Islam4UK – to ban or not to ban?
Commenters on the rights and wrongs of the Home Secretary's ban on extremist group
14 Jan 10

As of today, Islam4UK/al Muhajiroun/Saved Sect/al Gharabaa is an illegal organisation. On Tuesday, when the ban was announced, I wrote:

“The motivation must have been to be seen to be acting on Choudary and his cohorts, and now that has been achieved with minimum effort. It’s just disappointing that the government’s impulse when confronted with such a character is to attempt to shut him up, rather than use him as an example of the vigorous health of free expression in Britain, even in wartime.”

That evening I debated the issue on Sky News with Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy. Sunny, as early as 2006, has felt that a ban on al Muhajiroun is justified. He lay’s out his position on Comment is Free today:

I know people are fond of saying freedom of speech is absolute, but it’s not. People don’t have the absolute right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. This relates to people’s access to information: in crowded places they don’t know whether there is a fire, and therefore start panicking if someone shouts “fire”. This principle applies to Islam4UK, too. They continually troll the media with outrageous statements and stunts they have no intention of carrying out, or are hilariously fantastical (the pictures of how Trafalgar Square / Buckingham Palace would look under sharia law, for instance). The public and media, not knowing much about Islam4UK, end up attaching too much importance to what this small bunch of crackpots have to say. Many also assume or want to believe that Islam4UK represents mainstream Muslim opinion. That is a failure of context and information: just like shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. Islam4UK spokesman Anjem Choudary does this repeatedly, and a sensation-hungry media keeps dancing to his tune.

It’s funny that Sunny uses the “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” line in this case: the phrase originates in a case against US socialists pamphleting against the World War 1 draft (the same argument gave us the phrase “clear and present danger” — that is, a clear and present danger to the Congress’s war plans). If Islam4UK’s Anjem Choudary did not disapprove of pacifism, or America, or socialism, he might be pleased with such a comparison.

Someone who does approve of socialism is Dave Osler of Dave’s Part. Dave takes issue with the concept of “glorifying terrorism”, for which Islam4UK have been blackliskted:

The reasoning behind Alan Johnson’s ban is rather that Islam4UK is held to ‘unlawfully glorify the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism’. That is an interesting choice of word. The restriction is not upon advocacy, justification, or even mere apologia, but upon glorification.

Meaning what, exactly? Well, in the words of the legislation, ‘“glorification” includes any form of praise or celebration, and cognate expressions are to be construed accordingly.’

But isn’t there a difference between writing a pornographic novel that glorifies rape, conspiracy to commit rape, and rape itself? If you make a movie that portrays the life of an East End gangster as impossibly glamorous, and may arguably encourage some kid in Bethnal Green to take up a life of crime, that is hardly the same thing as being a diamond blagger. If it was, Guy Ritchie would long ago have been banged up for unlawful glorification.

Shiraz Maher of Standpoint is glad the Home Office has acted:

[T]he ban on al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK is not based on some spurious opposition to a group that simply wants to exercise the right to free expression. Both have been a breeding ground for terrorists and those who support terrorist activity.

That is not a value judgement — it is a demonstrable truth. A number of their members have been jailed for terrorism offences.

…Portraying Islam4UK and al-Muhajiroun as groups with an alternative and anti-war message is absurd. They are not anti-war. They are pro-war – and they support the other side.

That worldview is precisely what these groups promote. Liberal democracies are not just right to – but are obliged to – defend themselves against the horrors they want to realise.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.