Proscription plans unravelling

The New Statesman this week (30th Jan edition) has a feature by former Observer editor Martin Bright on how serious questions are being asked about the viability of banning Hizbut-Tahreer. The NS website has some documents containing emails indicating that influential intelligence personnel are against banning HT for reasons anyone could have told them: that the group are not involved in terrorism. (Hat tip: Osama Saeed.)

One of the emails, by one Irfan Siddiq, private secretary at the Foreign Secretary’s office, notes that HT “was banned by the NUS and a number of school boards and he [the Foreign Secretary] felt that we should move against them now”. Actually, HT was banned by the NUS in the mid-1990s when Omar Bakri and his gang were still operating under that name.

Another, from Robert Tinline, whom author Martin Bright names as head of the multilateral and terrorist financing section of the counter-terrorist department, notes that HT “is active in many countries and banned in some (Azerbaijan, Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan)”. All but one of these countries is not a real democracy, and Germany is known to ban organisations for reasons not used to ban groups here. It is well-known that Holocaust denial is illegal there, as it is in much of mainland Europe. As for the others, they are mostly non-constitutional monarchies, dictatorships or near-dictatorships, some with a record of banning any genuinely independent political party. The fact that a group is banned in any of these countries should not constitute reason to ban it here. Admittedly, Tinline does not suggest that it should; he notes that they may not be caught by a criterion of “justifying or condoning violence”.

According to Bright, the emails expose divisions between the prime minister and the intelligence services, who are not opposed to a ban in principle, but do not want their intelligence used to justify it. Bright calls this “Blair … paying the price for another example of cavalier policy-making”, having made up policy as he went along, without consultation. As for why the government is so keen to ban HT despite the high chances any challenge would have of succeeding, Jack Straw is quoted as saying that it could serve to “flush out supporters of the banned organisation by identifying those who challenged the ban”! Having met many of those involved in the campaign against current anti-terror policy, they are usually not HT at all and they are not even all Muslims.

There are some factual errors in Bright’s article, which are made worse by the wheeling-out of Shiv Malik to add some “scary spice” to the article. For one thing, Al-Muhajiroun did not disband after the 7th July bombings; they disbanded several months before. Second, the troublemakers associated with the problems on campus in the mid-1990s were that group, who left HT along with Omar Bakri. They have had nothing to do with HT since. To ban HT based on the behaviour of that group would show blindness to the facts. Al-Muhajiroun themselves were not violent as such anyway, contrary to Shiv Malik’s claim. As I recall, the most violent thing they did as al-Muhajiroun was ruin Susan Kramer’s clothes when she visited Regent’s Park Mosque.

Shiv Malik also adds a few other scary irrelevancies: they are banned in Russia, a country which has been cutting back on democracy ever since the early Yeltsin period; three of their members are in jail in Egypt, again, not a beacon of democracy; and they work in the education system and in IT companies. Shiv Malik made a big thing about HT members’ liking for highly-paid jobs and good educations, which was hilariously parodied at the MPACUK website.

So, the article is fairly useful in demonstrating that the government are divided amongst themselves and against the intelligence community, but the authors shoud really get their facts straight. HT are not a threat to anyone in this country and it would be a major break from the British way of doing things if they were to be banned principally because they are banned in a string of the Muslim world’s dictatorships.

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