The following post was written in August 2015 when Anjem Choudary was first charged by authorities in Britain for "inviting support" for the Islamic State. He received a five-and-a-half-year jail sentence on Tuesday for encouraging support for the Islamic State.
Authorities in London charged the extremist Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary with "inviting support" for the Islamic State, which could lead to his trial and imprisonment. Investigators said that Choudary was encouraging people to back the jihadists through a number of lectures that were later published online.
As my colleague Karla Adam reports, the move is a high-profile test case for new counter-extremism initiatives launched by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
In Britain, Choudary is a known entity who infuriates many, including the vast majority of the country's Muslims, as Media Matters lays out:
The advocacy group Hope Not Hate has described Choudary as "the single biggest gateway to terrorism in recent British history," saying he has "facilitated or encouraged" many Muslims to join the anti-Assad militants in Syria. Muslim groups in the United Kingdom have also denounced Choudary. The Muslim Council of Britain called him "a self-serving publicity seeker," and the Islamic Society of Britain said Choudary "has no legitimacy in the Muslim community."
The description of Choudary as "a self-serving publicity seeker" is particularly apt. He unabashedly espouses radical fundamentalist views and has been repeatedly given a platform by Western journalists to voice them.
Anjem Choudary has been waving a giant "Arrest Me" flag for the past decade and a half and has finally been put out of his misery.
— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) August 5, 2015
The biggest megaphone he received in the United States was arguably on Fox News, as a repeat guest of right-wing ideologue Sean Hannity. His first appearance on Hannity's show was last August, shortly after the Islamic State beheaded American journalist James Foley.
The conversation was predictably full of shouting, name-calling and dogmatic bluster. Choudary was a perfect foil for Hannity, who got to play the tough-talking, truth-telling, freedom-loving hero to Choudary's terror-worshiping, women-stoning villain.
Yet, for all the insults hurled, Choudary happily returned in January, after the grisly Paris terror attacks. His enlightening dialogue with Hannity went along the same lines. "I still think you're an evil SOB," Hannity concluded.
But the "evil SOB" returned a few months later, this time as a counterpoint to Pamela Geller, the well-known American Islamophobe who styles herself as a free-speech advocate. The conversation was framed around the subtle question of whether Choudary believed Geller ought to die.
Two figures on the radical fringe got to grandstand, spout their ideological talking points, while Hannity scowled, looked grim and then eventually launched into a diatribe against Islam as a religion. "You are evil and pathetic," Hannity told the guest he had now put on television three times.
Choudary's views are reprehensible and the calm with which he articulates awful things is unnerving. But he's exactly the sort of interlocutor Hannity wants -- a provocative, fundamentalist bigot whom Hannity can present to viewers as the face of evil Islam.
The space given to Choudary also comes in stark contrast to Hannity and his network's almost immediate intolerance for some Muslims who attempt to respond to insulting, simplistic lines of questioning with nuance and reason.
Choudary, meanwhile, appears to love the attention. A few days ago, he tweeted out the link to a recent debate with Zuhdi Jasser, another frequent Fox News guest, and Robert Spencer, a fellow traveler with Geller. It's as if they all were meant for each other.
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