There’s been much discussion in the newspapers about the deportation (or not) of Abu Qatada over the past few days. I would say it has been mainly the right-wing press that has been up in arms about the decision by the European Court of Human Rights to block his deportation to Jordan but, to be fair, this is has been pretty consistent across the political spectrum. Certainly across the mainstream political spectrum there has been universal revulsion. How could a man so ‘dangerous’ be refused deportation? But amongst the bluster, what is the reality?
Before going any further I guess I should make one thing absolutely clear. I have no time for preachers like Qatada. In fact, as somewhat of a militant atheist who would happily have all religions consigned to the dustbin of history, I see Qatada as a perfect (if somewhat more extreme) version of the kind of thing that appals me about ‘religious’ preachers – their failure to grasp the basic tenets of the faith they claim to hold. Furthermore, anyone justifying murder regardless of whether they are religious or not deserves the utmost contempt. That’s the caveat out of the way…
What I have found has often been overlooked is exactly why people like Qatada are dangerous. It’s because of the words they use. It’s because of their use of language. It’s because of their ideas. It is important to remember that Qatada has never been charged with a crime in the UK. If he has committed a crime he should be charged and tried in a court of law much the same as we would do with anyone who commits a crime. As he has not been charged with any criminal offence, it appears that it is his obscene preaching that is the cause of the problem. This is a problem, of course, but does it make deportation a suitable idea.
To quote V for Vendetta, you cannot kill an idea. An idea will not go away once the person who shares it is deported. Once the seed is planted in the minds of individuals the removal of the planter will make not a single jot of difference. How many people has Qatada preached to before his detention? Will the removal of the man remove the idea? Of course not. Will the ideas spread in his absence? Quite possibly. In which case, what does the removal achieve? Very little. Sure, it will appease the mob and make some people feel good, but what benefits will a deportation actually bring? And that’s before we even consider the deportation of an individual without due process. Do we really want to live in a country that deals in arbitrary arrest, detention and deportation?
I have to say I agree with Simon Jenkins. Britain’s democracy should be robust enough to deal with a few crazy preachers spreading their mad ideas. If he is guilty of a crime, charge him and put him on trial. If his crime is the planting of ‘dangerous’ ideas in the minds of the impressionable, then put him under surveillance and, when the evidence is gathered, put him on trial. Whether we like them or not, unpalatable ideas and hate speech are not reason enough to deport an individual. We meddle with habeas corpus and the right to free speech at our peril.