Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR)

Annual Report January 2001-March 2002

1.  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  This response is essentially in three parts. The first part briefly outlines the Muslim position on the issue of legislative protection against blasphemy. The second part makes a case for, and provides evidence to support, the introduction of new legislation to outlaw incitement to religious hatred. The final part of the response focuses on some other issues that have loosely been placed under the heading of "other religious offences".

Blasphemy

  The Muslim communities remain divided on the issue of blasphemy. Whilst there is a strong voice calling for the extension of the current blasphemy laws to other faiths—and where this is deemed inappropriate to introduce legislation against vilification—to provide protection to all faiths equally, this is no longer the only dominant position in Muslim communities. There are, in fact, two further distinct views in the Muslim community.

  The first view relies on the argument that the current blasphemy laws are unreliable even for Anglicans, that extending them would not work in a multi-faith society where the core of one faith is blasphemy to another, and that protection should be shifted from protection of religions to protection of individuals—"neither God requires protection, nor His religion from mere mortals". Proponents of this view argue that current blasphemy laws should, thus, be abolished altogether.

  The second view, and one initially favoured by FAIR, argues that if extension is not possible for practical reasons, then it does not necessarily follow that Muslims should argue for the blasphemy laws to be abolished altogether. From a Muslim perspective, it is better for the law to protect at least one religious denomination from blasphemy, the Church of England, than no religion at all. After all, Muslims share the same unitary God of all the Abrahamic faiths, believe in the Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament as divine revelations from this unitary God, and believe in Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets as Prophets of God—and if blasphemy against these articles of the Muslim faith can be prevented through protection of the Anglican faith from blasphemy, then this is better for Muslims than no protection from blasphemy at all.

  In the absence of sufficient time to discuss and debate the matter further in the Muslim community, FAIR's official position on the issue of blasphemy currently remains undecided.

Incitement to Religious Hatred

  There is currently an iniquitous anomaly in the law producing a hierarchy of protected faith communities. Mono-ethnic faith communities, like the Sikh and Jewish communities, are protected from discrimination, benefit from a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality, and are protected from the aggravated offences of harassment, violence and criminal damage motivated by racial hatred, as well as the incitement of such hatred. Non-ethnic or multi-ethnic minority religious groups, like Muslims, do not on the whole benefit from such protection or provisions, unless it could be shown that the treatment, behaviour or circumstance was indirectly racial. And finally, non-ethnic or multi-ethnic majority religious groups, like Christians, are not covered at all.

  Two separate initiates have sought to address these anomalies. In the area of civil anti-discrimination legislation, the EU Employment Directive requires Member States to introduce legislation by December 2003 to outlaw religious discrimination in employment and occupation. Unfortunately, the Directive does not extend to discrimination in the delivery of goods, facilities and services and falls far short of the positive duty standard introduced by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, and will not, therefore, address the civil law anomaly comprehensively. In the area of criminal law, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, in the wake of the backlash against the Muslim community following the events of 11 September, sought to address the anomaly more comprehensively. The final Act, however, was successful only in retaining provisions of protection against harassment, violence and criminal damage to property motivated by religious hatred but unsuccessful in retaining the provisions on incitement. Thus, the current laws, as they stand, means that whilst the anomalies may have been narrowed, they have certainly not been eliminated in either civil or criminal law.

  The second part of the Religious Offences Bill is an attempt to eliminate the remaining anomaly in the criminal law. It is our view that an offence of incitement to religious hatred is not only necessary to provide equality of protection from incitement across religious groups but critical to avoid "the shifting focus of bigotry" we have witnessed in the UK from race to religion. In this shifting focus, the target remains the same, only the marker changes—"not because he is Pakistani but because he is Muslim" or "not because she is Chinese but because she is Buddhist". Unless the new offence of incitement to religious hatred is introduced, in our view, it leaves a loophole in the law that could potentially make a mockery of the current offence of incitement to racial hatred.

  The current loophole in the law, and the idea of "the shifting focus of bigotry", has affected one particular community in Britain, the Muslim community. Throughout the 70s and 80s the Muslim community in Britain, along with other minority communities, suffered from the activities of far right organisations on the basis of their race affiliations. Since the 90s, however, such suffering has significantly intensified as the activities of far right organisations have become noticeably more weighted against Muslim communities, only this time, on the basis of religion.

  It is clear from the publications and activities of far right and neo-Nazi organisations, like the BNP and the NF, that their campaigns against Islam and Muslims are deliberate and premeditated; campaigns that have been devised to sit within existing laws. The existing legal framework, thus, leaves Muslim communities, and indeed other non-ethnically defined religious communities, without the same levels of protection afforded to other ethnic minority groups. Consequently, despite the new legislation introduced by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 for the greater protection of religious communities, in the absence of protection against incitement of religious hatred, the result is a significant increase in the number of cases of discrimination, harassment, violence and criminal damage against Muslims and other religious groups not easily definable by race. This is primarily because, whilst the law currently proscribes harassment, violence and criminal damage motivated by religious hatred, it is completely silent against those that incite such hatred. The law needs to address the problem at its roots, and the second part of the Religious Offences Bill suggests a good start.

  The primary concern of those opposed to a criminal offence of incitement to religious hatred is that such legislation would constitute an infringement of "free speech". Inasmuch as "free speech" can never be an absolute right, the Government have, however, already provided assurance to allay such concerns, utilising similar logic used to counter other campaigns against the infringement or restriction of the right to free speech. As reported in the press: "Mr Blunkett said none of the new powers was intended to `stifle free speech'. He added: `Fair comment is not at risk, only the incitement to hate [and harm others]'. A Home Office spokesman said the new powers were not `intended to stop people arguing and debating particular views'." It is imperative that when arguing for free speech we keep the harm principle in mind, particularly harm towards the more vulnerable members of our society.

