On a 2009 summer day in London, where I was then a graduate student, I attended what was supposed to be a debate between Douglas Murray, the director of a British anti-Islamist think tank, and Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim preacher who preposterously claims that Britain and America will one day soon be governed by Sharia law.
The debate never occurred. Choudary’s thugs sought to forcibly segregate the audience by gender, and roughed up at least one attendee who sought to disobey their edict. Before more mayhem exploded, the police arrived. Looking into the eyes of Choudary’s hooligans, it was clear these men would have liked nothing more than to have hurt some people that day.
Indeed, Choudary, who is slated to travel to the United States this week for a rally in front of the White House, led the now-banned British organization al-Muhajiroun, an organization associated with 15 percent of those who have been arrested for terrorism related offenses in the U.K. in the last decade. Al-Muhajiroun founder Omar Bakri, incidentally, was recently convicted in Lebanon of training al-Qaeda recruits.
While Choudary’s followers and friends are anything but frauds, Choudary himself may be one. He certainly lived a far different life when he went by Andy Choudary and was a law student at the University of Southampton in the late 1980s.
A close college friend of Choudary told me during an e-mail interview last week that back in college, the radical cleric who seeks to impose a cruel and medieval vision on the world was anything but a puritan.
“Andy and I were good mates. We were drinking buddies, essentially,” he told me via e-mail. “He had a small group of good friends, who were a mixed bunch, from hard workers to stoners.”
Described as “a bit of a slacker” who didn’t do himself any favors “with his orange perm,” Choudary was nonetheless a “well liked, gregarious kid” according to his old buddy.
He was “easygoing, and a good friend,” Choudary’s college friend said. “The sort of person you could rely on. Obviously, he got drunk and stoned as most students do, but I think it is an overstatement to paint him as some sort of acid casualty, as the tabloid newspapers in the U.K. have.”
Most importantly, Choudary’s college friend noted, “He was a million miles away from the bombastic and silly-sinister parody he’s transformed himself into.”
Today, Choudary advocates that a strict form of Sharia to be implemented in Britain. “The sort of world that Choudary lived in, back in the 1980s, just wouldn’t exist in Andy’s nightmare vision of a Caliphate state,” his old friend said.
Indeed, as Choudary himself has said, someone caught drinking alcohol in his ideal vision of society would be subjected to 40 lashes. And since Choudary apparently goes around denying his college escapades – despite photographic evidence of some of his Sharia-violating indiscretions – he could expect even more lashes for lying. At least, if he provided that false testimony to an Islamic court.
As for his visit to the United States, Choudary’s college friend can’t imagine the U.S. will let him in.
“I cannot believe that Andy will be admitted to the United States,” he said. “It would be astonishing if a man like Choudary were to see any more of the USA than the detention cell prior to his return to the United Kingdom.”
So far, the Department of Homeland Security isn’t saying what will happen.
During that fine London day nearly two years ago, after the debate broke up and Choudary gave a speech to his followers outside the auditorium, riling them into cheers of Allah Akbar as their lady folk observed from a distance in full burkas, I confronted Choudary face to face. The man whose organization once called the 9/11 terrorists the “Magnificent 19” and says that you can’t be an innocent victim of violence unless you are a Muslim, refused, as one might expect, to condemn terrorism against the West.
Like some, I think Choudary may be a fraud. He may very well simply be an opportunist who couldn’t cut it in the legal profession so he shifted gears in order to find something he excelled at. As it turns out, he has a special talent for demagoguery. But fraud or not, his followers take him seriously, and having stared into their eyes, that’s not something I take lightly.
I think we could do without welcoming Choudary to our great country – but if he is let in, the FBI would be wise to take note of each and every person with whom he associates.