Al-Faisal’s gone, questions linger

Saturday January 23 2010

Abdullah al-Faisal, the Jamaican Muslim preacher dubbed the “hate cleric” by the media, is finally gone.

His government, or our government, or a combination of the two with external governments, finally found a private solution to transport him back to Jamaica. But his departure does not resolve the issues his presence brought to the fore.

First, how and whether he should have come into the country. Let us be clear. Any criminal justice system — including here and in the United Kingdom — operates on the basis that one serves time for crimes one has committed. And that doing so ends the story. Al-Faisal apparently served time for propagating hate speech in the UK. His having done so means that that fact should have been irrelevant when he entered Kenya. He had paid his dues.

What was relevant was whether he indeed features on any country’s so-called terrorist watch list. If he does, what is the policy of Kenyan Immigration on this? Are Immigration officials meant to deny entry? Or are they meant to allow entry while informing the relevant internal security agencies so that the person in question can, in fact, be “watched”?

But this is not what happened. Immigration officials at al-Faisal’s point of entry, apparently not being computerised and linked up to information available at the national airport, seemed to have no idea who this person was. And how, suddenly, he ended up being found in breach of a simple immigration offence (preaching without the relevant entry permit) is a point of interest. As is the fact that he was essentially illegally detained for a fairly inordinate period of time before human-rights advocates and organisations caught wind of it and decided to act on his behalf.

Also of interest is, of course, the now typically hysterical overreaction to their doing so. Nobody proffered evidence that he had been propagating hate speech here. Nobody proffered evidence that he had committed or was about to commit or was encouraging a terrorist-related crime. And even if they had, due process was still due to him.


Second is the question of his deportation. I personally found it quite extraordinary that finding a commercial airline willing to transport him to Jamaica was apparently so difficult. Especially given that most commercial airlines flying into and out of Africa seem to have absolutely no problem transporting would-be immigrants, shackled and under guard, out of Europe for equally minor immigration offences.

Third, yet again, is the question of the demonstrations on his behalf. The notification had been duly given. The Kenya police were out of order in refusing to allow it (their job is to provide security for the demonstrators and others). Some of those who did assert their constitutional right to demonstrate were out of order in carrying firearms to the demonstration. The bystanders who decided to offer their services to the police in breaking up the demonstration were completely out of order. And many, many, many of those who commented afterwards were out of order.
Some were and are, of course, but the Kenyan Muslim community, like all others, is not homogenous.

Our security is critical. Our handling of it will determine, in the end, whether tolerance prevails or not.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission