At university, I was never taken aback by professors citing Al-Qaeda as ‘the perfect example of globalisation’. It’s a statement intended to throw a first year off – How could this supposedly anti-modern (in the Western sense), anti-capitalist movement possibly embody what is the inevitable outcome of an interconnected, capitalist world?
Most first years limit their interpretation of the scope of globalisation to economics. Its intended meaning in this context is only clear after some thought: A transnational issue network, which operates efficiently thanks to the help of modern communication tools, and takes advantage of the global media to spread its message to a much larger audience.
What does this have to do with Islam4UK? Similarly, a group that most would expect to be unsympathetic to the media landscape of the United Kingdom knew exactly how to manipulate it to their advantage.
A little history: This may be the first (and is now likely to be the only) time you’ve heard of Islam4UK, but the organization behind it has a sound grasp of the importance of branding.
Its parent group, al-Muhajiroun was founded by a radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad in 1986, with the same aims as its current iteration: for Britain to accept that Sharia law is superior to ‘man made’ law, and that it should be adopted as the code of justice. It rose to infamy in 2005, when it held a conference titled ‘The Magnificent 19’, in reference to the 9/11 plotters. This received major media coverage. The organisation was subsequently banned by then Home Secretary Charles Clarke in 2005.
Sound familiar? History may be repeating itself…
Islam4UK released their plans to hold a march in a town that has now become somewhat revered in the eyes of many Britons. The press picked up on it instantly; it exploded on the wires and was soon all over our television screens. A forgotten man, al-Muhajiroun’s deputy leader, Anjem Choudary was suddenly given airtime on rolling news channels, arguing his organisation’s points to a wide audience.
Whether the organisation’s intention to march was ever sincere, they successfully created a media storm: front page headlines, features on all of the evening news debates, and even a statement from the Prime Minister. They took their issue, made it high-profile by making it highly controversial, and the media ran with it, acting as a huge megaphone for the voice of a tiny minority.
Their website was suddenly being linked to from the most reputable of websites; this in turn compelled the voice of the mainstream Muslim community, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, to warn of the rise in Islamophobia they were creating – which, surely, should have been far from the Islam4UK’s aims.
The old adage that there is ‘no such thing as bad press’ doesn’t hold true in this case: A Facebook group decrying their intentions grew exponentially to over 750,000 members in just a few days. In a perfect example of the strength of social media as a measure of popular opinion, the British Government has now ‘outlawed’ the group under Anti-Terror laws. Nevertheless, the organisation has reached its aim: Its ideas enjoy a higher public profile and have held the headlines for more than a few days.
At every level, from its ‘Web 1.5’ name to the deployment of its media strategy, Islam4UK has efficiently, if unfortunately, ensured that it can reach all who may be open to its message.
Most will agree that proposing this incendiary march was disrespectful and misplaced; none can deny the effectiveness of the strategy behind it.
Their response to the ban: That a ‘new platform with a new name will arise to continue to fulfill these divine objections until the Sharia has been implemented’. I don’t doubt it: Islam4UK will follow the footsteps of ‘Call to Submission’, ‘Islamic Path’, the ‘London School of Sharia’ and the like; all offshoots and separate brands of al-Muhajiroun.
A new ‘brand’, with a new gimmick, will launch from the ashes of this campaign, and the outcome is likely to be the same. How did they fall for it again?