‘We need new laws’ is a phrase most often heard from people who haven’t much bothered to investigate whether laws which are already on the books can be used.
For some time I have suggested that it is inexplicable that laws like those which can be used against people for membership of a proscribed organisation were being almost totally ignored. So the arrest of Anjem Choudary and others for precisely this is doubly pleasing.
The banning of the various manifestations of the radical group Al-Muhajiroun was always vaguely farcical. The Home Office would ban one offshoot of the organisation and A-M would respond by starting something of exactly the same beliefs and precisely the same constituent people and parts under another name. A version of the game of whack-a-mole developed, but with Choudary and his cohorts setting up organisations faster than the Home Office got around to banning them. So it is good news that the relevant authorities seem finally to have caught up with the letter as well as the spirit of the law.
But there has always been a slightly odd attitude towards Choudary in this country. The fire-breathing cleric has almost replaced the doubting bishop in our nation’s comedy. And much of it was comic. I remember once debating with Choudary and discovering that his ‘School of Sharia’ was actually just him on his phone sitting in a van. No building let alone a school existed. But there were deeply unfunny thing about him too, most particularly his contacts with people convicted of Islamist related terror offences in the UK and the alignment of those people with A-M.
Anyway, it’s too early to crow. If Choudary and friends are found to have broken the law then I look forward to them receiving the maximum possible sentences. But the larger questions raised by Choudary should also be addressed. After the slaughter of Drummer Lee Rigby I appeared on Channel 4 opposite Choudary and pointed out to him that he and his family probably received more money in benefits for working against Britain than Drummer Rigby received for fighting for this country. I have marvelled over this for years. The not-unqualified Choudary has been sitting on £25,000 of benefits a year. Conviction and prison is one thing. But the question must also still be asked about how it is this country ended up not just paying our enemies, but paying them better than we do our own soldiers. It is a symptom of a recent national madness. Perhaps today’s arrests are one sign that this national madness might finally be lifting.