Boris Johnson raises a good point about the new ‘crackdown’ announced by the government:
Much of what Charles Clarke is proposing is surely right: we should of course crack down on the hate-spouting mullahs. Take away their benefits; kick ’em out, and if their arrival is not conducive to the public good, stop them coming in. Let us make much better use of the existing law against any incitement to murder and terror. But I am less convinced by the new restrictions on free speech.
The proposed ban on incitement to “religious hatred” makes no sense unless it involves a ban on the Koran itself; and that would be pretty absurd, when you consider that the Bill’s intention is to fight Islamophobia. As for the measures Clarke announced yesterday, to stop people “glorifying or condoning” acts of terrorism, they seem to trap us in a semantic convolvulus. What is “condoning” an act of terror?
The Daily Mail yesterday denounced the evil mullahs who “blame us” for the bombings, in the sense that we were co-invaders of Iraq. But, er, it was surely the same Daily Mail that, two weeks ago, printed an article by Sir Max Hastings, saying that the chief provocation for the bombings was Britain’s role in the Iraq war. Are we proposing to bang up Sir Max, George Galloway and all the millions of Britons who make the same point as the evil mullah?
I know, I know, tempting isn’t it? I had a similar reaction when I heard the government planned to outlaw ‘condoning or glorifying’ – would Clarke be pulling up in a Black Zil outside the Guardian’s offices?
In fact and in seriousness I still hold to the same position I took when a campaign began to stop Yusuf Al Qaradawi’s visit to London last year (the one where he eventually enjoyed his infamous hug with the mayor).
It is right and proper to stop those who we believe are involved in organising terrorist activity from coming to the UK but when Al Qaradawi and others of his ilk come to Britain for speaking events – let them spout their rubbish.
His speeches are already avaliable on video, DVD, pamphlet and the internet, so it is impossible to stop his message getting out in any case. Far better to let his views be public and to challenge them, expose them and to protest them. And yes, when I say protest I mean protest. No-one should have any reluctance to stand outside one of his meetings with leaflets and placards.
Likewise let the Islamists appear on television and radio – but let them also be properly described and properly challenged in the way that members of the BNP are.
There is precedent for such an approach – in the cold war Britain did not, unlike some countries, outlaw communist and other pro-Soviet organisations. It was not just due to a commitment to free speech. It is better that ideologically hardline Islamist groups operate openly where we can challenge them (and monitor them) rather than to drive them underground.
Johnson also makes good points when he goes on to say:
These bans are likely to cause confusion and disappointment, since they will be impossible to operate; and in any case they are just tip-toeing round the real problem, which is fear of Islam; not Islamophobia, but fear of discussing the good and bad in that religion without giving offence. It should be part of the general long-term programme of winning back disaffected British Muslims that they no longer feel that it is Islam which exclusively defines them, and therefore that any insult to Islam is an insult to their whole being.
That is why we need to begin the re-Britannification I mentioned last week; and part of being British is recognising that this is a free country, in which people can have frank views about religion. Militant Islam has been shielded from proper discussion by cowardice, political correctness and a racist assumption that we should privilege the beliefs of a minority, even when they appear to be mediaeval. It is time the discussion was opened up not just to reason, but to reason’s greatest ally, humour. Instead of banning the discussion of the 72 virgins of paradise, the alleged meed of the suicide bomber, would it not be much more efficient to make fun of this ludicrous claim?
Why not? What has been abundantly clear in the past fortnight is that a huge swathe of public opinion does not have a clue about the ideology of the Islamists which stands behind their terrorist attacks. It is one of the reasons why so many people come up with ludicrious responses to the London attacks – these really are ill-informed opinions.
So yes, let us have an ideological fight with these people and not treat them with fear by banning their speeches or public appearances. If we are going to have a battle for ‘hearts and minds’ then let it be a battle and bring it on.