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November 26, 2001
Muslims back extension of incitement legislation to cover religious hatred
The Muslim community supports Government proposals to extend existing Incitement to Racial Hatred legislation to cover 'religion,' - being debated today - providing certain safeguards are included to ensure that it is not used disproportionately to target Muslims and even though there are grave reservations about its introduction at this particular time.
'In principle, we welcome any legislation or policy initiative that protects faith groups, especially in a multicultural, multi-religious society,' Deputy General Secretary of the Muslim Council Of Britain, Mahmoud al-Rashid told The Muslim News. 'Our concern is in the implementation, whether law enforcement officers on the ground are adequately briefed and aware of the sensitivities and practices of religious groups,' he said.
A consortium of Islamic organisations, led by the MCB, submitted a formal response to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the original statement by Home Secretary David Blunkett outlining proposals on October l5. This expressed 'grave concerns' about the plans for the extension of criminal law powers being forced through Parliament as a package using the events of September ll as an excuse.
Al-Rashid said that safeguards were being sought to ensure that the discretion of law enforcement agencies was not abused to target Muslims, including the role of the Attorney General, who is part of the executive branch of the Government. 'After all, the purpose of the law was to protect communities not to criminalise them,' he said.
The MCB is calling for an annual report to be presented to Parliament, which would scrutinise the discretion exercised by the Attorney General. It also wants the Lawrence Steering Group to be given jurisdiction in its role 'to increase trust and confidence in policing amongst ethnic minority communities.'
Iqbal Sacranie of the MCB said that the Muslim community had been seeking legislation extended to outlaw incitement to religious hatred since the issue was taken up with Chris Patten, when he was Home Secretary in l989. He said more comprehensive civil legislation was also being sought to 'protect Muslims from discrimination in all areas of life.' The Government's pledge to enact Article l3 of an EU Employment Directive on the social exclusion of Muslims by 2003 only covers employment and 'does not go far enough.'
Muslim leaders are seeking to gain firm assurances from the Government when they meet Home Office ministers on Monday ahead of the House of Commons debate on extending the incitement law to religion. 'We hope that the Government does not drop the commitment made by the Home Secretary at the annual Labour Conference in October,' Al-Rashid said.
The MCB is firmly opposed to most of the other new measures being presented as a package under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime & Security Bill. In particular, it said it 'objected in the strongest terms' to give police and customs services the authority to demand the removal of facial covering. 'These powers will disproportionately impact on Muslim women, who wear facial and head covering as part of their mandatory religious obligations as Muslims,' it warned.
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