A young man walks into a community center, he's a terror suspect and yet he doesn't know why or what the evidence against him is. He has not been allowed to defend himself. Why? National security of course. And so he is put under terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs). Satellites track him, he can be moved at will, he must report to the authorities and he must observe curfew. If he breaks those rules, he receives a hefty prison sentence and yet he has not committed a crime. Under such strictures would it surprise us that the young man does a Houdini and disappears? We know it works Cerie Bullivant escaped his Kafkaesque nightmare and got his control order overturned so why not Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed?
The young man's escape from his tormentors unleashed a media frenzy that obscured the inhumanity of TPIMs and the fact that the young man had allegedly been tortured by the British government. Instead of highlighting these human rights violations the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, criticized Theresa May as to how Mohamed could have escaped and that the evidence against him was 'overwhelming'. Yvette Cooper hadn't seen the evidence against the accused and relied on the opinion of a judge. Other MPs got flustered about the security threats of burkas, "it's a peculiar costume for people to adopt in the 21st century" quipped Ken Clarke who had no problem being photographed in a wig and looking like Tristam Shandy's uncle.
The more sagacious journalists though turned their gaze on the little community centre, An-Noor mosque and its role in Mohamed's escape. One young hack linked other young men like Ali Manasfi with Mohamed and implied that perhaps An-Noor was behind all of this. It was a great result. BNP Nottingham loved the piece and tweeted it.
Instead of asking the more serious question of how TPIMs undermine the UK's judiciary, the focus was on a small community centre crammed in between council estates. What type of mosque was it? Did it radicalise young men? Did you know that it believes that British forces are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan and it sympathises with the oppressed? Quilliam that ardent sniffer of brown extremism, was "extremely concerned". Yes, definitely radical.
Did we listen to Kareem Said from Southall who tweeted "Masjid An-Noor in Acton is one of the best mosques in West [London], they do a lot for the community and young Muslims. Bun what the news says" or Michael Russell from the Ealing Gazette who tweeted "Sorry to see An-Noor mosque dragged into terror fugitive story. It does good work to combat extremism".
Whilst it is fair to ask questions about who An-Noor hosts on its premises, there is a need to set these places of worship in context. An-Noor attracts a diverse range of people, many pray there because they disagree with the Sufi Bareilevi mosque across the road on grounds of creed. Many go there because it engages with the community more effectively and so on. Few journalists ever take into account the fact that the choices young Muslims make is a complex process. It may have nothing to do with disaffection, identity, foreign policy, faith, personalities and poverty or all of the above and then some. Ealing borough has the 4th highest unemployment rate in London and has the 8th highest incidences of low pay in the capital. Is it any wonder why the likes of Mohamed and Ali went to An-Noor when all around them are the signs of urban decay and rough council estates? If you are someone with a troubled past desperately trying to stay straight it seems that An-Noor community centre is the only place to go in the area.
Of course to some complex arguments are superfluous. In fact, in a wonderfully insightful question posed by Richard Littlejohn these complicated issues surrounding the War on Terror, British foreign policy and identity can be dismissed by just one simple test: have you ever seen a poppy on a burka? And that, as the Huffington Post comments below will demonstrate, is the most important question.
Let's forget the fact that Mohamed might have been tortured or whether he actually committed a crime? Note the word 'committed' not what he is suspected of doing. All the newspapers reiterate the word 'suspect' or 'suspected'. The secret evidence alleges that he trained with Al-Shabab, that he was a follower of the 'white widow' and all that. And yet with all this overwhelming evidence why not convict him in an open and transparent court in front of a jury? Is it a case of national security or the fact that evidence was obtained through spying, water boarding, or electric nodes attached to your testicles? Is that why it can't be used in court? Perhaps it is this uncomfortable truth that prevents Mohamed from receiving a fair trial. This obsession with burkas, mosques and in the case of Littlejohn poppies, has come at the price of our justice system.