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Issue 191, Friday 25 March 2005 - 14 Safar 1426
Home Office Minister, Hazel Blears, has become the first member of the British Government to insist that Muslims should accept that their community would be disproportionately targeted in the so-called war on terror.
“The threat is most likely to come from those people associated with an extreme form of Islam, or who are falsely hiding behind Islam. It means that some of our counter-terrorism powers will be disproportionately experienced by the Muslim community,” Blears said.
“I think that is the reality and I think we should recognise that. If a threat is from a particular place then our action is going to be targeted at that area,” she told Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into the impact of anti-terrorist measures on community relations.
Her provocative comments were seen as scare mongering as the Government struggled to pass new controversial anti-terror legislation that allows the Home Secretary to issue controversial control orders against anyone on the merest grounds of reasonable suspicion. It was followed up by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, claiming Britain is threatened by “several hundred” people within its borders who are planning terrorist attacks. Speaking on BBC’s Woman’s Hour, he insisted that there was “no distinction” between the police and security service on the need to increase powers to combat the threat of terrorism. His warning also coincided with the Metropolitan Police launching a month-long anti-terror campaign, urging people to be vigilant about suspect packages and unusual activities in places like flats and garages.
It is indeed a sad day when the Parliament passed a bill to curb civil liberties of British citizens. A British citizen can now effectively be imprisoned in his own Englishman’s castle without due process of law. This will neither serve security nor justice.
The proceedings in the Parliament, which was bulldozed in less than two days, created an atmosphere of fear. The debate is about scaring the population in justifying the draconian measures. British citizens will not be taken into custody under this new anti-terror act, but will be punished by ‘control orders’ whereby the person, who will most probably be a Muslim, will be incarcerated in his own home with an electronic tag, with restricted communications and having no visitors without the Home Office permission. His house can be searched at the whim of police officers, yet the person targeted will not be told the reason for his indefinite ‘control order.’ His family will suffer by such an unjust law, as they would be stigmatised as being terrorists by neighbours and vigilante groups. It can only be seen as a victory for the terrorist at the expense hard-fought basic rights. So much for Britain claiming to be a beacon of democracy.
In an exclusive interview with The Muslim News (see p1), Blair played down the extent of the new measures. It would be applied “in a very limited sets of circumstances for a very small number of people.” But he insisted that “the truth is we are under threat.” Equally, yet contrary to Blear’s ‘reality,’ the Prime Minister claimed that the new powers were “not directed at the Muslim community.” Despite the claims of imminent doom, there has never been an intelligent debate about the terror threat and sacrifices the Government is prepared to make about civil liberties and the quality of life without any public consultations. “The problem that I have, as Prime Minister, we do know that there are groups of people who are trying to plan terrorist acts in this country,” the Prime Minister told The Muslim News to justify the new draconian measures.
It is totally unacceptable for any government minister to scaremonger, especially when demonizing and alienating a whole community. How can 1.8 million men, women and children be told to face collective punishment when statistics show that out of 17 people found guilty of terrorist acts since 9/11 in the UK, only three were Muslim. The danger is that such outbursts not only risk legitimizing but further provoking anti-Muslim sentiments. It comes with a bitter irony that such remarks are made at a time when the Government is pressing to outlaw the incitement to religious hatred.
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