Thursday, August 11, 2005

Deportation special

It's oh-so interesting talking politics at work these days. The person who sits across from me wears hijab (the head scarf) and is a pretty devout Muslim - the person who sits next to her is white English, has a regular potty mouth and some pretty illiberal attitudes.

Today, for example, we were talking about Omar Bakri Mohammed, a generally unsavoury character who has been living in North London since 1985 and has the cute nickname of "the ayatollah of Tottenham". (an area in North London). He recently said that although the denounced the London Bombings - if he were aware of anyone planning a terrorist act - say a suicide bombing of the London Underground - he would not report them to the police. However, he would do everything in his power to stop them, even laying down his life. Since this guy has been on disability benefit for over a decade, is more than a bit portly and hobbles with a stick, I'm not sure exactly what that 'everything in his power' would amount to exactly, since anyone who could walk briskly in the other direction would soon be out of his physical influence.

Anyway, the white English gal (WEG), was saying that Mr Mohammed should be tried for treason. Well, Mr Mohammed isn't a British citizen, I pointed out. Doesn't matter, says WEG, he should still be tried for treason. He hasn't sworn any oaths to this country, I say. No matter, says WEG, Treason! He owes this country.

Well, he probably does owe the UK. After all, he's been on benefit here for many years - and though he works for jihad - in whatever form that takes, he hasn't had a job in ages. But a charge of treason isn't the right thing for Mr. Mohammed. I can understand WEG's confusion though, the British government has recently suggested that those British citizens who engage in or support acts of terrorism might be charged under the Acts of Treason - dating from around 1438, I think. But for those who aren't British citizens (or technically subjects), there's another, quicker solution -- deportation.

I explain this to WEG. And then I explain that I'm currently residing in the UK on the sufferance of the British people and have the exact same legal status as Bakri Mohammed. She tries to explain that I'm different, that I'm not doing the things he's doing -- which frankly, is pretty bloody obvious. But I also explain I haven't sworn any oaths to Britain, and in no way should I be open to a charge of treason to the UK.

I leave for lunch after this and start thinking about it. Although I haven't formalised my relationship with the UK, we do have a little something going. If you think about it in terms of a personal relationship, we've been going steady for a long time, we're not just dating anymore, I've moved in with the UK, but we're not married yet. So, if I weren't married but did have a boyfriend and then had a little fling on the side, that's not adultery, but heck, it is cheating. So, I do feel some sense of loyalty to the UK, but if I do something bad, well it's the deportation special for me, not a charge of treason.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, Omar is getting hauled in by the police in Lebanon (where he's on holiday), and ten other "preachers of hate" are being detained after getting awakened pre-dawn by a friendly assortment of cops and immigration officials. These folks are not UK citizens and they're about to get sent back to wherever it is they came from.

They won't be going quickly, however, they do have a right of appeal. And the way that the UK interprets the European Convention of Human Rights, means that the Government can't deport anyone to a country where they may be tortured or executed. (In practice this means that if a US murderer manages to get to say France, they won't be deported back to the US until the authorities there agree that they won't seek the death penalty), so it's going to be a bit sticky sending them to places like Algeria. (Although somehow France manages to send people there).
Fortunately, in the case of the notorious Abu Qatada, "Al Qaeda's ambassador in Europe" who may be going back to Jordan shortly, the UK has just agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with Jordan, whereby they agree not to torture or kill anyone deported from the UK. Human rights lawyer groups like Liberty are, understandably, sceptical.

I imagine that the ten "preachers of hate" are little a perplexed. Many of them were guests of Her Majesty until relatively recently, when the Law Lords (like the Supreme Court) decreed that they couldn't be held indefinitely any longer. These guys were all non-UK nationals and were being detained at Belmarsh Prison. They were free to go at any time, to return to their countries of citizenship, but weren't free to be at large among the UK public. They had a coterie of human rights lawyers complaining about how the Belmarsh detainees, as they became known, were being treated and how they were all being driven mad. The Government brought in a hastily wrought "control order" just before they were released which meant were basically under house arrest.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, says the rules of the game have changed and out they go. He says their presence here does not contribute to the "public good". As someone who's also here under sufferance and has been known to be a little disorderly from time to time (really sorry about that street sign, BTW), that worries me. Do I contribute to the public good? But on balance... Good riddance and good speed!

1 comment:

Pauline Crawford said...

Loving your writing.

Reading this in 2015 - thinking how little has changed. How do people get UK benefits without being a citizen? I am in Australia, and really wonder how long the UK can go on paying money to people? I n Nepal, I met several Brits who has not worked in a very long time, but who were getting a "pension" of some kind. And they had been out of the UK for over a year as well.

Interesting process.