Sentencing Roshonara Choudhry after her conviction for the attempted murder of Stephen Timms MP, Mr Justice Cooke told her: “You said you wanted to die because you wanted to be a martyr and that it was Islamic teaching that to fight and die for your religion is the highest honour. You said that you thought you had fulfilled your obligation and your Islamic duties to stand up for the people of Iraq and to punish someone who wanted to make war with them.”
Cooke observed of Timms: “I understand that he brings to bear his own faith, which upholds very different values to those which appear to have driven this defendant. Those values are those upon which the common law of this country was founded and include respect and love for one’s neighbour, for the foreigner in the land, and for those who consider themselves enemies, all as part of one’s love of God. These values were the basis of our system of law and justice and I trust that they will remain so as well as motivating those, like Mr Timms, who hold public office.”
If Cooke was saying that Timms’ interpretation of his faith led him to do good, whereas Choudhry’s interpretation of hers led her to an act of attempted murder, that would be fair enough (allowing for the fact that a judge is hardly likely to view a vote for the Iraq war as an act of evil). All faiths are open to conflicting interpretations. But Cooke’s words could also be taken as arguing that Christianity is a religion of love and peace whereas Islam is a religion that inspires violence. Trying to be charitable, I initially concluded that his statements were ambiguous.
However, Tom Leonard draws our attention to the fact that Mr Justice Cooke is a prominent figure in the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, a right-wing evangelical organisation with a record of promoting anti-Muslim bigotry.
For example, the LCF joined with other fundamentalist Christian groups in whipping up hysteria over the plan to build a so-called “mega-mosque” in Newham. The LCF website published a letter to MPs and peers by Christian Concern For Our Nation headed “Terrorist links for Olympics mosque?”, and in the aftermath of the attempted 2007 car bombings in London and Glasgow the LCF reproduced a press release by Alan Craig of the Christian People’s Alliance accusing Tablighi Jamaat of inspiring the attacks.
In 2008 the LCF’s then public policy director Andrea Minichiello Williams hosted a conference called Understanding Islam, where the featured speaker was one Sam Solomon, who told his audience: “The Christian faith, it is all about love…. What is Islam based on? It’s based on this one word: Hate.” Solomon added: “The closer you get in Islam to the Koran and to the Islamic sources the more radical you become and the more hateful a personality you develop.” Solomon claimed that Muslims “are brainwashed, they are indoctrinated in accepting that we are the enemies and we must be liquidated and eradicated”. (See video here here from 2:30.)
This certainly sheds some light on the thinking behind Cooke’s comments, doesn’t it? That a man with close links to Christian fundamentalism should have been allowed to preside over such a sensitive case as Choudhry’s is unbelievable, and it is even more unacceptable that he should use the trial as a platform to promote his own religious views.