25 September 2009
Communities Secretary, John Denham, conjured up visions of a return to 1930s fascism, following the rise of far-right groups, who are provoking violence and targetting mosques.
He drew parallels with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF), uniformed as ‘Blackshirts’. “The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups,” Denham said following the latest clashes at the new Harrow Central Mosque.
Over 1,500 Muslims gathered in Harrow to counter the protest, organised to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11, by the extremist English Defence League and a front group calling itself Stop Islamisation of Europe. It followed similar clashes in Birmingham and Luton. Even the annual al-Quds Day march in London was targeted, causing the culminating rally in Trafalgar Square to be moved to Pall Mall. Reports suggested that networks of football hooligans were being drafted to join in the anti-Muslim protest, but in any event, al-Quds Day demonstration passed off peacefully.
The British fascist movement, which has never been as large as in some countries in continental Europe, reached its height just prior to World War Two. A major concern in today’s economic climate is that it stemmed from the years of the Great Depression. One result was that it led to the passing of the 1936 Public Order Act 1936, which required police consent for political marches and forbade the wearing of political uniforms in public. By 1940, the BUF was also banned by the Government, and Mosley, along with 740 other fascists, was interned.
A major issue facing Muslims is that the community is not afforded equal protection and treatment under the British law. To this end, the British Nationalist Party has been able to exploit loophole in the Race Relations Act to target Muslims with impunity. The latest protests also have a licence to insult and incite Muslims due to the ‘watered-down’ version of the incitement to religious hatred law passed in 2006 because of objections from the Conservative, Lib Dems and human right groups.
Sikhs and Jews already have full protection from incitement because they are regarded as racial and ethnic groups, whereas this does not apply to Muslims as they are considered as a faith group.
“If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it’s a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence,” Denham warned about the latest wave of protests.
Chants such as “we hate Muslims” have been common place. The weakness of the religious hatred act is that it only criminalises “threatening” behaviour and not “abusive and insulting” behaviour. People can only be prosecuted if it can somehow be proved that they intended to stir up hatred and it also needs the permission of the Attorney General.
The Muslim Council of Britain has repeated its call on mosques and Islamic associations to remain vigilant and exercise caution in the face of growing provocation from the far right, advising that while the threats are real, Muslims should resort to lawful, peaceful and conciliatory means to ensure the safety of their institutions and their community.
Until the religious hatred laws are made more effective, attempts should be made to test existing incitement laws against bigots, who are clearly trying to whip up violence if not hatred.