Notes From the Margins…

If you all hate Abu Qatada, clap your hands

  • July 09, 2013
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So Omar Othman, the man known to most Britons as Abu Qatada, has been extradited to Jordan for trial, and what a triumph for Lord Snooty and His Pals.     Ever since he was arrested in 2002,   one government after another has been trying to deport him to face a military trial – always an excellent institution for ensuring impartial justice – for alleged involvement in two terrorist conspiracies in 1999 and 2000

Abu Qatada has been accused of lots of other things, from inspiring Muhammed Atta and Richard Reid to associations with Osama bin Laden, but the Jordanian conspiracies are the only actual concrete charges leveled against him.     The long delay in extradition was due to   successful appeals by Abu Qatada’s lawyers, who argued that he faced torture if he returned to Jordan, and also that the evidence against him had been secured through   torture and ill-treatment of two alleged co-conspirators in these plots, both of whom have since been acquitted.

These arguments didn’t bother either the Labour or the Conservative governments, both of whom have tried to convince the British judiciary – and the public – that there were sufficient guarantees to ensure that his safety would be ensured in Jordan, even when such guarantees consisted of nothing more than assurances from the Jordanian government.

In that time, Abu Qatada has either been in prison or in some form of administrative detention, while governments and the opposition have used him to score points off each other regarding their respective ability to get rid of him, while relentlessly   terrifying the public at the threat that he posed.

Personally I have no idea whether he posed a threat or not, but then nor does anyone else, since no government has ever offered any concrete proof against him.     Instead we were supposed to take the word of Cameron, Theresa May, ‘Baron’ John Reid and every other home secretary that he was a uniquely dangerous man and a ‘suspected terrorist’, who had to be removed from ‘our streets’ at all costs, even if his removal breached Britain’s human rights obligations.

The ‘war on terror’ being what it is however, not too many people in the UK were bothered about whether a bearded Muslim foreigner would be tortured or not, or the difference between being a terrorist and a ‘suspected’ one; or whether the allegations that had kept him under administrative detention for more than a decade had any veracity; or by the fact that the two alleged co-conspirators whose evidence was used against him were secretly ‘rendered’ by M15 to the CIA, where they were taken to Bagram base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo for a bout of ‘enhanced interrogation’ before they were eventually released.

During that time Abu Qatada became a symbol of so many things the British public have been taught by governments and the media to fear and despise;   the bearded Muslim fanatic and ‘preacher of hate’ or ‘hate ranter’ as the Daily Star calls him;   the generic dangerous foreigner who ‘abuses’ our asylum system, along with all the other undesirable foreigners who the government would like to deport, but can’t because of the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Convention and all that namby-pamby human rights continental stuff which is undermining our sovereignty, freedom and Britishness.

All these messages were routinely projected by politicians and gleefully amplified, as they always are, by the rightwing and gutter press to make Abu Qatada an object of   what Victoria Britain calls ‘state-sanctioned hatred.’    

The Daily Mail, which always sets the gold standard for such practices, was still at it on Sunday, in a celebratory article describing the ‘smirking’ Qatada’s arrival in Jordan in a ‘private jet’.       In the space of a single article the Mail describes Qatada as a ‘terrorist’, an ‘al Qaeda fanatic’ and ‘Osama bin Laden’s ” spiritual ambassador” in Europe’.

None of these allegations have ever been proven, but the Mail is not the kind of paper to let facts spoil the hatefest.     The Mail‘s joy is laced with bitterness however, because the appeals process cost the ‘taxpayer’ nearly two million pounds.       And then there is the fact that ‘ Millions more were spent on surveillance and will continue to be spent on state handouts for his wife and five children who remain in the UK.’

Yes,   being under surveillance is such fun isn’t it?     And if Abu Qatada is guilty, then it’s obvious that his wife and children are too, and even if they aren’t, they are just another bunch of unwholesome foreigners living off ‘state handouts.’

But not to worry, because now the Express has announced that Abu Qatada’s ‘brood’ are set to ‘quit their state-funded lives’ and return to Jordan too.   And now May and the Coalition are looking for new ways to deport even more dangerous foreigners, and might even withdraw from the Human Rights Convention.

Because I mean, why should the taxpayer waste money on pointless trivia such as   ‘human rights’,   which does nothing more than allow terrorists to come over here and live on state handouts forever?

Such is the level to which we have sunk in recent years.     So all credit to the British judiciary, which didn’t buckle in the face of relentless pressure from the Home Office, and has managed at least to get what appears to be more solid reassurances that Abu Qatada will be given a fair trial.     Because had the judges not insisted on such guarantees,   neither the Coalition nor Labour would have given a damn, and nor would the public.

And it’s a bit rich therefore,   that Theresa May should now be receiving all-party praise for having done things ‘by the book’, given that this course of action was essentially forced upon her.

Still at least Cameron’s blood won’t have to ‘boil’ at the presence of Abu Qatada – I was getting a bit worried about the flushed expression and his tendency to sclerotic rages,   but thought it might be something to do with his liver or the poisonous politics coursing through his bloodstream.

Now I know better.     Yet now that the most dangerous man in Britain has gone, I can’t help feeling that he has left a gap in many people’s lives.       After all, he fulfilled so many useful functions, that one only think that it will only be a matter of time before someone else replaces him.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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