Thursday, 6 December 2007

Samina's sentence


That Samina Malik is not in jail tonight is clear evidence that the Judge does not consider her to be any sort of terrorist. That she was convicted at all meant, I suppose, that some sort of punishment was in order. But since she isn't a terrorist, what is her crime? Poetry? Hardly, although the sentiments she expressed formed a large element of the prosecution's case. Possessing materials likely to be useful to terrorists? Technically, yes. But every home contains many items likely to be useful to terrorists. The Al Qaeda training manual she downloaded from the internet has been downloaded many times by many people for many purposes. If a proper terrorist wanted to get hold of it, he'd hardly need to borrow it off Samina. He could have my copy. Sending an email to a terrorism suspect? Only insofar as that brought her to the police's attention. Working at Heathrow?

That must have been it.

After all, we know how much terrorists love airports.

While the punishment of 100 hours' community service isn't the outrage many had feared, it's still wildly disproportionate for what is fairly clearly a thought-crime. Because, make no mistake, if there had been any serious suggestion that she was a terrorist, or even a potential terrorist, she would have gone down. For a long time.

Like Mohammed Atif Siddique, who was sentenced to 8 years at Edinburgh High Court in October for downloading terrorism-related material onto his laptop. The material comprised videos, pictures and sound files "concerned with radical Islamic politics", and included footage of Osama Bin Laden and the World Trade Center attack. He also published links on his website to sites offering such material. This amounted to the offences of "providing instruction or training in the making or use of firearms and explosives by means of the Internet", and of "distributing or circulating terrorist publications with the intention of encouraging or inducing or assisting in acts of terrorism."

Sentencing Siddique, the judge noted,


The only purpose in setting up a website containing links to this material could have been to provide others with instructions or training material in the making and use of firearms and explosives...Given that you were providing internet access to what are admittedly terrorist publications, it is difficult to see what else was intended other than the encouragement of terrorism.


It's hard to see the difference between Malik's crime and Siddique's, except that of scale: the operation to arrest Siddique involved more than a hundred police officers, while Malik gave herself away by sending e-mails and posting her poetry on the net. Which either shows that the law is working as it should, distinguishing between real threats and harmless fantasists, or Malik was fortunate to have a pretty face and a butter-wouldn't-melt pout. To be a girl, in other words.

If she had appeared in court wearing a beard instead of a hijab, and the facts presented to the jury had been exactly the same, does anyone believe she would have got off so lightly?