Ahmed Faraz case: when selling books equals ‘priming people for terrorism’

Vincent Tabak often looked at online strangulation pornography prior to his murder of Joanna Yeates. Despite that, the operators of the websites that cater for this particularly repulsive fetish are not on trial as accomplices to murder.

Nor is anyone suggesting that Christian retailers should be jailed for selling the Bible, even though twisted organisations from the Ku Klux Klan to the Lord’s Resistance Army have cited scripture for their purpose.

But following my recent post on bad books, in which I stated that police have threatened Islamist bookshops with prosecution for selling Seyyid Qutb’s ‘Milestones’, a reader has emailed to inform me that things have moved a step further.

In the dock at Kingston Crown Court right now is Ahmed Faraz, who runs a radical Islamist publishing house and bookshop in Birmingham, trading as Maktabah. While his story has been little reported, you can read an outline of what is going on here.

As the prosecution is making plain, Faraz has never been connected to any specific terrorist plot. However, some of its publications were found in the possession of men such as 7/7 bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan, while airline plotter Arafat Khan quoted from Maktabah’s version of ‘Milestones’ in his martyrdom video.

Max Hill QC, prosecuting, puts the matter like this:

To encapsulate it in a single phrase, this case is about priming people for terrorism.’

Islamist material of this nature is open to varying interpretations. ‘Milestones’ itself is notable for its syncretism, at least in the eyes of readers raised in the western tradition of political thought.

Some academics have insisted – not, I feel, persuasively – that it draws heavily on Leninist notions of the vanguard party; others have highlighted its anti-semitic content as pointing to affinity with fascism. Very plainly this pamphlet does advocate violence, not for its own sake but on the philosophical grounds that the end justifies the means. In that sense, there are parallels to well-known classics from a wide range of political and religious creeds.

I am not going to come to any conclusions specific to the Faraz trial on the back of one Daily Mail report. But on that limited knowledge, let me offer a few observations.

First, both ‘Milestones’ and another of the works that Faraz is in the dock for selling are available on good old Amazon.co.uk. If he is on trial for ‘disseminating terrorist publications’, why isn’t the world’s largest online retailer?

Second, when did it become the job of the British state to regulate what political books those of us that live in Britain can and cannot read? I read ‘Milestones’ and did not go out and bomb the number 30 bus; can it be demonstrated that the act of bookselling ever primes anybody for anything?

7/7 may well have happened whether or not Kahn had even heard of Qutb. Attacks on selected vendors of his works represents both double standards of the worst kind and a further erosion of the vital freedom of intellectual inquiry.