John Ware

Nazim Ali case goes to the heart of hate laws

In law, Muslims have less legal protection from insults and abuse than Jews, says John Ware

December 29, 2017 10:35

When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, depicting the Prophet irreverently, Islamists sentenced him to death and demanded a blasphemy law.

They didn’t get one because, as Rushdie observed, a “religion whose leaders behaved in this way could probably use a little criticism”.

Fast forward to post-9/11, with the spotlight firmly back on Muslims. Jews and Sikhs already had protection from incitement to racial hatred because the law defines them as races, each a single ethnic block.

Not so for Muslims who, like Christians, are a faith group of multiple ethnicity. In law, this has left Muslims with less legal protection from insults and abuse than Jews.

The Blair government sought to remedy this by outlawing hatred being whipped up against people because of their faith — not just because of their race. The result was the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, but for Islamists it is not enough. They want the same legal protection from insult and abuse as race groups and they often cite two cases in support of their campaign.

In 2010, BNP activist Anthony Bamber distributed a leaflet with the ludicrous assertion that Muslims were almost entirely responsible for the heroin trade. Bamber was not prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred because in law Muslims are not a race.

He was prosecuted for inciting religious hatred but was acquitted.

This was because the law in respect of religious hatred requires evidence of “threatening words or behaviour”, not simply “abusive or insulting” behaviour. There also has to be evidence of an intention to stir up religious hatred. There was insufficient evidence on both counts.

Had the hateful Bamber’s invective been directed at Jews, however, a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred might have prevailed because the evidential threshold is lower than for religious hatred. Abusive and insulting acts — which Bamber’s comments manifestly were — are relevant provided they are deemed likely to stir up antisemitism.

In 2013, the CPS decided not to prosecute UKIP councillor Eric Kitson for incitement to religious hatred, even though he posted an outrageous cartoon on his Facebook page of a “Muslim being spit roasted on a fire fuelled by copies of the Koran”. He also wrote that “all” Muslim women should be hanged “first then ask questions later.”

Abusive and insulting though Kitson was to Muslims, there was neither sufficient evidence that he had used threats to stir up religious hatred, nor that this was his intention. Had Kitson’s imagery being directed at Jews he may well have been prosecuted — provided stirring up antisemitism was thought likely.

Islamists now want the evidential threshold for incitement to religious hatred lowered to include “insults and abuse”, thereby affording Muslims — a faith group — the same protection as Jews and other racial groups.

In fact, prosecutions under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act are rare and the Bamber and Kitson anomalies, rarer still. In practice, most abusive and insulting behaviour against Muslims can be caught by the Public Order Act or by tougher sentences if a crime is found to have been aggravated by religious hatred.

This is why opponents of treating Muslims in law as if they are a race like Jews argue that the principle of freedom of speech which underpins the 2006 Act transcends the few anomalies it throws up. For them, the right to insult and sometimes even abuse someone’s faith — provided this is not accompanied by threats — is inviolate since, unlike race, faith is a matter of personal belief.

Moreover, the Act has also spared Muslims from prosecution for saying the most hateful and abusive things about Jews.

The most recent beneficiary of this is Nazim Ali, who led the pro-Hezbollah Al Quds march last June through London’s West End. Last week the CPS said Ali had no case to answer — despite pure poison having poured from the pharmacist’s lips amidst Hezbollah flags emblazoned with AK 47s.

“Zionists”, he screamed, are “responsible for the murder of the people in those towers in Grenfell, the Zionist supporters of the Tory Party.”

He even seemed to suggest that these unnamed Zionists actually wanted Grenfell’s Muslim inhabitants burned alive. “It is the Zionists who give the money to the Tory party to kill people in high rise blocks.”

When the EDL appeared, Ali bellowed:

“The EDL is a right-wing fascist organisation, just like the Zionists, so it’s a natural marriage in heaven, or rather hell. That’s where they’re going to end up one day, they’re natural partners for each other, Zionists and EDL.”

