Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-434)|
WEDNESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2002
ABDULLA MBE, MA
420. One of our difficulties is that Section
39 does cover a very substantial area of unpleasant behaviour,
including threatening words and behaviour of this sort.
(Mr Abdulla) Certainly.
421. If you are then going to superimpose upon
that incitement, the dividing line needs to be drawn with some
(Mr Abdulla) That is where the question of definitions
comes into it. In a way we already had this conversation earlier
on. It seems to me that incitement is the prologue to the drama
which comes with personal attacks. Incitement creates a certain
atmosphere in a society of hate and dislike. In this case we are
talking about Muslims but it could be Jews, it could be Hindus
or whoever. It is the creation of the atmosphere. I am afraid
one goes back to 1933, 1936 and the Nazi era where you had Goebbels
on the radio ranting and raging and indeed what happened in Africa
recently with the Hutus and the Tutsis, where an atmosphere was
created in radio broadcasts. That is incitement, to my mind, as
opposed to meeting you face to face and saying "Gosh, you're
a terrible Muslim. What are you doing here?". That is racially
aggravated behaviour. There is legislation already.
(Dr Badawi) There is indeed.
422. Would you agree there is a distinction
between whether the target is an individual or a collective?
(Dr Badawi) Precisely.
423. In the case of incitement you do not have
to identify a specific person who is the victim of that conduct.
(Dr Badawi) No, it could be wider.
424. In the case such as the use of the excrement
against the mosque, would that not have been covered by Section
4(a)? Was that considered? Here you do have identifiable persons,
that is to say the worshippers at that particular mosque, who
were no doubt caused harassment, alarm or distress by the conduct
of the person who perpetrated this act. There you do have specific
individuals who are the target of the conduct by the offender
and it seemed to me that it would have been possible to use 4(a),
even if that was not the decision of the police or the CPS in
(Mr Versi) Yes, but this is an act which has taken
place. Incitement, which we are talking about, comes before the
act. Some people who are racist take that as an inspiration.
(Mr Abdulla) The fact of the matter is that the BNP
could get away with it at the moment on the website. That is incitement
to my mind.
(Dr Badawi) It is incitement to racial hatred. You
do not have to face a particular individual, but you can incite
against a whole race and we want incitement against a whole religious
community to be treated in the same fashion.
Earl of Mar and Kellie
425. Just to be slightly flippant, I am wondering
whether in the future it will be a defence to say that you were
incited to religious hatred by someone else, whether that is actually
a defence. I should like to turn to Mr Nahdi. You claim in your
CV that you first coined the word "Islamophobia". I
am interested to know whether it was a good idea for a group in
society to identify itself as perhaps the most persecuted group
in our society. Is that a good thing or has that actually put
the Muslim community on the run?
(Mr Nahdi) Yes, but that is the context we find ourselves
in. One of the most interesting thing about this discussion is
that we are talking about the physical aspects. There are other
things which people of faith communities understand are much deeper
than the physical aspect. People of faith consider any physical
adversity as part of their religiosity. Here we are talking about
the whole environment. Islamophobia was then picked up by Dr Badawi
and the Islamophobia Commission is the irrational fear. We are
talking about a society which claims to be rational. Part of the
problem about any law, as Martin Luther King said, is that it
is to restrain the evil, not to change hearts. That needs other
kinds of processes. The issue about society is that when the Rushdie
affair came to this country it was the first time really that
the very essence of law in this country was questioned. One way
of looking at the Anglo-Rushdie affair was whether there is a
role or status for a religious minority in what is becoming an
increasingly secular, liberal, fundamentalist society. There has
been no answer since then. Our issue is that that issue took our
young people from the nice comfortable lounges into the streets
and we have not been able to bring them back home. We need laws.
The law is to protect those who are weak and who are helpless
in society. It is a set of laws instituted in 1976 in this country
which has ensured that our community is marginalised, weak and
impoverished. The Race Relations Act totally consumed us under
classifications with which the great majority of our people do
not identify and under which a lot of very good initiatives by
the mainstream Society for Equal Opportunities have totally bypassed
us. The result has been that we are the new emerging underclass
in this society. When you talk about Islamophobia, it is a genuine
call from a society which finds an artificial situation because
of the law. It was only last year that British law officially
recognised that there are Muslims in this country. The first time
that the Muslim community was identified in this country as an
entity was when the governmentand this is very strangeappointed
an adviser to the Prison Service. So our starting point is that
we are a problem community. The only statistics about the Muslim
community up to now are the number of GPs, because they are registered
in the medical register and the number of Muslim prisoners in
prison, which is about 18.5 per cent, which is more than six or
seven times our population. The idea unfortunately is that we
started from a negative position and there is a danger. I am sorry
I was stuck in the Moses Room when all the action was upstairs
but the other worrying thing is the suggestion about increasing
the heading with "religious" in front of this. I am
not a lawyer, but I am a mathematician: it is a necessary but
not sufficient condition. There are areas where you get religious
discrimination which have nothing to do with this. Remember that
to be a Muslim is beyond being of a particular race. We have an
increasing number of converts here from the white community and
if you do that you will make them vulnerable. I do not know about
the issue of making any law effective from the Muslim perspective.
