Quilliam’s Managing Director Ghaffar Hussain contributed to this Evening Standard article on a controversial Islamist protest involving children that took place in London.
MPs and counter-extremism campaigners today called for new efforts to combat the radicalisation of young Londoners after a child was pictured carrying a black “jihadi” flag associated with al Qaeda on a London street.
The girl, apparently no older than 12, was seen holding the flag during a rally by supporters of the extremist preacher Anjem Choudary outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Charles Street on Friday.
Several other children, some looking no older than five or six, also joined adult protesters to decry the “crimes” of Saudi Arabia.
The flag, featuring the “shahadah” — a declaration of the belief of the oneness of Allah — has become identified with Islamist and terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and its affiliates in countries including Syria and Somalia.
The images come only weeks after London Mayor Boris Johnson called for children subject to radicalisation to be taken into care and prompted new demands for action to protect the young from extremist parents.
Too young: small children at the rally by supporters of preacher Anjem Choudary
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “Social services and police need to be very vigilant to make sure that children are not being radicalised and subjected to a form of dangerous psychological abuse.
“Parents should take care not to allow their children to be involved in supporting in any way the activities of al Qaeda. For adults this is matter of choice. For those too young to understand this could be the first step on the road to radicalisation.”
Ghaffar Hussain, from the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, said the pictures were “disturbing” and added: “There is a very real issue with children being radicalised and brought along to these demonstrations to be given hate messages. It’s something that needs to be tackled. Children are being normalised into extremism. It’s very dangerous.”
Although the “shahadah” is common in Islam, its depiction on a black background is commonly used by extremists in Syria and Egypt with similar flags used as the backdrop for videos recorded by suicide bombers. London Assembly member Murad Quresh said: “It is a flag used by jihadis. It’s the black rather than green colour that makes it distinctive.
“It should be of huge concern that young children are coming under the influence of Anjem Choudary and his mob.”
But Mr Choudary said today: “There has been controversy over these flags but they have been around since the time of Muhammad himself and are loved, cherished and belong to every single Muslim.
“Black or white flags carrying this statement have always been carried in battles between Muslims and non-Muslims to distinguish the two camps of Islam and Kufr (non-Islam).”
Mizanur Rahman, a spokesman for the campaign group Muslim Prisoners, which organised the demonstration, said: “There is nothing controversial about inviting famous speakers or flying the traditional Islamic flag. What is controversial is the crimes against Islam and Muslims in the UK and abroad.”
Click here to read this article in the London Evening Standard.