Civil liberties campaigners, community leaders, progressive Muslims and commentators have expressed concern that the British government's ban on a hardline political Islamist organisation will prove counterproductive and compromise the freedom it claims to uphold.
The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced yesterday that Islam4UK and its cognates would be proscribed from Thursday 14 January 2009 under the provisions of 2000 anti-terrorism legislation.
Islam4UK, which achieved notoriety over its offensively-worded Wootton Bassett protests against ceremonies to honour British military personnel killed in Afghanistan, is the latest incarnation of al-Muhajiroun.
The government says that the group 'glorifies' terrorism, citing some past public statements by its supporters, and also claims that around 20 people associated with what has become Islam4UK have been charged or convicted with terror offences under its influence.
However the group - which has a handful of members and probably only a few hundred supporters - says it does not directly endorse violence, although it wishes to see a compulsory Khilafah and to impose a repressive form of Shariah on Britain.
Today, however, supporters of the group claimed that the government's ban and denial of democratic rights to radical Muslims may be construed as ending the 'covenant of security' that they regard as coming from settlement in the country, and under which they are obliged not to attack it.
Shami Chakrabarti, a lawyer and high-profile director of the civil rights group Liberty, yesterday expressed concern about the ban and said she hoped the authorities had "very strong evidence" of terrorist links to justify a ban which could otherwise exacerbate the problem it is supposed to address - the recruiting of disaffected Muslims to violence.
In Luton, where al-Muhajiroun has been a persistent problem for the peaceful Muslim community, local leaders and imams expressed similar fears.
Inayat Bunglawala, the founder and chair of Muslims4UK, a group set up to celebrate the UK's democratic traditions and promote active Muslim engagement in society, said in the Guardian newspaper on 12 January that banning groups like Islam4UK – repugnant as they are – is not only ineffective, but threatens an open society.
He said "the overwhelming majority of British Muslims have been left greatly embarrassed and frustrated by al-Muhajiroun's continual publicity-seeking and frankly repulsive antics." Nevertheless, Bunglawala asks, "is banning the group really how a confident liberal democracy should be responding?"
The former media spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) also condemned tabloid papers "that have done so much in recent years to hype the activities of this minuscule group".
However, Shaaz Mahboob of British Muslims for Secular Democracy told The Independent: "I cannot hide my sense of relief reading about Islam4UK's forthcoming proscription... The ban is a welcome sign that the Government is finally taking notice of individuals found abusing the right to free speech. Perhaps its next action will be against far-right organisations – if it holds back, it will raise serious questions about the selective application of powerful tools such as proscription."
The Daily Telegraph declared: "The decision to add Islam4UK to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations is a pointless gesture."
Spectator magazine contributor, Rod Liddle, has also condemned the prohibition, indicating that concern goes far wider than the liberal left.
On Politics.co.uk, columnist Matt West criticised the latest ban as an erosion of freedom, and added: "If Islam4UK can be banned, why not the English Defence League? The English Defence League has organised demonstrations outside mosques and in towns with large immigrant communities in deliberately provocative displays of racial and religious hatred. Why not ban an organisation whose demonstrations' sole purpose is to intimidate whole sections of a local community?"
The Quilliam Foundation, which "stands for religious freedom, human rights, democracy and developing a Muslim identity in and with the West" gave a qualified welcome for the proscription - though it opposed the government over outlawing Hitz ut-Tahrir, said spokesperson Maajid Nawaz, debating with Islam4UK's Anjem Choudary on BBC TV's 'Newsnight' programme.
Challenged repeatedly as to whether he would have Mr Nawaz and other 'apostates' killed under his understanding of a pure Muslim-dominated society, Mr Choudary refused to reply, though he declared: "You know what the answer is."
At a press conference on 13 January 2010, Islam4UK itself said: "The announcement by the Brown regime to proscribe Al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK is a victory for Islam and Muslims."
It continued: "The hypocrisy of the British government is in the fact that the dictionary definition of terrorism is, 'The use of violence against a community or section of the community for political purposes', which is precisely what the British government are doing through their foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and through their domestic policy via the many draconian laws which have been introduced, primarily against the Muslim community."
The group added: "The banning of ideological and political movements such as Al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK who have never advocated or been involved in any violent or military style activities is an evident failure for democracy and freedom."
The new parliamentary order, which comes into effect tomorrow, will make it a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison for anyone to be a member of Islam4UK, or any other known alias.
The ban extends an existing order made under the Terrorism Act 2000, which prevented the group from using the names Al Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect. Arranging a meeting under any of the group's names will be illegal, as is wearing its emblems or clothes, and its assets can be seized.