When Tone came over all authoritarian in his last years as Prime Minister, and proposed the frankly ludicrous idea of locking folks up without even charging them of any offence for periods as long as 90 days, people across the political spectrum were outraged. Left leaning citizens joined right of centre libertarians in opposition to such potential abuses of freedom.
Strangely, though, when the locking up gets personalised and focused on one person, and that person is Muslim and of inconvenient thought, the mood changes and the libertarians fall silent – or, worse, fall in with those who, just this once you understand, are prepared to suspend the upholding of individual liberty in the face of the baying mob of hacks and pundits.
So it has been with Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK in 1993 and was subsequently granted asylum. He holds views that many find distasteful, even abhorrent, but then, so do many others in the UK. This in itself is not grounds for deportation, or even imprisonment. Qatada has, though, been sentenced in absentia in Jordan for his alleged part in a Millennium bomb plot.
And he has been named as the “spiritual leader” of al-Qaeda in Europe. But thus far he has not been convicted of any offence in the UK, despite the widespread suspicion that he is implicated in a variety of terrorist activity. So it all comes down to potential deportation to Jordan, a country with which the UK does not have a bilateral extradition treaty (unlike, say, Turkey or Israel).
Plus there are the cases of Norman Kember, who was held hostage in Iraq – and whose release was requested by Qatada – and BBC journalist Alan Johnston, kidnapped in Gaza, whose release Qatada offered to help negotiate. These have been quietly put aside as a picture of evil is put before the public, even by the supposedly upmarket Maily Telegraph.
Indeed, the paper’s editorial tells “We are no longer able to protect our own citizens by ejecting wrong-doers from the country” and urges the Government to deport Qatada on the basis of, er, breaching a control order. And all restraint is jettisoned by the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, where Rupe’s downmarket troops talk of “an al-Qaeda monster” and a “bin Laden stooge and inspiration for the 9/11 hijackers”.
Moreover, the paper talks of “reoffending”, as if he had been convicted of one or more terrorist related offences already. Things are no better at the Mail, where rant specialist James Slack calls Qatada “Osama bin Laden’s spiritual ambassador in Europe”, which would be a difficult role, given that bin Laden is dead. And we get the “unelected” judges one again. But no admission that he’s not been convicted here.
And whatever his views, unless Abu Qatada gets charged and guilty, he walks.