If Islam is submission to God, well– journalism is submission to the Almighty State

Israel/Palestine
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Abu Hamza
Abu Hamza
The United Kingdom used to send its convicts to Australia. It now carts off the merest suspect to America. The old penal colony was more enlightened. I had expected the extradition hearing of Gary McKinnon to go the way of the British domiciled cleric Abu Hamza’s lately flown to the US on charges of abduction and conspiring to set up a jihadi training camp if only because McKinnon admitted to hacking American military computers and causing damages tallied up to $700,000, whereas the cleric denied his guilt.
 
The motivation for his cyber insurgency was because “US foreign policy is akin to Government-sponsored terrorism these days,” according to a note he left behind, reveal court documents. “I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels”. He would later play down this moral antiwar element, understandably, for the more innocuous pretext of hunting for classified UFO secrets.
 
With a vast surge of patriotic feeling in the nation to keep our boy on native shores, led by rightwing papers like the Daily Mail, which celebrated the deportation of Abu Hamza, the warrant for the fingerloose hacker was blocked by the British government. And by the law-and-order Conservatives no less. More evidence that Santa comes early this festive season – now the police have declined to try him in England altogether.
A generous take on the discrepant outcomes in the two extradition cases might set it down to the fact McKinnon’s crime was against property and Hamza’s against human life, but this fails to account for why two other British Muslims, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, one of whom incurred a horrific beating from the police for which he won hefty damages, were shanghaied to the United States for the much lesser offence of running a website in support of Islamist rebels in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
 
And it does not explain why the zany preacher Abu Qatada has been subject to long years of detention without trial even though judges say the evidence against him of links to bomb plots in Jordan, gathered under torture, is “extremely thin”. For the mistake of thinking he enjoyed freedom of speech, a man who stands convicted of no crime save that of poor taste in theology may soon face deportation to a pro-Western despotism if his court victory to remain in the country is overturned on appeal.
 
A pattern emerges. If you’re white, you’re alright, if you’re brown, you go down.

I met Abu Hamza once in a former existence. The exact year is lost to me, but it was in the infancy of the millennium circa 2003 or so before we both saw exile from the Islamic scene. His took the form of a long stretch in prison for the imaginary crime of racial hatred, and incitement to kill. Mine took the far less punitive fate of voluntary retirement from the spiritual game.

The chance encounter was remote from the troubled scenes of the ill reputed Finsbury Park Mosque outside of whose gates he bellowed Friday sermons to his band of followers after facing eviction from its premises. The wary board of trustees there had seen one too many politically-charged speeches by the moral exhibitionist, and asked him to exhibit his combustible wares somewhere else where they might find keener enjoyment.

For Abu Hamza’s makeshift homilies of the week, a platoon of camera lugging journalists converged on the street to snap a closeup of that most highly sought of all journalistic shots, the gesticulating Muslim ranter with a beard long enough to strangle the godless and a flowing robe wide enough to hide the body.

My brush with the country’s best known emissary of Allah was at the more genteel establishment of the Al Muntada Mosque in Parsons Green, south west London. I had just wrapped up my evening maghrib prayers for the day and was on my way out to fetch my sneakers from the shoe rack by the exit when I spotted a familiar face. Gee, was that not the Abu Hamza guy from TV? It’s hard to miss the fellow.

He cut the figure of a classic vaudeville baddy complete with prosthetic hooks for hands and a missing eye. The only thing missing from his sinister getup was a black cape and a twirly moustache. If there was ever a man born to play a villainous part, it was the scowling sheikh, and if there was ever a country that loved to be spooked, it is the United Kingdom of Hysteria.

 
The tabloids yearned for a big blustering bushy face, and old boy Hamza, master of how to order the lives of others but not of how to bring his super-ego into captivity, knew how to breakdance to the tune.

