31st January 2005
Nick Cohen�s article �Labour�s Contemptible Election Trade Off� (New Statesman, 31 January 2005) is a sad demonstration of biased journalism that promotes only one side of the argument in a serious and complex debate.
His assertions that the proposed legislation would outlaw proselytising and would threaten the freedom of writers and actors are a gross misrepresentation of the wording and likely impact of the legislation. It is made very clear to those who have read the proposed law and consulted interested parties that only hatred incited towards followers of a religion would be outlawed, and not hatred of religion itself. This is even made clear in the explanatory notes to the legislation, should Cohen have chosen to read them.
Cohen quotes Lord Lester as a distinguished lawyer who opposes this legislation but fails to report the line up of equally distinguished equality and human rights lawyers like Geoffrey Bindman and Robin Allen QC who support this type of legislation. It would have been fairer to inform your readers that the proposal is a result of detailed debate and discussion by cross-party committees in the House of Parliament. Surely mention should also be made of the support by the Law Society and human rights organisations, like Justice and the Commission for Racial Equality. Why is there no mention that the Association of Chief Police Officers have also supported this legislation? Their knowledge and experience in the use of the current racial incitement laws, which already protect the Jewish and Sikh communities, must surely be an important consideration. Furthermore, there is no evidence that this type of law, as currently exists for Sikhs and Jews in mainland Britain and for all religions in Northern Ireland, has had any of the negative impact suggested by Nick Cohen.
The net effect of Cohen's 'journalism' is a dishonest representation of private discussions between the Muslim Council of Britain, Evan Harris MP and Lord Lester. Nick Cohen may have discovered this for himself had he asked us for our side of the argument, which is what your readers would expect any competent journalist to do.
Perhaps Cohen should just stick to writing his usual tripe justifying the murderous war against Iraq.
Abdul Karim Khalil,
The Muslim Council of Britain