My Lunch With an Islamist: Where I Was When Lee Rigby Died

My Lunch With an Islamist: Where I Was When Lee Rigby Died

It is a cliche to publicly remember “where you were when” some major event took place, but I hope you’ll indulge me, because “where I was when” Drummer Lee Rigby was getting murdered on a London street could not have been more ironic, macabre, and in the end, pointless.

For years during my work with campus extremism watchdog Student Rights I had vocally opposed the unfettered presence of members of radical Islamist organisations at British universities. Their ability to go onto campuses and proselytise reminded me of when I was at university, and members of the student Islamic society were shown videos of 9/11 at one of their meetings. One attendee told me there was jubilation from some parts of the room. It is safe to say I never attended a meeting after hearing that.

Instead I turned my attention to tackling extremism on campuses, and one Islamist preacher I came across often was Hamza Tzortzis – a convert who has somehow managed to muscle his way into debates with Richard Dawkins and others. He’s a big chap, and incredibly friendly. And I was having lunch with him while Lee Rigby was getting murdered.

Tzortzis, who does a campus tour every spring, is known for having been a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the Islamist group that Tony Blair wanted banned. It is rumoured that he could not see a way around the European courts for this to succeed. Tzortzis publicly left HT, and joined up with other nasties at an organisation called the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), which is not without its controversies.

I remember sitting with Tzortzis in the Cafe Rouge in Holborn one year ago today – a meeting that he requested so that he could prove that he was not worthy of our scrutiny. 

As we sat down, I was tempted to remove his steak knife from him. I laughed with my colleague before Tzortzis arrived, “Maybe we shouldn’t let him have this,” I said, because Tzortzis had previously claimed that beheading was a legitimate punishment for apostasy, and that the process was painless for the victim. Little did I know how macabre that joke was. When we got back to the office, I learned that Drummer Lee Rigby had been killed.

And if anything, the situation with radical extremism in this country has become worse since that day. Yes, the government has taken action in some areas – especially targeting some of the long-standing followers of Anjem Choudary, some of whom were celebrating when Rigby was killed. But more or less, Britain is still suffering from a confusion vis a vis radical Islam. We are torn because of our tolerance and our timidity. Constrained by our membership of the European Court of Human Rights. And frankly, utterly terrified. 

And so we should be. And so should ordinary Muslims too. Because the Hamza Tzortzis’s of the world are the least of our concerns. As you read this, more British schools are being investigated because of the Islamist Trojan Horse plot to take them over. Taxpayers are having to shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds in extra policing cash in Islamist-influenced areas of Britain, just so people can go and vote freely. And convicted terrorists and their henchmen are worming their way back onto UK campuses with the intent of radicalising a new wave of Rigby-killers.

I don’t know what the solution is to all these problems besides extra vigilance. Not just from non-Muslims, but from proud British Muslims too. Only together will we be able to stomp out this menace. And today, on the first anniversary of Drummer Lee Rigby’s death – we owe it to him to resolve to try.