  Another concern that is often raised by those opposed to legislation against incitement of religious hatred is the difficulty involved in defining religion. In our view, however, the issue of defining religion need not be seen as being so critical a precondition to introducing legislation for the protection of religious groups. There is already an existing body of legislation in the UK on religion, touching on fields as diverse as education, family matters, human rights and protection against harassment, violence and criminal damage. This body of law, to be extended to protection against religious discrimination in employment by December 2003, currently exists without a statutory or common law definition of religion.

  If, however, for whatever reasons, it is felt that some form of definition of religion is an absolute pre-requisite to legislation against the incitement of religious hatred, then a report commissioned and published by the Home Office, entitled Tackling Religious Discrimination—Practical Implications for Policy-Makers and Legislators, provides us with some alternatives. Such a definition, to be included in the legislation itself or an accompanying statutory code of practice, could be based on any one or combination of the following sources:

    —  academia—for example, Emile Durkheim's definitions of religion;

    —  dictionaries—for example, the Oxford English Dictionary;

    —  other jurisdictions, for example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

  As an alternative to the definitional approach, as discussed in the Home Office report, is the list approach, which would involve formulating a list of recognised religions by a defined criteria and process. There is already some experience of official listing of religions in the UK. The prison chaplaincy service, for example, currently compiles an Annual Religious Census that differentiates between "permitted" and "non-permitted" religions.

  Where it is argued that any new legislation on religion should also cover belief, so that those who do not subscribe to a recognised religion but nonetheless partake in communities that centre around an articulated set of values and practices are also covered, for example, atheists and humanists, a related concern is the problem of defining "belief". The major problem here is one of distinguishing between philosophical and political beliefs, the latter possibly falling outside the intended scope of the Bill presently under consideration. Our view again is that such definitional matters are best left to the courts, particularly where the courts have already had some experience of dealing with such matters in the past. Under Article 9 of the ECHR, for example, the European Court of Human Rights has already determined that "belief", for the purposes of this Article, be extended to include Druidism, Pacifism, Veganism, the Divine Light Zentrum and the Church of Scientology.

  Another ground often used to argue the case against legislation on incitement to religious hatred is the notion that whilst one cannot choose one's race, it is possible to choose one's religion or belief. The implicit suggestion is that where such a choice can be made, it should be open to criticism, whether that criticism is well intentioned or hostile. Our response to this is no different to our response to concerns raised in relation to free speech and addressed above—in the words of the Home Secretary, such legislation does not mean that "fair comment is . . . at risk, [but] only the incitement to hate [and harm others]".

  We appreciate that to enable the proposed legislation to work sufficient discretion will need to be vested in the law enforcement agencies, namely the Police and the Crime Prosecution Service, and the office of the Attorney General. However, both the Police and the Crime Prosecution Service have been found to be institutionally racist and could well be institutionally Islamophobic, and the office of the Attorney General, being a part of the executive branch of Government, could take decisions which are, in part at least, "politically" influenced rather than purely legal and objective. To ensure that the necessary exercise of discretion by the law enforcement agencies and the Attorney General does not disproportionately impact particular groups without legitimate and evident justifications, we would recommend the following safeguards:

    —  Legislation should include a Note of Guidance setting out the criteria for the exercise of the Attorney General's discretion.

    —  The exercise of the discretion by the Attorney General be subject to scrutiny via Parliament via the presentation of an annual report to the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The annual report should include such information as: the facts of those cases that he has considered; a breakdown of relevant factors by gender, ethnicity and religion; and his reasons for proceeding/not proceeding with any prosecution.

    —  The Joint Committee on Human Rights be asked to give an opinion and publish an annual report on the practical enforcement of incitement legislation and its compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, especially Article 10.

    —  Law enforcement agencies are trained, supervised, monitored and held accountable for the way in which they enforce incitement legislation.

    —  An independent "Ombudsman" be appointed to monitor the implementation of this legislation. He or she should be asked to publish an annual report that is submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Other Religious Offences

  In addition to blasphemy, the Religious Offences Bill also seeks to abolish a number of other religious offences. Clause (1)(b) of the Bill seeks to abolish "any distinct offence of disturbing a religious service or religious devotions" and Clause (1)(c) sets out to abolish "any religious offence of striking a person in a church or churchyard". We do not see any reason as to why these offences should be abolished. We would recommend instead that the existing offences be extended to cover other religions, as at present they cover only the Church of England. The offences cover potential loopholes in the law that are neither covered by the aggravated offences of religiously motivated harassment, violence and criminal damage introduced by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime & Security Act 2001, nor by the proposed legislation on incitement to religious hatred.

We would also recommend that there be a specific offence of religiously motivated desecration of cemeteries, burial grounds or graves, and that this covers all religions. This is particularly important for minority faith communities who have seen the sanctity of the graves of their loved ones violated in recent years as a direct result of the rise in far right activities.

2.  INTRODUCTION

  In January this year, Lord Avebury introduced the Religious Offences Bill in the House of Lords. The Bill seeks to abolish several existing religious offences, most notably the offence of blasphemy, and create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred, along the lines suggested in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001. Lord Avebury's Bill is presently being considered by the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences. The Committee has called for evidence from interested parties, including Muslim and other faith groups. This document is a direct response to this call.

