I’d like, this week, to draw your attention to the United Kingdom’s unjust treatment of some bearded maniacs. I realise, in writing this, that bearded maniacs may not be near the top of your list of stuff to worry about at the moment, or perhaps ever. Indeed it may even be the case that you think the world is an unjust place per se and that you would be very happy if its most egregious injustices were directed largely towards bearded maniacs, rather than the rest of us. In which case what follows may annoy you, for which apologies.
Bearded Maniac No. 1 (BM1) is the ‘radical Muslim cleric’ Abu Qatada, who has just won his appeal against deportation from this country at the European Court of Human Rights. We wished to send him to Jordan, where evidence obtained through torture would be used to incarcerate him for the rest of his life and quite probably he would be tortured himself. He was arrested in London in 2005 and has been held in prison, without charge, ever since, save for a brief period when he was allowed out on bail. If the government decides to appeal against the latest ruling it is likely he’ll spend a few more years inside. Never charged with anything, remember. It is alleged by people that he is or was a senior member of al-Qa’eda and has been involved in terrorism; in which case, find the evidence and charge him and, if he is convicted, send him down for as long as the law allows. But far from being charged, he has not even been spoken to on a single occasion by police since he was first banged up. Nor has MI5 dropped by to say hello. It is a simple case of internment.
I don’t have much doubt that he’s unpleasant and would make a less-than-perfect dinner guest, especially if you had gay people or Jewish people over. He’d be querulous, picky about the food, wouldn’t drink and might suggest that your guests will burn in hell for eternity. Not much different from my mum-in-law, then. However, BM1 is of an unquestioning absolutist, oppositional mindset and wishes to see western civilisation destroyed and superseded by a caliphate. He is, then, a bearded maniac. But we should not have held him in prison these past six years, and we should let him out unless we can find something to charge him with.
BM2 is my old friend Sheikh Abu Hamza al Masri, the hook-handed cleric, who once remarked to me in passing, holding aloft a copy of the Daily Telegraph: ‘Rod, I see your government has reduced the age of consent for homosexuals to the same as what it is for human beings.’ A hardliner, you have to say, ol’ Abu. He was banged up for seven years for having said stuff — you can imagine the sort of thing, jihad needed, destroy the western infidels, 9/11 bloody good thing etc. Seven years for saying things with which we fervently disagree, at which we might take offence. He was due out two years ago but is still being held in the hope we might be able to extradite him to the US on some trumped-up charge. He has been wanted by the Americans because a man called James Ujaama named him as being interested in setting up a jihadi training camp in Oregon, despite the fact that no camp really existed and Mr Ujaama — a bit of a con man, by all accounts — blagged Hamza’s name as part of a successful attempt to get his own sentence cut from 100 years in prison to two.
Various courts have already ruled that we can’t extradite Hamza, but he is still here in prison, for reasons which escape me. We even changed the law precisely so we could stitch him up by introducing a clause which allowed the government to remove someone’s British citizenship if it ‘is satisfied that he has done anything prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory’. I am not quite sure what Hamza has actually done to qualify for this special treatment, other than being not very pleasant. It was the first time anyone had been so denuded of their citizenship since William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw.
It was New Labour which twisted the law so that BMs 1 and 2 — plus scores of others — could be banged up on newly invented charges or no charges at all. It was part of Tony Blair’s imbecilic, Manichean division of Muslims into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘bad’ category expanding by the week. This was in part a consequence of a sudden re-thinking occasioned by 9/11 — the left in general having previously, for complex and fatuous reasons, made common cause with Muslims until it began to realise that Islam was about the least left-wing ideology the world has ever seen, with the possible exception of Rastafarianism. But this government has cheerfully continued down the same path. Aside from banging up people without charge or trial, we now have new categories for imprisoning and fining Muslims who do not share our point of view. They can be imprisoned or fined for burning poppies, or insisting our armed forces are killers, or that homosexuals will burn to death, and so on. We connive in this process because the people bearing the brunt of it are either unpleasant or stupid or both and we dislike what they have to say. But in doing so we lose any possible claim to the moral high ground; we reduce ourselves and our arguments.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 21, 2012