Submission from Searchlight Information
Issue 1: Should existing religious offences (notably
blasphemy) be amended or abolished?
1.1 It is our opinion that the offence of
blasphemy should be abolished.
1.2 In a multi-cultural and multi-faith
society, which Britain is today, it is inequitable that some faiths
should be protected while others, sometimes with a larger following,
do not have the same legal protection. Blasphemy is also a difficult
offence to define so that a jury can consider it.
Issue 2: Should a new offence of incitement to
religious hatred be created and, if so, how should the offence
2.1 At present Christians have limited protection
under the blasphemy laws and Jews and Sikhs have some, albeit
inadequate, protection under race relations legislation. However,
Muslims, Hindus and other religions have little protection.
2.2 We submit that attempts by extreme organisations
to incite religious hatred in Britain have left many communities
unprotected or inadequately protected, and resulted in violence
against these communities. We wish to cite some examples of this
from the past five years.
2.3 At the beginning of last year, the British
National Party (BNP), an organisation that devotes itself to spreading
hatred and physically indulging in street actions against minority
communities, declared Oldham to be "the front line in the
coming race war". The BNP's leaders have criminal convictions
for hate crimes, offences such as nail bombing and violence that
are politically motivated, and many others that are not politically
associated, including robbery, drug dealing and rape.
2.4 In Oldham, Bradford and Burnley the
effect of the BNP's presence and activities was apparent well
before last summer's serious riots. One front cover of the BNP
magazine, Identity, depicted fires burning in towns up
and down the country. Some of those towns had not suffered riots
of a racial nature at that time, but did so after this edition
of Identity appeared.
2.5 The leader of the BNP today is Nick
Griffin, a man with a hate crime conviction in the 1980s. He visited
Libya in an attempt to obtain secret funding from the Gaddafi
regime and tried to ally the party he led at the time with various
extremist nationalist organisations that preached religious and
racial separatism. Yet last year he sought allies among the most
extreme elements of the Sikh and Hindu communities in Britain
against the Muslim community. Some of these extreme groups have
been involved in murder and terrorism in the Indian sub-continent,
as well as crimes in Britain including murder, and needed no encouragement.
2.6 After the horror of 11 September the
BNP ran an openly anti-Islamic campaign with the assistance of
its new-found friends. The BBC Panorama programme on the BNP broadcast
at the end of last year, to which we made a major contribution,
exposed this alliance and explained that it had very limited support
in the Hindu and Sikh communities. However after 11 September
the media were almost hysterical in the way they portrayed the
2.7 The BNP started a rumour in Bradford
that the police had raided a local mosque and found weapons and
a firing range in the basement. Although the police denied this
absolutely, the BNP used the same smear in the local council elections
of May 2002. A BNP election manifesto in the London Borough of
Redbridge made the same claim about a mosque in that borough.
We also recently found that the trustees of a synagogue in Exeter
had received a telephone call which tried to spread a tale of
arms and firing ranges at a local mosque there.
2.8 Two court cases are pending at present
concerning attempts by far-right extremists to attack mosques
in the London and Oxford areas. These matters are sub judice
and one case may not be heard for some months but involved the
potential use of military plastic explosive and sophisticated
2.9 Such plots are, of course, outside the
law. What is beyond rational belief is the fact that the police
have not been able to get the green light to prosecute the BNP
and others for the lying and hateful propaganda that is inciting
such acts against Muslims.
2.10 Letters are circulating that purport
to have been written by Muslims attacking Sikhs and Hindus. Analysis
shows that these are clearly the work of Sikh extremists, as the
letters display ignorance of the Muslim faith. There are also
posters circulating in London and elsewhere that juxtapose obviously
respectable Sikhs against a picture of Osama bin Laden, with the
intention of accusing all Muslims of being potential terrorists.
This material sparked much trouble between teenagers of both faiths.
Although the police investigated this and similar material, they
were powerless to act.
2.11 Just before last year's failed attempt
to amend the race relations laws to include religious hate, the
BNP produced leaflets inciting hate against the Muslim community
and told party members to distribute them quickly as they would
be illegal in six weeks. The police in Leeds jumped the gun, raided
a BNP supporter's home after he displayed such hate material and
seized it, only to return it after the Bill failed in Parliament.
2.12 Even the existing legal protection
for Jews is problematical. Often no prosecutions are brought where
anti-Semitic material, often of an obscene nature, is sent to
Jews, because the Attorney-General considers the sending of anti-Semitic
material to Jews does not constitute incitement because Jews cannot
be incited against themselves. So elderly men and women, in some
case survivors of the Holocaust, have to suffer filth dropping
on their door mats as no one is being incited.
2.13 I know many police officers, some of
whom might be prepared to address your Committee, who feel that
officers become disheartened in pursuing such cases because, despite
the damage being caused, the law allows the perpetrators to get
away with their hate activities.
2.14 We would like the opportunity to place
before your Committee examples of audio material being distributed
by the BNP and leaflets and posters circulated by the BNP and
by nationalist and religious extremists in the Sikh and Hindu
communities. We would also wish to give oral evidence to you and
answer your questions, as we did when we gave evidence to the
House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into
Racial Attacks and Harassment in 1993.
2.15 We strongly support legislation against
incitement to religious hatred and consider it could be introduced
by amending the public order sections of the race relations legislation.
Such a measure, coupled with the existing human rights legislation,
could offer justice and fairness to all faiths. It is our belief
that there would be no significant opposition to such changes
in the law.
2.16 We also believe that the Attorney-General's
fiat with regard to charges for conspiracy to incite should be
removed and the Crown Prosecution Service encouraged to take a
vigorous line on such crimes because of the potential damage they
cause to the life and fabric of our nation.
Searchlight was formed in 1962 as a non-sectarian
body with all-party parliamentary support and three objectives:
(a) gathering intelligence on fascist, nazi
and racist organisations and individuals;
(b) analysis of that intelligence;
(c) the publication in Searchlight's own
journals and the general media of the results of this research.
These objectives have expanded greatly over
the past 40 years. Searchlight now consists of three bodies: Searchlight
Magazine, an international anti-fascist publication; Searchlight
Information Services, a research body which provides governments,
institutions, the media and individuals with hard information
and analysis; and Searchlight Educational Trust, a charity with
a brief of educating the public about the dangers of racism and
Searchlight has acted as researcher and adviser
to many MPs, councillors, lawyers and local, national and international
organisations. The national and international media have drawn
widely on Searchlight's research. Searchlight played a major role
in researching and writing the section on far-right and racist
groups in the report of the European Parliament's Commission of
Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia in 1990-91 and gave evidence
to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee's inquiry
into racial attacks and harassment in 1993 and to the Lawrence
Enquiry in 1998.
Searchlight maintains an international network
of researchers and journalists, which operates across Europe,
North America and Australia. This enables Searchlight to chart
the development among the nazi organisations of international
co-operation and the movement of activist and terrorist members.
Gerry Gable is a vice chair of the Independent
Advisory Group to the Diversity Directorate of the Metropolitan
Police Service at Scotland Yard.