Yesterday, amidst all the furore about Mohammed Emwazi, I heard the research director of the campaign organisation, Cage, being grilled on Radio 4’s Today programme about the charity’s supposed “support” for Omar Bakri Muhammad Fustuq, a well-known Islamic hate preacher who is currently being held in an underground cell in a Lebanese prison and may well be being tortured.
As is now sadly expected in BBC news interviews, Mishal Husain reduced the issue to a very black-and-white one: Cage is supporting a hate preacher, therefore Cage is tacitly supporting terrorism.
The young man she was interviewing tried to explain. Cage vigorously condemns what Omar Bakri stands for and what he preaches, but it believes that he has a right to all the avenues of justice which we, in this democratic country, recognise as our right too: the right to know what we’re accused of, access to representation from a lawyer and a fair trial. They believe that his detention and probable torture in Lebanon is wrong and goes against his human rights. I agree.
Think about this for a moment. Imagine that someone you love was accused of murder. There is no question that he has committed this crime as there is too much evidence to prove otherwise. Even knowing all this, wouldn’t you want him to have a fair trial? The famous statement that all solicitors and barristers adhere to is that everyone deserves a defence in court, no matter how heinous their crime or evident their guilt.
There is no doubt that hate preachers and Islamic State fighters are terrorists. They incite and perform terrorist acts. But however repulsive we find their crimes to be, they still deserve all these rights that we take for granted. No one deserves to be tortured or held without charge, no matter what they have done.
Cage’s situation is not black and white. They are not supporting terrorists if they demand that these men and women receive justice. They may condemn the crime, but they recognise the common humanity we share with them. Hard though it may be to accept, terrorists are not monsters, they are human beings. And human beings have the right to justice. They will still be punished, but justice is blind, and she must be served.