Not what you say, but the way you say it
The battle for the soul of British Islam often comes down to legitimacy. Anjem Choudary and Majiid Nawaz represent two distinct strands. The first, is an ultra-orthodox radical who hopes to turn the UK into an Islamic Caliphate; the second a secular moderniser who fights extremism.
They sparred on Newsnight last week, and anyone watching might have noticed something interesting. Words with an Arabic base, such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir were pronounced with a heavy Arabic locution, such as stressing the soft breathed ‘h’ in Tahrir. Choudary (who was born Welling and has lived in the UK all his life) pronounces ‘Afghanistan’ like he’s never stepped foot outside Saudi Arabia. It is a dog whistle, a way to make sure people know you speak Arabic.
And this is important. The role of the Arabic language in Islam is fundamental. One cannot understand the Qur’an without being a linguistic who has mastered classical ‘fusha’ Arabic. It is a beautiful, romantic, and difficult language. Our recent research into radicalisation across Europe & Canada found that, for many young people, legitimacy about speaking for ‘true’ Islam was tied to who had the most Arabic sounding accent. Indeed, most recent terror cells have had ‘leaders’ who could speak a smattering of Arabic and thus appeared more learned in the eyes of others. In the battle for legitimacy, accents matter.