In March 2004, aged 32, I accompanied some of my elders to a “Condolences Gathering” (majlis al-‘aza’) at the Regent’s Park Mosque (RPM) for Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, who had just been killed by an Israeli missile strike.
To give some background, RPM’s trustees include the UK embassies of about two dozen Sunni Muslim-majority countries. The Director of RPM has always been a Saudi diplomat, whilst all of the imams used to be Al-Azhar graduates supplied by Egypt. However, some of the imams now appear to be graduates of Saudi & other universities as well.
The condolences gathering was held in the large, private meeting room at RPM. Eight years later, I attended Boris Johnson’s meeting with Muslim leaders in the same room, when he was campaigning to be re-elected as Mayor of London in 2012.
At the Sheikh Ahmed Yassin gathering, speaker after speaker, mainly from Ikhwan, Jamaat-e-Islami and salafi networks, eulogised Yassin as a great mujahid and martyr, which of course he was to Hamas supporters. RPM and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) were heavily-represented: indeed, John Ware was later to grill Sir Iqbal Sacranie, one of the founders of MCB, in a BBC Panorama interview about having attended this meeting.
At this time, I was about halfway through my journey from islamism to post-islamism. (And yes, I was briefly a fan of Khomeini many years ago, when I was aged 12-15.) Several times during the gathering, I felt the urge to take the mic (it was an open floor format by this time) and call on Hamas supporters to move away from supporting suicide-bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilians. But it was the wrong time: the meeting was dominated by elders, who wouldn’t have understood how some of the younger generation were feeling, and a memorial gathering was perhaps the wrong occasion to express criticism since emotions were running high. But I did kick myself later, wishing that I’d plucked up enough courage to make a point that needed to be made publicly. I made the point privately at the meeting to younger islamists of my generation, and many of them agreed with me.
So, 16 years on, I understand why a memorial majlis (gathering) led by British Muslim Shia islamists (Khomeinists) took place at a Shia equivalent of RPM for Qasim Soleimani: the Islamic Centre of England (ICE). One difference is that as far as I know, RPM never released a public statement eulogising Yassin, unlike the case of ICE and Soleimani.
However, the fact remains that the British taxpayer should not be subsidising charities to host non-charitable and highly-political statements and activities at their venues and platforms, particularly when children are being exposed to such propaganda. The Charities Commission is absolutely right to investigate this case. When the Director of ICE refers to members of the US government and/or military as “the most wicked members of [the] human race,” this is arguably hate-speech, not to mention being utterly incompatible with the charitable nature of the ICE platform hosting it. Furthermore, one speaker at the memorial gathering, the Director of the (Khomeinist) Islamic Human Rights Commission, addressing several generations of British Muslims, mainly Shia, talked of his wish that the audience would produce “many more Qasim Soleimanis … we are jealous of his shahadah …” Note that shahadah in this context means martyrdom, and not faith as incorrectly translated by the Daily Telegraph.
The call to British Muslims to produce “many more Qasim Soleimanis” is deeply problematic, particularly given the IRGC Quds Force’s direct oversight of Hezbollah’s military wing, particularly given the discovery of a Hezbollah bomb-factory in London in 2015.
Some British Shia Muslims, especially the younger generations, including children, are therefore being taught conflicting allegiances. These are people who are caught between the world of British liberal democracy and that of Iranian theocratic fascism. They deserve much better than some of the leadership being provided to them at the moment.
I request British Shia Muslims who have misgivings about supporting Iran under Khomeinism to debate these matters both privately and publicly, within their communities and elsewhere. For the best part of two decades since 9/11, Sunni islamists, including salafi ones, have engaged in very public deep soul-searching about islamism and democracy. We know that Shia islamists have done so too, but perhaps this needs to be done more publicly in the current climate.
After over 40 years’ rule by the mullahs and ayatollahs, with the ever-increasing brutal repression of dissident Iranian Muslims and others, is it really a good idea for British Shia Muslims, especially younger generations, to be encouraged to unquestioningly support Khamenei and his generals such as Soleimani?