The Islamic Revolution’s reverberations reached the United Kingdom on February 14, 1989, when, less than four months before his death, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious decree) calling to kill Salman Rushdie, an Indian-born British Muslim author, for writing the book Satanic Verses, which Khomeini proclaimed as "blasphemous against Islam." With his health faltering and the Islamic Revolution imperiled following the 1988 end of the Iran-Iraq War, Khomeini’s fatwa was a strategic masterstroke designed to revitalize the Revolution’s fortunes by casting Khomeini as the leader of global Islam whose jurisdiction reached even as far as Muslim communities in the heart of the secular West.
The Rushdie affair was a seminal chapter in Iran’s efforts to export the Islamic Revolution that heralded Iranian-style Islamism’s arrival as a security threat to the West. Beyond the Rushdie affair, Iran’s revolutionary regime has longstanding enmity toward Great Britain, trailing only its hatred of the Great Satan, the U.S., and rivaling that of the Little Satan, Israel. The roots of anti-British sentiment in Iran date back to the early 20th century, when the British government maneuvered to take over all of Iran’s oil, and was exacerbated by the British spearheading of a 1953 plot to remove Prime Minister Mossadegh after he nationalized the Iranian oil industry. Given Iran’s historical enmity toward the U.K, a large Muslim immigrant population, a large anti-Israel/anti-war/anti-imperialist movement, and a liberal free speech environment, Iran has invested heavily in disseminating Khomeinist ideology in Great Britain.
There are four primary Tehran-linked organizations operating in the United Kingdom: The World AhlulBayt Islamic Mission in Britain (AIM), the Islamic Center of England (ICEL), the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), and InnovativeMinds (InMinds). Their activities are oriented toward promoting Iran’s Islamic Revolution, bolstering Hezbollah, delegitimizing Israel, and campaigning against Iran sanctions. Additionally, Al-Mustafa International University operates a branch in London, the Islamic College of London, which is the university’s main campus in Europe.
World AhlulBayt Islamic Mission in Britain (AIM)
AIM is the British chapter of the AhlulBayt World Assembly, an internationally active Iranian NGO which functions as the umbrella over a network of Iranian-backed religious, cultural, and educational institutions tasked with disseminating Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary Islamist ideology around the world. AIM hosts conferences in Britain aimed at promoting the Iranian regime’s agenda, and collaborates with leftist and Islamist organizations of various stripes at conferences and events aimed at the delegitimization of Israel.
Islamic Center of England (ICEL)
The ICEL is one of Iran’s key religious institutions in the U.K. It is run by Ayatollah Abdolhossein Moezi, who describes himself as Supreme Leader Khamenei’s personal representative in Britain. The ICEL operates a religious school, the Hawza Ilmiyya, which a 2006 Times report revealed was teaching students that non-believers are “filth” and akin to “pigs and dogs.” The Hawza is a sister institution of the Islamic College of Advanced Studies, the London branch of Al-Mustafa University, whose degrees are validated by Middlesex University.
The ICEL has hosted and provided a platform for visiting Khomeinist scholars to present their extremist and conspiratorial views, such as Shaykh Hamza Sodagar, an American Shi’ite cleric who has lectured at events coordinated by ICEL in conjunction with AIM in 2014 and 2016. Among Sodagar’s controversial proclamations are that “9/11 was an Israeli project,” a “Zionist web of media is trying to control the minds of the people,” and “If there’s homosexual men, the punishment is one of five things. One – the easiest one maybe – chop their head off, that’s the easiest. 'Second – burn them to death. Third – throw ‘em off a cliff. Fourth – tear down a wall on them so they die under that. Fifth – a combination of the above.” The ICEL also hosted Sheikh Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria in 2010 at an Islamic Human Rights Commission event.
Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Founded in 1997, the IHRC is a British Khomeinist organization that is supportive of Hezbollah. The IHRC produces research and spearheads advocacy campaigns based on a Shi’a Islamist interpretation of human rights centered around defense of the “oppressed.” The causes it addresses are both local and global in scope. Locally, it seeks to defend the rights of British Muslims and combat Islamophobic discrimination and hate crimes. Globally, the IHRC’s primary preoccupation is advocating on behalf of the rights of Palestinians and campaigning for the delegitimization of Israel.
The IHRC has been embroiled in numerous controversies. One of its ongoing campaigns calls for the release of “prisoners of faith” around the world, many who are convicted jihadists, including Sheikh Abdul Omar Rahman, the now deceased spiritual leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad movement who was convicted for seditious conspiracy after his followers attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. The IHRC currently campaigns heavily for the release of Sheikh Zakzaky in Nigeria. The IHRC also gives out annual “Islamophobia awards” meant to satirically spotlight “those in public life who have perpetrated or perpetuated acts of hatred against Muslims and their faith." In 2015, the IHRC gave the Islamophobia award to the staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo just months after Islamist gunmen massacred a dozen members of its staff.
IHRC is one of the primary organizers of the annual London Quds Day march, joining forces with the Khomeinist organizations AIM and InMinds, as well as organizations linked to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), groups with Islamist leanings, far-left/socialist movements, and fringe anti- Zionist Jewish groups. In 2017 the IHRC issued an encouraging advisory ahead of the rally informing attendees that “you can bring a Hezbollah flag to show support for the political wing of Hezbollah … because the political wing of Hezbollah is not a proscribed organization.” The IHRC’s leader, Massoud Shadjareh, has previously addressed the Quds Day gathering draped in a Hezbollah flag. In 2017, London Mayor Sadiq Khan implored the British Home Secretary to proscribe the flying of Hezbollah flags at the annual Quds Day, prompting the IHRC to respond that Khan had committed “a betrayal of trust” of Londoners.
Despite the IHRC’s support for Hezbollah and other jihadists, a parallel charitable organization, the Islamic Human Rights Commission Trust, technically a separate legal entity, is a registered charity in the U.K. The IHRC has advised the U.K. parliament on anti-terrorism strategy and has also held consultative status with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs since 2007.
Innovative Minds (InMinds)
Established in 2001, InMinds is a British Khomeinist organization whose website declares, “Undoubtedly the single most significant success for the Muslim Ummah this century is the Islamic Revolution in Iran.” InMinds maintains close ties to the IHRC and is a partner organization in the staging of London’s Quds Day March. InMinds is primarily engaged in anti-Israel BDS-related activities. Its website features fatwas from prominent Shi’a clerics, including Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader Khamenei, and Hezbollah’s spiritual forefather Sheikh Fadlallah justifying boycotts of Israel. InMinds maintains a database of companies with commercial ties to Israel, and the organization creates YouTube videos and propaganda leaflets to “advise viewers and readers how to promote various aspects of the boycott, including in sports, the academic and cultural worlds, and economy.” The website also features an article glorifying the “martyrdom” of a female Palestinian suicide bomber, Ayaat al-Akhras.