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

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick
 

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?