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When the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill entered Committee Stage on 21st June 2005, its rationale was to extend the current offences on incitement to racial hatred under the 1986 Public Order Act to cover the stirring up of hatred (i.e. violence and intimidation) against people of any religious faith. The offence was to carry a maximum seven-year jail sentence.

However when the Bill was finally passed on 31st January 2006 it was very much a watered down version because of an amendment passed by a majority in the House of Lords. The Government was frustrated by the Bill’s opponents skilfully using parliamentary procedure and a well-managed lobby of odd bedfellows – including former Archbishop Carey, the National Secular Society and Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament .

The Government next attempted to have this amendment rejected in the Commons but this too failed due to a rebellion of 27 of its own MPs.The original proposals would have provided a level playing field so that the protections that applied to race would be extended to religion e.g. criminalising reckless, abusive and insulting behaviour directed at an individual because of their faith. In its modified form, a new schedule has been added to the Public Order Act 1986 that outlaws “threatening” behaviour and that too only if it can be proven to be “intentional”. Thus it will be more difficult to convict someone of hatred towards Muslims, then say hatred to an ethnic group, which under the terms of the Race Relations Act, includes Jews an d Sikhs (but not Muslims).

This lacunae in the law will continue to be exploited by right wing extremists. In a recent trial, BNP leader Nick Griffin and party member Mark Collet were charged with inciting racial hatred – through speeches that included statements such as “…you will find verse after verse [in the Qur’an] saying you can take any woman you want as long as they’re not Muslim. These 18, 19 and 25 year-old Asian Muslims are seducing and raping white girls in this town right now”. Griffin told the Court that he was attacking a religion and not a race. The BNP leaders were acquited on 2nd February 2006 of the charges of stirring up racial hatred.


On the face of it, there should be little objection to a new law that criminalizes incitement to hatred on religious grounds. Hatred – intimidation and verbal violence – can never be condoned, particularly when the victim is a disadvantaged community.

In the words of Martin Luther King, laws may not change the hearts, but they serve to restrain the heartless. Yet, just like in the campaign to include a question on religion in the
2001 Census, the Muslim community is facing an uphill struggle. The third reading of the bill in the House of Commons in June 2005 highlighted various objections. One suggestion, for example, was that if some people wished to hold on to something so irrational and superstitious as religion, then they only have themselves to blame!

Muslims face intimidation and bullying, not because of the colour of their skin, but because of their cultural identity. The Muslims of Bosnia belonged to the southern Slav ethnic stock, but the fact they had a Muslim name, or a Muslim cultural identity, was sufficient for them to be hounded in the early 1990s, put in concentration camps and face even worse outcomes. 9/11 and its aftermath has created new tensions. A law that curbs the xenophobes and cultural supremacists sooner rather than later, will in years to come, spell the difference between social tranquility and tragedy.

The religion question in the 2001 Census was a matter of strategic importance for Muslims in Britain because it involved issues of equity and recognition. A law against incitement to religious hatred will be a signal that society recognises Muslims as a faith community, not as a racial or ethnic group.

This dossier takes up the pros and cons of the proposed legislation to help Muslims in Britain make up their mind. If they are convinced of its need, as the Salaam Portal believes is the case, they should engage in the political debate to ensure it enters the statute book.

Representative bodies of the community have been lobbying for such protection for over a decade. The campaign was initiated by the UK Action Committee for Islamic Affairs in the early nineties, and then taken up by the Muslim Council of Britain. The community must rally behind the MCB and not be distracted by those accepting a second-best i.e. protection provided to Muslims because of their race identities. Moreover, the Jewish and Sikh communities are today protected against incitement to hatred, but not Muslims. We ask the lucky few: would you be prepared, for the sake of equality before the law, to renounce the protection you currently receive from attacks of the xenophobes? Clearly no. So then why not offer Muslims the same protection?


1. Does the proposed law affect quoting from the scriptures, including the Qur’an?

1.1 Yes – it will affect preaching/quoting

1.2 No – It will not affect preaching/quoting

2. Is Islamophobia a form of race hatred or something different?

2.1  Yes – Islamophobia is a form of race hatred and so existing race relations legislation should be the basis for protecting Muslims

2.2 No – Islamophobia is different from colour racism and therefore a new law is needed

3. The proposed law will curb free speech, limit legitimate debate on religious issues and could even affect comedians i.e. it is a type of blasphemy law.

