Patrick Goodenough, International Editor (CNSNews.com) – In a victory for British Muslim campaigners, the House of Commons Monday passed a bill aimed at curbing religious hatred, despite critics’ warnings that it could worsen relations between religious communities. The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill passed its third reading by a 301-229 vote, just hours after Prime Minister Tony Blair’s press secretary declined to rule out using the measure, if it becomes law, against Muslim figures who may incite violence against Christians and Jews. Spokesman Tom Kelly told a Downing Street press conference he would not get into hypothetical speculation about individuals, but the law would be there and it would be applied correctly. Last Thursday’s terrorist bombings in London have focused renewed attention on controversial Muslim figures based in the capital who have long advocated jihad against the West. Islamic organizations have lobbied hardest for the legislation, saying their community needed protection, given an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment after 9/11. They argued that while Jews and Sikhs were already protected by race-hate laws – because they are seen as ethnic groups as well as religious ones – Muslims were not covered in this way, hence the need for a specific religious hatred law. Two previous attempts by the Labor government to get the law passed since 2002 failed, the first running into strong opposition in the upper House of Lords, and the second running out of time earlier this year when parliament was dissolved ahead of elections. After Monday’s Commons vote, the bill now goes to the House of Lords where it is again expected to face tough objections. If passed, the legislation will create a new offence, applying to written material and public verbal comments “that are threatening, abusive or insulting [and] likely to stir up racial or religious hatred.” Anyone convicted under the law could be jailed for up to seven years. Opposition parties – and some Labor MPs – oppose the bill for various reasons, including concerns that it could stifle free speech or infringe the right of the adherents of one faith to question the claims of another. Opposition lawmakers proposed an amendment that would outlaw religious hatred in specific cases where it is used as a pretext for stirring up hatred against an ethnic group. But the proposal was defeated Monday by 291 votes to 233. Senior Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve said in the Commons that the bill was “catastrophically flawed” and would not improve race relations. “If the government really wants to tackle this issue, it is going to have to get away from the promises made to various people of some equal playing field, accept that religion and race are different, start to look at the real nature of the problem and try to come up with some constructive solutions,” he said.b What About The Koran? In an earlier Commons debate, a Conservative MP raised the possibility that the law, if passed, could outlaw the reading of passages of the Koran that called for harsh treatment against Christians and Jews. Following those assertions, a delegation of prominent Muslims held talks last week with the government minister responsible for the bill, Paul Goggins, to check whether the legislation could affect reading and quoting from the Koran and other Islamic texts such as the Hadith — the traditional sayings of Mohammed and other early Muslim figures. There were concerns in the Muslim community “that dawah [proselytizing] and propagatory practices may be curtailed under the new legislation,” the Muslim Weekly reported. The delegation suggested that it may be preferable to “totally exempt” Islamic texts from the bill. “The minister assured the Muslim community that there was nothing in the bill that would prevent scholars from delivering their sermons or from reciting from the Koran,” the Muslim publication said. Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) Secretary-General Iqbal Sacranie, who headed the delegation, said afterwards he was glad the confusion had been cleared. “Muslim scholars may proceed uninhibited in the performance of their duties,” he said. The MCB has led the lobbying to get the law passed. The Barnabas Fund, a British charity working among Christian minorities in Islamic countries, has played a key role in Christian opposition to the bill. Commenting on the Muslim Council’s attempt to get the Koran exempted from the law, the Barnabas Fund said Muslim leaders in Britain had done their best to have themselves protected by the proposed law. “Now faced with the anti-Christian and anti-Semitic parts of their holy books it appears some are realizing that unless they claim exemption they also will be vulnerable to prosecution,” it said. “This shows the desperate need for Islam to reform itself. Muslim leaders must have the courage to reform their faith and reinterpret the war passages of the Koran and Hadith in a spiritual and peaceable way.” The Barnabas Fund said the bill could cause disharmony among different faiths in Britain. “It also has the potential to silence those who speak out on behalf of millions of people who suffer as a result of particular religious teachings, such as Muslims who convert to another faith (who should be executed according to Islamic law) or Dalits (treated as ‘untouchables’ in the traditional Hindu caste system).” Other opponents of the bill include lawyers, civil libertarians, and actors such as comedian Rowan Atkinson who worry it would outlaw religious jokes. On Monday leaders of evangelical African and Caribbean churches in Britain rallied against the bill, saying it could affect their ability to share the Christian gospel with non-Christians. A petition signed by hundreds of British churches and handed to the government Monday warned about the effects on freedom of speech, saying that “the mere quoting of texts from both the Koran and the Bible could be captured and criminalized by this law.” Also lobbying in parliament was Australian evangelical pastor Danny Nalliah, who together with a colleague has been found guilty of vilifying Islam under a similar law in the Australian state of Victoria. The two pastors face the possibility of going to prison if they defy — as they intend to do — a judge’s order to apologize publicly. Some critics have accused the British government of pushing the bill as a sop to Muslims who traditionally support Labor but were angered by the government’s policies on Iraq. “In essence Labor aims to reward the MCB with a piece of legislation in return for the Muslim vote during the election,” says Sunny Hundal, editor of Asians in Media, a media industry magazine. In an article published last week, Hundal criticized the bill, saying that while “Islamophobia is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with” the legislation would likely affect voices within the Asian community that go against “politically correct stances.”
