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Home > Politics

Deportation: Headless Chicken Time. Again.

26 August 2005

This week home secretary Charles Clarke outlined new rules on reasons for deporting or excluding foreigners, by which he really meant ‘Islamic extremists’. To this end he produced a list of ‘unacceptable behaviour’, making him sound like a teacher trying, in vain, to control a class of naughty Islamic child terrorists:

*Bullying other pupils - unacceptable.
*Teasing the school guinea pig - unacceptable.
*Declaring jihad on the invaders who must pay for the desecration of the Holy Lands in fountains of their own blood - unacceptable.’

This list includes ‘radical preaching’, running extremist websites and publishing articles intended to encourage terrorism. The rules will cover articles already published and speeches or sermons already made. It’s probably a good idea not to get burgled right now, as the police could well be busy wading through mountains of bloodcurdling purple prose about jihad for the foreseeable future.

Superficially, clamping down on extremist Islamic agitation seems like A Good Thing. It appears that the UK has turned a blind eye to Islamic extremists in recent years, probably for a variety of reasons. Firstly, we live in a free country that tolerates extreme opinions (as opposed to actions). Secondly, the views of Islamic extremists have tended to be dismissed as a lunatic fringe. Thirdly, before the war in Iraq, we didn’t see the UK as a target. Militant Islamists have always hated various enemies, whether it was Israel, the US, the Russians in Afghanistan or any state that opposed them, such as Pakistan, but as long as they weren’t bothering us, we didn’t bother them.

That’s changed, but with Clarke’s proposals we’re entering strange new territory. There are obvious things you cannot do under UK law - incite people to kill other people, for a start. Or encourage race hatred. But the big problem for Clarke is what constitutes radical preaching. Overtly encouraging terrorism is one thing, having weird views is another. And it’s hard not to conclude that the government has entered ‘headless chicken’ mode once more: for Christ’s sake do SOMETHING, even if it’s just running round in a circle.

Take a random example of dodgy preaching, highlighted by the recent Panorama programme on the subject. At a mosque in Leeds a while back there were prayers about the ‘Zionist-crusader’ alliance against Islam. In other words: the Jews and the Christians are out to get Muslims. This could easily be taken as a call to arms against both religions.

It’s also nonsense. Any sensible interpretation of the war in Iraq shows that it is not a war against Islam. Nor was the first Gulf War or the invasion of Afghanistan. On the other hand, America has traditionally been an ally of Israel and the current American administration is strongly, and vocally, Christian. And you may have noticed there’s a war of sorts going on between a number of countries (mainly the US, but also their allies and Russia) and militant Islamists. Just for good measure, Iraq also faces the problem of nationalist insurgents. Many of whom just happen to be Muslim.

In this context, expressions like ‘Zionist-crusader’ may be incorrect, but they’re hardly surprising. And as incorrect political analysis in general goes, is it really that different to the rubbish spouted by, say, the BNP? Or the Revolutionary Communist Party? Or UKIP? Or people who believe in a draconian ‘one world government’? (Which is a widely held belief among right wing nutters - one of whom was Timothy McVeigh.)

Clarke has also set himself the unenviable task of taking on the internet. Unregulated as it is, the internet is home to the weirdest, stupidest and most offensive opinions you can imagine. If you want to find a genuinely offensive interpretation of the world, look at any of the racist websites on the net. Our personal fave, Blood and Honour, the Combat 18 site, never stops ranting about ZOG, the ‘Zionist Occupational Government’. Is this causing actual anti-Semitism, or is it just the ramblings of a small band of paranoids? And even if it were shut down, how long would it take for another site to pop up?

Charles Clarke had better be prepared for a long struggle against radical preaching. There’s not only a mire of semantics to get through to prove that opinions constitute ‘radical’ preaching - there are also the problems of stopping radical opinions being voiced on the internet (impossible) and deportations turning into cause celebres for supporters of radical preachers and civil liberties campaigners (highly likely). Above all, common sense suggests that if you try to outlaw radical preaching, it will just take place in private.

It appears that yet again the government wants to be seen to be doing something, but isn’t sure what. Oh for the harmless pre-London bombings days when they could just come up with unworkable or pointless ideas like on-the-spot fines and Internet access for every pupil.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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