Abu Hamza al-Masri has finally gone on trial at Old Bailey, accused of being a hate-filled bigot who allegedly encouraged his fellow British Muslims to murder non-Muslims. Mr Perry, for the prosecution, described him as an extremist who abused his position as a religious leader and twisted Islam and the Qu’ran to convince other Muslims to commit violence. In the words of barrister Perry, “the plain unambiguous meaning of [his] words – such as ‘every last Jew is going to be buried in Palestine’ – is obvious. He says jihad is obligatory, jihad involves the death of the kuffar, Jews are detestable, to be reviled and to be killed. This is what the defendant intended to be heard.” Then Mr Perry added “Words are powerful weapons. This is nothing more or less than preaching hatred and murder.”
During my research on Muslims in Britain, I have come in contact with Abu Hamza’s tapes, khutbas (sermons), opinions, and views. Although this may sound surprising, some of them are still available on the web together with his pamphlets. Indeed, some Muslims I know have also collected them.
“Extremist?” some of my readers might ask. Well, yes….I admit…. if you are fanatic about comedy. Even to the few Muslims who have found Bin-Laden a romantic character, Abu Hamza al-Masri reminds them more of the pirate Captain Hook than the heroic Arab leader Saladin. And how can you blame them? Just look for yourself at the two pictures above.
Let me put this straightforward: Abu Hamza al-Masri’s opinions may be overwrought but they are not dangerous. The guy lacks the charisma that we have come to recognise in a Master of Terror (as one of my female Scottish students put it, “Osama with his eyes could convert even me!”). Moreover, Abu Hamza al-Masri has been preaching openly, receiving criticism and discussing his opinions. This simple cleric has not been hiding in a cave, but is easily reachable on the phone and his opinions had been monitored since he started preaching. Indeed, some of the tapes under scrutiny date back to 1997. A few years ago Abu Hamza was useful in the Cold War effort in Afghanistan, where the Communist kaffir at that time were targeted for death in jihad with the blessing of the USA and UK. No one thought his ideas extreme then.
There is a small following for Abu Hamza. When he was expelled by the Finsbury Mosque, he ended up preaching outside despite the inclement British weather. But Abu Hamza’s preaching comes across as stereotyped Islamicised BNP style khutbas. There is certainly not a powerful, irresistible, magic spell inducing young Muslims to commit suicide operations against British civilians. The proof for this is that none of his British followers has been involved in the previous attacks in London, none arrested, none even charged. If Abu Hamza al-Masri had been an Irish football supporter uttering racist insults and threatening to bomb the other team’s fans, nobody would have cared.
If I am not so concerned about Abu Hamza al-Masri’s opinions and stereotyped ideas as I am certainly by the hyperbolic rhetoric used by Mr Parrey of the prosecution when he asserts that “Words are a powerful weapon.” Granted that it might be torture for any Guantanamo prisoner to survive an intense session of speeches by Bush and Blair about the War on Terrorism via the export of Western democracy and freedom, this comparison between words and weapons suggests the real aim of this trial. Abu Humza has done nothing wrong except state his opinions in a public forum. Here is a case to test how far British courts may go in restricting freedom of speech related to religious opinions.
Freedom of speech in itself is not in danger if you are not a Labour delegate, but religious freedom of speech might be. Indeed, recently the president of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, is being investigated by police for saying on the BBC that homosexuality was “harmful”. What could the guy as an orthodox Muslim and president of a major Islamic institution have answered to a generic question about his religious view on the morality of homosexuality? When Mississippi Senator Trent Lott of the United States congress used his high position to claim that homosexuality was actually a sin, there was no investigation by the courts. Is not a Muslim entitled to his opinion, one shared by many Christians in Britain, and to express them in a public interview? Is not this part of what we call democracy and freedom, or are we so intent on exporting our values that we have given them up at home? Let me be clear; I do not agree with either Abu Hamza al-Masri’s opinions about Jews or Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s views on homosexuality, but I strongly believe that they are entitled to express what they believe as much as I am entitled to criticise them. It is a sad day when Western society fears words more than weapons and sadder still that some would even advocate using weapons to fight words!
It happens that Abu Hamza is an imam with an hook, which makes him resemble one of the evil “Treasure Island” characters of our childhood. But in actual fact he has not enjoyed the support of most ordinary Muslims, and lacks the sophistication and charisma to lead a jihad. Indeed, for our twin political Peter Pans (Blair and Bush) it seems easier to capture and publicly humiliate Captain Hook than the most famous cave-based anchorman of the HinduKush who just three days ago was still broadcasting to the world his divinatory grim horoscope for the USA.
Note: I will not summarise the trial here, since there are many resources available for what it seems to be a very lucrative trial for mass media and commentators. [For example,