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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Religious hate law failings
Lord Desai
Labour peer Lord Desai says that Home Secretary David Blunkett's proposal to outlaw incitement to religious hatred will be a mullah's delight
By Meghnad Desai

Another parliamentary session and yet again a slew of bills from the Home Office.


If David Blunkett's proposed bill had been on the statute book, would we have prosecuted Salman Rushdie rather than protected him?

The 10 years I have been in the House of Lords have been filled with a series of bad bills from the Home Office, some often correcting the mess made by earlier hurried legislation.

So here we go again. The only reason why this new set of bills against terrorism and religious hatred have not been "knee-jerk" is that parliament was not sitting on 11 September.

But in the four weeks since it is not clear what has been learned.

Did Omagh laws work?

As everyone knows the emergency legislation passed days after the Omagh bombing has so far failed to bring the perpetrators of that act to the court.


From a mullah's viewpoint any criticism of religion will be an incitement

Along with the provisions of that bill directed against Northern Ireland terrorists, there were many provisions to fight terrorists who were using the UK as a base for anti-state activities against foreign powers.

Has that been any use in the present crisis?

We have legislation against inciting racial hatred. What has been its effect? It has largely been used against black American leaders wanting to enter the UK rather than preventing the BNP from inciting racial hatred.

This is largely predictable. Anti-racism becomes a weapon to stop those who fight against racism but not in the accepted "liberal" fashion.

So our liberal society prevents Louis Farrakhan from coming here.

Wallowing in religion's 'goodness'

This is why I dread the forthcoming legislation against inciting religious hatred.


The ink is hardly dry on the Human Rights Act and the Home Office is already thinking of derogation from one of its clauses

Recent events have given undue publicity to the orthodox elements in our society - priests and mullahs and Hindu pandits.

They are wallowing in declaring what a good peaceful thing religion is - which is a lie because all religions have been part of the violence against each other and against their own people.

Now from a mullah's viewpoint any criticism of religion will be an incitement.

Remember what they did to Salman Rushdie. If Blunkett's proposed bill had been on the statute book, would we have prosecuted Rushdie rather than protected him?

Existing laws are adequate

The police have found in many cases that they can get a conviction more easily if they do not have to prove a racial motive in attacks on minorities.

This is because the existing laws are adequate if an expression of belief turns into a criminal act.

If we are trying to prevent the commitment of criminal - terrorist - acts, existing legislation should suffice.

Creating more crimes is no way to tackle crimes. That should have been a lesson learnt in the last fifteen years.

The ink is hardly dry on the Human Rights Act and the Home Office is already thinking of derogation from one of its clauses.

At their Blackpool conference, the Conservatives were reported as being against the Human Rights Act and wanting its removal if they came to power.

Is the new move by the Home Office for derogation a sign of convergence in establishment thinking on the Human Rights Act?

Meghnad Desai is professor of economics at the London School of Economics and a former Labour Treasury spokesman in the House of Lords

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Geoffrey Bindman, Human Rights Lawyer
"The purpose of this law is to protect communities from violence"

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