Britain’s top Muslim scholars are drafting a fatwa stripping those behind the grisly London blasts, if proved Muslims, from the right to call themselves Muslims, a leading British newspaper said Sunday, July 10. Signed by dozens of prominent Muslim bodies, mosques, Islamic scholars and community groups, the religious edict will brand the attacks as a breach of the most basic tenets of Islam, reported The Independent. “If these bombers are found to be Muslims, we will make it clear we utterly dissociate ourselves from them – even if they claim to be Muslims or are acting under the mantle of the Islamic faith. We reject that utterly,” said the official spokesman of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Two different groups purporting to be Al-Qaeda affiliated claimed responsibility for the bloody blasts which killed at least 49 people and wounded 700 others. The Independent said police and intelligence agents are investigating the theory that a gang of white “mercenary terrorists” was hired by Al-Qaeda to carry out the attacks. Commander Brian Paddick of the London Metropolitan Police told reporters Sunday no arrests have been made yet and that they were not focusing on any specific suspects. The fatwa will also make clear that Muslims have a moral duty to help the police catch the perpetrators. The move follows a decision taken Friday, July 8, at an emergency meeting attended by about 100 of the country’s most prominent Muslim leaders, held in private at East London Mosque, said the daily. Imams across Britain were united in condemning the attacks in their weekly Friday sermons, encouraging Muslims to offer all possible assistance to the victims and authorities. Enemies Of Islam Senior minority leaders believe they must undermine the religious basis of the terrorists’ actions, said the British daily. “Those behind this atrocity aren’t just enemies of humanity but enemies of Islam and Muslims”, said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the MCB, the main representative Muslim body in Britain. “The people at the receiving end of this, both as some of the victims of the bombing and victims of the backlash, are Muslims,” he stressed. Murad Qureshi, the only Muslim member of the Greater London Assembly and a former Labour councilor in Westminster, backs such a fatwa. “It is about time we put clear distance between ourselves and so-called Muslim leaders like Osama bin Laden, who has been able to dictate the whole agenda with his video nasties,” he said. “We’re not talking about Muslims here. We’re talking about a bunch of nutters. The time has come to debunk the idea they are sanctioned by Islam.” The London blasts have drawn immediate condemnation from prominent scholars across the Muslim world, who said that such black actions run in the face of Islam which strictly forbids killing civilians. Dividing Line Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said there should be a “dividing line” between terrorists and Muslims. “There’s not a dividing line between Muslims and Londoners. The dividing line is between those who commit these acts and those who don’t,” he said. While saying that the perpetrators acted “in the name of Islam,” Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained that “the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law abiding people who abhor terrorism every bit as much as we do.” He also admitted there can be no security solution to terrorist attacks, urging the world to address the underlying causes of terrorism. David Clark, a former Labour government adviser, wrote in the Guardian Saturday there can be no hope of defeating terrorism until the world community is ready to take legitimate Arab grievances seriously.
By Arthur Neslen in London A controversial letter sent out by the Muslim Council of Britain to more than 1000 mosques has split the country’s Muslim community, with some communal leaders saying it will increase Islamophobia. The letter urges congregations to report any suspicions they might have about other worshippers to the police. “Islam categorically forbids violence and killing of innocents, let alone indulging in violence which can cause death and mayhem,” it says. “We therefore urge you to observe the utmost vigilance against any mischievous or criminal elements from infiltrating the community and provoking any unlawful activity.” The MCB’s appeal to the UK’s two million Muslims will be made through imams, chairmen and secretaries of mosques. Hundreds of thousands of booklets will also be sent out. But Masoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told Aljazeera.net that the letter’s assumptions are false. “As Muslims, we need to challenge stereotyping and injustices, rather than becoming party to them,” he said. “I’m not questioning the MCB’s intentions but it seems that they are reacting without thinking. “I know that they have been put under a lot of pressure but this sort of action is pointless, reactionary and actually creates the very Islamophobia that we are trying to fight. I can’t put it more strongly than that.” Number of arrests Iqbal Sacranie, the director of the Muslim Council of Britain, dismissed the charge as “utterly nonsensical”. “The only response some elements have to a positive and constructive initiative is to try to undermine it,” he told Aljazeera.net. “How can this letter be Islamophobic? “It is facing the reality that there are a large number of arrests taking place in the community. Although, by the grace of God, most are released without charge, some are convicted. One Muslim conviction is one too many.” In fact there have been two Muslim convictions for terrorism offences since the September 11 attacks. But there have also been more than 500 arrests and a dramatic shift in police “stop and search” policies. Last year, police made 32,100 searches under the Terrorism Act, an increase of 30,000 on the figure for 2000. Community leaders say that the vast majority of those targeted have been young Muslims. Not unexpected For Abd al-Bari Atwan, the influential editor of the al-Quds newspaper, the MCB’s decision was not unexpected. “The Muslim community in Britain is facing a critical time because the media have launched a hate campaign against them since the Madrid bombings,” he told Aljazeera.net. “Every Muslim is now a suspect and everyone is being watched by the police and