Saturday, 9 July 2011
I wrote an extensive post before about Johann Hari's claim to have infiltrated Finsbury Park mosque. There are various anomalies in what he has written about this episode. The most fundamental of them, however, is the claim made in some of the articles that he was operating undercover, pretending to be not only a Muslim but a violence-minded jihadist. For example, here is the Guardian article he wrote about the experience:
On September 11 2001, the smoke and the fumes and the blood were barely settled on Manhattan when I was delegated to go undercover at the Finsbury Park mosque, the most hardline in Britain. Fortunately, I have always found Islam fascinating, and I was able to bluff my way in fairly easily - stuff about needing to rally around to keep up the assault on America at this time, and so on.

Some of his references to this incident do not give the impression that he was acting undercover, however. Today I came across one of the articles Hari wrote that helped him win the Martha Gellhorn prize in 2010. This article, too, makes reference to the Finsbury Park mosque episode. Here, however, Johann Hari again casts himself as a western journalist talking to unreachable jihad-minded Muslims. It's notable that he also claims here that the operation lasted weeks, whereas previously he had indicated that it lasted one week, starting on September 13th, 2001 with the first related article published on September 20th, 2001.
But every attempt I have made up to now to get into their heads – including talking to Islamists for weeks at their most notorious London hub, Finsbury Park mosque, immediately after 9/11 – left me feeling like a journalistic failure. These young men speak to outsiders in a dense and impenetrable code of Koranic quotes and surly jibes at both the foreign policy crimes of our Government and the freedom of women and gays. Any attempt to dig into their psychology – to ask honestly how this swirl of thoughts led them to believe suicide bombing their own city is right – is always met with a resistant sneer, and yet more opaque recitations from the Koran. Their message is simple: we don't do psychology or sociology. We do Allah, and Allah alone. Why do you have this particular reading of the Koran, when most Muslims don't? Because we are right, and they are infidel. Full stop. It was an investigatory dead end.

Will Johann Hari now admit his claim that he operated undercover in the mosque, posing as a jihadist, was a lie?


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