3.1 Yes – It will restrict freedom of speech

3.2 No – It will not restrict freedom of speech

4. A law was needed against racial hatred, because people have no choice in the matter of their racial identity. However religion is different, because it is a matter of choice.

4.1 Yes, racial identity is immutable; religious identity is a matter of choice

4.2 No, Religious identity is not necessarily as immutable as it may seem

5. Is Islamophobia exaggerated by Muslims?

5.1 Yes, it is an exaggeration

5.1.2 No, it it is a reality – survey findings & official reports



1. Does the proposed law affect quoting from the scriptures, including the Qur’an?

1.1 It will affect preaching/quoting

1.1.1. Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses

“….it could be used against the extremely intolerant remarks often made in mosques on Fridays. I doubt very much that that’s what the Government has in mind, but if they’re talking about inciting religious hatred, there’s quite a lot of it going on there”.

1.1.2 Khilafah web site [Hizb ut-Tahrir]

“The adoption of an ‘incitement to religious hatred’ law will be an attempt to muzzle Muslims from quoting from the Quran, and the other sacred texts of Islam. The new law, under consideration in the Westminster Parliament, would mean Muslims convicted of incitement would face up to seven years in jail. Quoting from the Qur’an in a ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ way will become a crime in the amendment to Part 3 of the Public Order Act of 1986”.

1.2 It will not affect preaching/quoting

1.2.1 Exchange between Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Rev Ian Paisley MP

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Home Secretary is well aware that certain statements in the Bible and in the confessions of faith of all the Churches tell against various other beliefs. Is he telling us that those statements will be deemed to be not statements of hatred, but the personal confessions of those Churches? The House begins its sittings with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Parts of the Book of Common Prayer, such as the 39 Articles, have strong statements to make. Would those statements be considered an incitement to hatred?

Mr. Clarke: No, they would not. Although I did not know that the hon.Gentleman was going to raise that point, I think I can give him the assurance for which he asks. Statements in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and other faith books-the Koran, for instance-are precisely that. They are not incitements to hatred.

House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005

1.2.2 Exchange between Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Boris Johnson, MP

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): We are all trying to grapple with what the Bill will ban and why. Will the Home Secretary clear up some doubt in my mind about whether it is intended to outlaw the public or private recitation of the many passages of the Koran that evidently incite hatred and the extreme dislike of Jews, Christians and other people on the basis of their religious beliefs? Will such recitation be captured by the Bill?

Mr. Clarke: Absolutely not, so I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is looking for. I know that he normally sorts himself out when trying to get clarity, but the private and public recitation of bits of the Koran is not incitement to hatred.

House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005

1.2.3 Home Office statement on what will not be considered an offence:

“…Proselytising one’s own religion or urging followers of a different religion to cease practising theirs; for example Christians claiming that Jesus Christ is the way the truth, the life and the only way to God, Muslims exhorting people to submit to the will of Allah, or Atheists claiming that there is no God; Telling jokes about religions; Publishing or reading from religious texts such as the Bible or the Qur’an. Of themselves these activities do not meet the criteria of the offences. However if a person were to use threatening, abusive or insulting words/actions with the intent or likely effect that hatred would be stirred up whilst undertaking the actions listed above, then by definition, they could rightly fall into the scope of the offence”.


2. Is Islamophobia a form of race hatred or something different?

2.1 Islamophobia is a form of race hatred and so existing race relations legislation should be the basis for protecting Muslims

2.1.1 Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist

We already have adequate generic laws to deal with assaults on Muslims. A small amendment to the racial-hatred laws could cover serious acts to incite religious hatred by extremist groups.
Evening Standard 22 June 2005

2.1.2 Dominic Grieve, Conservative MP

“I believe that Muslims are protected-but because they are identified as part of a particular racial group, rather than on the basis of their religious faith”.
House of Commons debate, 7th Feb 2005

2.1.3 Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses author

They don’t need this bill. What they need to do is to adopt the very sensible Liberal Democrat amendment which strengthens the existing race relations law, which has already been used to cover attacks which use religion as a cover for race.