  This response is essentially in three parts. The first part briefly outlines the Muslim position on the issue of legislative protection against blasphemy. The second part makes a case for, and provides evidence to support, the introduction of new legislation to outlaw incitement to religious hatred. The final part of the response focuses on some other issues that have loosely been placed under the heading of "other religious offences".

  This response has been prepared by the Forum Against Islamophobia & Racism (FAIR), a Muslim advocacy group, established in 2001, that is committed to tackling Islamophobia and racism and promoting a tolerant multi-faith and multicultural society. Our projects include awareness raising, media monitoring, victim-centred casework, monitoring institutional discrimination and policy research.


3.  BLASPHEMY

  The first part of Lord Avebury's Religious Offences Bill 2002 sets out to abolish the present blasphemy laws, and the associated legislative provisions against blasphemous libel. Both blasphemy and blasphemous libel are common-law offences punishable by fine or imprisonment. Blasphemy consists of speaking and blasphemous libel of publishing blasphemous matter. Although libel would usually involve publication in a permanent form, it may also extend to other audio-visual forms, for example, moving pictures.

  Blasphemy has no precise legal definition. Consequently, there is some disagreement and uncertainty as to its exact meaning and scope, resulting in a number of different descriptions of the offence. A House of Lords report in 1978 described blasphemy as:

    "any writing about God or Christ or Christian religion, or some sacred subject in words which are so scurrilous or abusive or offensive that if they are published they would tend to vilify the Christian religion and lead to a breach of the peace."

  However, in the last reported case of a successful prosecution,[1] blasphemy was described as:

    "any contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible, or the formularies of the Church of England as by law established. It is not blasphemous to speak or publish opinions hostile to the Christian religion, or to deny the existence of God, if the publication is couched in decent and temperate language. The test to be applied is as to the matter in which the doctrines are advocated and not to the substance of the doctrines themselves."[2]

  The law of blasphemy, thus, protects only the Christian religion, and more specifically, the established Anglican tradition. The protection also focuses more on the religion and its beliefs and institutions rather than its adherents. Anglicans are protected only so far as the wounding of their feelings, resulting from an attack on their religion. The protection does not extend to direct attacks on their person or property on the basis of their religion.

  The law against blasphemous libel was last invoked in the Gay News trial in 1977. The prosecution centred on a poem which described a homosexual fantasy about Jesus, and an alleged homosexual relationship involving Jesus and John, one of his apostles. The prosecution was brought by the late Mary Whitehouse and then taken up by the Crown. The defendants were found guilty. The matter could not have been covered by Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which refers to the use of "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" or the "display or any writing sign or visible representation," in "a public place". Blasphemy, and more specifically, the associated offence of blasphemous libel, was the only legal ground available to successfully prosecute Gay News Ltd.

  As for the Muslim communities in Britain, the issue of blasphemy gained prominence following the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Whilst a number of prominent Muslim organisations and individuals called for the law of blasphemy to be extended to all faiths, so as to provide protection against such deeply felt offence, on this occasion by Muslims, there was actually very little consensual agreement across the spectrum of Muslim communities in the UK.[3]

  Despite the Rushdie Affair, and demands for the extension of existing blasphemy laws in some Muslim quarters, the Anglican focus of the existing law was confirmed by the Divisional Court in 1991. Ruling on an application for judicial review of a magistrate's refusal to issue a summons for blasphemy against Rushdie and his publishers, Lord Watkins stated:

    "We have no doubt that as the law now stands it does not extend to religions other than Christianity . . . we think it right to say that, were it open to us to extend the law to cover religions other than Christianity, we should refrain from doing so."[4]

  More than 10 years on from the Rushdie Affair, it is important to clarify a few misconceptions in some quarters about the current position of Muslim communities on the issue of blasphemy. Whilst there is still a strong voice calling for the extension of the current blasphemy laws to other faiths—and where this is deemed inappropriate to introduce legislation against vilification—to provide protection to all faiths equally, this is no longer the only dominant position in Muslim communities. There is a growing realisation in the Muslim communities that such extension of the blasphemy laws ought to be pursued for many practical reasons. This realisation has led to two further distinct views in the Muslim community.

  The first view relies on the argument that the current blasphemy laws are unreliable even for Anglicans,[5] that extending them would not work in a multi-faith society where the core of one faith is blasphemy to another, and that protection should be shifted from protection of religions to protection of individuals—"neither God requires protection, not His religion from mere mortals". Proponents of this view argue that current blasphemy laws should, thus, be abolished altogether.

  The second view argues that if extension is not possible for practical reasons, then it does not necessarily follow that Muslims should argue for the blasphemy laws to be abolished altogether. From a Muslim perspective, it is better for the law to protect at least one religious denomination from blasphemy, the Church of England, then no religion at all. After all, Muslims share the same unitary God of all the Abrahamic faiths, believe in the Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament as divine revelations from this unitary God, and believe in Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets as Prophets of God—and if blasphemy against these articles of the Muslim faith can be prevented through protection of the Anglican faith from blasphemy, then this is better for Muslims than no protection from blasphemy at all. They further argue that Muslims also share with people of other faiths respect for sacred literature, respect for the feelings of believers, and common values of morality and ethics. If such respect can be maintained in society through the protection of the Anglican faith from blasphemy, then this is better from the Muslim perspective than no protection of these standards at all.

  Thus, more than ever before, the Muslim communities remain divided on the issue of blasphemy between extension, retention and abolition, and, in the absence of sufficient time to discuss and debate the matter further, FAIR's official position on the issue of blasphemy currently remains undecided.

Official Report of the House of Lords, 23 February 1978, Col 302.

