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Wednesday, February 15, 2012 

On the rights and hypocrisies of both Abu Qatada and The Sun.

Maajid Nawaz from the inconsistent Quilliam Foundation makes a good point over at the Graun when he says that by approaching the Abu Qatada story from a different angle, it in fact portrays our legal system in a very positive light. Here is someone accused by the most outspoken media sources of wanting every single one of us infidels dead, and yet we're doing our damnedest to secure from Jordan guarantees that he won't face evidence from torture should he be sent back there, in order to a satisfy a court that other European countries in similar circumstances have simply ignored. Rather than it being an outrage that we're letting someone described as a real threat walk the streets, even if it's only for 2 hours a day, it shows that we're not willing to sacrifice the very values that made our society strong in the first place for the sake of a little extra supposed security. As he says, one of the government's own (ridiculously broad) definitions of extremism covers those who attempt to "undermine the rule of law".

Less convincing is his following argument for how we we could limit Qatada's influence, that by highlighting his use of "manmade law" to maintain his status in this country we could undermine his credibility amongst the jihadists that regard any such complicity as heresy. As Nawaz undoubtedly knows, there is also a school of thought within extreme Salafi circles that considers it perfectly permissible to go against their traditional values, as long as through such actions the end result is a blow against the prevailing system they seek to destroy. This isn't to say that Qatada is an adherent to this takfirist way of doing things, even if has, as has been alleged, links to al-Qaida, who have decided on numerous occasions that killing Muslims is acceptable if the ends justify the means. More likely is that he simply doesn't want to go back to Jordan on the perfectly rational basis that it's far more unpleasant in prison there than it is here. Nonetheless, the concept of those who wish us harm using the very protections they themselves don't believe in against us is far easier to understand and complain bitterly about than the supposed damage his hypocrisy might do to his image as a respected extremist sheikh.

Which brings us, however tenuously, to the Sun. The Graun is reporting that "senior journalists" at the paper are considering launching legal action against News Corp's Management and Standards Committee for a potential breach of the Human Rights Act, as previous rulings have found that Article 10 gives sources similar protection to that of hacks themselves. This doesn't necessarily mean that in every instance newspapers wouldn't be forced to hand over material provided to them by sources if it was demanded by a court: the Grand Chamber of the ECHR found that such an order could still be justified "by an overriding requirement in the public interest". Whether this would cover the instances where the MSC has handed such information to the police is dubious, especially if it's true as the Guardian is now reporting that the Sun was keeping some of those leaking material to them on retainers worth thousands of pounds a year.

It could though be worth bringing a case, as Geoffrey Robertson suggested today in (where else?) the Times. Like with Qatada relying on laws he doesn't personally believe in to keep him in this country, so it seems that the same Sun journalists who have been condemning the HRA for years on the orders of their editors may well turn to it in an attempt to stop the Plod from breaking their doors down at six in the morning. While we could then describe this as a example of typical tabloid hypocrisy and humbuggery, we should instead perhaps take our cue from Nawaz: it simply shows that however much they complain about it, the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on which it's based protect both the best and worst in our society equally, just as it should be.

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