This ignored the disavowal of the EDL by Zionist organisations, precisely because the EDL is awash with Muslim haters.

Instead, Ali seemed to go out of his way to cause insult and abuse to Jews.

Not, I should explain, to the Jews marching with him, the ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist Neturei Karta, marooned on Judaism’s farthest fringe because they believe returning to the land of Israel before the Messiah’s arrival is an affront to the Almighty.

Instead, his abuse and insults were directed at the small group of Jews protesting against the march who, like the vast majority of Jews, support Israel as the sovereign homeland for the Jewish people. “Shame on you” shouted these Jews to their fringe co-religionists.

Ali responded that by disowning the Neturei Karta, these Jews were antisemitic. With his arm round a Neturei Karta Rabbi, he said: “This rabbi has been accused of not being a Jew. That is antisemitism. Denying Jewry to people is antisemitism.”

He then spent the rest of the afternoon denying the Judaism of the Jews protesting against the march: “The procession is being led by the real Jews who are with us here… Zionists are imposters…. We are fed up with all their rabbis; we are fed up with all their synagogues; we are fed up with their supporters.”

Still, the CPS found that Ali had no case to answer, either for religious or racial incitement to hatred against Jews.

Although Ali made numerous abusive and insulting remarks about Jews who were Zionists, the CPS appear to have concluded he had neither intended to stir up antisemitism, nor was this a likely outcome from his ranting.

Thanking his “thousands of well-wishers… who stood by me at this difficult time”, Ali was clearly much relieved — as well he might have been. Some of the Al Quds marchers had been stirred into chanting: “Khaybar, Khaybar” — the place where Mohammed crushed the Jews in 628, a chant adopted by violent extremists today.

“Go back to Russia……f*****g poofters” yelled another Al Quds marcher at a group of Jews behind a police cordon.

It is hard to believe such comments had not been incited by Ali having pumped out so much hate.

In any case, the CPS appear to have accepted Ali’s argument that because he was chanting alongside the Neturei Karta, he was not motivated by antisemitism — and therefore stirring up hatred against Jews was not his intention; rather his target was a political idea, Zionism.

He says: “It should have been obvious to the police and the CPS right from the beginning that nothing I said during the Al Quds rally amounted to hate speech, incitement, terrorism or antisemitism.”

What the CPS decision actually shows is just how much careful thought goes into trying to balance the right to insult and abuse against the risk of incitement to hatred in the increasingly incendiary climate Islamism has generated.

Maybe Ali’s escape from prosecution will cause some opponents of the 2006 Act to reflect that by balancing the multiple competing interests at the intersection of faith, race and politics, the law is about as fair to all parties as it’s possible to be. Islamists, though, will assuredly continue to campaign for the law to treat Muslims as, in effect, a race. Nazim Ali clearly feels emboldened by his escape from prosecution, having pledged to now “raise my voice…louder than ever.”

Yet a further change in the law would surely have a chilling effect on an issue that today cries out to be opened up, not closed down.

Barely noticed in recent weeks has been a campaign by some influential British Islamists to get their version of Islam accepted by government and civic society as “normative Islam.” This campaign includes opposing efforts by Muslims denigrated as “reformers” to “de-legitimise” and “erase” respectively the concepts of a Caliphate and of physical jihad; it complains about the “reformers” attempting to “invalidate the Islamic Penal Code” (which can prescribe amputations and stoning) and to “downplay the Ummah in favour of national identity”.

Islamist groups broadly aligned to this movement can no longer be regarded as fringe.

Partly because Brexit is sucking the life out of this government, the challenge to countering the Islamist narrative has been increasingly abandoned to those self-same Muslim “reformers” who seem to see the danger to the long-term cohesion and stability of Britain more starkly than ministers — judging by what little ministers have had to say about the matter since David Cameron left. It’s time ministers recovered their confidence and returned to the offensive.

John Ware is a British journalist, author, and investigative reporter.

December 29, 2017 10:35

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