4.  INCITEMENT TO RELIGIOUS HATRED

  The second part of the Avebury Bill, and the primaruy focus of this submission of evidence, seeks to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred. In response to this part of the Avebury Bill, this submission will first outline the current position of faith communities in the law; secondly, it will provide evidence (including a case study) in support of the necessity of such new legislation; thirdly, it will seek to address, and, where appropriate, rebut some of the arguments that have been presented against such legislation; and finally, it will recommend safeguards to ensure protection against the misuse of such new legislation.

Current Position of Faith Communities in the Law

  Whilst, as already mentioned, the Church of England currently enjoys protection from the law from blasphemy, some other religious groups in the UK enjoy protection from the law in other significant areas. The Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA 76), provides protection against discrimination on the grounds of the statutory definition of "racial group". "Racial group" is defined by markers including race, colour, nationality and national or ethnic origin, but not religion or belief. The definition of "racial group" was, however, extended in the early 80s to include mono-ethnic religious groups, like Sikhs and Jews, and possibly Hindus, but not non-ethnic or multi-ethnic religious groups like Muslims and Christians.

  This definition of "racial group", developed in civil anti-discrimination legislation, was adopted wholesale in the criminal law when the Public Order Act 1986 first introduced the criminal offence of incitement to racial hatred. The same definition was subsequently also adopted for the aggravated offences of harassment, violence and criminal damage motivated by racial hatred, as introduced by the Crime & Disorder Act 1998, and for the purposes of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

  The result was an iniquitous anomaly in the law producing a hierarchy of protected faith communities. Mono-ethnic faith communities, like the Sikh and Jewish communities, were protected from discrimination, benefited from a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality, and protected from the aggravated offences of harassment, violence and criminal damage motivated by racial hatred, as well as the incitement of such hatred. Non-ethnic or multi-ethnic minority religious groups, like Muslims, did not on the whole benefit from such protection or provisions, unless it could be shown that the treatment, behaviour or circumstance was indirectly racial, And finally, non-ethnic or multi-ethnic majority religious groups, like Christians, were not covered at all.

  Two separate initiatives have sought to address these anomalies. In the area of civil anti-discrimination legislation, the EU Employment Directive requires Member States to introduce legislation by December 2003 to outlaw religious discrimination in employment and occupation. Unfortunately, the Directive does not extend to discrimination in the delivery of goods, facilities and services and falls far short of the positive duty standard introduced by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, and will not, therefore, address the civil law anomaly comprehensively. In the area of criminal law, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, in the wake of the backlash against the Muslim community following the events of 11 September, sought to address the anomaly more comprehensively. The final Act, however, was successful only in retaining provisions of protection against harassment, violence and criminal damage to property motivated by religious hatred but unsuccessful in retaining the provisions on incitement. Thus, the current laws, as they stand, means that whilst the anomalies may have been narrowed, they have certainly not been eliminated in either civil or criminal law.

  The second part of the Avebury Bill is an attempt to eliminate the remaining anomaly in the criminal law. It is our view that an offence of incitement to religious hatred is not only necessary to provide equality of protection from incitement across religious groups but critical to avoid "the shifting focus of bigotry" we have witnessed in the UK from race to religion. In this shifting focus, the target remains the same, only the marker changes—"not because he is Pakistani but because he is Muslim" or "not because she is Chinese but because she is Buddhist". Unless the new offence of incitement to religious hatred is introduced, in our view, it leaves a loophole in the law that could potentially make a mockery of the current offence of incitement to racial hatred.

  The table below summarises the current position of religious groups in the law.

Table

RELIGIOUS OFFENCES

A Summary of Existing and Proposed Legislation
LawType of Offence Group(s) ProtectedSentence Remarks
Criminal Libel Act 1819Blasphemy—the publication of contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God as defined by the Christian religion, Jesus, the Bible or the Book or Common Prayer, intending to wound the feelings of Christians or to excite contempt and hatred against the Church of England or to promote immorality. The Anglican Church—and its adherents, but only so far as wounding of feelings is concerned. The protection is focused more on the religion rather than the individual follower of the religion. Possible prison sentence if found guilty. Blasphemy laws do not protect the non-Anglican Christian denominations or any of the other faiths communities in Britain. Nor do they protect against incitement of religious hatred directed at individuals (including Anglicans) or against harassment, violence and/or criminal damage to property resulting from such incitement.
Public Order Act 1986Incitement of Racial Hatred—to behave in such manner or to use of publish insulting or abusive words with the intent to stir up racial hatred or, in the circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up as a result of the action. "Racial groups" as defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin (Race Relations Act 1976). The definition of "racial group" is extended by case law to include mono-ethnic religious communities, like Jews and Sikhs. Maximum of seven years imprisonment.Although Jews and Sikhs rightly enjoy protection from this offence, the protection is not extended to multi-ethnic religious communities. Thus Christians, Muslims and most other faith communities in Britain remain unprotected from this offence.
Crime & Disorder Act 1998Racially Aggravated Offences—harassment, violence and/or criminal damage to property motivated by racial hatred or where there is any aggravating evidence of racial hostility in connection with the offence. "Racial groups" as defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin (Race Relations Act 1976). The definition of "racial group" is extended by case law to include mono-ethnic religious communities like Jews and Sikhs. Courts may give higher penalties for main offence to reflect the racial aspect to the crime. Although Jews and Sikhs enjoy protection from this offence, the protection is not extended to multi-ethnic religious communities. Thus Christians, Muslims and most other faith communities in Britain remain unprotected from this offence.
Anti-Terrorism Crime & Security Act 2001 Religiously Aggravated Offences—harassment, violence and/or criminal damage to property motivated by religious hatred or where there is any aggravating evidence of religious hostility in connection with the offence. The protection extends to adherents of all "religious groups". "Religious group" has not been defined, but left to the Courts to define should the occasion arise for such a definition. Courts may give higher penalties for main offence to reflect the religious aspect to the crime. The Act extends the provisions entailed in the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 to multi-ethnic religious communities, and thereby closes a lacuna in the law creating a hierarchy of protection for different faith groups.
Lord Avebury's Religious Offences Bill 2002 Incitement of Religious Hatred—to behave in such manner or to use of publish insulting or abusive words with the intent to stir up religious hatred or, in the circumstances, religious hatred is likely to be stirred up as a result of the action. The protection will extend to the adherents of all "religious groups". "Religious group" may be left to the Courts to define should there arise a need for such a definition. Maximum of seven years imprisonment.The Avebury Bill seeks to extend the provisions of the Public Disorder Act 1986 to ALL faith communities including Anglicans, other Christian denominations, Muslims and other faith communities in Britain presently not protected from incitement of hatred against them.

