I will not be angry. I will not be a victim. I will not despair. I will not be unjust. But goodness! How easy it is to be all of these.
When the Home Secretary halted the extradition of Gary McKinnon, the alleged computer hacker, I felt happy for his family, and grateful that a legal change was announced to bring some sense to the UK-US Extradition Act of 2003. However, it did not escape anyone’s notice that just ten days before, two other British citizens, one of them also with Aspergers like McKinnon, were flown out of the UK to solitary confinement in an American high security prison. Despite the incredulity of being outsourced to the US because of insufficient evidence for trial in the UK, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan were shipped out with little more than a sigh of “good riddance” by politicians, the judiciary, and the media. It is impossible not to cry hypocrisy.
When I sat in court on the final days of Babar’s and Talha’s hearing, I listened to what came across as irate and petulant judges predisposed to their findings. They appeared annoyed that Babar had been fighting extradition for eight years. Without any humanity, Theresa May blamed the men for their incarceration, declaring they had “used every available opportunity to frustrate and delay the extradition process over many years”, whilst being aware that McKinnon’s case had been going on for 10 years. The vitriol with which the Daily Mail celebrated the extradition: “Muslim fanatics to be deported to face possible jail terms”, contrast sharply with its laudable “Affront to British Justice” campaign against McKinnon’s extradition.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission put it thus, “This decision sends a clear message to the Muslim community that there are two laws in this country; a law for British citizens and a separate law for Muslims.” But Babar and Talha are Muslims and they are British citizens. We must not pitch nationality against religion. They can stand together. We are citizens, and we have to act as such always; and we are Muslims and we have to live up to that always. Which brings me back to my opening remarks.
Anger destroys. It destroys reason. It destroys argument. It weakens you. Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and author of The Art of War stated, “The best fighter is never angry.” Which fits with the Prophetic dictum, “The strong person is the one who controls himself when he is angry.” However angry we may feel at the many injustices or hypocrises we witness, to let our anger control us is ultimately futile. I see the anger all the time. It manifests itself in ugliness, “kuffar this” and “kuffar that”, expletives abounding from lips that also utter the Qur’an. We cannot be consumed with anger. We have to channel our anger into constructive action.
On the other side is the feeling of victimhood. No one who recognises that they are a creation of the Most High can be a victim, no matter the circumstance. If we recognise that not a leaf falls but by His command, then we can never think of ourselves as victims. We remain always His custodian of this Earth, and we must fulfil the Divine purpose as stewards of this Earth. We must bear with patience and equanimity all that befalls us, and not resort to victimhood. That is counterproductive, disempowering and ultimately defeatist.
Despair is an attribute of Iblis—the one who has lost all hope. It is not the attribute of a Muslim. Rather we must be steadfast and ever hopeful of His Mercy. As Prophet Jacob said when told of the death of his son Joseph, “Indeed, no one despairs of relief from God except the disbelieving people.” (12:87)
And justice. We must always stand up for justice; it is beautiful. We cannot become blind to the goodness of many, because of the wrong of a few. We cannot resort to wrongdoing because of the wrongdoing of others. A believer cannot be unjust. To stand up always for justice requires immense moral strength.
So, how then are we supposed to react? There are no easy answers, but I would say this. We have to reject all forms of hatred, from every corner, in every hue and colour. We have to speak out against the hate mongering of others. We may not be the ones lighting the fire, but unless we speak out, the whole house will go up in flames. Reject the extremism of the Far Right, the Christian fundamentalists, the violent Muslims, and all the others. They are all cut from the same cloth, and they need each other to survive.
We have to demonstrate. With placards where necessary, with silent candle-lit vigils too. But we must demonstrate our love for humanity. Demonstrate goodness, beauty, and compassion. Acts of kindness and forbearance will win hearts. We have to be constructive. Build alliances. Build institutions. Build hearts of softness with which people can envision a better world. We have to be creative. Be artists. Compose music. Write poetry. Paint pictures of a future without hate. Tell our stories in a thousand different ways. We have to be fearless. Be bold. Fear not loss. Fear not success. Rather, know that God has power over all things. Know that injustice cannot persist. It goes against the natural order of things. Balance and righteousness will always win. Above all, know that no matter how dark it may get, God is The Light, and He cannot be extinguished.