Rod Liddle

Bearded maniacs deserve justice, too

21 January 2012

I’d like, this week, to draw your attention to the United Kingdom’s unjust treatment of some bearded maniacs. I realise, in writing this, that bearded maniacs may not be near the top of your list of stuff to worry about at the moment, or perhaps ever. Indeed it may even be the case that you think the world is an unjust place per se and that you would be very happy if its most egregious injustices were directed largely towards bearded maniacs, rather than the rest of us. In which case what follows may annoy you, for which apologies.

Bearded Maniac No. 1 (BM1) is the ‘radical Muslim cleric’ Abu Qatada, who has just won his appeal against deportation from this country at the European Court of Human Rights. We wished to send him to Jordan, where evidence obtained through torture would be used to incarcerate him for the rest of his life and quite probably he would be tortured himself. He was arrested in London in 2005 and has been held in prison, without charge, ever since, save for a brief period when he was allowed out on bail. If the government decides to appeal against the latest ruling it is likely he’ll spend a few more years inside. Never charged with anything, remember. It is alleged by people that he is or was a senior member of al-Qa’eda and has been involved in terrorism; in which case, find the evidence and charge him and, if he is convicted, send him down for as long as the law allows. But far from being charged, he has not even been spoken to on a single occasion by police since he was first banged up. Nor has MI5 dropped by to say hello. It is a simple case of internment.


I don’t have much doubt that he’s unpleasant and would make a less-than-perfect dinner guest, especially if you had gay people or Jewish people over. He’d be querulous, picky about the food, wouldn’t drink and might suggest that your guests will burn in hell for eternity. Not much different from my mum-in-law, then. However, BM1 is of an unquestioning absolutist, oppositional mindset and wishes to see western civilisation destroyed and superseded by a caliphate. He is, then, a bearded maniac. But we should not have held him in prison these past six years, and we should let him out unless we can find something to charge him with.

BM2 is my old friend Sheikh Abu Hamza al Masri, the hook-handed cleric, who once remarked to me in passing, holding aloft a copy of the Daily Telegraph: ‘Rod, I see your government has reduced the age of consent for homosexuals to the same as what it is for human beings.’ A hardliner, you have to say, ol’ Abu. He was banged up for seven years for having said stuff — you can imagine the sort of thing, jihad needed, destroy the western infidels, 9/11 bloody good thing etc. Seven years for saying things with which we fervently disagree, at which we might take offence. He was due out two years ago but is still being held in the hope we might be able to extradite him to the US on some trumped-up charge. He has been wanted by the Americans because a man called James Ujaama named him as being interested in setting up a jihadi training camp in Oregon, despite the fact that no camp really existed and Mr Ujaama — a bit of a con man, by all accounts — blagged Hamza’s name as part of a successful attempt to get his own sentence cut from 100 years in prison to two.

Various courts have already ruled that we can’t extradite Hamza, but he is still here in prison, for reasons which escape me. We even changed the law precisely so we could stitch him up by introducing a clause which allowed the government to remove someone’s British citizenship if it ‘is satisfied that he has done anything prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory’. I am not quite sure what Hamza has actually done to qualify for this special treatment, other than being not very pleasant. It was the first time anyone had been so denuded of their citizenship since William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw.

It was New Labour which twisted the law so that BMs 1 and 2 — plus scores of others — could be banged up on newly invented charges or no charges at all. It was part of Tony Blair’s imbecilic, Manichean division of Muslims into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘bad’ category expanding by the week. This was in part a consequence of a sudden re-thinking occasioned by 9/11 — the left in general having previously, for complex and fatuous reasons, made common cause with Muslims until it began to realise that Islam was about the least left-wing ideology the world has ever seen, with the possible exception of Rastafarianism. But this government has cheerfully continued down the same path. Aside from banging up people without charge or trial, we now have new categories for imprisoning and fining Muslims who do not share our point of view. They can be imprisoned or fined for burning poppies, or insisting our armed forces are killers, or that homosexuals will burn to death, and so on. We connive in this process because the people bearing the brunt of it are either unpleasant or stupid or both and we dislike what they have to say. But in doing so we lose any possible claim to the moral high ground; we reduce ourselves and our arguments.

