Winners and losers in the Islam4UK controversy

Anjem Choudary must be delighted. Despite representing very few people other than himself, he has now attracted so much publicity that his tiny group of extremists has been banned. Choudary has welcomed the news as a “victory”.

Choudary and the right-wing tabloids know they can rely on each other. When the papers denounce Choudary, he gets lots of publicity and can use their attacks as evidence that Islam is hated. When he plans offensive stunts, they use him to sell papers and indulge prejudices. Choudhary and the tabloids feed off each other’s hatred and simulated outrage. This is why Islam4UK gets several hundred times more media coverage than most campaigning groups with considerably more members.

The people who gain least from this arrangement are those who hope for any sort of meaningful and democratic debate or reflection on issues of religion and war.

If we want to see how dangerous Islam4UK really is, we should consider their habit of announcing demonstrations that never take place. They recently planned to march to Trafalgar Square to call for shariah law. They gained front page headlines in the Daily Express – and then cancelled the march. Their Wooton Bassett plans likewise received extensive media coverage – and then they were called off.

Given how much the media like covering Islam4UK, the group have been spared the trouble of actually holding demos. It seems that they can simply say that they will have one and acres of coverage will result. This suits Choudary, allowing him to avoid the embarrassing reality that the turnout on most demonstrations of Islamic extremists struggles to reach double figures. But if the papers admitted that, it would be clear that the threat is minimal and sensational stories would be lost.

The ban on Islam4UK does not appear to have followed new information about terrorism. Instead, it followed the Wooton Bassett controversy and media calls for Islam4UK to be outlawed. Alan Johnson’s attempt to gain favourable headlines means that religious liberty and free expression have lost out. It is alarming that a minister can ban an organisation simply by associating it with terrorism, with no need to produce meaningful evidence or to have that decision tested by Parliament or the courts.

Choudary’s opinions are certainly repugnant. He is actively opposed to basic principles of human rights. But if foul opinions were illegal, we’d also have to ban the BNP and Christian Voice, whose leader Stephen Green recently called for gay people who are HIV positive to be hanged. Freedom from being offended is not a human right.

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