Abu Qatada: The Ethics of Free Speech

07 Jul

Radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada has finally been departed from Britain to Jordan, to stand trial on terrorism charges. Last month he finally gave into the British legal system, accepting deportation after nearly a decade long fight against extradition, which cost the UK tax payer £1.7m ($2.5m). However, while right wing groups such as UKIP, BNP and the EDL are celebrating the good news, was the trial and extradition really justified?

There is no doubt that Qatada, especially as a former foreign national deserved extradition and the UK government conducted this within the framework of the British legal system. I should imagine if the same person was a US citizen, he would not have been given the same privilege and instead would have been whisked away to some US black jail. However, Qatada’s own willingness to accept deportation shows he gave up the fight, having his will power zapped by the British legal system.

Nonetheless, the very notion of freedom of speech falls into question with cases such as this. Renowned Professor Noam Chomsky once, said “If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Chomsky had once been criticized himself for the defence of Robert Faurisson, a disgraced French professor prosecuted under the French law for holocaust denial. Despite my admiration for Professor Chomsky, I tend to disagree with his lack of limits on the freedom of speech. Unlike the US, Europe has a tradition of anti-hate speech laws and media ethics which prevent some of the more radical speech seen in America. Although that’s not to say the US doesn’t have restrictions on free speech, and just like most nations are restrictive in whom they prosecute for breaking those laws.

Qatada a self-confessed Islamic extremist and supporter of al-Qaeda deserved to be prosecuted and extradited under these anti-hate speech laws, because his speeches crossed that fine line between liberty and hate. However, in the words of Chomsky, if the British government is going to spend a decade and £1.7m prosecuting and extraditing, one radical Islamic preacher, shouldn’t the British government focus as much time and resources on other hate groups? Let’s not forget hate begets hate.

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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Terrorism


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