Beyond the impish delight of spotting a man of bad renown, the impromptu encounter was of little consequence to me and even less to him. “As-salamu alaykum” I said with a grin. “Wa alaykum salaam” came the reply. And that was the end of that. It would have been interesting to have spoken more fulsomely because I knew from his stray television appearance that he was a colourful character, and it was the only time I ever saw him swing by that mosque, but extended conversation with him, like with other imams I have known, was inhibited by the habit common to devout Muslims to hold up clerics with something approaching the veneration of God. It’s hard to enjoy light banter with a Light Bearer.

I lost all recollection of the man till the BBC revealed, on the eve of his extradition, that it was rendering a formal apology to the Queen of England for reporting that she had pressed a cabinet minister for the arrest of the “hate preacher” in the heyday of his rabble rousing. The news story, as it went, was not unsound. The problem was simply that this revelation was politically gauche for Her Majesty, who convention dictates should remain aloof from the workings of power. I have heard before of journalists making retractions for misreporting facts. I have never sampled the novel pleasure of witnessing a reporter mea culping for getting his facts right.

The news coming as it did on the heels of Middle East protests over the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims, when the Anglosphere had a grand time browbeating Arabs for not respecting the independence of the press from the meddling influence of the state, the fearless editors of the country’s leading broadcaster was reprimanding its Middle East correspondent for telling truths unwelcome to Queen Lizzy. 
 
If Islam means submission to God, journalism is submission to the Almighty State. The intelligentsia that insists on guarding the honour of Her Royal Highness, or longs for the prosecution of Julian Assange for insubordination to the US president, has a strong kinship with the illiterate peasants who mobilise for the honour of the Prophet. In fact, they’re worse. Peasants don’t flaunt their advanced college degrees.

At the criminal trial in which English courts sent Abu Hamza down, in 2006, it is instructive that many of the offences of which he was convicted had as much to do with having been “insulting” and “abusive” about unbelievers and possessing violent sermons and literature as actually inciting terrorism, comic and prehistoric laws that are in the process of being partly struck down to modernise the primitive state of free speech in Britain that could warm the heart of any theocratic despot, and that had he performed them in the United States – to which he’s been rendered on a separate offence – they would have been protected under the First Amendment. The US Supreme Court in Brandenburg v Ohio upheld the right to incendiary speech short of what it describes as urging “imminent lawless action”: mere advocacy of violence in the abstract is constitutional. 

A word about the inverted commas around “hate preacher”. It cannot be doubted that Abu Hamza is a foul man with foul opinions. The poverty of his ideology is surpassed only by the richness of its conspiratorialism. What can be doubted however is that Western intellectuals object to fomenting hatred. The newspapers teem with anti-immigrant sentiment and appeals to rocket Muslim countries daily by esteemed members of high society. A Muslim with an affinity for bombs is a hate preacher. A columnist with an enthusiasm for bombs is a political analyst. 
 
One may even argue, not implausibly, that all politics thrives on the manufacture of tribal animus and loathing by rival parties and sectors.

UK citizens who plot acts of violence inside Britain should be tried by a jury of their peers where they committed their crime. The despotic regime of indefinite detention and selective extradition is an affront to civilised democratic norms.

About Theodore Sayeed

Theodore Sayeed is a contributor to Mondoweiss. He may be reached at: [email protected]

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2 Responses

  1. Hostage
    December 22, 2012, 1:16 pm

    The UK Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument that operatives of international terrorist organizations are not protected persons for purposes of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It upheld the prohibition against individual or mass forcible transfer, or deportation of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country.

    So Mr. Rahmatullah continues to be detained by the U.S. — illegally, as the U.K.’s highest court has now made clear.
    link to opiniojuris.org

  2. Avi_G.
    December 22, 2012, 9:53 pm

    McKinnon admitted to hacking American military computers and causing damages tallied up to $700,000.

    I’ve never heard of this McKinnon guy, but I find it interesting that when an Israeli hacks into the Pentagon, he faces no consequences, neither in Israel nor in the U.S..

    And the damages caused by another Israeli spy, Pollard, far exceeded $700,000.

    So the US keeps taking abuses — lying down — by some so-called ally. McKinnon is a British national; is he not? Britain is an American ally; is it not?

    It’s amazing.

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