Evidence of Incitement to Religious Hatred

  In this part of this reponse we seek to illustrate how, since the introduction of the offence of incitement to racial hatred through the Public Order Act 1986, and in the absence of an offence of incitement to religious hatred, the markers of bigotry have shifted although the target has remained the same. To illustrate our point, we focus on one particular community in Britain and detail what the reality on the ground is for this community, the Muslim community.

  Throughout the 70s and 80s the Muslim community in Britain, along with other minority communities, suffered from the activities of far right organisations on the basis of their race affiliations. Since the 90s, however, such suffering has significantly intensified as the activities of far right organisations have become noticeably more weighted against Muslim communities, only this time, on the basis of religion. This shift of activities by the far right in part contributed to the northern cities riots in early summer 2001.

  Since the events of 11 September 2001, however, anti-Muslim rhetoric and activities throughout Europe have reached new heights, and worryingly, far-right political parties and organisations are increasingly finding a resonance both at a legitimised level of mainstream politics as well as the more grass-roots. A recent report commissioned by the European Union Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), that set out to monitor any significant changes in attitude towards Muslims and/or a proliferation of Islamophobia, stated that, "a greater receptivity towards anti-Muslim and other xenophobic ideas and sentiments has, and may well continue to, become tolerated"[6].

  Below we highlight how some far-right groups have exploited the window of opportunity that exists in current legislation to deliberately incite hatred towards Islam and Muslims. It should be noted that whilst a number of examples are presented here, these are largely from publications and literature that these far-right organisations openly promote. There is evidence from a range of other sources[7] that suggest that a much more virulent and hateful body of literature is being simultaneously produced and distributed on a much more localised grass-roots level. Whilst this parallel body of literature is attributed to these same groups, the leadership, particularly of the BNP, have sought to disassociate and distance themselves from such publications as and when they have found their way into the wider public domain.

The British National Party (BNP)

  The BNP has produced a very wide range of materials and resources that have subsequently been promoted, publicised and distributed as part of its recent campaigns for both the General Election in 2001 and the Local Elections in 2002. Much of the literature is extremely inciting, in that it publishes or encourages insulting, provocative or abusive rhetoric and images with the deliberate intent of initiating and stirring up religious hatred or, in the circumstances, religious hatred is likely to be stirred up as a result of such publications.

  In order to differentiate and stress that this is incitement to religious hatred rather than incitement to racial hatred, the BNP itself declares on one of its more web-based projects "Oldham Harmony"[8] that "the problem is mainly Muslim-on-white",[9] before proceeding to explain "how Muslims are attacking the very heart of Oldham's white community".[10] In another of their publications that call for whites to boycott local businesses, the leaflet explains how "whites" should not boycott businesses "owned by Chinese or Hindus, only Muslims as it's their community we need to pressure".[11] It is clear that the differentiation used by the BNP is one that sets Muslims as clearly distinct from those groups that might be protected under existing race relations legislation.

Publications

  The BNP have two regular publications: Identity, which is a magazine, and Freedom, which is a newsletter. Circulation figures are not available, although it might be assumed that these are distributed not only amongst party members, activists and supporters, but also those that sympathise with the BNP's objectives and policies. Another strategy of the BNP is to sell these publications as widely as possible in areas where they are currently active, which also tend to be areas where community tensions have been identified, irrespective of whether these tensions have been determined along racial or religious lines of differentiation. However, these two publications are again merely a snapshot of the sheer wealth of "official" material that the BNP have in circulation.

  Inciting hatred towards Muslims has been a recurrent feature of both of these publications. In the December 2001 edition of Identity,[12] numerous mentions were made with regards to the Muslim community, where it complained that a poster that it had previously been using in densely populated Muslim localities, emblazoned with the slogan "Islam out of Britain",[13] would be outlawed under the new legislation proposed in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001. This example illustrates two significant points: firstly, that the BNP is fully aware of the legislative framework in which it operates and foresees the impact that legislation that makes the incitement to religious hatred illegal would have on their campaigns and approach, and secondly, in view of their continued anti-Muslim activities, their awareness that despite recent legislative changes to protect religious groups, such legislation fails to create any significant impediment to the current campaigns of the BNP and other far-right organisations.

  In support of the "Islam out of Britain" poster, the December edition also, inappropriately and inaccurately, used explicitly derogatory language and terminology to indiscriminately describe Muslims. Throughout the publication, there are numerous references to "Islamic fundamentalists", "Islamic hot-heads" and "Muslim terrorists", and there is a clear attempt to establish linkages between internationally significant events, such as 11 September and the possible involvement of Muslims, and the nationally contextualised stories that the BNP cover in a much more localised and sensational basis.

