UK plans laws to ban incitement to religious hatred
LONDON: Britain, wary of militant Islamists as much as homegrown far-right factions, said Wednesday it will soon put forward legislation that would make it a crime to incite religious hatred.
In a keynote speech on race, Home Secretary David Blunkett said “we have to face down extremism in all if forms” if Britain is to develop as a truly diverse society.
“We tried unsuccessfully to introduce an offence of incitement to religious hatred in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks” in the United States, he added.
“But I hope we will now have the parliamentary backing to put this in law” as soon as possible, he said.
Concern about racial and religious hatred are linked in part to the British National Party (BNP), an explicitly anti-immigrant group that controls a small but notable number of local council seats in England.
But Blunkett made clear that he was equally concerned about a handful among Britain’s two million Muslims who might exploit the nation’s tradition of freedom of speech to lash out at others.
Though he did not name him, Blunkett was clearly alluding to the likes of Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian-born Islamic cleric in London detained since May under a US extradition order.
“I am very clear that some of the noisiest and most high profile political and religious extremists in this country have no mandate to speak for the communities they claim to represent and evoke a reaction which plays into the hands of racists,” Blunkett said.
Blunkett’s speech coincided with a visit to Britain this week by an outspoken Qatari-based cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. He was to attend a series of events during his stay, including two hosted by London municipal authorities, the Muslim Association of Britain said.
In parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair — who the day before warned against measures that might “stigmatise” Muslims — faced calls for Qaradawi to be banned due to his criticism of Jews and homosexuals.s.
On BBC radio, Blunkett said his proposals to counter incitement to religious hatred were needed to “fill a gap”. “While Jews and Sikhs are covered under the existing law, those of Islamic faith and Christians are not,” he said.
But his proposals met with scepticism from the main opposition Conservative party and from within the British Muslim community.
“The incitement offence will not provide protection under any circumstances on discrimination grounds,” said the Tories’ shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission feared that religious minorities could find themselves the targets of prosecutions, potentially even from other religious groups. afp