Strange, but Captain Hook has done Britain a favour

Abu Hamza, alias Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, the Egyptian-born Muslim cleric known to the tabloid newspapers as Captain Hook, is almost everybody’s idea of a pantomime villain.

Until his arrest last week at the request of the United States he preached hatred with impunity, he spat loathing at our society while exploiting us shamelessly — and he is a disgrace to British Muslims. It is a great pity that he managed to obtain British nationality and it is even worse that the home secretary is having so much difficulty stripping him of it, even after changing the law.

Hamza makes a nonsense of British law. Only last month he managed to get a nine-month stay of process as a reward for failing to turn up in court for his appeal against the loss of his British nationality, failing to send his lawyer along and refusing to prepare papers for his case. Such is his deep contempt for this country’s scrupulous liberalism. There can hardly be anybody in Britain who does not think we would be better off without him.

You might think, therefore, that we would all be very grateful that the Americans have suddenly come like the cavalry galloping over the hill to rid us of this turbulent priest, perhaps permanently. They will throw away the key if he is found guilty in a US court of the serious terrorist charges the Americans want to bring against him.

Thank you, Uncle Sam, is what we should be saying. And Uncle Sam will probably be quite grateful, too, thanks to David Blunkett’s new one-sided extradition treaty, to have a larger-than-life cartoon-style Muslim baddy to display to the American populace as a glittering trophy of the war against terror.

Yet in this country the sensational “pre-dawn raid” on Hamza’s home in Shepherd’s Bush has been followed not by jubilation but by angry and suspicious questions. Why did we have such an attention-grabbing raid at all? And why now, suddenly? If Hamza has done such very terrible things as the Americans allege, why did not we know?

Assuming that British police and intelligence services did, in fact, know at least some of it, why has Hamza never been charged with even the smallest crime in this country? At the very least the man has been obstructing the traffic and causing a public nuisance in Finsbury Park, north London, for hours every Friday.

During the recent hearing about Hamza’s citizenship appeal, the Home Office’s QC gave a list of reasons why he should be stripped of his citizenship; some were criminal offences and presumably the barrister had good evidence for his remarks. Why couldn’t, or didn’t, we nab and nail him here? What is wrong with our evidence? We now learn that the Crown Prosecution Service is studying a file on his preachings — but why only now?

Various men from various ministries say that Hamza always, in his obvious incitements to hatred and violence, cunningly kept within the letter of the law — but it didn’t sound like that to the man on the Finsbury Park omnibus.

The official answer to some of these questions, as supplied by Blunkett with skilful obfuscation on Radio 4, is:

1) that Britain does not have the evidence the Americans have, at least not for some of the charges, but that

2) Britain did have evidence enough, of some sort, to lead Blunkett to try to withdraw Hamza’s citizenship and that

3) some of the American evidence, being intercept material, would be inadmissible in open court here.

That may soon change. A Home Office review of ways of using intercept evidence is now concluding. It seems likely that there will be a recommendation for legislation to permit some use of such evidence in open court here, as happens in most other countries. So Britain can hardly be accused by scrupulous liberal souls of sending a man off for trial on evidence that would be inadmissible here. By the time Hamza crosses the Atlantic, if his extradition goes through, the evidence will be admissible in Britain.

However, there are other doubts about sending the man off to the mercies of the US criminal justice system. Although there is no risk that he would be executed, much of the evidence against him comes from terrorist prisoners in American jails who may have been swayed by duress or by deals and might not carry a lot of weight in a British court.

Even if Hamza is in the end spirited away, he will leave some awkward questions behind him. In any liberal democracy there is a difficult compromise to be made between freedom and security and the bad smell behind Hamza is that we have got it wrong, somehow.

We have been both too lax and too quick to change the law, when hard cases make bad law. The extradition treaty of 2003, which came into force earlier this year, is one-sided and was not debated in parliament. Detention of foreigners without trial under recent anti-terrorist legislation is a shocking thing and we seem quickly to have forgotten about the men languishing in Belmarsh prison.

What is long overdue is a tough-minded determination not to let the wrong people enter Britain in the first place. In particular we should refuse entry to the wrong imams. A significant minority of imams are doing great damage and bear responsibility for the alienation of some young Muslims, who are being told to hate this country and are being driven into the hands of extremists and terrorist sympathisers.

There is an increasing number of second and third-rate Islamic clerics who come to this country for dubious purposes, by dubious means. Ignorant and prejudiced, they are not spreading the true teaching of Islam but are perpetrating the outdated notion that Muslims are victims of British colonial oppression and encouraging people to rise up against the rule of the white man.

The reason why the imams are not prosecuted is because the non-Muslim community has no idea of what goes on in mosques. If they did know, the authorities would be scared to intervene for fear of being called racists.

All the above comments about imams are not mine, but those of Lord Ahmed, the Muslim Labour peer, made very courageously about a year ago. The way that imams are recruited for British mosques desperately needs reform. The traditional system — hardly a system at all — is disastrous.

There is nothing to stop a mosque recruiting an ignorant, even illiterate person from a Third World village, who knows nothing of the English language or of Britain or of the spiritual and social needs of British Muslims. If nothing worse, he will be an obstacle to the process of integration here. At worst, he might be another Hamza.

Ahmed and others have long been pressing for something to be done about this obvious problem. Now, at long last, it seems that Tony Blair does have a plan for legislation, seen by The Sunday Times, to stop the wrong sort of imams coming. They will be barred unless they are moderate, English-speaking, educated and sympathetic to the British way of life. How late this is, how limited. Still, better late than never.

Perhaps by forcing us to face these difficult questions and giving us every reason to be tough, Captain Hook has done us some service after all.