2.1.4 Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty director

“There may be good intentions behind this Bill, but the road to censorship is paved that way. Most anti-Muslim hatred is thinly veiled race hatred, capable of being caught by more narrow amendment to the present law. This offence is capable of catching attacks on ideas as well as people. At best this is an empty sop to a community sorely let down by Government. At worst it is a dangerous new blasphemy law out of step with our best traditions.”

2.1.5 Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain

“… A 2001 Amendment to the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act extended the offence of causing alarm or distress to include cases that are racially or religiously aggravated. Mark Norwood, a BNP activist in a small town, Gobowen, in Shropshire, was convicted under this Act for displaying in his shop window a poster with the words, ‘Islam out of Britain’, alongside a photograph of the World Trade Centre in flames”…my view is not to proceed with Government’s proposal but to call for support of the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris’s amendment changing the law on incitement to racial hatred to include ‘reference to a religion or other belief system….as a pretext of stirring up racial hatred against a racial group”.
Dialogue, March 2005, p.8

2.2 Islamophobia is different from colour racism and therefore a new law is needed

2.2.1 Lee Jasper, Secretary of the National Assembly against Racism (NAAR)
“…the rise of crimes aggravated by religious hatred also shows the importance of the proposed legislation on this matter. Since September 1, much of the rise in this type of crime is linked to the climate of hostility and hatred has developed towards Muslims.”
NAAR Press Release, 18th January 2005

2.2.2 Iqbal Sacranie, MCB Secretary General

“…it would be wrong to bundle it with race hate legislation….now this, we believe is not just any insult to injury, but it will take us back to the days when all people of faith who transcend the racial boundaries are included as racial group.

2.2.3 Shahid Malik, Labour MP

“When I was beaten to a pulp by a gang of skinheads on my first day at high school, it was not because of my religion. They did not know or care whether I was a Christian, Hindu or Muslim-or, for that matter, whether my family was Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or from Burnley. In those days we were all seen as “Pakis” and we were all fair game. The world has changed, however, and Parliament must be receptive and reflect the new reality. Now, when I receive anonymous hate mail or the family car is firebombed in the middle of the night, or when abuse is hurled from cars that whisk by, or I am surrounded by a gang of 20 thugs from Combat 18 telling me that I am going to die, it is because I am a Muslim. Whether I choose it or not, I am defined by others in terms of my religion, and by my perceived culture. All I ask for is equal protection under the law-no favours just fairness.

House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005, from maiden speech

2.2.4 Exchange between Gary Streeter, Conservative MP and Ms Emily Thornberry, Labour MP

Mr. Gary Streeter : “…the Bill is unnecessary. Several of us have asked the Home Secretary and other Labour Members to give us examples of activities, speeches and events that take place in our country today that this Bill will catch and that existing legislation does not already catch. We have not heard a single example that would not be covered by public order offences or other religious or racial legislation currently on the statute book”.

Ms Emily Thornberry…I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example. A young lady on her way to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school is on the bus with her head covered. A man starts shouting at her and abusing her because she is a Muslim. That abuse results in an assault on her by a gang of boys, who know not only that she is a Muslim, but that she is white and has converted, which makes the situation worse. In normal circumstances, that man would get off scot-free. Such religious abuse is an insult to people who live in London.

House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005 

2.2.5 Charles Clarke, Home Secretary

The Bill seeks to fill a gap in the law that means that people can stir up hatred against others because of their religious beliefs. Such people may be extremists using religion as a proxy for race or nationality, but they may also be people of faith stirring up hatred of people who do not share their beliefs. That behaviour is not caught by the current set of religiously aggravated offences or by existing incitement offences. It is not only right but essential that the law should provide protection in that area.
House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005

2.2.6 David Winnick, Labour MP

As I said during an earlier intervention, we may compare the objections that are now being made with the objections that were made to the provision that outlawed incitement to race hatred, which is now accepted. Hardly anyone would say that that law should be changed, but nearly 35 years ago, almost to the week, Lord Deedes-he obviously was not in the House of Lords at the
time-argued that that section of the Race Relations Act 1965 should be repealed. He said that he was totally opposed to racism, but that the provision was an infringement of free speech. Those of us who took a different view put our case, and because there was a Labour majority in February 1970, we won the day-but it is interesting to look at the Division list for Lord Deedes’ ten-minute Bill: almost every Conservative Back Bencher voted for the repeal of that section, which is now accepted. It is also now fully accepted that Jews and Sikhs should be protected in law. Despite my reservations and the fears that have been expressed, I must ask myself this question: if Jews and Sikhs are protected in law, why not Muslims? If Muslims are not protected, as they
clearly are not under present law, and if they are subject to a great deal of abuse-the sort of abuse that every Member of this House opposes-as we know they are, the question inevitably arises: are the
Government right in doing as they are? I believe that they are right-despite all the drawbacks, the reservations and the possibility that things will go wrong.
House of Commons debate, 7th Feb 2005

