Qatada’s appeal to ‘manmade’ justice will damage his credibility. It’s obeying the rule of law that makes Britain stronger
By Maajid Nawaz
15th February 2012
Follow Maajid here on twitter @maajidnawaz
Narratives – the way any story is portrayed and how it acquires its power to influence – are there for the taking. Sadly, all too often, it is the extremists who excel in spinning particular stories to young Muslims about political events, and we have the power to make it either easier or more difficult for them.
Take for example the release of Abu Qatada. This incident could have been portrayed as a triumph for the very British concept of fairness, even over our sworn enemies, and the primacy of the rule of law. This was not an example of the system failing, it was an example of everything that makes our system great. We could have sought Qatada’s legal repatriation to his home country by striving to work with Jordan to meet the conditions of the European court, again within the rule of law. This would have allowed us to have undermine the extremist narrative that claims that this is a nation intent on destroying Islam and Muslims by hook or by crook, and one prepared to compromise its own values to do so.
Instead, popular hysteria focused on the apparent “failure” of the system. Shrill voices arose calling upon the prime minister to simply ignore the law. Eurosceptics suddenly turned to France and Italy for the lead. If those countries ignore the law when it suits them, why can’t we? In the end, we were asked to do exactly what we hate the terrorists for doing – make up the law as we go along. Thankfully, the government didn’t take this course. Its own definition of extremism includes “those who wish to undermine the rule of law”. Imagine the consequences if it had.
But this brings us to the how Qatada’s own followers may currently view him. What is being said about this incident within jihadist circles? Which of these narratives could be used to our advantage? We shouldn’t assume that this man has retained credibility among his old guard. Put yourselves into the mind of a jihadist, if you can. These are men who fight with their lives to destroy “manmade” law and the infidel system of democracy. Appealing to this system for justice, seeking legal remedy from the disbeliever, amounts to the very heresy they strive to remove.
The fact that Qatada has spent a large part of his incarceration appealing to the House of Lords and European court of human rights is a fatwa in itself. Qatada has proved with his actions that he believes it religiously permissible to seek legal remedy from “the infidel”; to appeal to British justice. He has shown that it is legitimate to appeal to the values of human rights that he and his cohorts had hitherto sought to destroy. To top it all, Qatada succeeded in convincing “the infidel” to keep him here, safe from his fellow Muslims in Jordan who may harm him. Not only had he appealed to manmade law for a judgment, he has accepted the protection of infidels over Muslims because he believes them fairer and less likely to harm him than his own brothers in Jordan. And for some reason this system, that surely hates him, risked the wrath of its own public to keep him safe. Has he switched sides?
Appealing to manmade law for judgment over God, and seeking protection from the infidel against Muslims are both matters that render one an enemy apostate in hardcore jihadist ideology. It may not be as easy as we imagine for this man to regain his former status as Europe’s leading jihadist ideologue.
Sadly, we haven’t so far taken advantage of this strand of thinking. Rather than focusing on the fact that adhering to the rule of law is what makes this country strong, and what makes extremists weak, we have as usual surrendered the narrative to the extremists. We have undermined ourselves. By calling for our own country to bypass the rule of law, as we did with rendition, detentions without charge and even joining the war against Iraq, we have proven once more that we stand ready to abandon our values the moment the going gets tough. We did so while claiming that this is a war of values. The good news is that the government has not surrendered to pressure, and is seeking a remedy within the rule of law. While doing so, it would do well to remember that the narrative belongs to those who seize it.
Full article available on the Guardian website