Sharia Watch UK and the metamorphosis of Anne Marie Waters

Sharia Watch UK and the metamorphosis of Anne Marie Waters


Written by: Hilary Aked

In the first of an occasional series from Spinwatch, Hilary Aked examines Sharia Watch and its founder Anne Marie Waters. 

Spinwatch, which investigates and campaigns on PR, propaganda and lobbying in politics, is currently investigating the counterjihad movement. If we want to empower and inform the anti-racist movement to build a stronger counter-narrative challenging the increasingly mainstream nature of anti-Muslim bigotry, we need to know about the counterjihad ‘intellectuals’ spreading Islamophobic ideas. This article is part of that investigation. 

Following the indefensible massacres in Paris there have been equally unjustifiable attacks on Muslim communities in France, including the murder of a Moroccan man near Avignon. Meanwhile Germany has been startled by the rapid rise of ‘PEGIDA’, a movement which claims to oppose ‘the Islamisation of the West’ and may be linked to the murder of an Eritrean man in Dresden, where the protests began. Islamophobic politics across Europe is marching into the mainstream. The UK is far from immune.

The far-right English Defence League (EDL) – which emerged in 2009 just as rapidly as PEGIDA did in late 2014 – did not disappear with the departure of former leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). It has, however, been complemented by emerging, ostensibly more respectable groups. One such group is Sharia Watch UK, led by a woman called Anne Marie Waters.

Anne Marie Waters joins UKIP

Anne Marie Waters
Anne Marie Waters

When prominent British Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan spoke for the motion ‘Islam is a peaceful religion’ in a February 2013 debate at the Oxford Union, he joked that one of the opponents of the motion, Anne Marie Waters (then working for an organisation called One Law For All, which has since condemned her), should join UKIP. Her anti-Islam views were virulent even then, but at that point she still claimed to be merely a ‘left wing critic’ of Islam. Indeed just eighteen months ago she was nearly selected as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party. However, in May 2014 Waters announced that she had in fact joined UKIP – and declared herself ‘proud’ to stand as that party’s candidate for Basildon and Billericay.

Since then she appears to have been de-selected as a UKIP candidate. This might be because her lurch to the right did not stop there. She founded the organisation Sharia Watch UK, and has begun to appear in public alongside prominent European figures involved in the ‘counterjihad’ movement, a network of groups and individuals specifically hostile to Muslims and Islam but also strongly anti-immigrant. Recently, she even appears to have attracted the admiration of the man who used to fund the EDL, suggesting that Sharia Watch – despite being deemed legitimate enough to be a source for stories in the Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph – has similar politics to the EDL itself.

Counterjihad connections: Lars Hedegaard and Alan Ayling

In June 2014, Waters shared a platform in Copenhagen with Lars Hedegaard, the man behind the anti-Islam organisation the International Free Press Society. A video of the event– the launch of a Swedish edition of Hedegaard’s book Muhammad’s Girls: Violence, Murder and Rape in the House of Islam – shows her sitting next to the Dane, who was convicted of hate speech in 2011 after stating that ‘Muslims rape their children’, though he successfully appealed this conviction, on ‘free speech’ grounds, the following year. Chairing the event was Ingrid Carlqvist, a key member of the Swedish counterjihad network. Also on the panel was psychologist Nicolai Sennels of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, a prolific purveyor of Islamophobia dressed up as science. The video was produced by Dispatch International (DI), a mouthpiece for the counterjihad movement – for which Waters has written extensively – founded by Hedegaard and Carlqvist.

In her speech, Waters linked Islam to child abuse, saying (16:08) ‘it’s all linked to Islam’, which she characterised as a dangerous ‘ideology’ being ‘appeased’, adding (17:45): ‘it is exactly the same appeasement that is allowing young girls to be raped in Britain, it’s got nothing to do with race, it’s got to do with the fact that we will not confront the misogyny at the very, very heart of this religion’.

