Recently the Crown has claimed its first success in prosecuting, under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006, a wannabe ‘jihadi’, Mr Sohail Anjum Qureshi. Mr Sohail Qureshi, 29, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to charges of preparing to commit terrorist activity and possessing items of use to terrorists, including a night vision scope and medical supplies To count this sentence as the first success of a quite unsuccessful piece of legislation is like to celebrate for a faux victory. I will explain the reasons below. Yet let me observe some aspects of the case. Here’s what the BBC has to say about it
Although I am not sure that, even living in Scotland, I would have trusted Mr Qureshi’s skills as a dentist, surely he was a much worse terrorist plotter. The plan was with an unclear target, the preparation boy-scoutish, and the risk he had taken unbelievable. In other words, Mr Bean could have not done better. I think that, though we have very few details available, Mr Qureshi, more than a serious terrorist, looks like a man with a clear inferiority complex (see the pictures here), boosting his masculinity by playing jihad. Did the game go too far, or actually did he hope to be caught? Of course, we cannot know, but we can safely assume that Mr Qureshi was possibly more attached to his own skin than his glorification of martyrdom, contrary to his self-representation in pictures and texts can show.
The investigation has demonstrated that Mr Qureshi not only did not plan a suicide operation, but his main aim was to reach Pakistan. Now, why did he need to bring with him to Heathrow the ridiculous equipment, in particular when he knew that there was no hope of passing unobserved or unchecked at the airport (leave aside in Pakistan!)? Moreover, it appears that Mr Qureshi had no real connection with either al-Qaida or any other Pakistani based extremist organizations. I have the impression that Mr Qureshi would have visited Pakistan, eaten lots of naans and lovely Pakistani curries, and enjoyed himself, only to then return to the UK and narrate heroic tales of his battles against the infidels and maybe be glorified in Ms Samina Malik’s poetry. It is not something so uncommon to fake jihadi expeditions to boast one’s own masculinity, as many can think.
Leaving aside the ridiculous circumstances that have forced the British Crown to use for the first time Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006, I am more interested in exploring, starting from my four-year-research on Muslim prisoners, the reason for which he decided to plead guilty. Although I think that for terrorist related charges, there should not be an option to plead guilty, it is interesting to observe that the majority of those facing such charges, including those linked to cyber-terrorism, end up pleading guilty. Of course, he has received a shorter prison term. Nonetheless, even if the jury would have found him guilty (and there was a quite good possibility that they would have not due to the few and weak evidences) the sentence, as the judged has acknowledged, had to be a short one (i.e. less then 5 years). So, why was he ready to accept to be labelled a ‘terrorist’? Was Mr Qureshi, like some others I have met, actually happy to ‘do his own porridge’ in Her Majesty cells?
First of all, the word ‘Islamic terrorist’ for some individuals is now seen as a positive, rather than negative, label. In this sense, something very similar is happening with the term ‘Islamophobia’, where some people are proud of being Islamophobic. After the collapse of all ideologies and in times of extreme relativism, people, often with inferiority complexes, can reinforce their sense of Self through negative prototypes.
Secondly, when sent to prison Mr Qureshi may perceive himself as a ‘political prisoner’ or even be recognised as such by other Muslims, which would question the reasons behind his plea. Finally, prison, among certain extremists, is seen as a form of martyrdom. Following my last research, I am very concerned that Mr Qureshi could become more of a threat to us in prison and after prison than if he instead managed to reach Pakistan.
In prison Mr Qureshi can possibly achieve a higher profile than he may have ever had outside, and he can use the mass media attention he has received to boost the image of his charisma. Mr Qureshi can show that he is a recognised, licensed, card-carrying heroic terrorist, who is sacrificing his young life behind bars for the cause. Something of value within the complex world of extremism behind bars.
Indeed, look at this photo in which Mr Qureshi wishes to been seen as a pious ‘Taliban’. Can you notice that he has modified the turban and his own beard with a Sharpie-marker to touch up his ‘jihadi’ image? Is he a dangerous jihadi or actually a stupid fool, with a head full of Hollywood Rambo style films (which were quite popular in the 1990s among Pakistanis), Internet jihadi videos, and the worst JihadWatch stereotypes about what a mujahid might be?
Mr Qureshi has received a sentence which represents the level of his crimes according to the law: the lowest level possible under the current special terrorist legislation. This of course shows how unsuccessful, badly written and useless the legislation is to protect British citizens from the threat of real suicide-killers (see for instance 7/7). Yet the legislation is very useful to provide jihadi-mythomaniacs into state certified, and so ‘real’, Islamic terrorists – examples of virtuoso self-abnegation, available for glorification, and easy to imitate.
I have the impression that, if the government would recognise Mr Qureshi for whom he is (a person mentally disturbed) and used its power to commit him to one of our very efficient psychiatric units, and subjected his release only to psychological evaluation, less young male Muslims would end up trying to boost their sense of masculinity through religious delirium and delirious Rambo-dreams.