Why we should deny Choudary the oxygen of publicity
It isn't a palatable truth but Anjem Choudary, the leader of Islam4UK, has contrived a genuinely tricky double-bind with his plan to march through Wootton Bassett in commemoration of Muslims who have died in Afghanistan.
In spite of the disingenuous claim on the Today programme that his organisation, Islam4UK, would proceed with “the least disruption that we can”, what Mr Choudary really seeks is maximum publicity and trouble and it's quite difficult, right now, to think of a way to deny him.
That provocation is his intention can't possibly be doubted. There's the choice of Wootton Bassett as the venue, for one thing — a village that has chosen to identify itself with spontaneous gestures of respect for the bodies of British soldiers killed in the war.
Mr Choudary is candid about the advantage of this location for his purposes: “The sad reality of the situation,’’ he told Justin Webb, “is that if I were to hold it somewhere else it would not have the media attention that it has now.”
But, as Islam4UK's website makes clear, Wootton Bassett allows him to link his march with an implicit attack on the dead — described there as members of “the occupying and merciless British military”, men being honoured “for what is ultimately genocide.’’
The natural instinct is to prevent the march, though no one who proposes such a step should kid themselves that this wouldn't suit Mr Choudary just as well — perhaps even better.
He doesn't strike me as a man who's eager for personal martyrdom and he would probably prefer to be relieved of the necessity to walk it as he talks it.
After a legal challenge against the legitimacy of the ban, he could happily denounce the double standards of the secular democracy he despises.
Look at the hypocrisy of this notionally free and tolerant society, he would say — and look at how they weigh British dead against our Muslim brothers.
And while this might not carry much weight with most British Muslims (some of whom have already denounced Mr Choudary's plans) it might persuade some confused waverers to share Al-Muhajiroun's dream of one day seeing “the black flag of Islam fly high over 10 Downing Street”.
I'm guessing he'd be equally happy to settle for a counter-demonstration — confident that he'd be protected by the police from serious harm and virtually guaranteed blanket coverage on the evening news bulletins.
I did wonder briefly whether the people of Wootton Bassett should take silently to the streets and turn their backs as his procession passed — but then what would such an image convey about British attitudes to civilian casualties in Afghanistan?
The only solution I can think of would be to behave as if Anjem Choudary and his supporters are as marginal as they actually are, representative of little beyond their own vainglorious piety. They should be treated like a light drizzle — a passing inconvenience that is too negligible to be worth mentioning.
Their own videos could show nothing but a thin straggle of ranters apparently invisible to the people of the town they were walking through (rather than the exciting scenes of struggle they hope for) and the event would be so anti-climactic that news editors would either drop the item altogether or down-page it.
But that, I fear, defies all known laws of human nature.
Mr Choudary knows that he has his counterparts in the BNP who will give him his news story if no one else will — and in any case he's just too delicious a pantomime villain for sections of the Press to resist.
I promise I won't ever mention him again — but I fear that, one way or another, Mr Choudary is going to get what he wants.