Waters also seems to have another far-right admirer, of more significance in the UK context. Alan Ayling (aka Alan Lake) helped set up, fund and strategise for the EDL, as an investigation by The Sunday Times revealed. A millionaire evangelical Christian, Ayling’s links with the counterjihad movement led Scotland Yard to interview him after Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 massacre in Norway.

In a series of videos taken in October 2014 at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, which show Waters and others delivering diatribes against Islam, Ayling (wearing a black jacket and black t-shirt with yellow writing) can be seen in the group that appears to be supporting her between 1:08 and 1:19 in this video and from 4.40 in this clip.

Ayling may have showed up uninvited or coincidentally. Though Waters’ various online links to the EDL have been documented, there is no definitive evidence of any offline connection. Ayling, in fact, is believed to have parted ways with the EDL, though his views have not changed. He now runs the website ‘Four Freedoms’ and has links to the far-right Sweden Democrats party. Waters did not respond to repeated requests to clarify her relationship with Ayling or to comment on other matters raised in this article.

Sharia Watch UK and Baroness Caroline Cox

Waters also failed to respond to repeated questions about who funds the organisation Sharia Watch UK – and whether Hedegaard or Ayling were among its donors.

Sharia Watch states that it works ‘to document the advancement of sharia law in Britain’. But much of its output attacks Islam in its entirety. Its articles range from the absurd (a conspiracy theory suggesting that halal meat is funding terrorism) to the deeply offensive, such as a piece entitled ‘Shariah and child abuse – is there a connection?‘, claiming that sharia law ‘stems from the justification of acts of physical and sexual violence of one man some 1,400 years ago.’

Articles appearing on its site include one  written by Sam Solomon, a key player in the UK’s anti-Muslim scene, and a guest post by Alan Craig of the right-wing Christian People’s Alliance, who campaigned against the building of a new mosque in East London. Despite these connections, and the fact that the activities of Sharia Watch UK have strong echoes of the English Defence League’s ‘creeping Sharia’ discourse and the hysteria in the US over the so-called ‘Ground Zero mosque‘ it has been granted a veneer of respectability by some.

Founded in April 2014, Sharia Watch UK was launched in the heart of the British establishment at the House of Lords. It was able to hold its launch in this prestigious venue thanks to having friends in high places, one powerful ally in particular: Baroness Caroline Cox. Cox is the peer who previously twice attempted (once successfully in 2010) to host the increasingly influential anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders in parliament. (There, he showed his incendiary film Fitna, which spliced images of violence together with passages from the Koran, implying an inextricable connection. Prosecutors in the Netherlands decided not to charge him with inciting racial hatred over the film, but recently announced they would do so over a public promise to followers that his Party for Freedom could arrange for there to be ‘fewer Moroccans’ in the country.)

Baroness Cox was a major figure of the New Right in the 1980s[1] and has a long history at the forefront of Christian Zionism in the UK. Her championing of right-wing causes has included advocating a Cold War counter-subversion approach to the ‘war on terror’, and more recently she has appeared on a list of governors for the New York-based think tank the Gatestone Institute, which publishes work by Wilders and other anti-Islam ideologues. Cox did not respond to repeated requests for information about her relationship with Sharia Watch UK or for comments for this article. In a recent interview in the Telegraph about her efforts to stop the use of sharia law in divorce settlements, Cox denied that she was ‘Islamophobic’ and said she believed in ‘freedom of speech’.

Muslim ‘infiltration’ or creeping Islamophobia?

Though deselected, under unclear circumstances, as a parliamentary candidate, Waters is still a UKIP member. Her anti-Islam radicalisation provides supporting evidence for the claim that UKIP is ‘a party of Islamophobes’ (an allegation made by one Labour MP after former UKIP leader Lord Pearson, who co-hosted the  screening of Fitna with Cox, said that Muslims needed to ‘address the violence in the Qur’an’). Other top party personnel including Gerard Batten and Magnus Nielsen have counterjihad links too, and in the days after the Paris attacks Nigel Farage himself used rhetoric reminiscent of the far-right movement, talking of ‘fifth columns’, ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ and Muslim ‘no go areas’. It is clear that UKIP, like PEGIDA, contains deep wellsprings of anti-Muslim, as well as anti-immigrant hostility.

