It’s been Abu Hamza night on the news this evening and I’ve just torn myself away from Newsnight’s special report on the subject which was compelling viewing.
The legitimate question hanging over it all was why the policy were so slow to act. The response was that the CPS weren’t satisfied they could secure a conviction. Seeing the video footage going back as far as 2000, that seems odd as it appeared as cut and dried a case of inciting racial hatred and inciting violence as you are ever likely to find. Though it pains me to in any way defend the BNP, the footage of Nick Griffin that formed the basis of last week’s case contained footage of him making claims about Muslims. Libellous claims to be sure, but it was criticism. Abu Hamza by contrast was simply repeating again and again to kill all Jews and other non-Muslims whenever and however the opportunity arises. Odd that the CPS rushed to prosecute the BNP yet sat on the Hamza case for so long.
Shahid Malik claimed on Newsnight that the problem is the law is too woolly and Labour’s new crime of “glorifying terrorism” would sort it out. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe a word of it. If there was any doubt within the CPS of securing a conviction for inciting violence it wasn’t on narrow definitional grounds of whether he actually incited people (it’s a no-brainer that he did) but on balancing it with Hamza’s right to free speech and the fact that individuals are responsible for their own actions. The new “glorification” law would be subject to the same balancing act. What’s worse, poorly drafted legislation like the new terrorism bill will essentially kick away an important crutch from the courts by introducing such a broad definition that judges and juries will be doubly concerned about avoiding miscarriages of justice. Defence barristers will of course be able to exploit this lingering doubt.
Bad law offends people’s sense of justice, while paradoxically introducing a culture of self-censorship in areas that shouldn’t need to worry.
Moving slightly on from Abu Hamza himself, a new Populus poll, as reported on Antony Wells’ UK Polling Report makes for rather sobering reading. It reveals that while only a minority of Muslims support terrorism and extremists like Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammed, it is an uncomfortably large minority.
One of my colleagues pointed out today that this poll should be viewed with suspicion because it was commissioned by Jewish community groups. Personally, I would have thought that the one group of individuals that really would be interested in seeing accurate figures are Jewish community groups. I’m rather more concerned by the fact that it was done by Populus, which seems to have a rather erratic record. But it does square with an earlier poll done by ICM.
The positive side of this poll is that only a small minority feel that organisations which claim to be the spokespeople for British Muslims such as the MCB and MAB only speak for a minority. We need to remember this and recognise that it is the flipside of the problem with extremism. Too often British Muslims feel alienated and sidelined; allowing Iqbal Sacranie to steal their voices only makes the matter worse. We need to learn to tackle individuals one-on-one and stop treating them like some block vote.