The United States of America is holding seven British citizens in Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay. Feroz Abassi, Shafiq Rasul, Jamal Udeen, Asif Iqbal, Ruhal Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul and Martin Mubanga have been held variously for a year without being charged or tried. The US administration maintains that they are all well trained, hard-boiled terrorists, combatants captured fighting for Al Qa-eda and the Taliban in Tora Bora, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and Kunduz. They were voluntarily fighting the allied forces of the war against terror which President Bush, supported by Prime Minister Blair unleashed in Afghanistan with the sanction of the UN.
Their families, legal representatives and sympathisers in Britain claim that they are being treated very harshly. Their US captors counter-claim that they get three meals a day, with halal meat, pitta bread as a substitute for naan – the bread of the Middle East and a staple of British supermarkets - and sea breezes entering their cells. The US army which runs the base has painted arrows in each cell which point to Mecca to enable them to orient their prayers.
Conventions demand that prisoners held in war should be released once hostilities are over. If the US contends that it is fighting a war against terrorism and that the hostilities are far from over, they should produce evidence that these young men were involved in terror. None of them had bombs in their shoes or were caught attempting explosive suicide in public places. They are clearly not that sort of terrorist. They are combatants who knowingly took arms against Queen and country.
They should be released forthwith and despatched to Britain. There would be no point allowing them to seek refuge in Somalia or the lawless upper reaches of Pakistan. They should be welcomed in Britain, their ‘native land’, and put on trial for treason.
Britain desperately needs such a trial. It is the only forum in which a contention that has spread through several communities in the country can be brought to light, examined and challenged. At the trial their accusers, people who saw them in combat and captured them will give evidence. In examining their motives, the Crown should produce the best Islamic theologians who are prepared to quote Koranic chapter and verse, the Haddith and the Sharia to challenge the contention that Muslims have a bounden duty to flatten Western civilisation and set up an Islamic state through Europe and the world.
The defence may attempt to wreck this purging of the national consciousness by contending, as Tarek Dergoul of Moroccan parentage does, that he went to Pakistan to learn Arabic. That’s like saying you went to Australia to learn Latin. Jamal Udeen says he took the wrong road from Pakistan and happened to end up in Kandahar. Then someone thrust a gun I his hand and pointed it….. Some defence lawyers will no doubt contend that their clients were innocent ice-cream vendors who are being held because the US is keen to protect Ben and Jerry’s franchise.
The flim flam will have to be ditched before the trial can get down to the essential business of publicly debating the ideology of the British recruits to the current jehad. The guilt or innocence of the seven is not the only issue, or even the main issue at stake. Britain needs a fair, open and high profile show trial.
British intelligence sources estimate that Al Qaeda and its network of associated organisations have recruited at the least 4000 British citizens. The failure of this country to ideologically confront this madness will prove criminally negligent and very costly in the near and distant future.
It may be that MI5 is on full alert and keeping tabs on all the young men who journey to Pakistan to ‘get married’, learn Hungarian or indeed train as ice-cream salesmen. In the ex-Mill-to-Mosque towns which now have, through the immigration of the past fifty years, Muslim enclaves and also in the ‘Asia Clubs’ and Muslim Societies of Universities, there is sympathy for the jehadi ideology. It turns active when it resolves itself into cells that recruit members for the Tabliq-e-Jamaat and other organisations that supply the jehad with money and men.
The visits to Mosques by the Prince of Wales, the photo opportunities in Downing Street for Blair with Muslim ‘leaders’ only serve to fuel the contempt that the fundamentalist radicals feel for the British State. These may be intended as signs of reassurance to liberal Muslims, but where are these liberal Muslims? Is any one of the photo opportunists seriously willing to confront the prevalent fundamentalist jehadi ideology and tell their fellow Muslims that killing the innocent is heresy against Islam and the path to hell? Are any of them willing to organise to purge the national well of this poison?
In Britain we don’t put ideologies on trial. A trial for treason is the only excuse the state can use to confront the heresy that motivates the men who sneak away. One can, as an alternative to such a show trial, stage TV debates or run series in newspapers that end up in boastful statements of why some white woman is proud to be a Muslim convert. These gestures amount to elementary violin lessons while Bradford, Burnley, Oldham, Tipton and other towns smoulder.
If the jehadis have the least conviction in what they believe, let it be produced as evidence in court. Revolutionaries have adopted this dramatic form throughout history; " I don't recognise the authority of this court. It is part of the conspiratorial corruption of the great Satan… "etc. etc. The denunciatory arguments should be encouraged to emerge in detail and in all their theological and moral indignation and substance. Let’s hear them and challenge them. It is appropriate in a trial for a crime such as treason to examine the motive as part of the evidence.
Confronting the ideology with Islamic counter-ideology in so public and national a forum will force Britain to debate and contemplate how it is going to live with Islam. Nothing less.
Show trials are associated with powers that wish to demonstrate their ruthlessness and ability to crush pour encourager les autres. This one must be a show trial to demonstrate the tolerance and humility of Western law.
The misguidedness of the alleged traitors is bound to emerge. Britain is not about to hang them even if they are found guilty. They will, knowing the mood of the country be pardoned for treason and may be punished with community service -- repainting churches or repairing the synagogues like the one in East London that was recently damaged by vandals. Or they may simply be free to go back to their homes and draw state benefits till they find appropriate employment. They may not need to, of course. They should be allowed to sell their stories as celebrities do and the proceeds donated to the British Army Widow’s fund.
Farrukh Dhondy is a writer and columnist living in England. He is the author of C.L.R. James: A Life.