intelligence services in one way or another.” The controversy over the MCB letter closely followed the arrest of eight British Muslims on Monday, for their part in an alleged al-Qaida bomb plot. On Wednesday a judge granted police a further three days to question the men. Police said that half a ton of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser?that can be used to make explosives, was recovered during the operation. Dr Sacranie denied that the MCB’s letter was a panic response to subsequent media headlines such as the Daily Telegraph’s “Islamic bomb attack foiled” which proved offensive to so many in the Muslim community. “This initiative is part of our long-term action plan,” he said. “We feel the pressure day in and day out to do something for the community and for the country.” “To talk about ‘Islamic terrorism’ is a contradiction in terms, as Islam is a religion of humanity that utterly and totally condemns acts of violence and terrorism. Yet we are the only community that is being linked with terrorists.” But he singled out extremist groups such as al-Muhajiroun, for targeting alienated Muslim youths. “Within our community, there are elements who try to create hatred against people of other faiths,” he said. “We are telling the youth we share their concerns about the atrocities being committed in Palestine but it is unacceptable to use violent means in the UK.” ‘No platform’ Shortly after the letter was released, the UK’s National Union of Students moved to “no platform” or ban al-Muhajiroun, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and Hizb al-Tahrir from speaking at any campus in the country. The three groups have been associated with anti-Semitic propaganda. But Atwan said al-Muhajiroun were “a very small group and a tabloid creation,” while Usama Saeed of the Muslim Association of Britain described them as “an empty drum, they make a lot of noise, but in reality there is nothing much happening there.” Saeed told Aljazeera.net that he did not know whether the MCB letter would have a positive effect on the press hysteria. “There has to be vigilance in the community,” he said, “But we also have to have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.” “I have never seen any terrorists recruiting or organising in mosques. If someone told me to weed these people out, I wouldn’t know where to start. What is needed is a debate about the root cause of terrorism, which is our country’s foreign policy.” The row over the letter, he added, was being taken out of context by the press. One story the British media did not report the week before the alleged al-Qaida bomb ring was smashed, was cited by many Muslim leaders as an example of the animus they are now facing. A 17-year-old Muslim girl was kidnapped in Ilford, East London by a Christian fundamentalist who slashed a crucifix into her upper arms and side and tried to force her to recite the holy trinity. When she refused, he repeatedly told her that “Christianity is the right religion” and slashed her every time he did so. However, the tabloids did at least turn their attention to Ilford the following week. It was the home town of one of the alleged al-Qaida bombers.
A number of mosques across the UK have appealed to worshippers at Friday prayers to co-operate with the police in the fight against terrorism. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) urged imams to make the appeal but some are thought to be angry their religion has been linked with terrorism. Meanwhile, police are questioning a ninth man following anti-terror raids in the South East. Tony Blair welcomed the appeal and said new anti-terror laws could be drawn up. At Regent’s Park Mosque, the largest in the country, spokesman Abdesselam Daoud said although the MCB’s letter would not be read out in full, its sentiments and concerns would be reflected in the day’s sermon. “It’s not practical to read a letter to a large audience but the sermon will focus on concerns of brotherhood and security of the community,” he said. But as several thousand prayer-goers left the London mosque, fringe radical group Al Muhajiroun staged a protest and burning of the union flag. The overwhelming majority ignored the protest, while some of the prayer-goers shouted abuse at the radicals. Others complained that the media at the scene were hyping the situation. During his Downing Street briefing to press on Thursday, Mr Blair indicated identity cards would be brought in soon and further anti-terrorist legislation was being drawn up. The MCB drew up a letter to mosques in the wake of the Madrid bombings, although news of its unprecedented step came at the same time as the raids in the South East, which led to the seizure of half a ton of fertiliser used in bombings. Police have until Saturday to question the first eight men – thought to be Britons of Pakistani descent – arrested over an alleged bomb plot. The latest man to be arrested was a 27-year-old Briton held in Crawley, West Sussex – the fourth in the town. He was held on Thursday evening on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. A man has also been detained by police in Canada in connection with alleged terrorist offences in London, although police have not indicated whether the arrest is linked to the British raids. Mohammed Momin Khawaja is due to appear via video link before a court in Ottawa on Friday. ‘Major crisis’ The Muslim Council of Britain said there had been an “overwhelmingly positive” reaction to its calls for mosques to help in the fight against terror. And it dismissed the comments of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, a cleric who on Thursday said the MCB was being unfair and advised Muslims not to co-operate. MCB general secretary Iqbal Sacranie said: “The message that is going out is not in any way associating mosques with terrorism.” Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: “Mosques are an important institution in the country. “The imams and chairmen and secretaries are playing a very important role in society. “We are facing a major crisis in the country and world over. We have to exercise our duty, an Islamic duty, which is to convey the message to the community that they have responsibilities as well.” As well as Friday’s sermons, booklets are being printed that will remind Muslims of their obligation to help safeguard Britain’s security.