Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Tuesday 10 April 2012

As good as it gets.

IN CASE you haven't read the papers, the news can be summed up with the phrase: 'Handcart, meet hell.'

Government ministers have sent people to be tortured, pregnant women have been held hostage by machete-wielding burglars, Robert Mugabe is still not dead, a comedian's been pilloried for expressing an opinion about a football game, North Korea is going to set off a nuclear bomb and the BBC has spent £22million on a weekly advert for Universal music.

We're paying the Chinese to plant trees, hairdressers have been banned from knowing what time it is, the Sex Pistols won't be playing at the Olympics opening ceremony, a Tory tycoon thinks there's nothing wrong with making 300 phone calls telling his wife she's a "f***ing whore", someone's been set on fire and left in a wheelie bin and the terror of the Leveson inquiry means the only kiss-and-tell in the papers for months is a grubby yarn about an elderly bus driver and the prettiest passenger he could find on the no6 to Corby.

On top of that, we've all had to go back to work after four days off, the weather was crap, and we've got a hosepipe ban because the foreign firms who own our water won't let us use it on the roses because they're too busy wasting it themselves.

And let's not forget the writhing abortion of our legal system, an institution so corrupt and inept that people flock from all over the planet to use it.

And... oh, hang on. That's a good thing, isn't it? If we have divorce tourists, and libel tourists, and terror suspects using every last avenue of appeal to avoid being sent somewhere else, that presumably makes our form of justice the Seychelles of the legal world, a happy place where all can bask and frolic in the unending sunshine of freedom, doesn't it?

Well, yes and no. The doings of our courts and judges are far from perfect and having been at the mercy of our divorce laws myself I can tell you I'd rather poke my own eyes out with poisoned cocktail sticks than go through it again.

But compared to many other places in the world divorce is a lot fairer and nicer here. It's equal in terms of division of assets, in not apportioning blame (an oversight in some cases, particularly mine) and despite frequent custody and maintenance issues is a lot fairer to parents than you might get if you divorced in, say, Kazakhstan.

Then we have our terrorists. Today the man commonly known as Hate-Filled Hook-Handed Cleric Abu Hamza was among five such men who have lost an appeal against extradition to the US.

Hamza is a criminal, and a bad man to boot. He used to work as a bouncer at a peep show, his hook proves he's not great at dealing with explosives (never a good sign in a terrorist) and he took his son away from his mother for 12 years. Three of his sons have also been convicted of crimes involving stolen cars and another two for terror offences.

After 9/11 he started sounding off about jihad despite being a pretty bad example of a faithful Muslim, and formed a radical group campaigning for their idea of heaven on earth. We didn't arrest him, because as unpleasant as his words were he had a right to say them. Some people agreed with him, but many more thought he was an idiot, which is one of the principal blessings of free speech.

Seven years ago he was banged up because the Americans wanted him for encouraging one of their own terrorists, and an extradition process began. Unlike our cousins across the pond we don't like the death penalty, and our rules say we can't deport someone if they might get killed later. The Yanks had to agree whatever sentence he might get would not include death, but Hamza still didn't fancy leaving one of our high security prisons - with prisoner rights and flatscreen tellies and Coronation Street - for one of theirs, with orange jumpsuits and lots of angry men.

Unless he lodges a final appeal, Hamza will be on a plane within three months and no-one's going to miss him. It's very easy when considering a one-eyed, hook-handed hate merchant to just get rid, to let the Yanks do as they please, to feel the world would be a better place if some public-spirited prison officer would just garotte him one day or at the very least take the plug off his telly.

But what's easy isn't always what's best. A dead Hamza would simply spawn a million more medieval throwbacks for us to deal with. If you doubt me, just look at Afghanistan - a war which was welcomed as a liberation from an oppressive regime has since radicalised untold armies of people, promoted the opium trade and has long lost any international goodwill in the mire of a military disaster.

We spent £500million on bullets and drones and getting soldiers blown up, when we could have spent half that on schools and done a damn sight better job of keeping the Taliban out of power.

Al Qaeda is not a thing or a person. It's not an organisation or something with a list of names who you can track down to kill or deport. It's an idea, and if you want to beat it the only way is to have a better one.

Any student of history will tell you the only idea which has consistently won any arguments is the one with greater freedoms. The side which lets people do more of what they want, and less of what they don't, is the side which always wins in the end. It won in the civil wars in America and England, it won in the French and Russian revolutions, it won in World Wars I and II and it kicked butt in apartheid, the Reformation, the Suffragette movement and the Roman flipping Empire, too.

I think it's rather marvellous that Hamza has been able to delay the inevitable for seven years. If he'd won I wouldn't much mind either, because he'd end up in prison one way or the other. I'd rather pay for his XBox than I would a single minute of a pointless war, and it's far better that every British citizen - for he is one of us - has the same equal recourse to the courts. If we removed those rights for some people, then what is to stop someone removing them for you?

It's a hard and difficult thing to treat an awful person well, and to know it is much better than they would treat you. But it is the only way to show that you are nicer than they are, and definitely the only way to win.

Rules are a lot like brains, really - easy to bend, and bad to break. There are lots of imperfections in the world which give us journalists plenty to write about but as long as justice is at least theoretically available to everyone then the handcart is just circling hell in a holding pattern.

And you won't get better than that.

Just be glad he never caught the bus to Corby.