The British government's idea of who is -- and who is not -- a legitimate asylum seeker becomes stranger by the month.
In November it was reported that the Pakistani Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, was unlikely to be offered asylum by the British government due to concerns about "community" relations in the UK. What this means is that the UK government was worried that Muslims of Pakistani origin in Britain may object to the presence in the UK of a Christian woman who has spent most of the last decade on death row in Pakistan, before being officially declared innocent of a trumped-up charge of "blasphemy".
Yet, as Asia Bibi – surely one of the people in the world most needful of asylum in a safe country – continues to fear for her life in her country of origin, Britain's idea of who should be allowed to travel to the country (and stay) looks ever more perverse.
One person, for instance, who has had no trouble being in London is Dr Ataollah Mohajerani, Iran's former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Mohajerani is best known for his book-length defence of the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwaagainst the British novelist Salman Rushdie. After the Khomeini's call on the world's Muslims to kill Rushdie for writing a novel, Mohajerani wrote a 250-page book, A Critique of the Conspiracy of The Satanic Verses, which justified the death-sentence. For more than a decade, however, apparently fallen out with part of the regime in Iran, Mohajerani has been living in Harrow, where he intermittently keeps up his campaign against Rushdie.
We have also seen time and again how extremist clerics such as the Pakistani clerics Muhammad Naqib ur Rehman and Hassan Haseen ur Rehman have been allowed to enter the UK despite their track records of supporting the murder of people merely suspected of having blasphemed against, or apostasised from, Islam. Nevertheless, while the UK government continues to allow clerics such as these to enter Britain, it develops an ever-growing banned list of people who are not Muslim but who have been critical of aspects of Islam. It is almost as though the UK government has decided that while extremist clerics can only rarely be banned, critics of such clerics can be banned with ease.
Some people might say that as it is 30 years since Mohajerani wrote his book justifying the murder of a British citizen, we should all let bygones be bygones -- as though advocating murder is the sort of thing anyone might do in a moment of weakness. The problem is that the trend for taking a laxer view of extremists than of their critics keeps on happening. The Canadian blogger Lauren Southern may not be allowed into the UK because she constitutes a threat to public order. Yet, this week we learned that the UK government has allowed in a man called Brahim Belkaid, a 41-year old of German origin, believed to have inspired up to 140 people to join al-Qaeda and ISIS. The British press this week discovered that he was able to settle in Leicester nearly five years ago after returning from Syria, where he is suspected of having supported terrorist groups. It does not appear that Belkaid has used his time in the UK to lie low or mull over his past mistakes. As his activities on the streets and on social media attest, he has in fact been openly continuing to preach and recruit for his radical version of Islam.
As The Times reported this week, Belkaid was photographed handing out hardline translations of the Quran to fans celebrating the local football team's victory in Leicester in 2016. He has also used his social media presence to call for the destruction of the USA and to promote his own extremist views as well as the views of other extremists like him.
His Facebook messages have included messages with bullets and a sword on them saying, "Jihad: the Only Solution". In another post, he poses smilingly with one arm on a carton of washing powder labelled "ISIS". By any analysis it is clear that Belkaid is doing in Britain precisely what he was doing in Germany.
There are several possible explanations for how such an insane policy could continue to operate in the UK. The first is that the British government does not know what it is doing, and that while it is unbelievably good at spotting Canadian bloggers who it thinks might pose some risk, it is just less adept at recognising the names, faces and backgrounds of well-known ISIS recruiters. That is one explanation. But it is the sort of explanation -- known in Britain as a "cock-up theory" -- which begins to run dry as a pattern develops. After all, to have allowed in one jihadist may look like an accident, to keep on letting them in looks like carelessness. Moreover, that this goes in tandem with the extreme strictness applied by the UK government to any critics of Islam who may be trying to enter the UK begins to look like a policy.
It is also possible that this is a policy decision. The British government may honestly have come to the conclusion that while Islamist extremism is a containable problem, the possibility of wider public "radicalisation" against elements of the Muslim community in the UK and worldwide is a much more serious one. To put it another way, they may have decided that the terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Borough Market, Woolwich and elsewhere are unlikely to be repeated, while Darren Osborne's solitary attack on worshippers coming out of Finsbury Park Mosque last year is part of a pattern.
Other than the "cock-up theory" or a general (if misguided) policy decision, it is hard to see what else is going on here. The decisions that keep being revealed to have been made by the UK border agency and the whole asylum and immigration policy of the UK government are so inexplicable that they are precisely the sort of thing to give rise to the most fevered and fetid conspiracy theories -- such as that politicians and civil servants are more afraid of being accused of "racism" than of letting Islamic extremists loose in the country. If the UK government wants to avert the spread of such conspiracy claims, it should act hard and fast. Specifically, it should be able to crack down hard to prevent people like Belkaid from being allowed to reside here. Curtailing such easy, open-and-shut cases would do an enormous amount to reassure the British public and to persuade us that although the UK's border agencies may not be perfect, at least they are not suicidal.