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Civil liberties in the spotlight as Muslim group banned
Civil liberties campaigners have expressed fears for religious freedom, following the government’s decision to ban Islam4UK, a small extremist group. They suggest it is the latest example of the use of anti-terrorism legislation to suppress opinions rather than violence.
Announcing the ban, home secretary Alan Johnson said that the group ‘glorifies’ terrorism.
Critics say that the decision followed controversy over Islam4UK’s plan to march through Wooton Bassett. They suggest that ministers were looking for favourable headlines after the Tory opposition called for the organisation to be outlawed.
‘Is banning the group really how a confident liberal democracy should be responding?’ asked the Muslim commentator Inayat Buglawala. He said that ‘the overwhelming majority of British Muslims’ find Islam4UK’s views repulsive, but that this does not justify prohibition.
In a statement between the announcement of the ban and its coming into force, Islam4UK declared on their website that the ban was a ‘victory’ that demonstrated the government’s hostility to Islam.
Their response raised fears that some would use the ban to encourage Muslim hostility to British society. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty said that it would fuel extremism rather than reducing it, unless ministers had ‘very strong evidence’ that Islam4UK was facilitating terrorism.
However, British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) welcomed the ban, but added that it should be balanced by similar action against far-right groups.
Further alarm was expressed about threats to religious liberty when the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) called for legislation to ban clothing that covers the face, particularly the niqab or Muslim veil. Government ministers made it clear that they disagreed.
The writer Na’ima B Robert, who wears the niqab, accused those who want to ban it of ‘intolerance and prejudice’. She insisted that ‘all have the right to express themselves through their dress’.
However, there was some good news for civil liberties campaigners when the European Court of Human Rights criticised the UK police’s use of the Terrorism Act to stop and search peaceful demonstrators.
The court in Strasbourg awarded damages to anti-arms trade activists Pennie Quinton and Kevin Gillan. They were detained and searched by police on their way to nonviolent protests against the London arms fair – known more formally as Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) – in 2003. The government said that it would appeal against the decision, but Kevin Gillan hailed the result as ‘fantastic news after a long struggle’.
News sought on Haitian Friends
Friends around the world have been giving financial and practical support to aid efforts in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, while awaiting news of the 2,000 Quakers in the country.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) released $50,000 shortly after the event occurred, to be used mainly for emergency medical supplies.
AFSC is working in alliance with international agencies.
Nick Guttmann of Christian Aid said that the agency is taking supplies by land through the
Dominican Republic, which forms part of the same island as Haiti. ‘We will see aid starting to flow much more quickly’, he predicted. Meanwhile, Evangelical Friends Church (EFC) in Canton, Ohio, is trying to make contact with the seven Haitian Friends Churches with which it is linked. The main location of the churches is thirty miles north-west of the area that has taken the brunt of the destruction.
‘We know that our lead church is damaged’, said Wayne Evans of EFC, ‘but we have no information about our people’.
Friends in the country have run a centre that distributes vitamins and clean water, gives Bible lessons and runs an elementary centre, as well as teaching parenting skills.
‘I think what is happening right now is that neighbour is helping neighbour’ explained Wayne, who is posting daily updates at www.efcer.org.
At Meeting for Sufferings at the weekend representatives held an impromptu collection for relief efforts in Haiti, asking the clerk to forward the donations to AFSC.
the Friend, 22 January 2010