Idon’t mind people being furious about Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, better known as Abu Qatada, as long as it’s for the right reasons. There was outrage last week when the Jordanian cleric and terror suspect won compensation from a court in Strasbourg for unlawful detention, even though the amount was derisory – not much more than £2 for each day he was held in Belmarsh.
A much better reason to be angry about Qatada is that he has flagrantly abused this country’s hospitality. He came to the UK in 1993, arriving on false documents and claiming asylum. Sometimes people fleeing unpleasant regimes have no choice but to travel under another name, but once in the country Qatada began using it as a base to call for the murder of non-Muslims. According to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, he is a “truly dangerous individual” who is “heavily involved, indeed at the centre, of terrorist activities associated with al-Qa’ida”.
Tapes of Qatada speaking in the UK, translated by the Centre for Social Cohesion, show him calling on Muslims to murder “kaffirs”, or non-Muslims. He denounces Christianity and Judaism as devil worship and has apocalyptic visions of a final conflict in which every Jew in the world is wiped out. (I don’t know what his views are on atheists, but I don’t suppose he and I will be dancing partners in the near future.)
It’s the usual psychotic drivel we’ve got used to hearing from Islamists, but Qatada specifically urges his followers to undertake jihad. He complains that Muslims have been corrupted by a “love of life” – a favourite Islamist theme –and he’s been described by Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who tried to extradite General Pinochet, as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe. The extent of his influence can be gauged from the fact that tapes of his sermons were found in the Hamburg flat of Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader.
Of course the British government is alarmed by Qatada’s presence in this country, but it’s dealt with him and other Islamists in a manner which has turned them into martyrs in the eyes of a few misguided individuals.
The truth is that Qatada has been a guest of the UK for many years, and he has exploited this country’s long-standing tradition of tolerance to spew out hate-filled rants. He should have been put on trial long ago for offences such as supporting and funding terrorism – huge amounts of cash were found in his house, some of it allegedly destined for Islamic extremists in Chechnya – and soliciting murder.
Other extreme clerics such as Abu Hamza have been convicted and jailed for preaching similar things; the fact that Qatada hasn’t been charged is puzzling, unless the Government is worried about compromising its sources of information. But the result is disastrous for the UK’s reputation and its security.
It’s ironic and a measure of his opportunism that Qatada is trying to avoid deportation by using human rights legislation. But there is a principle here that goes beyond the case of one individual, religion or ideology. People who advocate murder should not expect to be welcome guests in a democracy; only last week, two Christian extremists were rightly refused entry because their church in Kansas encourages the murder of homosexuals.
The key thing about Qatada isn’t that he holds the rule of law and human rights in contempt. It’s that this horrible man was given safe haven in this country, and has used it to urge unstable and impressionable young men to kill innocent people.