Abu Qatada: a lesson for British Jews

12 Jul 2013 by CST

Finally, Abu Qatada is back in Jordan, facing questioning about terrorism. The extradition has been a lengthy legal saga, summarised by headlines such as “hate preacher” and “send him back”.

The Guardian Comment is Free website has two articles on Britain’s handling of Abu Qatada. The first of these, by Victoria Brittain, is simply a blanket defence of him. The second, by Simon Jenkins, is far more ambiguous. Neither article details Abu Qatada’s actual UK activities in the 1990's and early 2000's, such as his links to British Muslims who later became terrorists, or his links and financing with overseas “mujahideen”: despite these facts being well known and having appeared in Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) judgements.

The SIAC evidence is extensive. The 2007 judgement reads like a 1990's and early 2000's who's who of the global jihad movement. Section 84 is one of its more succinct paragraphs:

In short, his views are to be found linked to many terrorist groups and their actions, providing the religious cover they seek; he propagates radicalising views, and his fund-raising is aimed at advancing the Islamist extremist cause.

The SIAC judgements also reference Abu Qatada’s incitement for the murdering of British Jews (from 2007, section 28):

...even in December 1996, the Appellant was already proclaiming that it was acceptable to fight Jews within the UK.

Similarly, section 31, but now with Jewish children clarified as legitimate targets. Britons and Americans are also added (presumably this also includes British and American children):

In October 1999, the Appellant made a speech at the Four Feathers mosque [in Marylebone, London] in which he effectively issued a fatwa authorising the killing of Jews, including Jewish children.  He told the congregation that Americans should be attacked wherever they were, that in his view they were no better than Jews and that there was no difference between English, Jews and Americans.

The Guardian coverage is important because it shows how some liberal-left opinion makers and activists are blinding themselves (and others) to the realities of extremism. British Jews have long despaired at the failure of such people to acknowledge antisemitism when it comes from Arab or Muslim sources, but this coverage of Abu Qatada shows that selective blindness to antisemitism is only part of a wider failing.

For British Jews, the lesson is obvious. If these people are even soft on Abu Qatada, then we should expect absolutely nothing from them regarding any overseas hatred or incitement: whether that is Hizbollah terrorism against Diaspora Jews, Hamas terrorism against Israel, the appalling overall levels of antisemitic attitudes and hate speech, or visits by overseas preachers to the UK.

To return specifically to these two Guardian articles, Victoria Brittain’s is by far the more obviously ridiculous. It's title is a classic of the genre:

I know Abu Qatada – he’s no terrorist

Usually, it is the Guardian sub-editors who choose how to entitle articles, based upon their reading of them. So, Victoria Brittain may not have actually called it this. Her article lauds Abu Qatada as "a scholar with wide intellectual and cultural interests. He wrote books while in prison". He phones his kids from prison to encourage their homework etc, but Brittain does not explicitly say that Abu Qatada is no terrorist. Instead, it is Qatada’s family that is “innocent” and:

No one suggests Othman [ie Qatada] is physically dangerous himself.

Which may even be true, but it completely ducks the central allegation that he encourages many others whom we might describe as "physically dangerous". 

Brittain also says, “no one has pointed to anything controversial that he is alleged to have said since the mid-1990s”. Perhaps Brittain does not regard the 1999 example of incitement to killing Jews (including their children and Britons and Americans) as controversial. She also says that the security services should have followed her lead:

If instead they had chosen to talk to him, as I have many times, they would have found that the man behind the myth is a scholar...I believe that, rather than being scapegaoted, his moral standards could have been useful in engaging Muslim youth.

British Jews should be deeply thankful that Muslim youth are no longer exposed to Abu Qatada’s “moral standards”. Besides, the security services did, repeatedly, speak to Abu Qatada. SIAC states (2007, section 29) that he:

...warned his congregation to be wary of MI5’s approaches and provided them with physical descriptions and names of MI5 officers approaching Muslims.

So much for Victoria Brittain, but is such a person really someone whom British Jews (and others) should take seriously? Sadly, almost unbelievably, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Brittain was associate foreign editor of the Guardian, is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and offered £10,000 surety money for Sheikh Ra’ed Salah.

CST believed Sheikh Salah had preached a sermon in Jerusalem that included a blood libel, alleging that Jews need the blood of non-Jews for “holy bread”. CST supported the Home Secretary’s ban on him. The ban was condemned by the Guardian, which also misrepresented Jewish and Home Office concerns and actions. Salah eventually won his appeal, despite being found to have made the blood libel speech (see ruling pdf here, section 59). The Guardian’s defence of him never relented and they never did acknowledge the blood libel ruling (see CST pdf here, p.18-22).

If Brittain defends Abu Qatada, then is it any wonder she defended the far less clear cut case of Salah? Ditto the comments pages of the Guardian.

The Guardian’s other comment piece on Abu Qatada is by one of its senior regular writers, Simon Jenkins. Chairman of the National Trust, former editor of the Times and Evening Standard, he is somewhat more establishment than Victoria Brittain.

Jenkins’ article differs markedly from Brittain’s piece, but is another important marker in how Qatada is viewed, and what we can therefore expect regarding all those other cases that are far less clear cut. His position starts out promisingly enough:

The state is entitled to deport people it considers a threat...I have no problem in sending home people in the category of Abu Qatada, who arrived on false documents, became an ally and counsellor to terrorists and then cited fear of torture as a reason for not being deported...

However, it then turns very lazy:

That said, Abu Qatada by all accounts does not fall into the ranting cleric category of his contemporary, Abu Hamza. He is closer to the vagrant revolutionary tradition to which London has offered refuge throughout history. The city should be big enough to encompass him, even if his activities merited watching...

Jenkins knows enough to realise that the charges against Abu Qatada are extensive, but ultimately he seems to be simply failing to take Abu Qatada seriously. Whatever the cause of this ambivalence, it is yet another reason why British Jews can have no confidence in such circles to safeguard their wellbeing; and the rest of society ought to feel exactly the same.

Finally, for light relief, compare Victoria Brittain's "He's no terrorist"schtick with this brief Simpson's excerpt below. 


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