The Muslim group “Islam4UK” has today been proscribed by UK Home Secretary Mr Alan Johnson under anti-terrorism laws.
Islam4UK hit the headlines a month or so ago when the group announced plans for a parade in Wooton Bassett, the English town which has become synonymous with the war in Afghanistan. Every British soldier killed in the course of the ongoing war is carried through the town immediately after touching down at the local airstrip. Islam4UK announced that it planned an alternative march through the town.
The move, which was largely a publicity stunt aimed to raise awareness of Afghani muslims who die on the ‘other’ side, prompted outrage from the British media, and has perhaps pushed the Home Secretary to make what he describes as “a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism” which “is not a course we take lightly.”
Whether or not Islam4UK is a terrorist organisation is open to debate, though it is known to be “a platform for” al-Muhajiroun, an organisation which is linked with glorification (after the event) of the 9/11 attack on New York, which would seem to fall under the scope of the Terrorism Act (2000). Under the Act, it is unlawful for a group to “participate in acts of terrorism, prepare for, promote or encourage terrorism…”
Proscribing a group seems to be a rather strange answer to the threat of terrorism, however. There is nothing, at present, to stop Islam4UK founder, Anjem Choudary, from simply changing the name of his group. Were this a terrorist organisation, a ban does nothing to achieve the prevention of any attack. If these are not terrorists, and Islam4UK is simply a politically active group with pro-Islamic aims, Islam4UK achieves its main aim: a high profile.
Whichever way you look at this argument, the points raised by the well-spoken figurehead of Islam4UK do seem to be valid: Muslims are dying in Afghanistan as a direct result of action taken by the British military. The planned march through Wooton Bassett was cancelled last week as Islam4UK felt they had “successfully highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan”.
Do these seem like the actions of a group bent on achieving its political aims through the use of terror?
Terrorism it ain’t, and reactionaryism isn’t, yet, illegal in the UK. The reaction of Prime Minister Gordon Brown (“disgusting”) and the British media to the announcement of the Wooton Bassett march was predictable, and that’s why this has been so effective for Islam4UK.
Luckily for the Home Secretary, he had a trump card up his sleeve: the power to proscribe Islam4UK using anti-terror laws. To mix another card metaphor, however, Alan Johnson’s hand may turn out to be a busted flush: in banning Islam4UK he raises their profile, and polarises what might otherwise have been moderate opinions; he promotes and perpetuates an ‘us versus them’ feeling among British citizens of different faiths.
If it wishes to prevent terrorism, perhaps it is time for the British Government to take an inclusive approach. Maybe listening to opposing arguments and explaining why you have a taken a different stance would promote more harmony than attempting to make the devisive and apparently impossible move of banning a group by its name alone.