The bloody public murder of Private Lee Rigby outside Woolwich army barracks last May was a rare act of frenzied brutality which most will accept warranted harsh punishment. So why, when sentencing the two killers to life on Wednesday, did the court feel compelled to insist that it was imposing such long sentences because the homicidal Islamists hacked the soldier to death ‘in order to advance your extremist cause’, as if trying to decapitate a man in a London street was not crime enough?
If the British had the death penalty for murder they would not be trying to pretend that a political crime of terrorism is in fact qualitatively worse than a crime committed for gain or revenge.
These terrorists clearly wanted to be martyrs and in fact wanted to die in a hail of bullets, because they provoked the police into shooting at them after they committed their act of butchery in broad daylight on a busy London street. They ran over a man, butchered him and then dragged his body into the main road so traffic stopped.
Whatever you think of terrorists, one should remember that these men were in fact prepared to sacrifice life, limb and liberty in order to make a political point. This would suggest that there is an argument for making political crimes of terrorism a special category of crime, to take into account the terrorist's preparedness to sacrifice life, limb and liberty in pursuit of martyrdom.
It has been said that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. If you are a successful terrorist, you get promoted to Freedom Fighter, and even become World Hero, as was the case with the late Nelson Mandela, who was also charged with terrorist offences. The members of Sinn Fein are another example of this potential for a terrorist to be elevated into the position of a statesman.
As Brendan O’Neill pointed out on spiked amid the immediate panicky political and media response to the killing, the Woolwich atrocity was ‘a knife crime, not an act of war’ carried out by two deluded loners rather than an invading army. The danger in treating it as something more is that you can end up ‘doing the terrorists’ dirty work for them’, endorsing their self-aggrandising self-image as terrifying jihadist soldiers threatening our society.
To describe Lee Rigby's death as a knife crime would be to belittle his death. If I were his mother I would resent this official trivialisation of my son's death for political reasons. Lee Rigby's death was extraordinary and spectacular, and should be acknowledged as such, since it cannot be denied.
The point of terrorism is that it is an act of political violence, and should be treated as if it were an act of war. These terrorists, if they were dictators with access to a military force, would have declared war on this country if they could. I was told by a BNP member that one of these men even considered voting BNP because they were the only party in the country who were against UK foreign policy. Apparently, one of the murderers had in fact discussed this with a BNP activist holding a paper sale one Saturday in Woolwich. (It was BNP Organiser Paul Sturdy who either met him or told this story to others.) This means Lee Rigby's murderers considered and then dismissed the idea of using the political process. Why did they dismiss the idea? Because they saw that it was hopeless, of course. Even they were not deluded to think that the BNP would ever be able to get itself in a position to influence UK foreign policy within their lifetimes.
The Old Bailey sentencing hearing this week sounded like a case in point. At every turn, the prosecutors and the judge were keen to emphasise the extremist political character of the murderous assault. Prosecution QC Richard Whittam argued that both Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale should receive whole-life tariffs (meaning they would never be released from prison), not only because of ‘the severity of their crime’ but crucially because of ‘its political motivation’. The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, imposed a whole-life term on Adebolajo and a minimum 45-year tariff on Adebowale because they had murdered ‘a solider in public daylight’ in order ‘to advance your extremist cause’. After the hearing, Sue Hemming, head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, told the media that the whole-life term was justified in these circumstances, because ‘not only was the attack brutal and calculated’, but more importantly ‘it was also designed to advance extremist views’.
Why is it again assumed that it is worse to kill someone for a political cause than it is to kill someone for gain?
What is an extremist cause? Is opposing UK foreign policy as regards invading Muslim countries in itself extreme? Then there are quite a few extremists around, judging by the turnout in 15 February 2003.
According to BBC News, between six and ten million people took part in protests in up to sixty countries over the weekend of the 15th and 16th; other estimates range from eight million to thirty million.
There are eight to thirty million "extremists" in the world if Sue Hemming of the CPS is right in her pronouncement that to be anti-war is to be "extremist".
Or perhaps she thinks that you are only an extremist if you use violence to advance a political cause. What then is war but a means of applying violence to sovereign states with whom you have a political disagreement that could not be resolved by peaceful means? What is NATO policy towards Muslim lands if not one of interventionism and military aggression?
Surely we cannot deny that war is politics by other means? And how do we tell the difference between a just war and one that is not? By who wins, of course, for the victor gets to write history, and will write it in his favour, as you would expect.
During the trial itself, Adebolajo had caused a storm by admitting that he killed Private Rigby yet insisting that this was not murder because he was a ‘soldier of Allah’ engaged in a war against Britain on behalf of Muslims everywhere. The judge felt moved to advise the jury, presumably with a straight face, that this bizarre claim was not a legitimate defence to a charge of murder under English law. Yet weeks later, at the sentencing hearing, all of the legal authorities appeared to accept Adebolajo’s case that he was more than a common murderer, an armed rebel with a cause.
Adebolajo was really saying that he should not be treated as if he were a common criminal who committed his crime for personal gain, because it was obvious that he had gained nothing by it in the sense that is commonly understood as gain. If he had heard of Bobby Sands he would have cited him as someone prepared to die for the principle of treating terrorists as political prisoners.
This seems to me to be philosophically and logically sound. It would be the easiest thing to separate the political prisoner from the common criminal. If there is any doubt about the motive of a criminal and whether it was committed for a political purpose or personal gain a test of intention could be easily introduced and facts elucidated under cross examination.
Since I believe in the principle of the death penalty, the BNP and other Islamophobic groups would have got exactly what they wanted. If the death penalty imposed on the two murderers of Lee Rigby, then everyone would have been happy: the terrorists who wanted death and martyrdom and the Islamophobes who wanted these murderers executed.
HOW TO DEAL WITH POTENTIAL TERRORISTS
Since terrorists who seek martyrdom are not ashamed of their crime and are in fact willing to sacrifice their lives, this is how I propose to deal with them.
- Invite anyone disposed of sacrificing life, limb and liberty to publicly declare himself.
- Invite him whether he wishes to sacrifice life, limb or liberty to make his point.
- Invite him to choose a crime he would be prepared to commit to make his point.
- Invite him to explain why he is prepared to do so.
- Televise this on Sunday instead of the liberal and inane mess that is The Big Questions with me as Terrorist Interrogator instead of the effete Nick Campbell. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007zpll
- Convict him with the crime he proposes to commit if he fails to convince the government to change its policy.
- Incarcerate him in a prison exclusively for political prisoners.