[First published in Crescent International (December 2007)]
Last month, a new landmark was reached in Britain's war on freedom with the conviction of Samina Malik, the first woman to be convicted under the Terrorism Act. The 23-year old W. H. Smith shop-assistant was not caught with explosives; nor did she have in her possession blueprints of government buildings or a suicide belt. Samina was caught red-handed with some lines of poetry. This self-styled "lyrical terrorist" spent her spare time writing verse glorifying jihad. Couplets like "For the living martyrs are awakening, and Kuffar's world soon to be shaking", describing the Islamic revival in the face of unprecedented global oppression of Muslims, were deemed to be so inciteful and dangerous that Samina was convicted of collecting articles "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".
In addition to her poems, the evidence against Samina is that she possessed a library of "extremist" literature in her bedroom, including a service manual for a rifle, a copy of the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook and Usama Bin Laden's "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places." All are items easily available on the internet by conducting a basic Google search; they are routinely accessed by researchers, students, journalists, lawyers and curious teenagers. But Samina's possession of these items was deemed to be tainted by the fact that she used screen-names such as "Bint al Shaheed" (a title she says was chosen in honour of her grandmother, who died of liver cancer in 2002) and "Stranger Awaiting Martyrdom". Despite there being no other evidence against her whatsoever, no details of any plot, no co-conspirators, no indication of what she intended to do or where, Samina has been convicted of terrorism and is awaiting sentencing.
To fully comprehend the injustice of this conviction, one need only examine the treatment of non-Muslims apprehended with far more dangerous items than bits of verse on scraps of paper. The week after Samina was convicted, one Gregory Whittam was convicted after police found two home-made bombs at his home in Manchester on 7 July, 2007, the second anniversary of the London bombings. Whittam used to spend hours browsing websites which demonstrated how to make bombs, and was deemed to have an obsession with explosives. Without even being charged under the Terrorism Act, Whittam was given a two-year community supervision order.
Earlier this year, Robert Cottage and David Jackson, two former members of the BNP, appeared in court after police discovered in their homes the largest cache of firearms and chemical explosives ever found in the West Midlands region. The two men also possessed a rocket-launcher, a nuclear biological suit, documents outlining plans to blow up mosques and Islamic centres throughout Britain, notes about a possible attempted assassination of Tony Blair (then prime minister), and notes about an impending civil war against immigrants in Britain. Cottage believed that if there wasn't "blood on the streets", the country would be "lost". He received a two-and-a-half-year sentence for his crimes. His co-defendant, David Jackson, walked free.
Contrast this with the case of Muhammad Atif Siddique, who was convicted last October of a number of terrorism offences after the police found sound and video files glorifying jihad in various parts of the world, as well as downloaded documents on military strategy on his laptop. There was little other evidence against Siddique. Even the prosecutors were forced to admit that they had not found any evidence that Siddique himself was planning to carry out any attack, and that far more extreme material can be found on legal sites run by anti-terror experts such as Evan Kohlmann, who appeared as a witness against Siddique. Siddique was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for what his lawyer, Aamer Anwar, afterwards described as "doing what millions of young people do every day - looking for answers on the internet". Anwar is now facing jail on charges of contempt for court for his comments.
This brief overview of the manner in which some terrorism cases have been dealt with this year alone reveals a serious double standard when it comes to Muslims and the issue of freedom of speech. It appears that for a Muslim to address the issues of the Muslim world in any terms which go beyond capitulation to oppression is to run the risk of falling foul of the anti-terrorism laws. Words such as jihad and shari'ah have been so demonised that part of the evidence against Samina Malik was that she possessed a bracelet with the word jihad engraved on it.
Yet for non-Muslim rap artists, glorifying violence, murder, rape and terrorism is considered acceptable and often glorified as "art". Take for example the following words from a track called "Blood for Blood" by the Wu-Tang Clan:
To all my Universal Soldier's: stay at attention while I strategize an invasion; the mission be assassination, snipers hitting Caucasians with semi-automatic shots heard around the world; my plot is to control the globe and hold the world hostage . . . see, I got a war plan more deadlier than Hitler . . . lyrical specialist, underworld terrorist . . . keep the unity thick like mud . . . I pulling out gats , launching deadly attacks...