2.2.7 Frank Dobson, MP

“I shall start by making a declaration that I am a person of no religious belief, and that I have in the past sought to get rid of the blasphemy law. I do not believe that anyone should be harassed or
assaulted, or live in fear, because of their religious beliefs, but they are and they do, in our country today. This happens to Muslim mothers collecting their children from school, and to Muslim men going to and from their place of worship. Muslim homes are stoned and fire-bombed.
Yet our laws offer no special protection to Muslims against the incitement to hatred of them because of their religion, although they do protect Jews, Sikhs and members of the Church of England. I believe in equality before the law, and I therefore support the Government’s proposals to make incitement to hatred of people on the ground of their religion unlawful. If Opposition Members want an example, we want to stop the hatemongers targeting their spleen against women who cover their heads and faces, which will happen somewhere in England today.”.

House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005

2.2.8 The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch

“Equality before the law is important, and all those who experience harassment and threats because of their religion, or lack of it, are entitled to protection…The Government are to be congratulated on seeking to rectify the present unequal protection offered to different religions and to deter religiously motivated incitement of harm against people of all faiths and none.”

Hansard, 29th November 2004

2.2.9 Home Office statement

Jews and Sikhs are covered by existing incitement to racial hatred laws as a result of decisions made by the courts (Mandla vs Dowell Lee 1993).
This is on the basis of those groups also having a distinct ethnic origin. The existing law does not protect other religions that do not have distinct ethnic origins (e.g. Christians or Muslims) as it is
currently interpreted. This measure will end that anomaly. Since the introduction of the incitement to racial hatred offence, some extremists have exploited this loophole, using religious terms to identify victims whom they would have previously identified using racial terms.


3. The proposed law will curb free speech, limit legitimate debate on religious issues and could even affect comedians i.e. it is a type of blasphemy law.

3.1 It will restrict freedom of speech

3.1.1 Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain

“…liberty and freedom of speech are values which must be cherished because they guarantee an environment suitable for debate and understanding. Muslims should not ask to be a special case”.
Evening Standard 22 June 2005

3.1.2 Alastair Brett, legal manager at The Times

“…the bill doesn’t define what constitutes the offence. It’s left up to the attorney general whether to prosecute, then we have to wait and see what the judge says’. As a news lawyer, he believes that this will have a ‘chilling effect on free speech’, as editors and columnists will be forced to reconsider their choice of words”.

3.1.3 Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty director

‘Religion relates to a body of ideas and people have the right to debate and denigrate other people’s ideas. Do we really want a society in which we tiptoe around one another, rather than argue face to face?

3.2 It will not restrict freedom of speech

3.2.1 Charles Clarke MP, Home Secretary

“The Bill does not stop anybody telling jokes about religion, ridiculing religions or engaging in robust debate about religion. It will not stop people from proselytising and it will not curb artistic freedom.
Neither the purpose nor the effect of the Bill is to limit freedom of expression, with all the robustness that one would expect and, I would say, desire in a democracy”.
House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005

3.2.2 The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

“…the measures on incitement proposed in the SOCAP Bill are unlikely to give rise to any violation of the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR”.

3.2.3 What will not be considered an offence “Criticising the beliefs, teachings or practices of a religion or its followers; for example by claiming that they are false or harmful….”


4. A law was needed against racial hatred, because people have no choice in the matter of their racial identity. However religion is different, because it is a matter of choice.