One factor that helps to explain how these types of actors have nonetheless managed to attract thousands of citizens to their cause is the platform they are given in the media. According to the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA), journalists from The Times and the Daily Telegraph were present at the launch event for Sharia Watch UK. Adopting the counterjihad movement’s favoured pose of being undemocratically ignored by an establishment cowed by ‘political correctness’, ICLA’s writer stated: ‘It will be interesting to see whether those news outlets actually report anything about the event or whether [it] will be conveniently ignored’.

Though these papers did not report on the launch, it appears, there are major media outlets which are all too happy to enable conspiratorial counterjihad discourses about Muslim ‘infiltration’ to enter the mainstream. The Daily Mail and Sunday Telegraph have both used Sharia Watch as a source for stories about ‘Islamic extremists’ allegedly ‘infiltrating’ schools, universities and ‘even Scout groups’. Sharia Watch’s only other attentive audience for these assertions were the likes of the EDL and Britain First.

After Spinwatch complained about a planned launch for Sharia Watch’s report, due to take place at a London university, which – along with students’ complaints – caused the event to be cancelled, the Daily Telegraph was outraged. But the real outrage is the platform given to a non-transparent hard-right group by supposedly respectable newspapers.

This is just one example of the alarming mainstreaming of Islamophobia which is helping the counterjihad movement’s influence to grow. It’s not ‘creeping Sharia’ but creeping Islamophobia that ought to worry us.



[1] For the anti-anti-racist activities of Baroness Cox see Jenny Bourne, ‘Anti-racist witchcraft’, IRR News, (15 January 2015).

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

25 thoughts on “Sharia Watch UK and the metamorphosis of Anne Marie Waters

  1. So-and-so sits beside someone else who was interviewed by police . . . gasp, gosh!

    Remind us, were 1400 girls sexually abused by muslims or some other ethnic group in Rochdale?

  2. If they are the views of the authors then why does this appear on your site? It seems to me that you are endorsing the views expressed.

  3. Just so as I’m clear, why would anti-racist organisations be interested in religious discrimination?

    Did Islam suddenly convert from a religion to a race one night and I missed it?

  4. This article is written by someone who is totally misinformed, on a hate campaign against one individual and is basically stupid.

  5. People like this Hilarious hypocrite so-called writer (Hilarious Aked) with their unbelievably vivid leftist agenda who shamelessly justify an incredibly apparent and unapologetically obvious enemy of the democracy are a much bigger threat to freedom and democracy than ISIS are! They are indeed the Trojan horse, the fifth column and the biggest traitors to the people! Shame on you and may you all rot in hell along with the evil you’re apologizing for! History will bare witness for your treason!

  6. What have you done for muslim women? Why do you want them to be covered in burkas, segregated, classed as second class citizens in the UK by sharia courts, FMG being performed on young girls. What have you done for them?
    What have you done for all those thousands upon thousands groomed, raped, passed around like a piece of meat, drugged, gang raped white girls? Groomed by mainly muslim males?
    And you dare to criticize the work of Baroness Cox and Anne Marie Waters! You should be ashamed of yourself, Ms Aked! You let muslim women down…

  7. Why on earth should it be deemed “Islamophobic” to call for the violence in the Koran to be addressed? After all, there’s a hell of a lot of it to address. Lee Rigby’s killers listed 22 verses which “forced” them to kill, for instance – and there’s more where they came from. Or is such discussion verboten in the view of the Left?

  8. She is still trying for a UKIP candidacy – was on the shortlist for Braintree in early February but beaten by Richard Bingley who has been both a Conservative and a Labour councillor before joining Ukip!

