Hamza Hook: a panto villain

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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Pantomime Abu Hamza, the infamous one-eyed, hook-handed preacher, is an Islamist bigot and cheerleader for Osama bin Laden, whose appearance and utterances often bring to mind the words ‘lunatic’ and ‘raving’. What he is not, however, is a mortal threat to Western civilisation.

This week the Government’s drawn-out attempt to strip Abu Hamza of British citizenship and deport him descended further into farce. To judge by the furious public reaction to the latest delay in the court procedures, one might imagine that the beak had released bin Laden himself on bail. But while he might look the part, the preacher from Finsbury Park mosque, dubbed ‘Captain Hook’ by the tabloids, is little more than a panto villain. Building up Abu Hamza into Britain ’s public enemy No 1 will do wonders for his inflated ego, but nothing to address real problems.

Yes, Abu Hamza likes to stick his hook into raw nerves by saying that suicide bombers are blessed martyrs, or that the terror attacks on September 11 were a Jewish plot. He also apparently believes, as he told a Trafalgar Square rally, that ‘Allah is the owner of Britain’. So what? Are we so afraid of these execrable excuses for arguments that we must gag him? If people from the Home Office downwards can be unnerved by the melodramatic antics of a crank, it surely reveals less about the imaginary power of Abu Hamza than about our society’s all-too-real feelings of insecurity and impotence.

In setting out the case against Abu Hamza before the court on Monday, the Government’s QC presented no evidence that he had been actively involved in acts of terrorism. Instead he accused the Egyptian-born cleric of having ‘promoted anti-Western sentiment and violence through his preaching’.

That may be offensive to many. But even under David Blunkett’s amazing expanding anti-terrorism laws, it is not yet a crime to promote anti-Western sentiment. And nor should it be. When it comes to the civilised values that we ought to be defending, none is more important than free speech. As Lord Justice Sedley put it when throwing out a case brought against a ranting evangelical Christian preacher: ‘Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.’

We may abhor what the likes of Abu Hamza say, and tell them so. But so long as we are dealing with words and not violent deeds, people of all faiths and none should be free to hate just as we should be free to offend them without fear of the law.

Abu Hamza’s crankish sermons are not the reason why some British Muslim youths are drawn towards Islamic extremism. Treating them as mindless attack dogs that will jump at their master’s voice looks like a way of avoiding the awkward question of what it is about British and Western society that could make the backward cant of religious fundamentalism seem an attractive alternative. How much easier it is to knock down a one-eyed bogeyman.

Worse, the campaign against Abu Hamza could become a self-fulfilling mission. By building up his image as a formidable opponent, the authorities have succeeded in making him appear an heroic resistance fighter among some disaffected young Muslims. Without all the cameras, he would be invisible.

If you want a snapshot of his true importance in political life, look at the widely-reported little scuffle outside Finsbury Park mosque between some of his supporters and a few members of the National Front: two equally irrelevant fringe sects, each of them given life only by the oxygen of paranoiac publicity.

Captain Hook is a panto villain who can be brought on stage to scare the children, and perhaps to get them rooting for Peter Pan and Wendy. Those who want to sort out the real-life relationships between the West, Islam and the War on Terror will need a more grown-up approach than that.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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