This collective delirium

Do the hysterical supporters not realise that the collective delirium of their campaign to free their beloved saint only strengthens justice in its decision to maintain his detention?

He stands accused — yes, yet to be proven in a court of law — of using threats and intimidation to silence anyone who might stand against him. There are claims — yes, yet to be verified — that he warned women who might testify against him that he had special services in his entourage. There is photographic evidence of letters sent to women from fictional lawyers. There are pornographic photos and videos — recently employed by his defence with no shame — used to blackmail women into silence.

And yes indeed, all such stories are yet to be corroborated and found to be true by the hands of justice, but until such a time, when the investigation has fully run its course, the court must take those claims seriously, to evade the intimidation of witnesses and worse.

What message does the furious campaign for his release send to the judges weighing up the evidence? That he has 150,000 supporters ready to do anything for him? That no matter how many women’s testimonies have been gathered, never will these zealous disciples pause to consider one of them; rather, the accused must be defended at all costs. That no matter how many insults and death threats the accusers receive, and how much harassment they suffer, his ardent followers will simply pile on more, defending their beloved, blinded and indifferent to the abhorrent accusations made against him.

What thoughts could possibly cross the minds of the judges, witnessing this mass mobilisation in his defence? That he has thousands of followers and accomplices ready and waiting to enact any request he makes? That he might give his most fervent attendants a list of women to harass and intimidate, to prevent them from coming forward?

Or are they simply intent — as we are led to believe — on incarcerating an innocent man because he is an influential, prominent Muslim? Is he simply the victim of prejudicial treatment, implemented by a state intent on silencing critical, dissenting voices? Is his detention merely the fruit of a malicious connivance, bringing him down by illegitimate means? Anything is possible.

But one thing is clear. His ecstatic supporters wish to convince us that he is a man uniquely detained, whereas he simply receives the same treatment as thousands of other detainees in France. He is one of 20,000 people held in pre-trial detention in French prisons, many of whom have much more serious health problems than him. Many detainees, facing sudden drug or alcohol withdrawal as a result of their confinement, present almost the exact same symptoms. Campaigns for the fair treatment of all prisoners recognise this.

Whether or not we accept the probity of the French justice system, an investigation is underway. Digital forensics investigators will be examining multiple computers and phones belonging to the suspect, and the case file will be expanding daily. Witnessing the behaviour of the movement mobilised in support of their suspect — near universal support for him from the Muslim community on social media, from prominent activists, sheikhs and academic collaborators, and from the Muslim media — the judges in this case will surely be comforted in their decision to keep him in detention until his trial, even if it is 18 months away.

As usual, we present unbalanced behaviour in the face of our beloved. It is the same fawning behaviour we witness at many a mosque gathering, whenever a scholar deigns to grace the common people with his presence. We have all witnessed the bizarre spectacle of the lovers for the object of their devotion, gathering around them as infatuated groupies, grabbing hold of their garments, kissing their hands, invading their privacy and possessing them. It is exactly the same: to us, our reverent respect is normal, deserved and obligatory; to everyone else it is creepy, eccentric and ghastly, lacking all objectivity or nuance. So no wonder the chasm of mutual incomprehension.

To his hysterical supporters, the beloved is innocent beyond doubt, the victim of a plot that has amassed no evidence, incarcerated by an Islamophobic administration intent on bringing a good man down, who advocates for the disenfranchised when no one else will. But absorbed in this collective delirium, his supporters merely convince the judges that they have taken the correct decision. Yes, perhaps it is because he is such an influential personality after all: just look how he has the masses in his grip. And that, exactly, is the judges’ concern.

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