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C of E warning on terror law

THE Church of England has warned the Government that community relations are threatened not only by terrorists who claim to be defending Islam, but by some of the measures being taken against them. But the Church continues to give “qualified support” to a proposed law banning incitement to religious hatred.

In a submission to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, the Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, who is vice-chairman of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, says: “We continue to support the proposal, along with representatives of other faith communities, believing that this would also provide a check on hateful and inflammatory rhetoric emanating from the margins of the Muslim community.”

Two years ago, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, introduced a Bill that would have created the new offence. The clause was rejected after warnings that it would damage free speech.

The submission says: “We emphasise the importance of ensuring the legislation penalises the religiously motivated incitement to harm against people, rather than robust argument (whether in promotion of criticism of religious beliefs and practices) which some may find divisive or offensive.”

The submission expresses concern that counter-terrorist legislation is being used unfairly against Muslims. It refers to case studies, including a recent study by the Institute of Race Relations, suggesting that, while most of those arrested under the anti-terrorist legislation are Muslims, most of those few who have been convicted are non-Muslims.

The submission also expresses concern that anti-terrorist legislation is being used against Muslims for common crime like credit-card fraud or forgery. “While it is true that routine offences could be committed ‘preparatory to terrorism’, this is a disturbing trend which merits scrutiny.”

The media reinforce prejudice against Muslims by using phrases such as “Islamic terrorism”, says the submission. Press reporting needs to be more aware of diverse opinions among Muslims, and not give such prominence to “a handful of unrepresentatively extreme figures”. The media concentrate on “dramatic incidents of arrest”, but give less prominence to the story when charges are dropped.

“The impression is given that Muslims are being arrested and convicted for terrorism in large numbers, whereas the truth is quite opposite and the outcome is to increase public fear and prejudice.”

Many Muslims are feeling isolated, anxious and misunderstood because of the current situation, the submission says. People who share the same political aims as terrorists should be free to express those aims non-violently. “To act against terrorists without sensitivity towards the legitimate political interests and aspirations of significant sections of society is likely to damage community relations. British governments have long struggled with these quandaries in Northern Ireland.”

more on submission

http://www.chpublishing.co.uk/category.asp?id=22579

http://www.irr.org.uk/2004/september/ak000004.html

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