  The leaflet, CD and tape pack, "Islam: a threat to us all",[14] accompanying the December edition was a venture that the BNP had undertaken in conjunction with the two Sikh and Hindu organisations in order to illustrate the alleged truth behind the religion of Islam. Here again very specific language was used to separate Muslims from other "racial groups". The pack seeks to set out the specifically "religious" differentiable context of Islam and Muslims as separate and "other". The "Green Menace" that the leaflet refers to is one that is entirely religious rather than racial, and thereby incites hatred towards a religious group rather than a racial one. By doing so, the BNP succeeds in not only dividing respective communities along the lines of racial identification, but simultaneously, inciting hatred and agitation between different religious communities.

  This point is extremely important, as inter-religious tension and conflict can become extremely serious. As noted by Paul Crofts, the Director of the Wellingborough Racial Equality Council, "anti-Muslim feeling within the Hindu and Sikh communities in the UK is a potentially rich vein for the BNP and others to exploit".[15] As such, inciting religious hatred should not just be seen to be a "binary opposition" problem,[16] where "Muslim" is on one side, and "white" on the other. This is also a significant development from traditional far-right ideology, where it would have been much more typical for "white" to be posited opposite to "black" and all that such racial labels entail.

  Subsequent, and indeed earlier, editions of this magazine have repeatedly covered many of the same topics, using the same explicitly derogatory and inciting language, in order to perpetuate its own brand of hatred towards Muslim communities. In the April 2002 edition of Identity, the BNP introduces its new "Islam out of Britain"[17] leaflet, which it had rewritten in order to remain within the new legal framework, that on the one hand allows such incitement to religious hatred materials being published, whilst simultaneously increasing the penalty for those engaged in religious hate-motivated harassment, violence and criminal damage as a result of such incitement. The awareness of the law by the BNP, in conducting its campaigns and activities, is again to be noted.

  The BNP's newsletter, "Freedom",[18] tends to cover "news" stories that might be of relevance to the BNP and its supporters (irrespective of actual involvement with the organisation). However, the demonisation of the Muslim community in this publication is just as strong. In the November 2001 edition, a number of deliberately sensationalist articles were included in the newsletter to inflame already exisiting tensions between "whites" and "Muslims". One particular article entitled, "Police seize Bradford mosque guns", wrote quite indiscriminately that "`British' Muslims are storing weapons and training to use illegal firearms in mosques . . . evidence is mounting daily that a very significant number of Muslims living in Britain form a potentially deadly fifth column in our midst".[19] Another article that complemented this was entitled, "Osama Bin Laden thugs in Britain", and set out to highlight a "growing" number of instances where Muslims and non-Muslims have and indeed continue to come into conflict. Through these articles not only were the BNP actively seeking to create further agitation and mischief in already tense locales, but were also attempting to indiscriminately attribute the qualities—perceived or real—of Osama Bin Laden onto ordinary and indeed ALL, Muslims in this country. Such practices would not be tolerated under existing legislation against any other minority community in this country.

  In the December 2001 edition of Freedom, the BNP openly explain the loophole in the law that they continue to exploit in order to maintain their direct campaign against Muslims. In an article entitled, "Police drop a clanger",[20] they point out that a supporter who repeatedly displayed a copy of its "Islam out of Britain" poster in his window, "was then arrested and questioned, and then charged with `incitement to racial hatred' . . . The snag for the police, however, is that Islam is not covered by the anti-free speech Race Law . . . it's legal to say anything you want about Islam, even far more extreme things".[21] This affirmation of the BNP's legal right to denigrate and incite hatred towards Muslims speaks volumes. Until such a loophole is closed, the BNP's bigotry and campaigns will, many commentators fear, not only continue but become more vicious, and indeed, more popular, causing more suffering by Muslims.

  In another article in the December 2001 edition, entitled "Denmark shows the way", the BNP congratulates the Danish People's Party on its success in the Danish General Elections, following "an energetic campaign, warning of the danger that Islam presents to Denmark and the West, and calling for a halt to any further immigration".[22] This was supplemented with a further article, "Bangladesh: election bloodbath",[23] that repeatedly used phrases such as "Muslim zealots" and "Muslim fanatics" and concluded with a note on "the anti-democratic doctrines of Islam". A final article complementing this selection of highly Islamophobic material, was entitled "Mosque from Hell".[24]

  It ought also to be noted that, whilst on occasions the language and terminology employed by the BNP may not be Islamophobic in themselves, their repeated usage in derogatory and inappropriate ways "normalises" certain prejudices and attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. Such processes, that are now commonplace in the BNP's literature, then have the possibilivety of transcending into other sections and sectors of society, where the reality of Islamophobia gradually permeates into the norms of the breadth of the wider society.

Campaigns and Associated Campaign Materials

  Beyond the production of anti-Muslim literature, Islamophobia has also been an integral and core part of the BNP's recent General and Local Election campaigns. Its campaign entitled "Islam out of Britain" sought explicitly to raise awareness of "the threat Islam and Muslims pose to Britain and British society"; the only real solution being to remove Muslims from the shores of Britain. Under current legislation, it would be extremely difficult to wage a similar campaign against any other minority racial or religious community. It would not for example, be possible to openly garner support on the back of a political campaign entitled "Judaism out of Britain" or "No to Sikhism". In a multi-cultural, multi-faith society, it should also not be possible to run such campaigns against Muslims.

