***Since this article was written, Abu Qatada has indicated that, if Jordan ratified a Treaty drawn up by the UK government, which would protect Qatada from evidence gained from torture being used against him, then he would voluntarily return to Jordan.***
The British government, represented through the actions of Home Secretary Theresa May, has lost yet another round in the legal battle to have radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada deported from the UK to Jordan. Media channels showed now familiar pictures of Qatada with a subtle but apparent grin. Some interpret the grin as non verbal communication along the lines of, “I oppose the freedoms you stand for and I would cause you harm but I’m going to use your legal system to secure my freedoms here.” In response, May has signed yet another ‘treaty’ with Jordan to present as evidence that, upon any future deportation, Qatada will receive a fair trial in Jordan. Whether the courts will accept this and finally permit Qatada’s deportation remains to be seen. Among other voices, previous Home Secretary under New Labour, Dr John Reid, said on the radio that while the government wasn’t out of options in its efforts to deport Qatada, it was running dangerously close.
This all brings a frustrated sense of deja vu. Back in December last year, the UK public were riled by another photo of an apparently grinning Qatada, having defeated the government in court again on the grounds that if he was deported to face trial in Jordan, his human rights (those same rights he would deny to others) would be breached. The public mood was summed up by Prime Minister David Cameron stating he was “completely fed up” with the whole situation. The Jordanian born radical Muslim cleric had just won an appeal preventing the UK government deporting him to his home country. The Special Immigration Appeals Committee (SIAC) ruled he could not be extradited to face trial in Jordan on bomb plot charges because there was a danger that evidence gained through torture could be used against him (according to Human Rights Watch, Jordan regularly tortures prisoners). If extradited he will face a retrial “…for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions on Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999. He was found guilty of terrorism offences in his absence in Jordan in 1999. Security chiefs believe he played a key ideological role in spreading support for suicide bombings.”
He was granted asylum by Britain in 1993, citing religious persecution in Jordan. After 9/11 he encouraged attacks on US and UK citizens. Qatada has advocated violent protest, including against women and children, to overthrow foreign regimes in Middle Eastern countries, favouring instead Islamic regimes. He was described by a Judge as Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe. Both Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a plane mid-Atlantic with a shoe bomb, and Zacarias Moussaoui, part of the 9/11 plot, are alleged to have sought advice from Qatada. Qatada has spent most of the last 10 years in custody in the UK while the legal battle to deport him has continued.
After having finally succeeded in extraditing another radical Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza, to the US in October last year, the UK government were hoping Qatada would be on the next plane out (and, in retrospect unwisely, declared such publicly). After the European Court of Human Rights previously upheld his appeal against deportation on the ground that his human rights would be in danger, and in an effort to hasten his extradition, British Home Secretary Theresa May flew to Jordan personally and “…Britain and Jordan signed an agreement on Qatada’s extradition that stipulated he would not be subjected to torture or other mistreatment at the hands of Jordanian officials.”
Unfortunately for the government, SIAC rejected Jordan’s assurances, arguing there were insufficient safeguards to prevent evidence from the torture of other witnesses being used against Qatada. SIAC concluded that Qatada was not likely to receive a fair trial and his extradition was stopped. Qatada is currently in Belmarsh Prison after breaching his bail conditions while the lengthy legal battle with appeal and counter appeal continues. He therefore currently remains in the UK, in order to protect his human rights, as the government is legally required to do, at great cost to tax payers and policing resources.
In December last year, when peaceful protesters gathered outside his house (where he and his family live at taxpayers expense) after his release from Long Lartin prison, Qatada’s family asked to be moved for their own safety and they were then rehoused. Many feel he is making a mockery of the law on grounds that while he shows disregard for others human rights and would support regimes where human rights are treated with contempt, the courts are protecting his own human rights. While many are understandably furious and frustrated, some have nonetheless said this shows that western ‘civilised society’ follows higher standards than those who wish us harm, showing a better way by protecting the human rights even of those who disregard them.
It is easy and natural to be angry and cry foul, yet, as Christians, should we not be doing what Jesus requested and loving our enemies? Even those who would kill us and deprive us of our freedoms, freedoms millions died to secure in two world wars? Jesus Himself, at the very moment He was being tortured and murdered by those who hated Him and all He stood for, said “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus was advocating forgiveness, not excusing or condoning His persecutors. Jesus doesn’t qualify who we should love, He doesn’t qualify who He died to save, He doesn’t qualify who will be in heaven with Him. It is anyone who trusts in Him. He doesn’t say, “Love your enemies…except Qatada, or bin Laden, or anyone who hates and harms you.” Jesus instructs His followers to love their enemies, without qualification. That is not easy, it can be the most difficult act of following Jesus we may ever face and may draw the wrath even of fellow Christians, but it is what Jesus asks of us. Forgiveness, showing Christ-like love and compassion, is not excusing or condoning or denying justice, it is obeying the same Jesus who loves and died for the worst of the worst, as well as everyone else.
In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus tells His disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” This is not an easy task by any means and may challenge everything we understand about what being a Christian means, but it is a command of Jesus.
While it is right to do everything lawful to expel Qatada, the question remains whether Christians, and indeed anyone else, should show more of a ‘love your enemy’ attitude, even to someone who would harm us and our way of life? Yet there is a balance taught in the Bible. According to Romans 13:4, the government has a duty to protect its citizens from harm and ensure that justice is done but also to ensure a fair trial. By defending the human rights of even the worst, are we not showing that we believe in justice and apply this to our enemies as well as friends? It also shows that we believe in justice rather than vengeance.
Maria Mayo, in an article entitled: “Remembering 9/11: Between Forgiveness and Revenge”, quotes Mary Fetchet, whose son Brad was killed in the 9/11 attacks, telling NBC Nightly News, just after Osama bin Laden had been killed by US Marines, “There is no closure when you lose a son in a terrorist attack…I wanted accountability, but I feel if you have revenge, then they win in the end.”
There are numerous accounts of victims of appalling criminal acts, finding it in their hearts to forgive and to pray for the salvation of the criminal. There are accounts of criminals seeking God because of the compassion shown by their victims. There are also accounts of Christian victims who know they ought to forgive but, deep down, find such an attitude too difficult to practise. For some people, it takes time (sometimes years) and prayer to reach the place where they are willing to forgive. For others, that place is never reached.
The Qatada situation raises the question of whether a person who would deny the human rights of others, should have their own human rights upheld? If we believe Jesus instruction to ‘love your enemy’ then the answer can only be yes. While the frustration of the British government and public is tangible, and some even suggest ignoring the law and simply putting Qatada on a plane anyway, others have grudgingly acknowledged that while it is right to seek Qatada’s extradition to Jordan for trial, it is also right that this should be done within the bounds of the law. Some have argued the very fact Qatada is given a house and ‘safe haven’ in the UK until he can be lawfully removed, shows Christian care in itself.
To love those who wish us harm and perpetrate evil against us is not easy, it is difficult, emotionally painful and intellectually challenging…but so, sometimes, is following Jesus.
Any thoughts welcome 🙂