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  • anncalba

    “They can be imprisoned or fined for burning poppies, or insisting that our armed forces are killers, or that homosexuals will burn to death”. Maybe so; what would happen if you burned the koran? You can also loose your job for wearing a crucifix; Try saying “jews and Jamaicans will burn to death” – would you be happy with that? Either we have a law banning hate crimes which includes ALL hate crimes (however difficult it may be to define them), or we have an enraged population who sees a minority getting away with things they would be punished for. Or, but that is long since gone, we have free speech.

  • Justine

    How you can say the treatment is unjust is beyond me….they deserve all they’ve got and more! You need your head checked Rod.

  • Giles Orton

    well said Rod. Freedom of speech must include the right to offend and the right to be a nut case. In a free country that respects the rule of law you need proof of criminal activity before you imprison people. The undoubted fact that many Islamic countries and fundamentalists do not take the same view is no argument for not standing by our own principles. Though having said all that, if proper evidence justified a conviction for terrorist offences I would be content to see these people hanged by the neck until dead.

  • Peter Treadwell

    Justi g: “How you can say the treatment is unjust is beyond me….they deserve all they’ve got”

    It is unjust to imprison someone without charge or trial. It is unjust to punish someone for saying somehing. It is unjust to extradite someone on the base of zero evidence.

    And sayonig someone you disagree with needs their head cheked simply esablishes you both rude and hostile to reason.

  • Matthew Blott

    Absolutely spot on with this one.

    First point to anncalba – I would not be happy with someone saying “Jews and Jamaicans will burn to death” just as I am not happy when I hear anything bigoted. But, unless people are actually urging people to go out and commit a violent act, I think it should be permitted. It’s incredible this needs saying but freedom of expression should include the right to offend, otherwise what’s the point?

    I’m not sure what your point about a crucifix is – I think someone once might have been told not to wear it as part of their uniform which in my mind is fair enough but I’m not sure it’s pertinent to this discussion.

    And a point for Justine – it is not about what they “deserve”, do we just lock people up for being unpleasant?

  • Fitzmark2

    Good post Rod. Keep up the good work. Hard won entlightenment values are everywhere under attack.

    It is a sad reflection on this and on past governments that these appalling beared maniacs are banged up without trial.

    “I abhor what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it,” aptly sums up this question of interment without trial.

    It didn’t work in Northern Ireland and it aint going to work with regard to the perverse philosophy of beared manias, wherever they exist.

  • Ralph

    Ah I see the spirit of Voltaire being invoked! Nowadays probably translated as ‘I detest what you say…well to be frank I don’t understand what you are saying but it sounds nasty and cant we all be good modern citizens and take our kids to Costa at weekends so we can read the Observer and pretend we are worried about education and green issues and house prices… Cant you just go to your place of worship and not make too much noise maybe in a South London amorphous suburb… Well maybe its best you just go to jail just in case…really if you don’t shout and join the NCT everything will be ok…yes best you go to jail just in case……some of my best friends are………….

  • Fitzmark2

    Can’t see what you are getting at here Ralph or should I say Raph? The spirit of Voltaire and the other philosophes underpin to a large extent Western culture. And those values are alive and kicking in my home Ralph regardless of the present zeitgeist.

    If you can’t see that interning people without trial undermines those values then I just hope that you or one of yours do not fall foul of the wanna be dictators in the present or future governments.

    Yours faithfully


  • anncalba

    Matthew Blott – of course you would not be happy with people saying Jews will burn to death..etc. I am not happy with radical Muslim’s saying just that kind of thing. You miss the point. Either we can all say anything we like (right across the spectrum from Muslim fundamentalists to the BNP) even if many people will be offended; Or we say “we cannot tolerate this, you will be prosecuted”; Go and stand outside your local supermarket and hand out leaflets saying homosexuals and Jews are an obomination – and it is perfectly ok to erradicate them, you might get moved on. (Probably by the supermarket, not the police). It’s the inequality of it that gets up my nose, either you can say what you like and maybe offend some sections of the community, or you have “hate/racial” crime laws which apply to everyone equally, and no one dares say anything.

  • Ralph

    You’re absolutely right Fitzmark2, you cant see what Im getting at. The spirit of Voltaire today may be preached but rarely practised. Sadly so. Certain modern day orthodoxies are so insidious in their power that merely mentioning Voltaire may get a raised eyebrow. Many would seem in a complete muddle in believing one thing and being afraid to admit to it. So yes here’s to Monsieur V.

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