Christina Patterson: Abu Qatada's freedom is the price we must pay for ours

Most people don't seem happy that a man who called for mass murder might soon be free

Share

He doesn't have a hook. He does have a big, bushy beard, and eyes that don't look all that friendly, but Omar Mahmoud Othman, who's also known as Abu Qatada, doesn't have a hook. It's Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who's also known as Abu Hamza, who has a hook instead of a hand.

It's quite easy to get them confused. Both men live, when they're not in prison, in big houses, with their wives and children, and both men seem to think that the British taxpayers who pay for those houses, and their children's food, and their lawyers, and their food in prison, and the specially adapted taps you need in your cell if you have a hook instead of a hand, are infidels who should be slaughtered.

Abu Hamza, who once worked as a bouncer for a strip club, used to preach at my local mosque. He used to tell people that if you didn't like other people's religious beliefs, then the best thing to do was kill them. He didn't, he said, believe in democracy. But what he did believe in was human rights.

He was so keen on human rights, or at least on his human rights, that he got the best lawyers to make sure they were upheld. When, for example, the American government wanted him to go to the US to be tried for supporting a terrorist training camp, and helping al-Qa'ida, and British courts said he could, he made sure his lawyers launched an appeal. You'd have thought it might be tricky to fight a case like this when you were also in prison for encouraging people to murder other people, and for stirring up "racial hatred", and for owning, and producing, DIY guides to jihad, but it didn't seem to be. His lawyers said he couldn't go to the US until everyone was sure that he wouldn't be treated "inhumanely", and the European Court of Human Rights agreed.

So Abu Hamza hasn't gone to the US, where everyone seems to think he wouldn't be treated nearly as well as he is here. He has finished his sentence, because you don't have to stay all that long in prison, even if you've encouraged other people to kill people, but he's still in Belmarsh while the British and European courts argue about whether he can go. If he's feeling a bit fed up about it all dragging on, he might well have been cheered up by some MPs. The MPs, who have just written a report about the "roots of violent radicalisation", went to Belmarsh to ask him for his advice. They wanted, they said, to know more about the "drivers" of "radicalisation". And Abu Hamza, who they called "Mr Abu Hamza", which must have made him feel quite important, told him that they were "grievance" and "guilt". He didn't say that it was the guilt you'd feel if you'd cost the taxpayer millions and still wanted to kill him. He said it was the guilt that "you were safe" and your "brother was not".

Perhaps when he said this, he was thinking about Abu Qatada, who isn't his real brother, but who shares so many of his views you might think he was. But if he's worrying about whether Abu Qatada is safe, he probably shouldn't. Qatada, it's true, has been a bit worried himself. He's been worried that he might have to go to one of the countries where he's wanted on terrorism charges, which include Algeria, the US, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, and, in particular, Jordan, which wants to send him to prison for trying to blow tourists up. Qatada knows, because he's from Jordan, that prisons there aren't very nice. Qatada would prefer to stay here. He'd prefer, in fact, to sleep in his own home (or at least the home that's paid for by the taxpayer) and take his child to school, and so he has employed lawyers (or asked taxpayers to employ lawyers) to make sure he does. And the lawyers seem to be doing very well.

When, for example, the Jordanian government wanted him to face justice in their country, his lawyers argued that that would break British and European laws on human rights, and the lawyers won. And when the British law lords fought that decision, the lawyers won again. And on Monday, a judge at a Special Immigration Appeals Commission decided that the man who's regarded as the spiritual leader of al-Qa'ida in Europe, and whose sermons were found in the home of one of the men who destroyed the Twin Towers, shouldn't be in prison at all. And will, apparently, be released in days.

Most people don't seem to be very happy that a man who has called for mass murder might soon be free to walk our streets. The Home Secretary isn't. The Attorney General isn't. Even the man who chaired the committee who went to ask advice from "Mr Abu Hamza" isn't. Most people will agree with the Home Office spokesperson who said that "this is a dangerous man" who "poses a real threat to our security". They'll think that this isn't what a man who lied to get into this country, and wanted to massacre its citizens, deserves.

And it isn't. Abu Qatada doesn't deserve to be lavished with legal protection. He doesn't deserve to be let out of jail. Abu Hamza doesn't deserve to be protected from a harsher legal system in America. He doesn't deserve his specially adapted taps. But the legal systems of this country aren't constructed around what people deserve. They're not constructed around whether people are nasty, or nice. They're constructed around whether or not they've broken the law. And whether or not a court can prove it.

There are plenty of countries in the world that imprison people because they don't like their views. This, thank God, isn't one of them. In this country, we don't keep people in prison because they've said nasty things. We keep them in prison because they've broken the law of the land. If Abu Qatada has – and it's quite hard to see how he wouldn't have – then it surely can't be that hard to find evidence to prove it. Evidence, that is, that hasn't been extracted under torture.

Either you believe in torture, or you don't. If you don't believe in torture, you don't believe it's right to send a British citizen to be tried by a country which may have used evidence gained by it. You might be quite tempted to, but if the law says you can't, you can't. You can try to get that country to agree not to use that evidence, as Britain is currently trying to do with Jordan, but you can't suddenly say that you didn't like torture, but now you do.

That new report on the "roots of violent radicalisation" defines "extremism" as "active opposition to fundamental British values" like democracy and the "rule of law". It also says that "sympathy for violent extremism is declining". If we want our values to win, we have to stick to them. The relative comfort of some very nasty people might be the price we pay.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent