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British Muslims Slam Labour’s Foul Play
LONDON, April6 , 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – British Muslims have all the right to feel betrayed all over again, following the government’s decision to scrap its proposed Anti-Religious Hatred law, according to the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB).
The outcry came as Prime Minister Tony Blair was warned that there could be a further backlash among Muslims supporting Labour at the forthcoming general election if he again reneged on his pledge to outlaw the incitement of religious hatred.
“Those who trusted the government have been let down badly once again,” Anas Altikriti, speaking on behalf of MAB, said Tuesday, April6 , in a statement carried by MAB’s Web site.
“One would have expected the government to be as persistent with pushing through a legislation that promised to ensure the rights and freedoms of Muslims and all faith communities,” he added.
If it was passed, the Anti-Religious Hatred law would make it illegal to incite violence and discrimination against any religious group.
Instead, the government forced through the Anti-Terrorism bill which threatens to confiscate freedoms and civil rights, Altikriti said, adding that “this is another thing that Muslims will undoubtedly be considering when the elections come round.”
Whilst the government fought doggedly over many rounds to push through the Anti-Terrorism act despite overwhelming opposition from both houses of parliament, it seemed disinclined to fight so hard for the Anti-Religious Hatred law which it promised the Muslim community, according to MAB’s Web site.
The controversial Prevention of Terrorism Bill was finally pushed by Blair's government through parliament Friday, March12 , following a two-day, round-the-clock debate and tussle with the upper house.
The government had been desperate to push through the new law to replace an earlier law authorizing the indefinite detention without charges of persons it deems “foreign terror suspects”, which was recently ruled illegal by the House of Lords.
“It seems that it wasn’t really intent on seeing it through,” Altikriti said of the Anti-Religious Hatred law.
Although MAB expressed initial reservations concerning the wording of the proposed act and the lack of proper consultation with the Muslim community, it welcomed the principle thereof, according to the group’s Web site.
However, it has since become clear that it lacked real enthusiasm and intent on behalf of the government, it added.
Blair had assured the Muslim community in an exclusive interview with The Muslim News, last month, that he would not drop the incitement to religious part of the Bill as the government had done in December 2001 , when they dropped incitement section (which was part of the anti-terror legislation) after opposition from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
British Muslims were infuriated by statements from Home Office Minister Hazel Blears and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that the Muslim minority would be the main target of the new legislation.
Muslims have repeatedly complained of maltreatment by police for no apparent reason other than being Muslim, citing the routine stop-and-search operations.
Senior British parliamentarians admitted last August that anti-terrorism laws are being used “disproportionately” against the Muslim minority.
Earlier, the Chair of the Muslim Council of Britain Media Committee, Inayat Bunglawala, had warned that there could be serious implications for Labour at the election if the new law was dropped for a second time for the sake of political expediency.
“Many Muslims find it inexplicable that the government can quite easily pass laws that has a negative impact on the Muslim community but drop a vital piece of legislation to put faith groups on a par with race groups,” Bunglawala told The Muslim News.
“Muslim voters would feel deeply disappointed after receiving several assurances to put the incitement of religious hatred on the statute books.”
It would be a “regrettable move” by Labour, who had used its support for the legislation to distinguish the Party from opposition voiced by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, he warned.
Bunglawala further said he did not think there was sufficient argument for Labour to try to blame other parties for losing the clause.
“The government have enacted legislation in defiance of opposition in the House of Lords,” he said, referring specifically to anti-terrorism legislations that has disproportionately targeted Muslims.
“Labour has within its power to ensure the law is passed,” the media chairman said. “It is not sufficient excuse if they try to blame the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats,” he warned.
Blair himself had warned against stigmatizing Muslims, allowing “unnecessary tension” to develop between ethnic communities, which he said could be exploited by some parties.