  9. The hypocrisy of the anti Fascist industry is staggering. You should hear yourselves! Free speech, as long as you agree with what we are saying and if you don’t we will do a hatchet job on you.

    The above article is utter piffle. Nowhere does the glove puppet actually address any of the issues she is attacking sw on. Evidence please that Islam is a religion of peace…. Oh, that’s right there isn’t any!

    Don’t worry though because anyone who questions your position is clearly a nasty Fascist and should be howled down.

    Utterly pathetic.

  10. wow are you sure you are indeed a woman Hilary? I ask this because you spout so much hate towards one woman who is deemed on helping thousands of others.Are you actually blind and deaf too? do you not see or hear the chronic abuse inflicted on women by the Islam religion? not to mention the horrors that isis is inflicting on this world, men, women and children! shame on you! such ignorance can only be pitied!

  11. What a ridiculous article. So it’s “islamophobic” to call on Muslims to address the violence in the Koran? Utter rubbish. Muslims have to take responsibility for the texts that they believe in, just like the rest of us.

  12. When your article can address the reasons the ECHR reached this judgement then you may have an argument that is worth listening to. Until that time this is just more whitewash.

    Noting that the Welfare Party had pledged to set up a regime based on sharia law, the Court found that sharia was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy as set forth in the Convention. It considered that “sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it”. According to the Court, it was difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverged from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervened in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.

  13. What bothers me is the fact that there seems to be bloodthirsy extremists in most religions, backed-up by plenty of ‘justifications’ found in their respective religious texts.
    To single-out Islam in particular does come accross as a bit of an anti-immigrant thing.

  14. I think you’ll find (Ryan) that Islam is singled out because its ‘bloodthirsty extremists’ outnumber all of the other religion’s extremists combined by an order of magnitude.
    They also enjoy much greater support among the religion’s wider population than any other religious extremists.

    For one example (I’m sure anyone can find thousands if they want)…
    When a Jewish extremist apparently kills a Palestinian child in an arson attack the whole world (including Jews) condemns the attack.
    When a Muslim extremist kills an Israeli child a significant number of Muslims celebrate, many also shrug their shoulders in indifference.

    Read the Qur’an, you will soon see the difference with Islam. It has nothing to do with an anti-immigration agenda.

  15. Islam is the biggest threat that Britain and indeed Europe has ever faced. Thank heavens that brave people with a solid backbone like Ann Marie Waters exist, to confront the Islamic movement and its intolerent ideology.

  16. TV interview Waters.
    We are obviously outnumbered in the media, my only consolation is that the media is completely out of touch with public opinion.
    A Muslim woman sits there in her scarf, that states that she has submitted to being treated as a second class citizen, and defends free speech as long as it does not offend religious sentiments. I can agree that the limit to free speech is that it should not incite to hatred and violence. This is just common law and common sense. However criticism of religion and the behavior of the followers of a religion is wrongly described as racism and incitement to hatred and violence. Most of the violence and hatred that we now witness worldwide has been incited by Islam. To point out this fact is not incitement to hatred, violence and racism, it is pointing out a problem and asking for a solution and an end to it all. You cannot compare condemnation of Jews and blacks, that is clearly racist, to criticism of a religion and its leader. It is not racist to criticize Jesus and the behavior of Christians.
    The threat to public safety is not Waters and her gang, it is the Muslim with a knife in his hand.
    When the feeble-minded leftists and Muslims have no valid arguments they resort to morality and call their opponents evil and racist.
    Galleries do not refuse to show Mohammed cartoons out of respect for religion, it is because they are terrified of Muslims.
    A simple fact is that if Muslims were removed from our societies this problem would leave with them.

  17. It’s not about Islam vs Christianity it’s
    Islam vs Democracy/Free Speach/Human Rights for men and females!

    What a sad situation the world is in – trying to square a circle “Islam is a peaceful religion” NOT!
    Please read the Quran everyone.

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