One of the things I came here feeling very strongly about was
the blasphemy law. As Dr Badawi says, Muslims have differences
and I am one of those Muslims who thinks the blasphemy laws are
totally useless in modern Britain and should be totally eradicated.
That is my feeling about it. One other aspect of it is that if
you are going to make a law, then we need to pool into the philosophy
under which that law is going to be extracted. Here it would be
interesting to ask somebody like . . . the idea of modern plural
Britain affects all of us, religious, faith communities and non-faith
communities. In the last few years I have spent more time in the
company of bishops than sheikhs for no obvious reason. The issue
is that what is really heartening in particular for the Muslim
community is that what you are asking for is like we are told
to re-invent the wheel all the time. You talk about incitement
to religious hatred but it was not difficult to find incitement
to racial hatred. Or we talk about definitions of religion again.
There is a lack of will so far on this issue. I agree and accept
that our starting point has been from a community which by law
primarily and by all other organs of the state has been totally
marginalised and sidelined. For this we need to be helped by the
law again to come into the mainstream because we also have a lot
to contribute from our vast resources and our jurisprudence into
what constitutes a multi-cultural, multi-faith society which we
all need and must have.
(Dr Badawi) May I say that when you say the word "Islamophobia"
is not very helpful, I am guilty because I am the one who coined
the phrase? Let me tell you why we did that. For the simple reason
that we are not defined by ourselves, we are defined from outside.
We are people of diverse races, diverse cultures but we have common
features, that is that our system of belief really binds us together.
The world outside does not recognise our differences, does not
recognise our diversity. The mechanism of prejudices is not to
recognise any difference at all. You see one person and that is
what has happened. That is why I say Islamophobia, because in
reality people look upon us in the same way; they look at me and
my colleagues here as though we were copybooks of each other,
which is not really true. I hope you have read the Runnymede report.
If you have not, I will send you a copy. It is a very, very interesting
one and shows you the full extent of the Islamophobic reaction,
particularly in the media, which is very, very frightening.
Bishop of Portsmouth
426. You spoke about the converts and the minority
needing protection. That set off in my mind the existence of pockets
of Asian Christians who are feeling vulnerable. I know, for example,
that the Bishop of Wakefield will want to make that point, speaking
for people of all faiths within his diocese. You cannot actually
speak for them, but clearly you are nodding your heads when I
mention that. Does one of you have a very brief comment to make?
(Dr Badawi) We would be very strongly supportive of
their position, their freedom in every respect and would give
them all the protection. My colleague said that he sees a lot
of bishops; I sit with Bishop Muzorewa.
(Mr Nahdi) Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury's
office set up a commission called the Christian-Muslim Listening
Group under Bishop John Austin. I think I was the Muslim equivalent
of the bishop there, in the absence of Sheikh Badawi. We are supposed
to visit eight places up and down the country. In the last three
places we visited, I have insisted that I am the one to do this
listening exercise with Christian Asians. I met a pocket in Nelson
and I met a pocket in Leicester last week. It is fascinating:
they were speaking like any Muslim would speak about the discrimination
they faced because of their faith. This protection is good for
all these minorities. Minorities should not be bypassed and it
is important that we realise that.
Bishop of Portsmouth: I am very grateful for
that. I know it is not strictly relevant to your evidence, but
I am very grateful for that.
427. I am going to go relentlessly back to the
list of questions. I am afraid it is more law, but we cannot really
avoid it. We perfectly well understand the BNP website situation
and I dare say that will not be the last and if this is going
to get onto the statute book then somebody else will have to object
in due course. I do, however, want to explore the extent to which
you are able to use what is already on the statute book. One of
the things which was included in Section 39 was the Protection
from Harassment Act. The Protection from Harassment Act needs
a victim or a series of victims rather than a huge group, but
it does have the double distinction of not only creating criminal
offences, but it gives you a civil remedy as well so that you
could stop people from going on doing whatever it is. If you took
an individual mosque which was under attack, I wonder whether
that is a sufficiently clear group of people who might be able
to benefit from that legislation. Has this crossed your minds
(Dr Badawi) Yes, it certainly has; it has certainly
crossed our minds. We feel that the law as it stands now does
protect individuals, it protects specific, concrete cases. We
should really like to extend it to the whole group. My own model
is the Race Relations Act. If I say that Jews are whatever then
I immediately get into the courts straight away, or if I say Blacks.
I should like the same thing so that if my community is maligned
in this fashion we can have some sort of protection under the
428. I think you are asking us to use a very
broad brush on an area where there is already a good deal of definition.
