It’s hard to tell how many people Anjem Choudary turned into Jihadists – according to The Guardian it’s 100 but The Telegraph and the Daily Mail claim 500. It’s probably impossible to know for sure but we can breathe a collective sigh of relief that this slippery fellow who used his legal training to dodge arrest for so many years finally came a cropper.
The question being asked now is why is it that a man who was banned from so many mosques given so much TV airtime, especially by the BBC? From those Sunday morning religious programmes to Newsnight, he was a regular using his vile rhetoric to deliberately offend any protagonists, knowing fully well that there were many impressionable, alienated young people watching him who would be engaged with someone who had the balls to go out and talk radical.
Of course the BBC will also want to give airtime to someone who says they want to turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque, Britain to sharia law. It makes for good telly – much more than someone going on and saying I’m happy/proud to be part of the British social fabric and don’t see how my religion should be a hindrance in that process. It makes for even better telly if he is in a studio arguing with moderate Muslims in a kind of “look at this lot bickering – what are we to make of all this?” way.
Taking the likes of Choudary off social media as the police had been campaigning for isn’t helpful – after all, it was a You Tube post that finally got him behind bars. Counter extremism groups have sensibly argued that his types had all the time in the world to constantly re-invent their guises which meant so much extra energy chasing newly formed outfits and followings rather than get to grips with the problem itself.
But is a public service broadcaster performing its role responsibly by giving his views such massive airtime, especially as they were doing it to boost viewing figures? They will have known his views were wholly unrepresentative yet continued to give impressionable/alienated youngsters an alternative view which created a narrative in which they could envision having some false sense of power.
So whether it was 100 or 500 or more people he radicalised, BBC executives should be sitting at their desks today not wondering who next on their nutter rollerdex they need to start calling in, but what role they played in that process.