4.1 Racial identity is immutable; religious identity is a matter of choice

4.1.1 Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, Labour MP

Will the Home Secretary deal with one serious difficulty? He will appreciate that many of us who are against this legislation would normally find themselves in the vanguard of those attempting to protect vulnerable minorities. The difficulty is that there is a profound difference between race and gender and religion. Our race and our gender are what we are and should be protected. Our religion is what we choose to believe. It is a system of beliefs, fundamentally and quite properly held. It seems to many here and out there that there is, in truth, very little distinction between one’s religion and one’s politics.

House of Commons debate, 21st June 2005 

4.2 Religious identity is not necessarily as immutable as it may seem

4.2.1 Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, University of Bristol “..the idea that religion is about belief that can be voluntarily renounced , but race is about one’s immutable biology, is also too
simplistic. As in Northern Ireland, the South Asia I am from is contoured by communal religious identities… such a context, religion can be less a matter of individual choice than…social structure”.
In: Multicultural Politics (2005), p.16

5. Is Islamophobia exaggerated by Muslims?

5.1 It is exaggerated by Muslims

5.1.1 Kenan Malik

“Ten years ago no one had heard of Islamophobia. Now everyone from Muslim leaders to anti-racist activists to government ministers want to convince us that Britain is in the grip of an irrational hatred of Islam – a hatred that, they claim, leads to institutionalised harassment….But does Islamophobia really exist? Or is the hatred and abuse of Muslims being exaggerated to suit politicians’ needs and silence the critics of Islam?… Muslim leaders talk about using Islamophobia in the same way that they perceive Jewish leaders have exploited fears about anti-Semitism”
In the Prospect Magazine, February 2005 

5.2 It is a reality, not an exaggeration – survey findings & official reports

– “Children as young as 13 are displaying signs of Islamophobia and are voicing their support for the British National Party, researchers have found.
Young teenagers are increasingly saying they have negative views towards Muslims and do not want Islamic culture expressed in the classroom. The study of 1,500 students aged 13 to 24 was presented at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Manchester”.
Maxine Frith writing in The Independent, 2nd April 2005

– In January 2005, the Crown Prosecution Service released figures which showed that of the 44 cases of religiously-aggravated crime between April 2003 and March 2004, in exactly 50% of the cases the religion or perceived religion of the victim was Islam. This is only the second year that the CPS has been collating these figures, but with the Muslim population making up only 3% of the British total, the statistics are already quite telling.

– BBC Radio 5 Live in July 2004 sent fictitious applications for 50 jobs using applicants with the same qualifications and work experience, but different names. The investigation found that a quarter of the applications by the candidates with traditionally English sounding names were successful in securing an interview, compared with 9% for Muslim candidates (12th July 2004, The Guardian)

– “The events of September 11 have [further] muddied the waters of acceptable comment, and the many Muslim representatives I spoke to all voiced their concerns over a rising Islamophobia. Much to its credit, the Government has typically been cautious in its rhetoric, open in its attitude towards immigrants and active in its attempts to respond to the concerns of the needs of the Islamic community. A number of recent measures, particularly those introduced in the context of the fight against terrorism and in respect of asylum, have, however, had a tendency to undermine this positive approach by placing individual members of ethnic minorities in increasingly vulnerable positions, and eroding thereby the confidence of entire communities in a society of equal worth and equal rights.”

From the Report by the Commissioner for Human Rights on his visit to the UK, 4-12th November 2004

– “the present survey shows that about 80% of respondents have somehow experienced discrimination because they were Muslim”. From ‘British Muslims’ expectations of the Government’, Islamic Human Rights Commission, 2004

” In ‘Secret Agent’, reporter Jason Gwynne infiltrated the BNP and his film was broadcast by BBC in July 2004. One political candidate admitted going to lengths to put excrement through the doors of Asian businesses, and a prospective councillor for the local elections said that he hoped a BNP victory would allow him to shoot local Pakistani residents. Interviewed in the BBC’s Newsnight programme BNP leader Griffen stated his belief that Muslims posed a physical threat to the UK
population because they have expanded their religion through rape.
“You’ve got to stand up and do something for the BNP because otherwise they [the Muslims] will do for someone in your family”. The Guardian later reported that “…the BNP is confident a prosecution of Mr Griffin will founder because the offence of incitement to racial hatred does not cover multi-ethnic faith groups” (The Guardian, 15th December 2004).” In evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on religious offences, the Association of Chief Police Officers said that hatred
stirred up by extremist groups contributed to the Bradford and Burnley riots in 2001