Friday, August 12, 2005

Homosexuality is bad for your tummy

The BBC is reporting that Omar Bakri won't be let back into Britain. No doubt this will placate the bloodthirsty readers of the Daily Mail and such like - but what will this really achieve? It won't stop him running his own website; it won't stop his contact with radical Islamists across Britain and the rest of the world. Indeed, he still has family and "spokesmen" residing in Britain. Do we really think we can stop him?

There is another thing I want to know, however. Why, if he is such a danger to Britain, has it taken us well over a decade to take this action? It isn't as if his radical views were kept secret until now. The journalist Jon Ronson wrote a book entitled "Them", about meeting with various extremists. The first chapter is about how he followed Bakri for approximately a year; this was back in 1996. Here is an excerpt about his leafleting experiences outside Holborn station:

"How's it going, Omar?" I asked.
"Oh, very good," he smiled. "The message is getting across that there are some deadly diseases here and there."
He turned to the passers-by.
"Homosexuality!" he yelled. "Beware the deadly disease!"...

I expected to see some hostility to Omar's leaflets from the passers-by. But the shoppers and tourists and office workers seemed to regard him with a kindly bemusement. Nonetheless, after ten minutes nobody had actually taken a leaflet.
"Beware the hour! There are homosexuals everywhere! Beware the hour!" continued Omar, cheerfully. "Be careful from homosexuality! It is not good for your tummy!"

This passage ends with him having to shout "Help the orphans!" to get anyone
interested in his leaflets. Later on, Ronson, giving him a lift, asks:
"I'm meeting someone in Soho, so can I drop you off there?"
"No," he said, anxiously. "It is forbidden for me to go into Soho. Please don't take me there."
Soho would be razed to the ground, explained Omar, once the Holy War had been won...
"Have you ever been to Soho?" I asked.
"Oh no," said Omar. "It is forbidden."
"What do you imagine Soho to be like?" I asked.
"There are naked women everywhere," he replied. "Naked women standing on street corners".

The whole chronology of the chapter is taken from around the time of Tony Blair's first election. It describes a media storm about his efforts to hold an Islamic conference with various extremists speakers in the London Arena - and his miserable failure to attract any interest. It describes how even radical Islamists were wary of him and considered him detrimental to their cause, especially with his split from Hizb ut-Tahrir. It shows that his organisation is pretty pathetic - when he arranged a postcard campaign urging jihad, to be spread by balloons flying out from Trafalgar Square, the cards were too heavy to allow the balloons to fly.

The man, quite patently, is a nutter. A hate-filled nutter, certainly, but nothing that someone armed with a small amount of logic and an ability to debate can't counteract in less than a couple of minutes. In fact, I wonder if the need for the media to have their hate figures actually is causing bigger problems in terms of spreading extremism. No-one with any sense would ever take Omar Bakri seriously.

Yet when his face is all over the papers; when he is met with blanket hostility as much because he looks funny and used to claim benefits rather than the content of his message - that is when his danger is greatest. It's all a conspiracy against Muslims, he argues. We're telling you something they don't want to hear - because they know they are sinfully perverting the word of Allah. That's lending credence to his message. It's allowing bands of conspiracy theorists everywhere to rally behind him. If we ignored him, like we ignore the message of the far-right, he wouldn't be much of a problem at all.

The fact is, banning Omar Bakri from the country is a publicity stunt. It's another blow in a long line of New Labour's eye-catching initiatives that get a lot of headlines, create the right image, yet fail to achieve anything. They aren't intended to achieve anything, just to convince people that things are being done. And in this case, I think it probably increases further the danger posed to us by Bakri and his disciples.

Al-Muhijaroun will be forced even further underground than they currently operate. Meanwhile, their leader, who will presumably have been under constant surveillance when in Britain, won't be tracked anywhere near as much. The man is not capable of logical reasoning - he could be destroyed in five minutes of cogent arguments. Instead, the mass hysteria of the tabloid press hates him because he's a benefit scrounger and looks foreign. And they trumpet him in their desperate search for stories. It's pathetic - and it's pathetic the government are pandering to them. Because this is exactly what Bakri wants to happen. If he wasn't a threat in 1996, if he wasn't a threat in 2001, why does he suddenly become a threat when some lunatics blow themselves up on a bus in 2005? It's going to be portrayed as yet more conspiracy. If we're going to combat extremism, we should fight them on our terms, not theirs.