  Unfortunately however, such campaigns against Muslims are possible and a reality in Britain today. Perhaps the most explicit use of this approach is to be found in the leaflet entitled "The truth about ISLAM", where Islam is used as an acronym for Intolerance, Slaughter, Looting, Arson and Molestation of Women.[25] Widley distributed, this leaflet sets out a range of highly inflammatory reasons for hating Islam. It suggests that "to find out what Islam really stands for, all you have to do is look at a copy of the Koran, and see for yourself . . . Islam really does stand for Intolerance, Slaughter, Looting, Arson and Molestation of Women.".[26] By selectively misquoting the Qur'an out of context and taking the most extreme interpretations of these selected verses to justify the BNP's very twisted reading of Islam, the article paints the most despicable picture of the Muslim faith possible. It then goes on to say that, "No one dares to tell the truth about Islam and the way that it threatens our democracy traditional freedoms and identity"[27], the strong implicit suggestion being that to save Britain we must drive out Islam and Muslims as a matter of urgency. But the venom of the diatribe, in no uncertain terms, comes in the second part of the leaflet where it states that "the Koran recommends it [hatred] in the highly practical form of ethno-religious cleansing"[28] and that "an understanding of what the Koran really says . . . should lead anyone with an ounce of common sense to realise that a growing Muslim population is a recipe for communal strife"[29], and therefore, that Muslims should "mend your ways, cut your birth rate and keep yourselves to yourselves—or get out!"[30]

  Another leaflet widely used by the BNP as part of its "Islam out of Britain" campaign was entitled "An Islamic Britain: a cross to bear?".[31] In this leaflet, the BNP are much more explicit with their references to Islam as a threat to Christianity. It states that "it won't be long before Christianity is dead and buried and Britain becomes an Islamic dictatorship". The leaflet also carries a highly sophisticated illustration that draws heavily on Christian iconography in order to portray Islam as a religion of Satanic origin. Islam is presented as being symbolically crucified on the cross of Christianity—where Islam is represented by the crescent and star—whilst also being represented by probably the most explicit of Christian-derived Satanic iconography, the numerological representation of "666". The leaflet carries an overtly religious message: "save our Christian country from demonic Islam and Muslims". Any hatred that is incited by such literature can be accommodated only within legislation that affords protection on the basis of religious hatred. As this is not currently the situation, the BNP can and will perpetuate such images and fabrications without any legal redress, and Muslims and their respective communities will become increasingly more targeted for hatred.

Website

  The BNP's website is equally littered with articles and information that seek to incite hatred against Muslims solely on the basis of religion. Most of the examples set out here can be accessed and downloaded from the BNP's easy to access website. The site is home to a vast array of articles that have been written or commissioned by the BNP in order to justify hatred of Islam and Muslims. Whilst some of the articles are written by pseudo-academics, many are written by members of the BNP political hierarchy, including its leader, Nick Griffin. With such titles as "The enemy within", "The real face of Islam", "The choice: Islam or the West?", "Islam, the bloody track record" and "What if Islam ruled Britain?",[32] many of the articles, however, are no more than reworkings of the party publications and campaign literature that have already been considered above.

  The publications and campaigns of the BNP, thus, highlight the loophole that exists in present legislation, whereby a religious minority community in Britain can overtly and legally be targeted for hatred through incitement. It ought also to be noted that so long as the lies and untruths that the BNP propagate and perpetuate about Islam and Muslims helps them to gain a greater foothold in the political landscape of the UK, whether through the local or national level, the BNP will continue their campagn against the Muslim community, only, over time, the campaign will become more extreme, more inciting and more oppressive on Muslims. Only legislation that affords protection to Muslims on the basis of their religion will bring about an end to such hate campaigns.

The National Front (NF)

  The National Front has undertaken similar campaigns to the BNP against Muslim communities. However, as the NF does not have the same strength of organisational structures as the BNP, its activities are less well co-ordinated. But this also means that the NF's activities are more localised and "grass-roots", its literature less sophisticated and more crude, and the resulting incitement more intense.

  The localised nature of the NF's activities make them more difficult to monitor, and literature originating from the NF more difficult to locate. In a leaflet distributed by the North Eaat Branch of the NF, however, it highlights a local campaign against the proposed Fenham Mosque.[33] Whilst such campaigns are entirely legitimate—and indeed it is the right of British citizens to be able to campaign against new building projects—this particular campaign leaflet seeks to clearly differentiate between the "white" and "non-white Muslim" populations. The message of the leaflet, which was subsequently supported by a much wider and more indiscriminate campaign against "all mosques and temples", was that Muslims are "swamping" white communities and that mosques had "been proved to harbour and support international terorists".

  The approach adopted by the NF towards Muslims, therefore, is little different from the BNP, and in fact, there is some evidence to suggest that on occasions the NF, the BNP and other far-right organisations combine forces to maximum effect, particularly in localities where "Muslim-white" community tensions have been most prominent.[34]

Other Far-Right and Neo-Nazi Organisations

  Whilst it has been difficult to locate published evidence to illustrate the involvement of other groups in the incitement of religious hatred against Muslims, there is a significant body of anecdotal evidence that suggests that the BNP and NF are not the only groups to participate in such campaigns. One way of describing the other groups would be to refer to them as participating in "street politics"—politics which remains outside the mainstream political arena, not only because of the size of such groups but also because of the typical extremities of their ideologies and their ways of promoting their ideas.

