The successful prosecution of Abu Hamza for incitement to murder brings only partial satisfaction. The cleric uttered his incitements to kill for years before being charged.
It is also worth noting, given the controversy surrounding the repressive legislation the Government is still trying to pass to stop expressions of hatred, that the prosecution succeeded under laws that have long been on the statute book. Hamza was swift, after his conviction, to claim he was on the path to martyrdom, ” prisoner of faith” and that his case was “politically motivated”.
Only those as twisted as he is could begin to believe that. His hatred of Jews in particular was, as he chose to express it, simply criminal. He merits no sympathy and there is no room for mitigation. He knew what he was doing and he has had what was coming to him: some would argue, perhaps less than he should. He was made to answer to justice for flagrant breaches of the law of the land, as any other person within our jurisdiction would have been. Justice has, clearly if belatedly, been seen to be done.
Such disquiet as remains hinges upon the political interference in the Hamza case. It was indicative of the Government’s obsessive fear of the ramifications of this case that Downing Street chose, unusually, to comment on the rightness of the verdict yesterday. It did not, sadly, comment on whether at an earlier stage political pressure was applied to hold off from such a prosecution.
He should have been brought before the courts in 1999, when his message of murderous hate became unequivocally clear. It may be no coincidence that the Government voiced its approval of the verdict at a time when support for the extremists of the British National Party appears to be rising. The only political motivation behind this trial, it appears, was to be found in the reluctance to bring it about.
The Government, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police must now act to allay public fears about the selective application of justice. It is especially necessary after the acquittal last week of BNP leader Nick Griffin, who was prosecuted far more rapidly for uttering statements which, however vile, fell far short of the incitement to kill practised by Abu Hamza.
Following the BNP case, and the police’s failure to arrest anyone at the provocative anti-Danish protests last week, there is a growing feeling that the law of the land is being applied partially, and, worse, that the police are under political instruction to do so. This is not merely unhealthy, it is unsustainable.
It was an egregious error of the Director of Public Prosecutions yesterday to add, for his part, that this was not “Islam on trial”, but merely Abu Hamza: and that Hamza had misinterpeted the Koran. Such gratuitous post-facto explanations exemplify officialdom’s belief that even Muslim criminals require some form of special handling. We are all, theoretically, equal under the law. It is time that those who rule, police and judge us bore that more prominently in mind.