Skip to comments.Living next door to Abu Hamza
Posted on 05/28/2004 8:42:42 AM PDT by Stoat
Early yesterday morning, I was woken to the sound of vehicles and voices outside. At 4am our street in Shepherd's Bush, west London, is normally as quiet as a country churchyard, save for blackbirds, amorous tomcats and the occasional bark of an urban fox. Bleary-eyed, I peeped through the curtain. In the lamplight, I saw three policemen outside our house. The street was cordoned off.
Half-asleep as I was, my old reporter's instincts were aroused. We aren't used to dawn raids in my street, and I hope we never shall be. So, in pyjamas, slippers and dressing gown, I went out into the rain, clutching an umbrella, and asked the policeman in charge: "Excuse me, officer, but would you mind telling me what's going on?"
The reply was polite, but firm. "Very sorry, sir, but at the present time I'm not at liberty to say. There will be a statement later." Pointing to a handful of photographers lurking in the shadows, he explained: "The press is already here."
Behind him, I could see several large police vans clustered outside a particular house. There must have been dozens of police inside.
Feeling faintly ridiculous, I stuttered superfluously: "I live here, you see."
"I can assure you, sir, that there is no danger to you or your family," the officer replied.
My first thought was: they've come to arrest Abu Hamza. Ever since the police had searched his home, 50 yards up the street, about five years ago, we had been aware that the charismatic cleric was our neighbour.
Not that he has ever offered the hook of friendship to us. He keeps himself to himself, as they say, and his privacy has always been respected. One Christmas, before we knew who he was, the children sang carols outside his door. They were sent packing.
Every time we organise a Neighbourhood Watch meeting, Abu Hamza gets his invitation through the letter-box, like everybody else. Oddly enough, he never turns up.
Indeed, over the years, we have never seen the great sheikh in the street, and even his eight children are rarely sighted. Some friends claimed that he had moved away.
That was wishful thinking. If the obtrusively unobtrusive individuals often to be found in their cars doing nothing in particular in our neighbourhood were not plain clothes detectives keeping an eye on Abu Hamza, then the Met was not doing its job properly.
The policeman's assurance that our families were not in any danger was, in one sense, obviously true. Whatever terrorist activities Abu Hamza is accused of by the Americans, whatever may have gone on in the Finsbury Park mosque before he was evicted from it last year, to live in the immediate vicinity of the Hamza household does not pose any special risk.
Indeed, if my assumption that he has been under observation for a long time is correct, then we may even have been unwittingly enjoying a level of security that most Londoners can probably only envy.
Yet the moment one reflects on the whole business, it does, of course, become profoundly disturbing. There is, I suppose, something surreal about the fact that I, associate editor of The Daily Telegraph and father of four, find myself living almost next door to an Islamist imam who is now accused of 11 separate terrorist offences, including hostagetaking in Yemen and setting up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
Whether or not he is ever extradited to America, Abu Hamza not only preaches jihad, but claims to have practised it in Afghanistan, where he lost an eye and both hands. That is the country we live in, for better or worse. My street, like Britain as a whole, is a clash of civilisations in miniature.
Despite the Home Secretary's best efforts, Abu Hamza still has British citizenship and continues to enjoy the protection afforded by the British legal system. The fact that he has remained at liberty is a testimony to the almost impossibly high standards of proof required by our courts before they will incarcerate even a man who is alleged to have declared war on everything Britain has ever stood for.
On the way to school yesterday, my two youngest children, aged nine and six, quizzed me on what would now happen to "Mr Hook", which gave me an opportunity to explain the rule of law. Their generation has grown up without religious or racial prejudice. They love their neighbours. But are they too innocent for a world in which that love might prove fatal?
I am ready to defend the right of Abu Hamza to a fair trial. Am I, though, prepared to defend his right to incite young Muslims to join al-Qa'eda's global jihad against the Judaeo-Christian West - if that is indeed what he has done? No: he has no such right, and nor does anybody else. Abu Hamza can be my neighbour or my enemy: he cannot expect to be both.
"Your family is not in danger." Though strictly true, this reassurance does not reassure me at all. The threat from al-Qa'eda is so all-encompassing that it justifies extraordinary measures. Surveillance and denunciation, the knock on the door in the small hours, indefinite detention without trial: all these are methods that we once associated with police states. But they have been forced upon us by the most urgent of necessities.
I happened to come across a poem by Siegfried Sassoon yesterday that articulates this necessity. The scene is a deserted National Gallery after what would now be called a WMD attack on London. Published in The Spectator in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, it is called Premonition.
A gas-proof ghost, I climbed the stair To find how priceless paintings fare When corpses, chemically killed, Lie hunched and twisted in the stilled Disaster of Trafalgar Square
Sassoon's premonition, though unfulfilled in his lifetime, now has a horrid topicality. We are witnessing the end of our island idyll.
I am glad that my family slept soundly through yesterday's arrest. Lying awake, however, I could not help wondering whether, in our lifetimes, we shall ever rest easy in our beds again. The horrors of New York, Bali and Madrid have yet to be replicated here. But, with neighbours like Abu Hamza, who needs external enemies? Are we at last awakening from what George Orwell called "the deep, deep sleep of England"? If not, we shall soon be roused by a living nightmare.
That!, coupled with exagerated coverage of everything the least bit wrong, and willful insightment of the literate illerate in the US to rail against the legitmate war on terrorism.
We live in very dangerous times!
I haven't heard of that; however, upon a cursory check, the word "hamza" is, in Arabic, the name given to a linguistic pronunciation convention as defined here:
ham·za also ham·zah
A sign in Arabic orthography used to represent the sound of a glottal stop, transliterated in English as an apostrophe.
[Arabic, from hamaza, to urge on, goad. See hmz in Semitic Roots
Similarly, "schwa" relates to grammar as shown here:
2 entries found for schwa.
A mid-central neutral vowel, typically occurring in unstressed syllables, as the final vowel of English sofa.
The symbol () used to represent an unstressed neutral vowel and, in some systems of phonetic transcription, a stressed mid-central vowel, as in but.
n : a neutral middle vowel; occurs in unstressed syllables
That's it. I knew it meant some kind of sound that wasn't really much of a sound. "Schwa" was the first thing that came to mind, even though it turned out to be a little off. Thanks for the reference.