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July 28, 2000
Concern over the new definition of "Terrorism"
The recent redefinition of "Terrorism" in the House of Lords causes an important issue of concern for the Muslim community.
The new Terrorism Law states the act as being the "use or threat, for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause of action which involves serious violence against any person or property, endangering the life of any person or creates a serious risk to health or safety of the public or a section of the public."
The editorial in this month's issue of The Muslim News highlights the unclarity of the Bill, particularly in the area of who is being targeted by the new Act. But there is no mention of any perceived threat. Previous legislation was primarily directed at paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, but still led to wholesale miscarriages of justice. When decisions are more at the discretion of British authorities, those targeted could be as indiscriminate as some of the innocent casualties of past terrorist atrocities.
Given the on-going phobia about so-called "Islamic extremists," the inclusion of religious and ideological causes is even more worrying for Muslims. History has shown that the criminalisation of terrorism is not necessarily an effective way of responding as it deals with the symptoms and not the underlying causes.
Home Secretary Jack Straw, insists that the new legislation is "both proportionate and sufficiently flexible to respond to a challenging threat, from whatever source or country it may come." He also argues that no new offences are being created. Only the scope of existing crimes are being rebranded as "terrorism" once an arbitrary threshold is crossed.
One of the main concerns is that the widening of the definition into a catch-all provision is so ambigious that it will put the burden on the courts and the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a distinction.
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