"We cannot support those who are ignorant and try to vent themselves using easy targets which have nothing to do with the war. They don’t even know what the war is about. The only Islamic way to tackle this point is for Muslims to enjoin the good and forbid the evil within their own communities. To ask people to come and learn about the religion and not to actually abuse our history, to abuse the verses of the Quran which says don't kill women, don't kill a child, don't kill the elderly, don't kill the disabled, don't kill those who worship, don't destroy the churches, don't destroy the synagogues, don't destroy mosques, it's all in our religion and it’s all in clear verses so how can we escape from it?"
You wouldn’t be blamed for concluding that these words are from a Muslim who believes in protecting innocent people and places from acts of indiscriminate violence and destruction. You might even consider asking this person to get involved in programmes to prevent violent extremism, especially if he’s influential. What you wouldn't deduce is that these are the sentiments of a certain Egyptian Imam from London who was soon after imprisoned for incting violence. The extract above however, is from a fiery street-sermon delivered by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a year before 7th July bombings. This was all recorded (45:43) by major British television channels but, unlike almost everything else Abu Hamza said back then, it was never reported.
Abu Hamza’s is a story of seemingly endless contradictions: he fought on our side; he’s our worst enemy. This country’s a paradise; this country’s a toilet. He’s being extradited; no he’s not. The Queen’s concerned he’s still here, we’re told; we’re sorry we told them that, ma’am. But there is one thing that’s not a contradiction: people hate him; people really love to hate him.
It’s hard to think of any other figure in the UK who conjures up such vitriol in the press, amongst politicians and ordinary people than Sheikh Abu Hamza. He epitomises numerous stereotypical prejudices people used to have – along with some modern ones: a one-eyed, hooked-handed, Arab-Muslim immigrant; a prisoner, a terrorism suspect who takes state benefits while preaching hate as he extols the virtues of jihad against the occupation of Muslim countries (in a strange accent, wearing strange clothes).
“Hooky” as he’s referred to has been told to “sling your hook” many a time by the indignant tabloid press. You could not imagine any other severely disabled person being referred to by virtue of his disability in such a derogatory manner, particularly in a country that has proudly hosted the Paralympics. But its Abu Hamza, you’re allowed to hate.
It may be lost on most people that he sustained his horrific injuries – the loss of both arms and an eye – from a demining project he was conducting in Afghanistan, at a time when Britain was bringing over and training Afghan mujahideen to fight against Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan and supplying them with the Blowpipe antiaircraft missile system.
Still, Abu Hamza has developed more than just physical disabilities. That his views were repugnant to many there is no doubt. His controversial, even inflammatory comments certainly helped cement many people’s views of him. Avoiding public scorn was unavoidable as a result. But his vocal opposition of the war and support for Afghan and Iraqi resistance, the mujahideen, could not be allowed to continue unabated while British soldiers were fighting, killing and dying against them. Thus, he was arrested under anti-terror legislation in August 2004, but was ‘dearrested’ four days later. He remained in prison pending a US extradition request while separate non-terrorism related charges were prepared against him. (The US allegations against him pertain to his involvement in the setting up of a training camp in Oregon and his relationship to kidnappers who took 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, some of whom were killed. Despite three of the dead being Britons Abu Hamza has never been charged in the UK with any offences relating to the incident.)
The Abu Hamza trial for encouraging murder and stirring up racial hatred began on 5th July 2005, two days before the London bombings but was adjourned until the following year when he was found guilty. Despite his vocal opposition to the July 7th and 11th Septmber atrocities Abu Hamza’s fate had been sealed in a climate of fear in which Prime Minster Blair’s rules of the game had changed. Consequently, Abu Hamza was handed a seven year sentence.
Serving his term in prison did not however, mean freedom for Abu Hamza. Instead he remains incarcerated without trial like four others facing imminent extradition to the US where they will stay in custody until their trial and, if convicted will start a new term in prison in ADX Florence where Muslim prisoners are disproportionately kept. This ‘supermax’ penitentiary was described by a former warden as a “clean version of hell”. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez opined that this facility violates human rights on the basis that prisoners average ‘8.2 years in solitary confinement’.
A key factor which has been ignored in the saga of Abu Hamza is the peculiar role of self-styled terrorism expert Glen Jevney who collected data on Abu Hamza after setting up fake websites and phone calls with him in order to carry out a ‘sting’ which he informed the FBI about. In a detailed email received by CagePrisoners Jevney claims that information he gave to newspapers made the front page on more than one occasion and that Abu Hamza “was arrested in London by the police on an American arrest warrant as a direct result of the tapes that I had supplied.”
The bizarre twist comes in Jevney’s same communication:
I confirm that I do not want to give evidence against Abu Hamza.I have contacted the legal attaché at the American Embassy in London and withdrawn my 6 page statement, 6 video tapes, and 20 audio tapes which were given to the FBI in New York by the anti terrorism squad and bagged up and sealed in front of me by the police. I have been told that they will have to now destroy the evidence. I have withdrawn it and it cannot be used in any way in the extradition case or and trail against Sheikh Abu Hamza. I made this call on the 26th June 2009.
If this is true it is hard to see how the extradition case against Abu Hamza can proceed, especially if the evidence against him cannot be used. Jevney goes even further in a later communication, adding:
But I would gIve evidence for defence
The boldest of Jevney’s claims however, is the allegation that Police officers released his witness statement about Abu Hamza for cash in a letter sent to the IPCC. If true the potential damage it will do to reputation of the Police service will be far worse than anything Abu Hamza has done, whether or not it meets with the monarch's approval.
Considering Jevney was himself arrested for inciting racial hatred after fabricating a story of an Islamist terror plot against Lord Alan Sugar and other prominent Jews it is hard to decipher all the facts but it is clear that the Abu Hamza story has been deliberately spun, especially in Rupert Murdoch press.
Videographer Dave Bones, who recorded the media’s live reporting of Abu Hamza said:
“They were doing pieces to camera about what Abu Hamza was saying before he said it. Hamza always said he doesn’t agree with suicide bombing in this country. I thought that was negligent not putting that on television.”
Still, people closer to Abu Hamza already knew his views were not as black and white as reported. Friends in unexpected places still exist, where hate isn’t on the agenda. He had long-standing relationships with a Jewish Orthodox Rabbi and a London vicar both who gave evidence in defence of Abu Hamza at his trial. Anglican priest Reverend Stephen Coles has been his friend and confidant since the late 1990s when both men, as leaders of their respective congregations in the Finsbury Park area of London, began engaging in interfaith discussions which continue in prison to this day. He will miss their chats together.
Abu Hamza, like the other four extradition prisoners, may be gone from the UK within the coming days and quite possibly spend the rest of his life in a US prison but, the one-eyed, hook-handed and despised ‘hate-preacher’ will leave us with another unexpected message: “I forgive everyone, even those who campaigned against me.”