Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, everyone's second favourite bearded barking-mad Islamist cleric, has had a remarkable change of heart. His appetite for bloody jihad has dramatically waned; he would now like to engage in nothing more strenuous than a cup of tea with his family back in Britain — who are, he says, terribly worried about him.
The man who from safe and agreeably leafy north London suburbia offered his continual support to suicide bombers and refused to condemn the attacks of 9/11 and July 7, all the while ranting against the perfidies of western civilisation and its infidel cockroach minions, now wishes to return to the bosom of Satan as quickly as possible.
Why the about turn? Marxists might call it an explosion of consciousness. But it is more likely the explosion of extremely powerful Israeli ordnance a bit too close to where he is holed up in downtown Beirut.
The good sheikh did not actually volunteer for the front line in Lebanon. He had fled there but vowed to return to Britain. Then Charles Clarke banned him from coming back and he chose to settle in Lebanon because he thought it an agreeable country, a halfway house between the West and the more medieval Islamic states. It was also one of the few places that would have him.
You might have thought Bakri Mohammed would have been delighted that here he was, at last, in a position to act in perfect accord with his relentlessly stated beliefs; a chance to gird the loins, strap on the old Semtex and make haste for the Israeli border. Bang! But no; what he did instead was plead, quite piteously, with the British government to airlift him (at our expense) to safety. It is all very well to cheer on the suicide bombers and the struggle to expunge Israel from the face of the earth — but one shouldn't really be expected to take part in such dangerous activities oneself. Suddenly the British way of doing things seemed awfully attractive as the shells rained down. Far better to pontificate about Armageddon from a semi in Edmonton.
Bakri Mohammed was the "spiritual" leader of Al-Muhajiroun and, when it was disbanded, the two splinter groups which formed in its wake, Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. Both were proscribed by the Home Office last week, but the Saved Sect's website was still full of the usual bile on Friday. Western democracy is "retarded and perverse", it said, and kufrs await the day that "[you] are taken back to your Lord in an intensely painful way".
There was advice for young Muslim wives: husband is always correct, never expect him to say sorry, never argue with him, don't dare go to sleep before he does, accept that you are subordinate and be sure to stand near him when he is "wearing shoes".
There was also invaluable advice from Allah about the crucial issue of nose-picking: he approves, providing you wash your index finger afterwards. As the sheikh cowered, his glorious message was still being disseminated. I rang Saved Sect about the nose-picking edict but there was no reply. Maybe they were down the pub.
Still, Bakri Mohammed's hilarious discomfort, hypocrisy and cowardice have at least provided a bright spot in the deepening gloom which is Lebanon. I have tuned in every hour, every day, to find out how bad things have become and sadly, on the BBC news programmes (Newsnight and Today excluded), learnt nothing more than the inane and repetitious views of British holidaymakers about to be conveyed from Beirut to Cyprus. I know their views — and also what they are having for dinner, who will be looking after them, how long the passage to Limassol might take and the names of each of their pets back in Blighty.
I cannot remember the BBC ever having so badly misjudged the weight of a story, of missing its import and underestimating the audience. It is the very essence of "dumbing down". Right now the continuous news channels have got what they always wanted, what they were in fact designed for — the third world war. And they are missing it all in order to tell us that a woman from Wilmslow thinks Israel has behaved in a quite ghastly manner but she's looking forward to flying home and seeing Pete and the kids.
I have learnt more in 10 seconds from good, serious BBC correspondents than in the hour after hour of vox pops, all linked together by Ben Brown, the BBC News 24 presenter, with a concerned expression. Why does the BBC think the fate of a few thousand Brits very well cared for by our embassy and Foreign Office is our prime concern? Meanwhile, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed is excluded from this exodus. But if the route to Cyprus is barred to him, he could always head due north to the country of his birth, Syria, and see what sort of welcome awaits him there. They at least are said to want him, although not necessarily in the most friendly manner.
Caught between the Lebanon devil and the Syrian deep blue sea it is hardly surprising that he should choose neither, but plump for decadent Britain instead. Should have been a bit nicer while you were here, shouldn't you, mate?