By Arzu Merali
I know Talha Ahsan will be happy if he hears that Gary McKinnon has been spared extradition. We all are. Anyone who has been involved with those awaiting extradition to the USA, and who have become familiar with both the pitiful state of any US ‘justice’ that may eventually be meted out, the abject conditions extraditees face once sent, and the torment they and their families face awaiting court and ministerial decisions and appeals, would know that no-one, let alone a sufferer of Aspergers syndrome, should be put through this ordeal.
And yet, this is where we are at. The UK/US extradition treaty of 2003 is only now coming under some serious review, and the timing of home secretary Teresa May’s announcements regarding the ‘forum bar’, ‘human rights’ and losing ministerial oversight cut deep into the collective psyche of Muslims in the UK. They were already reeling from the wholesale extradition of Talha as well as Babar Ahmad, Abu Hamza, Khalid al Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary, regardless of all of the aforementioned reasons not to. Muslims saw today that not even the exact same risk assessment for Gary McKinnon and Talha Ahsan (also a sufferer of Aspergers) ensures equal treatment. One man is thankfully saved, another already in hell.
The forum bar would have saved some if not all of these men, who were lumped together for consideration regardless of the differences in their cases. Why no such consideration for them? Demonised as terrorists in large part owing to their Muslimness, their otherisation is a cause of shame on a political, media and legal establishment considered just by the very community it has confirmed as second class citizens. The five Muslims were mentioned by Ms May in passing again as terrorism suspects whose cases exemplify all that is right with a really wrong treaty. Only on this day did we hear any analysis from commentators - media or political - on why the treaty was wrong, or how it breached (in this case Gary McKinnon’s) rights. What else are Muslims supposed to glean from that, except that they are not considered human, let alone equal?
They should have known already, as the institutionalised racism that saw new laws criminalise Muslim men in the way black men had been targeted for decades. Likewise over a decade’s worth of anti-terrorism laws blighted the lives of thousands stopped, questioned, arrested and then released without charge. Yet, for reasons beyond our discussion, Muslims have been an overly loyal bunch. Not only our own surveys, but those of polling organisations, show the British Muslim community to be committed Brits. What folly then to unite this group, riven by internecine rivalry, into a shared understanding of their otherness and subjugation. Muslims see now that they are not and will never be accepted, regardless of whether they are assimilated, integrated, party-political and loud or insular and retired. Is it a spectacular own goal by the government or a deliberate message?
When I spoke to Talha last, he asked me if I would come and visit him the following Sunday. “It may be the last chance we have to meet,” he said, referring to the High Court hearing the next week that would seal his fate and that of the four other Muslims. Talha carried on: “We still don’t know if you’re cleared to visit, but we can try.” I am a hardened cynic. Other campaigners had waved union flags and believed and hoped that something called British justice would prevail. They just couldn’t or wouldn’t believe that upon seeing the manifest injustice of these cases, the legal system, the government, the media would allow British citizens to be treated this way. I wasn’t one of these campaigners, and yet, when Talha asked me to visit, I really didn’t think it would be the last chance. Even if they lost, there would be some sort of extradition procedure and rigmarole, because this is Britain, right? Even I didn’t expect that a plane had arrived days earlier awaiting a decision written in stone long before. By nightfall, Talha was gone. Any hope in British justice left with him.
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