I have already said that we take the point about the BNP website.
I am not sure that in your evidence so far today you have taken
account of the other remedies which are still available, the other
criminal offences which are now available and whether these do
not eat into the complaint you have made about the inadequacy
of the criminal law. Yes, there is probably an area left, but
have you really thought of the dividing line between what you
have already in Section 39 and what you want?
(Dr Badawi) The dividing line is that whereas Section
39 can give protection to specific and concrete cases, it does
not give protection in the broad sense. If I attack a Jew, or
a Black, or a Sikh personally, then that is very simple, but if
I attack the Sikhs in general I would still be breaking the law.
At the moment the dividing line allows me, a Muslim, to seek protection.
If I am attacked as a person or a particular concrete case happens,
then I can get the protection of the law, but if the attack is
on my community, then we use the expression Islamophobic and we
do not have protection and that is what we want.
429. That is the gap which has to be filled.
(Dr Badawi) Yes, that is the gap.
430. That is the gap which also has to be filled
in a way which allows for the freedom of speech which falls short
of an attack upon the community.
(Dr Badawi) Absolutely; it is something we must have.
(Mr Versi) Last year, during the Anti-terrorism Bill
debate on incitement to religious hatred in the House of Common,
the Home Secretary refuted the concern that freedom of expression
would be curtailed by the legislation.
Chairman: That is very helpful.
431. It would still be very useful, notwithstanding
the reply, which we perfectly understand, to know whether individual
mosques have in fact invoked the protection of Section 2 of the
Protection from Harassment Act. Is it possible that you could
make enquiries to see whether any mosques thought of using the
(Mr Nahdi) No, no mosque has used this. Again, it
is part of the legal process and most members of our community
are not very comfortable with the law. It took 25 to 27 years
for the Race Relations Act even to receive a handful of complaints
through the law about race. Our community fears anything to do
with the law. The very process of instigating something like that
is traumatic for us. It has not been part of the issue. Another
issue is this confusion. There are many Muslim individuals and
groups which have gone for "race" because there has
been so much input into making it understandable and reaching
out to make people understand under the Race Relations Act. When
it comes to a religious thing you have to understand the mentality
of austerity in which Muslims lead their daily lives here. They
feel it is a crime even to stand up and say they are a Muslim.
When there is a bomb in Bali it numbs the whole community in Britain.
My children refused to go to school the next day. This is how
immediate the environment is which has created this hostility.
You can imagine in the mosques . . . The other thing is that it
is also a question of whether it will be a good thing, because
if somebody throws a pig's head into a mosque courtyard would
the law cover that?
432. That happened in Exeter, did it not, and
it was prosecuted under criminal damage for some reason.
(Mr Versi) Yes.
(Dr Badawi) In terms of the mosques, we have set up
a committee in the Imams' Council to receive complaints for law
suits. We receive them and we passed them to the Home Secretary
when Jack Straw was Home Secretary. I passed him 20 complaints
from mosques and requested that they should be given funds to
have cameras and what have you for their protection. To be frank,
when I arrived in this country the National Front was attacking
our institutions and my advice to the community was not to complain,
not to give them publicity, not to allow them to feel that they
had in any way affected us. This was a policy which I followed
and I discovered later on that probably in the long term it was
unwise and we should have sought protection right from the start.
My fear was the copycat effect and that other groups would start
attacking us. Then I asked them to report to me and I passed this
to the Home Secretary. We certainly have complaints from various
mosques, complaints sometimes about physical criminal damage which
are straightforward under the law, but also incitement, which
really was the frightening thing, when people come near a mosque
and incite people and talk in an insulting way to others. This
was happening quite often. Individuals, particularly women, going
to worship were also insulted and people said, "Oh, these
Muslims" and what have you and one of my students in my college
was wearing the Hijab and she is a graduate of one of the quite
respectable British universities and she was called a terrorist.
They just said "Terrorist". We do have a lot of this
happening in mosques, individuals, it happens all over the place.
433. I am going to draw this session to a close
because I have a rule about half past one: it being time for food
for our witnesses as well as ourselves. What would help, really
help me at any rate, would be if we could have The Muslim News
September 2002 instead of 2001 so we can see what has happened
recently, since the 2001 Act came into force. The sort of cases
you have just been talking about, but brought up to date so we
can see what is going on currently and where the gaps are. Do
you think you could do that for us?
(Dr Badawi) We can do that.
434. It would be a huge help, because this is
out of date, this pre-dated the new legislation. What we want
is a picture of what is happening now. Could you do that?
(Dr Badawi) Yes, we will do that.
(Mr Abdulla) I have some background documents. May
I circulate these?
Chairman: We should very much like to have them.
May I thank all four of you for the amount of trouble you have
taken. I think you have helped us enormously. We are getting to
the stage of having to try to define some of these things and
you have helped us very much in our attempts so to do. Thank you
very much for coming.