Newsnight, the BBC’s most prestigious current affairs programme recently ran an interview with a London-based Muslim cleric called Abu Hamza Al Masri. He is a man of considerable bulk. He wears the supposed Muslim uniform of a flowing white tunic and baggy trousers and the regulation white cap. Hamza has one hand missing and has replaced it, even in this day when artificial limbs are no miracle, with a Captain Hook claw. He is missing one eye which has been replaced by a glass replica. This gives him an altogether sinister appearance -- and one may say that that is a matter for sympathy rather than censure, but for one fact. His appearance is coupled with a lie he perpetrates: that he fought against the Russians in Afghanistan and lost his hand and eye in that war. This falsehood has given him a charisma and built for a him a following amongst gullible young Muslims all over Britain. He uses this following to perpetuate the philosophy of terror.
Why is a cleric worthy of an interview on Newsnight? Because Hamza is an enigma and his continuing presence and license to preach at the Finsbury Park mosque in North London is something of a mystery.
On September the 11th last year he and The Supporters of Sharia, one of the front organisations which he leads, held a ‘celebration’ of the Al Qaeda attack on New York and the Pentagon. A few hundred acolytes from all over Britain gathered to listen to incendiary speeches denouncing America, supporting Al Qaeda and the Taliban and giving thanks for the murder they had perpetrated.
Outside the mosque rival political groups of the extreme right and left in Britain had gathered. The British Movement, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and rabidly anti-Semitic had assembled its meagre troops to demand the extradition of Hamza. The Socialist Alliance had gathered to oppose the British Movement – first things first, eh comrades?—and the Metropolitan Police had been deployed in force to keep the peace.
The peace was kept. Abu Hamza remains unmolested by the British authorities and free to preach his poison despite requests by the FBI to extradite him to America.
The FBI’s request is based on a trail of international terror and mayhem that leads back to Hamza and his mosque. Richard Reid the shoe bomber was a regular at his mosque as was Zacharias Moussaoui the ‘20th man’ held by the US in connection with the 9:11 atrocity. They were not simply members of a religious congregation. Reid has attributed his conversion to terror directly to his meetings which began in Finsbury Park.
Three years earlier, a squad of six British Muslims and their associates set out to kidnap, bomb and kill British citizens in Yemen. This was because they alleged that Britain was supporting the Yemeni government which was not sufficiently Islamic for them. The terrorists kidnapped a British woman tourist who died in the cross fire when the police closed in on them. The six men from Britain were subsequently picked up with armaments, bomb making equipment and plans to blow up the British embassy and the church where the British diplomatic families worshipped.
Ironically, they and their families in Britain immediately applied to the British Foreign Office to intervene on their behalf as they remained British citizens. The hapless diplomats whom they had come to Yemen to kill together with their families, had to go and see them and proffer their assistance in jail. Imagine the interview.
“I shall do my bit to see they treat you well, dear boy…er... I say, you didn't really come here to kill me and my wife and kids , did you old chap?”
One of the terrorists caught and convicted was Abu Hamza’s adopted son. When the police traced the origin of the group to the Finsbury Park mosque, Hamza was unrepentant. The men themselves pleaded that they had gone to Yemen to learn Arabic or buy carpets or heaven knows what. Hamza stood fast. He said if they had gone to kill British diplomats this was laudable and that their martyrdom would be preferable to their life in a world which was, according to the Sharia, imperfect. For good measure he added that he didn’t believe in man-made laws and only acknowledged those made by God as interpreted by him. In the interview on Newsnight, when asked why, if he didn't like Britain he didn't leave, he said “ I am living in a toilet with mine-fields all around”. Presumably he didn’t want to treads on the minefields and go to paradise.
Scotland Yard and a senior British judge have said that they have no concrete evidence to convict Hamza on grounds of instigation to terror. He is of course free to hold his opinions. More moderate Muslims in Britain, who abjure terror and Hamza’s boasts, say he is a clown and that the police find him less dangerous and more useful outside than inside. They can keep an eye on the young men who pass through his well-spread net.
What these disciples don't know is that Hamza’s boasts are a lie. The "healthy" picture in the lead graphic (right-hand side) used for this story was taken in Pakistan 1993. It shows Hamza’s hand and eye are intact. The conflict between the Russians and the Mujaheddin ended in 1989 so he hadn’t been maimed by then. Hamza, an engineer originally from Syria, may or may not have been in that war but he certainly didn't lose his hand and eye in it. His injuries are possibly attributable to some other event: a bomb-making gone wrong?