A guest post by Yo Zushi
The BBC website’s profile of the recently proscribed extremist group Islam4UK (also known as al-Muhajiroun) ominously states: “What is clear is that there are . . . men who have attended al-Muhajiroun events who have gone further than words.”
Omar Khyam, a Crawley resident who masterminded a plot to bomb targets in south-east England, had attended the group’s meetings; another supporter, Abu Izzadeen, was jailed for attempting to raise funds for the Iraqi mujahideen. But do such vague connections warrant the banning of the organisation, under new legislation that outlaws the “glorification” of terrorism?
From tomorrow, it will be a criminal offence to support the group, which courted public outrage earlier this month by planning a deliberately inappropriate anti-war protest in Wootton Bassett [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/10/islam4uk-cancels-wootton-bassett-march] — a Wiltshire town famous for honouring Britain’s fallen soldiers. Prior to Alan Johnson’s move to ban the organisation, Gordon Brown condemned the proposed march:
I don’t think there is anybody I know in this country who wishes to turn Wootton Bassett and what happens there into an undignified political event led by one or two people who’ve got malicious reasons for doing so . . . I think we should be very clear that it’s not acceptable and it would be disgusting and offensive and I don’t think there is any public support for any means by which Wootton Bassett should be abused in this way.
As much as I disagree with Islam4UK’s core beliefs, I found Brown’s play on populism to be cynical and distasteful at the time. Now, I find it worrying.
Islam4UK is not a major force in the day-to-day lives of Muslims in the UK. Despite the misleading headlines of certain tabloids, it does not speak for the UK’s Islamic community at large and the Prime Minister himself acknowledges this (“one or two people . . .”). Its leaders, according to the BBC, “have a track record of planning events that never actually happen”. The group’s main activity seems to be to generate press, almost for its own sake.
After the Home Secretary announced its proscription, Anjem Choudary, its spokesman, insisted on the Today programme that he belongs to “an ideological and political organisation”. He accused the government of allowing “freedom” to “dissipate . . . into dictatorship”, and said: “I challenge anyone to authentically prove that any of our members have been involved in any violent activities or promoting violent activities or asking anyone to carry out any sort of military operations.”
As I see it, he’s right. Did Islam4UK help Omar Khyam plan acts of terror? No. Was Abu Izzadeen following its orders when he tried to raise funds for militants in Iraq? No. The BBC’s sparse role-call of the organisation’s alumni mentions two men who attended “a rally over the global Danish Muhammad cartoons row” and “were also convicted of soliciting to murder”. Did this have anything directly to do with Islam4UK? No.
Alan Johnson’s decision to ban, which he believes is a “necessary power to tackle terrorism”, will make it illegal to be a member of the organisation. The maximum sentence for the “crime” is ten years in prison. Isn’t this a little steep? Brown may call its activities “disgusting and offensive”, but the fact that its actions lack “public support”, or that it voices opinions that are unpalatable to many, shouldn’t be justification enough to criminalise it.
When the Wootton Bassett controversy was at its most hysterical, Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, rightly argued: “People have a right to march. People might not like it, but that’s it.” Surely all Britons should also have the right to affiliate themselves with clubs, organisations, gangs, even, so long as the groups refrain from committing any real crimes (like murder)?
And like much of the terror legislation that has been normalised already, I predict we’ll see a whole host of abuses relating to the power to proscribe organisations over the next decade. Don’t forget: climate change protesters, keen photographers and the nation of Iceland are all ‘terrorists’.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Islamists,Terrorism