polling indicates that next year's general election could result in a Labour government. A Civitas report, "Islamophobia Revisited," suggests that Labour could incorporate the Islamist definition of Islamophobia "into a muted race Equality Act." Should that occur, free speech exposés of Islamists will be curtailed. Islamist groups promoting the Islamophobia narrative reinforce the portrayal of all Muslims as victims of the West, "and Israel/Palestine has become the . . . nexus of their struggle against this supposed oppression by the West."
Melanie Phillips's 2006 book Londonistan warned about the danger of ignoring the Islamist networks that settled in the UK after being exiled from Muslim countries. On October 21, one such revolutionary Islamist group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), called for jihad "from London to Gaza," yet HuT has not been banned. Similarly, for too long, the UK government has avoided dealing with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), whose deputy secretary general signed the Istanbul Declaration in 2009. This document called for attacks on British troops in the event they aided Israel in enforcing a blockade to prevent Hamas from smuggling arms into Gaza.
MCB and its lobbying group Mend have "inordinate influence" with the media and politicians, but their "equivocating" about Hamas's attack has emboldened journalists such as Nick Timothy, the former chief of staff under Teresa May's government. Timothy, writing for the Telegraph, takes the members of the Muslim community to task for regarding the MCB as their "gatekeepers."
Jewish commentators have called out the progressive left for enabling "bad faith actors" to undermine the values in liberal democracies by exploiting Western freedoms. Describing the current climate as a "civilizational moment," they raise the alarm about the inciteful narratives parroted by leftists who decry "racism, apartheid, supremacism" with the usual script of unverified accusations. The left provides cover for Islamists who disseminate their narratives with the added accelerant of social media. TikTok is the latest social media offender, luring nihilists who glorify a letter by arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden urging military jihad against the "Zionist Crusader Axis of Evil" – a call for the destruction of the West. Ironically, it is the very civilization that affords them the right to condemn the freedom they denigrate.
Although Muslim reformers are pushing back by pressuring the UK government to tighten anti-terrorism laws and address "nonviolent Islamism," courts have run interference in defense of free speech rights. The interfaith group Faith Matters, which condemns the Islamist groups, has been attacked by Mend and CAGE for its work with Jewish communities because Faith Matters exposes the Islamist narratives of "conspiracies, antisemitism and a unipolar view of life."
In August 2022, the Oxford Institute for British Islam (OIBI), a reformist think tank, held a London conference championing an enlightened Islam. OIBI urges the UK government to offer greater support to reformers in order to "cut the theological legs off" the Islamist perspective and expose its militancy.
The recent march against antisemitism in London that drew more than a hundred thousand did not just show support from the British Jewish community. The many non-Jews in attendance also recalled the reactions against multiple attacks perpetrated by violent Islamists in the UK and saw the Hamas attack in a similar vein. Inflammatory sermons in mosques that incite violence against Jews and call for jihad have festered for years across the UK. An investigation into the UK's Green Lane mosque by Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), a project of the Middle East Forum, alerted journalists to the mosque's links to extremism and resulted in a freeze of a £1.2 million development grant slated for the mosque.
Green Lane is only one of many red flags that should mobilize the British government to "seize the narrative" from extremists, particularly the current stream of invective regarding Israel's war against Hamas. The antisemitic and genocidal chants pro-Hamas marchers repeat are becoming "normalized in the discourse." The Sunak government has not stepped up to the challenge "to stop both the media space and physical space taken up by these narratives."
"For very many years these issues have been kicked into the long grass. It's been called a 'mass displacement activity' that has been going on since Suella Braverman lost her job. It was almost easier to deal with the secondary problem of whether or not she had inflamed public opinion, than the primary problem of dealing with the agenda of Islamist groups."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.