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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Britain's Proposed Ban on Inciting Religious Hatred

Two Muslim activists are debating the merits of a proposed law in Britain that would penalize the incitement of religious hatred [previous posts here and here]. Relevant excerpts and our analysis are below.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, writes in opposition to the bill:

"This piece of legislation is driven by political motives to stem the haemorrhaging of Labour support among the Muslim community." In fact, the bill is not a political tool used by the Labour party to attract the support of Muslim voters that was lost after the war in Iraq because the bill was introduced after 9/11 but before the war in Iraq was being seriously considered.

"The home office has already indicated that the burden of proof would be set so high that few prosecutions are expected." Surely a "few" prosecutions would be preferable to none. That is, society would be better off if a few people were punished under this act, rather than citizens being able to incite religious hatred with no consequence.

"The way forward is... to proceed with the... Liberal Democrats’ amendment. This would change the law on incitement to racial hatred to explicitly include reference to religion as a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group." Wouldn't this amendment also rely on evidence that may implicate the same speech concerns? In other words, in order to obtain evidence that religion was a pretext for religious hatred, wouldn't prosecutors require evidence of the perpetrator's speech during or immediately before the act in question, or other evidence from the person's home, such as his reading material, posts on the Internet, etc.?

Inayat Bunglawala, media secretary for the Muslim Council of Britain, argues in favour of the bill:

"Incitement to hatred of others purely because of their religion should also be regarded as a social evil whatever their religious background." True, the loophole that currently excludes Muslims should be eliminated. However, the question remains whether this particular bill is the most sensible alternative, especially considering the amendment put forth by the Liberal Democrats.

"The attorney-general Lord Goldsmith has clearly said it is “about protecting people from hatred, not faiths from criticism”. Will it not be the case, if the bill passes, that certain minority groups, particularly Muslims, will disproportionately invoke the protections of the bill - not because they are more likely the victims of such hatred, but because they ill be more sensitive to this hatred given that this bill is, in reality, meant for their benefit? In other words, while the bill protects people, perhaps people of certain faiths will unnecessarily invoke its protections, thus leading to the actual scenario that the bill protects certain faiths.

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