Or for a far cruder and more recent example, look at the following by DMX in a track entitled "X is Coming":
And I'm gunnin' for your spouse
Tryin' to send that bitch
Back to her maker
And if you got a daughter older than 15
I'ma rape her, take her
On the living room floor
Right there in front of you
Then ax you seriously, 'what you wanna do?
These are only two relatively moderate examples of the indoctrination which millions of young people undergo everyday in a society which glorifies these artists as heroes and role-models. Yet when Samina Malik, with no previous criminal record, scribbles a poem about beheading, she is considered such a threat to society that she should be incarcerated for terrorism.
Muslims have to be concerned about these severe restrictions on their freedom of speech and expression. Last month, an internal Whitehall document was disclosed which stated that the number of terrorist prisoners is projected to soar to 1,600 by 2016 or 2017: 1,300 of them are expected to be classified as maximum-risk category-A prisoners. Currently there are 131 terrorist prisoners in jails in England and Wales. Judging by the fact that most of those who have been convicted of terrorism until now have been "no closer to a bomb or a firearm than a computer keyboard", as a High Court judge described Younis Tsouli before sentencing him to ten years' imprisonment, it seems that these 1,600 prisoners will consist of more Samina Maliks than Muhammad Siddique Khans. Tsouli's conviction is fascinating because the judge himself, Justice Openshaw, stated that Tsouli and his two co-defendants had only engaged in 'cyber-jihad' and declared that "It would seem that internet websites have become an effective means of communicating such ideas." This suggests that these men were convicted not for their actions but for their ideas. Consequently, they were sentenced to a total of 24 years between them: such sentences are normally reserved for the worst crimes of murder and rape.
It is absolutely clear that this clampdown is part of a wider attempt to engineer a version of Islam that is devoid of the concepts of jihad, martyrdom, ummah and ikhwah. Last September Sheykh Riyadh ul-Haqq, one of the most respected and influential Deobandi scholars in Britain, came under severe scrutiny for his lectures. The Times reproduced no less than five entire speeches of his: "Infinite Justice"; "Jewish Fundamentalism and the Muslims"; "The Globalised Suffering of the Muslims"; "On our Responsibilities as Muslims"; and "Imitating the Disbelievers". In these lectures Sheykh Riyadh has addressed the plight of Muslims around the world, the hypocrisy and double standards of Western governments, the need for Muslims to concern themselves with tackling oppression and establishing social justice rather than their own personal problems, Muslim identity, and apartheid and occupation in Palestine. The subsequent witch-hunt against Sheykh Riyadh and the Deobandi community implies that discussing these issues is incompatible with Western 'values'. To discuss the oppression of Muslims in Britain and abroad is to spread extremism; to speak of Allah's justice and punishment of the oppressors is to promote terrorism; even to mention the J-word is high treason.
But Muslim scholars are not the only leaders promoting holy war and martyrdom. On 28 October, 2007, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI beatified almost 500 Catholics who died during the Spanish Civil War. He stated in the course of the ceremonies that:
The contemporaneous inclusion of such a large number of martyrs to the list of the blessed shows that the supreme witness of blood is not an exception reserved only to a few individuals, but is a realistic possibility for the entire Christian people. We are in fact talking about men and women who vary in terms of age, vocation and social background but who paid with their life their faithfulness to Christ and the Church â€¦Their example bears witness to the fact that the baptism commits Christians to participate with courage to expand the kingdom of God going so far as sacrificing their very lives.
This statement, which glorifies martyrdom, by the spiritual leader of one sixth of the world's population went virtually unreported in the mainstream press and media, despite the fact that he spoke about an issue that even most Muslim scholars today stay away from: the concept of offensive jihad to expand the "kingdom of God" and being prepared to sacrifice one's own life in the process.
One scrap of paper used in evidence against Samina Malik contained the following words: "The desire within me increases every day to go for martyrdom, the need to go increases second by second." Given the conditions of Muslims in the world today, it is hardly surprising that many in Britain recognise this sentiment.