From lyrical to physical.
On the face of it, especially if you consider some parts of the prosecution case, that Malik was arrested after it was found she had been in contact with Sohail Qureshi (not apparently the man of Canadian descent also linked to terrorism), a man who it seems was preparing to travel to Pakistan with nefarious intentions, that she had been a member of "Jihad Way" an online group dedicated to spreading the word about the glorious nature of holy war and that she had in her possession a number of manuals, one called the "The Mujaheddin (sic) Poisoner's Handbook", as well as the "Encyclopaedia Jihad", you'd come to the conclusion that the way she's been defended by some is, like she might well be, naive.
Some of the reporting certainly has been. Despite the Grauniad report, Malik was not convicted on the basis of her doggerel, although that was a major part of the prosecution case which attempted to show she was, in the prosecution's words, "a committed Islamic extremist", but on her possession of the above mentioned manuals. She was convicted under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, for possessing material "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".
All well and good you might think. When though does simply possessing something which cannot in itself be used to commit an act of terrorism become a criminal offence? Does simply searching Google for the documents, as I just have, suggest that I'm looking for something that might be useful if I so wish to commit an act of terrorism? Does it matter if the documents themselves are laughable in the extreme, as these collated works often are? The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, for instance, to give it its proper name, takes its recipes from the Poisoner's Handbook, and as Dick Destiny describes, that particular book was published in the 80s and originates from the neo-Nazi right in America, where many of the other bomb and poison recipes now available in "jihad" manuals first came from. The Encyclopedia Jihad, presuming the one Malik had was the manual and not the scholary text, is in Arabic and has as far as I can see, not been translated into English, except in brief excerpts by writers on jihad by Evan Kohlmann and the SITE Institute. How she was supposed to use it when she couldn't understand it doesn't seem to have been questioned. As for two of the other manuals she had, such as how to win in hand to hand combat, there's been nothing to suggest that isn't just a bone-headed general document rather than one about taking part in holy war, although I did find this useful guide to how to kill zombies when your only weapons are your fists, while How to Make Bombs is a similarly general term and could be related to numerous laughable tomes. According to this one article, that phrase is one of the most popular search terms in New Zealand, not known for its Islamic zealots. Other things she may have had possession of were a manual on how to operate a rifle, which should be handy when you don't have one, and the text of the bin Laden "fatwa" declaring war on the Americans in Saudi Arabia, also freely available as well as for sale in a collection of his pronouncements.
What we're left with after all that is Malik's verse about the infidels, her declaration on a social networking site that she wanted to help the "mujahideen" in every way she could, and that she watched the taped executions carried out in Iraq. There doesn't seem to have been any actual videos found on her computer, otherwise they would have been mentioned, but to go by her verse on beheading it seems likely she probably has seen them. Then again, so have I, as have doubtless hundreds of thousands of others on the internet who have an interest in the gruesome or who are just inquisitive. Malik was found not guilty of possessing the material she had with the intention of personally carrying out a terrorist act, and she was never accused of inciting terrorism itself.
In my view she is, as the judge described her, an enigma. Was she genuinely involved and in contact with those were interested in jihad? It seems likely. Was she though despite this a Walter Mitty character, a fantasist who despite working at WHSmiths in Heathrow was just writing out her thoughts on the back of receipts while bored, influenced by a passing craze? The court heard that she had previously written poetry about American rappers, showing she had gone from one extreme to the other, the all encompassing celebration of materialism and wealth to the almost nihilistic hatred espoused by the knife-wielding beheaders of Iraq. Had she simply found somewhere she thought that she belonged, never likely to act out what some of those she may have had contact with were themselves considering? We simply don't know.
I do however think that the sentence given to her is the best of all worlds. A lengthy prison sentence for simply possessing documents, whatever happens to be written in them, is an insult to both liberalism and liberty. It's not far from there to the burning of books themselves. Malik has instead been caught, has shown apparent remorse, and will now likely be strictly monitored in what she does. The overwhelming impression of her is of an immature woman, easily influenced, who searched for something to help define herself. She chose extremist Islam, and has been rebuked for it. David T from Harry's Place has played the card that if she had been white and interested in neo-Nazism or child pornography we wouldn't be tying ourselves in knots defending her, but I'd like to think that most of those who have, excepting the Muslim Council of Britain, would have done. Holding extremist views and writing about them is not a crime, even if you have documents that just might be useful to terrorists. Acting on them is. Losing sight of that is the sign of a shift from a liberal democracy to an authoritarian one.