10 November 2005
- The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) makes the following submission to the Home Office in response to its consultation document ‘Preventing Extremism Together: Places of Worship’ of 6 October 2005.
- IHRC has yet to see compelling evidence that suggests that places of worship are being used to foment violent extremism. Such notions we fear are based on prejudice and more specifically Islamophobia.
- That the consultation document is based upon the Prime Minister’s speech of 5 August 2005, in which he specifically attacked Muslim institutes and beliefs, indicates that the only ‘places of worship’ being discussed are mosques and Islamic centres.
- That only Muslims are mentioned in the entire consultation document lends further credence to the belief that the new power will solely be used against Muslim institutions.
- IHRC notes that such a proposal to close places of worship was rejected outright by the community taskforce selected by the government to assist it in tackling “extremism”. IHRC questions how the government intends to “prevent extremism together” when it refuses to listen to the Taskforce it itself handpicked.
- The proposal to close places of worship suggests that the government cannot differentiate between individual responsibility and blanket criminalization of an entire community.
- The nature of the running of mosques is quite informal and open. There is no strict membership required to enter, attend, or worship at any mosque.
- In a recent trial in which a number of defendants had an association with the Finsbury Park mosque, the prosecution itself emphasized that thousands of law-abiding persons worshipped at that mosque weekly. They did not and could not criminalize the mosque in its entirety.
- Individual preachers who have encouraged acts of violence in the past have been dealt with adequately by existing legislation. One example is Sheykh Abdullah al-Faisal who was convicted of incitement to racial hatred. For the police to close the mosque he preached in would have been collective punishment and proven counter-productive.
- The term “extremism” is relative, undefined and unrecognised under British law. As such, its frequent use in the discourse on suspending civil liberties is very worrying and dangerous.
- What constitutes “extremist behaviour” in Islam is not something to be decided by the government or the police but by the Muslim community through an internal mature debate and discussion.
- For the purposes of the consultation document, “extremist behaviour” is defined as that which the police reasonably believe amounts to support for a proscribed organisation or encouragement of terrorism as proposed by the Terror Bill 2005.
- The new proposed offence of “encouragement of terrorism” will criminalize any support, even vocal support, for legitimate resistance movements fighting foreign occupation and oppression around the world. Such resistance is both justified and recognized under international law.
- The offence is drafted so broadly as to make it an offence even if there was no intent to encourage “terrorism” by the maker of the statement. All that is required is that some members of the public might reasonably regard the statement as direct or indirect encouragement.
- Such a broad definition may result in any criticism of foreign policy or discussion of political Islam in a mosque being used as a pretext to close mosques. This is essentially a criminalization of thought and belief.
- This removal of politics from the mosque will only result in such topics being forced underground. On the contrary, there is a real need for such a healthy debate to be taking place, be it in the mosques or anywhere else.
- Mosques throughout Britain and indeed all over the world pray to God everyday to help Muslims fighting such oppression and occupation. Any attempt to curtail such prayers under the guise of support for proscribed organizations or encouragement of terrorism will be heavily resented and looked upon as an attack on Islam itself.
- The police already have a very bad track record of subjecting innocent Muslims to stop and search, arrest, imprisonment and other false harassment based on faulty intelligence and Islamophobia. A police policy of religious profiling is already in operation for stop and search procedures under which thousands of innocent Muslims have been unfairly treated. In such a climate, to allow the police to decide whether or not “extremist behaviour” is taking place is to foment this anti-Muslim witch-hunt even further.
- Many innocent people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act on “intelligence” based on other people’s suspicions. These people sometimes hold a grudge against others and consequently reporting is done out of spite rather than actual suspicion. There is a real fear that mosques may be closed down based on similar motivations rather than out of any genuine concern.
- The question of whether place of worship would extend to “temporary meeting rooms” and “faith schools” for the purposes of the proposals is very shocking and frighteningly reminiscent of Stalinist tactics to silence dissidents.
- For the government to suggest such a proposal is for it to criminalize Muslim children as potential “extremists” for their choice of schooling.
- The proposal would effectively make it possible to close down community centres, coffee shops and discussion circles where issues of religion and politics are discussed and debated. This amounts to an indefensible criminalization of thought conscience and belief.
- IHRC notes that even during the period when Britain was being subjected to a relentless bombing campaign by the IRA, no similar proposal was raised to close Catholic churches or Irish pubs where terrorism, not extremism, was being discussed.
- In conclusion, any such power implemented to close down mosques or other Muslim meeting places in whole or in part will prove ineffective and counterproductive. It will only isolate and marginalize the Muslim community further creating widespread alienation and a strengthening of the belief that this war on terror is a war on Islam. Recent events in France have shown us the terrifying effects of long-term alienation and frustration of a community constantly and continuously discriminated against.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222
Fax (+44) 20 8904 5183