16th July 2004
Will Cummins generates no surprise with his vitriolic and mendacious analysis of the British Muslim community (Sunday Telegraph, 11th July 2004). However, Cummins misunderstands the purpose and intent of the proposed law on "incitement to religious hatred."
Britain has a long history of tolerance, welcoming free discourse and minority cultures. As John Stewart Mill wrote in On Liberty, "the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others or impede their efforts to obtain it." A free discourse, therefore, on the merits of Islam and Muslims (of whatever degree of religiosity) is of course necessary in an open society, but to urge others to hate, and thereby oppress, an entire faith community must be unacceptable at all times and all places. Indeed, it goes against the very heart of the Mill's "harm principle."
As recent research has shown, Islamophobia has in recent years become worryingly institutionalised in this country (see the report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia); official figures have revealed that the Police have drastically increased their stop & searches of young Muslim men, yet the proportion actually charged with any crime is preposterously low; an investigative report this week by BBC Radio 5 Live illustrated that British Muslim job applicants are the most discriminated against in the market place; and this week, the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, whose racist party polled over 800,000 votes in the recent Euro elections, steadfastly refused to countenance any link between the BNP�s menacingly anti-Muslim invective and serious acts of criminal violence perpetrated by his followers against British Muslims.
Critically, the proposed laws are not a question of protecting a religion that has been "around long enough," but to grant its followers � and not the faith, which obviously needs no protecting - a hitherto non-existent protection from oppression and discrimination. Indeed, the hallmark of a democracy, according to Karl Popper, is not just whether elections are held regularly, but whether the state adequately protects its minorities ie those who are most vulnerable to oppression by the majority.
Mr Inayat Bunglawala,
The Muslim Council of Britain