  A number of sources, including the Black Racial Attacks Independent Network (BRAIN), suggest that groups such as Combat 18 were actively involved in supporting organisations like the NF in places like Oldham to initiate unrest on the basis of religious hate prior to the disturbances that occurred last year.[35] These sourses suggest that, through their links with various circles of football hooligans, these smaller right wing organisations made Oldham a focus point for anti-Muslim activity for many visiting supporters to Oldham Athletic Football Club throughout the 2000-01 season.

  Combat 18 has also been identified as undertaking a grass-roots campaign that brutally targets converts to Islam from the indigenous "white" British population. The campaign consists of systematic abuse, harassment and violence.[36] From the perspective of Combat 18, such converts are seen to be "traitors" to Britain, and therefore, deserving the most severe punishment for their betrayal. A number of such cases have been identified carrying the hallmark of Combat 18. What is most worrying about these cases is that they are not always solely confined to Combat 18, but occasionally also involve supporters, including neighbours and community members living around the converts.

  Other far-right and neo-Nazi organisations identified as participating in inciting hatred towards Muslims include the White Wolves, the Ku Klux Klan, the Third Way, White Pride, the League of St George and various fluidly defined football hooligan groups.[37]

  It is clear from the publications and activities of far right and neo-Nazi organisations, like the BN and the NF, that their campaigns against Islam and Muslims are deliberate and premeditated; campaigns that have been devised to sit within existing laws. The existing legal framework, thus, leaves Muslim communities, and indeed other non-ethnically defined religious communities, without the same levels of protection afforded to other ethnic minority groups. Consequently, despite the new legislation introduced by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 for the greater protection of religious communities, in the absence of protection against incitement of religious hatred, the result is a significant increase in the number of cases of discrimination, harassment, violence and criminal damage against Muslims and other religious groups not easily definable by race.[38] This is primarily because, whilst the law currently proscribes harassment, violence and criminal damage motivated by religious hatred, it is completely silent against those that incite such hatred. The law needs to address the problem at its roots, and the second part of the Avery Bill suggests a good start.




1   Whitehouse v Gay News Ltd and Lemon [1979], Appeal Cases, 617 at 665. Back

2   As formulated in Article 214 of Stephen's Digest of the Criminal Law, 9th Edition (1950). Back

3   For a detailed exposition of the arguments that were aired at this time, see Ahsan & Kidwai, Sacrilege versus Civility: Muslim Perspectives on the Satanic Verses Affair, Leicester: Islamic Foundation, 1991. Back

4   R v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Choudhury [1991], 1 All ER, 306 at 318. Back

5   See statement of Mr John Patten in a letter to Muslim leaders, as noted in Wingrove v United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, 25 November 1996, 24 EHRR1: "the Christian faith, no longer relies on it, preferring to recognise that the strength of their own belief is the best armour against mockers and blasphemers". Back

6   Allen & Nielsen, Summary Report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001, Vienna: European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia, 2002, p 43. Back

7   Ahmed, Bodi, Kazim & Shadjereh, The Oldham Riots: Discrimination, Deprivation and Communal Tensions in the United Kingdom, London: Islamic Human Rights Commission, 2001. Back

8   Oldham Harmony is funded and maintained by the BNP. The site can be visited at: www.oldhamharmony.org. Back

9   See: www.oldhamharmony.org/1.htm. Back

10   See: www.oldhamharmony.org/pubs.htm. Back

11   Ahmed, Bodi, Kazim & Shadjereh, The Oldham Riots: Discrimination, Deprivation and Communal Tensions in the United Kingdom, London: Islamic Human Rights Commission, 2001, p 13. Back

12   A copy of this publication is available to download in pdf format from the BNP's website at: www.bnp.org.uk. Back

13   See Appendix 1. Back

14   See Appendix 2 and 3. Back

15   Crofts, "BNP collaborator who would exterminate all Muslims", Searchlight International, May 2002, p. 13. Back

16   Allen, Islamophobia in an Ideological Framework, Unpublished research paper: University of Wolverhampton, 13 February 2002 (can be viewed at: www.christopherallen-online.moonfruit.com). Back

17   See Appendix 4. Back

18   As with "Identity" magazine, pdf versions of "Freedom" can be downloaded from the BNP website at: www.bnp.org.uk Back

19   Freedom, November 2001, p. 2; See also Appendix 5. Back

20   See Appendix 6. Back

21   Freedom, December 2001, p. 2. Back

22   Ibid, p. 9. Back

23   Ibid, p. 9. Back

24   Ibid, p. 9. Back

25   See Appendix 7. Back

26   The truth about ISLAM: Intolerance, Slaughter, Looting, Arson & Molestation of women, p. 1. Back

27   Ibid, p. 1. Back

28   Ibid, p. 2. Back

29   Ibid, p. 3. Back

30   Ibid, p. 3. Back

31   See Appendix 8 & 9. Back

32   Transcripts of these and many other articles can be downloaded from the BNP website at: www.bnp.org.uk Back

33   See Appendix 10. Back

34   See for example, Ahmed, Bodi, Kazim & Shadjereh, The Oldham Riots: Discrimination, Deprivation and Communal Tensions in the United Kingdom, London: Islamic Human Rights Commission 2001 and Tarafder, The Oldham Riots: Shattering the Myths, London: Black Racial Attacks Independent Network, 2001. Back

35   Tarafder, The Oldham Riots: Shattering the Myths, London: Black Racial Attacks Independent Network, 2001. Back

36   See FAIR Annual Report 2001-02. Back

37   Interview with Mike Love of the Anti-Nazi League, based in Oldham. Back

38   Sheridan et al, Effects of the Events of 11 September 2001 on Discrimination and Implicit Racism in Five Religions and Seven Ethnic Groups, Leicester: University of Leicester, August 2002. Back


 
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