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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Growing Islamophobia in Britain

By M Ghazali Khan

The Milli Gazette Online 

London: British Home Office Minister Ms Hazel Blears has warned Muslims in the UK to accept as a "reality" that they are likely to be stopped and searched by police. "The threat is more likely to come from those people associated with an extreme form of Islam, or who are falsely hiding behind Islam." The Minister told an All-party Home Affairs Select Committee. "It means that some of our counter-terrorism powers will be disproportionately experienced by the Muslims community." She added. 

"I think that this is the reality and I think we should recognise that" She further said. Ms Blears tried to maintain some balance and advised the media that the "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim terrorism" were "misleading and unhelpful" but promised stringent conditions on imams who wanted to come to Britain from abroad.

In the meanwhile Londonís former Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir John Stevens has warned that United Kingdom may be harbouring almost 200 Al Qaeda militants.

"As you read this, there are at least 100 Osama bin Laden trained terrorists walking Britain's streets." The former police chief wrote in article in the News of the World.

Supporting one of the most controversial anti-terror bill, being seen by human rights and liberty campaigners as anti-human rights, John Stevenís argued, "Forget human rights, kick out the fanaticsí. He said that the measures are "vital" for the purpose of restraining terror attacks on the UK.

The bill, passed in the House of Commons has been defeated in the upper House of Lords. Had it been approved and thus become a law it would have given powers to the police to hold suspected terrorists under house arrest indefinitely without conviction or explanation, and to suspend their telephone and Internet privileges. 

Painting a similar terrifying picture Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a Radio interview that "There are several hundred in this country who we believe are engaged in plotting or trying to commit terrorist acts." 

Sharing similar views a former legal adviser to MI5 and MI6, David Bickford, who now advises foreign governments on terrorism, said that the suspected terrorists should be picked up and investigated. "If these suspected terrorists had been walking around in France or Italy, they'd have been arrested now on suspicion of association with a terrorist organisation," Mr Bickford said.

However, Mr Bickford attacked the Home Secretary for failing to introduce such a system he said, "But we don't have that system and I don't understand why not. I think the Home Secretary wants to hang on to his executive powers and not give them up to judges. So he's missing out on a golden opportunity to really protect usÖ. In fact, he's given us a mish-mash of legislation which terrorists can probably walk through quite easily."

Such statements have created an atmosphere of suspicion on and a sense of insecurity among Muslims in Britain. Attempts are being made by community leaders and government machinery to assure the community that it doesnít need to feel scared. Incidents like the confession by a former grammar school boy of Pakistani background, Saajid Badat, 25, that he plotted to blow-up a jet in mid-air with a bomb in his shoe and the detention of a computer expert Babar Ahmed, 31, by the police, are making such efforts futile.

While there are no sympathisers for Bidat among Muslim, his confession, coupled by the debate on anti-terror bill, views of former police chief and media sensation have made Muslims a subject of debate. The problem is that at a time when Muslims face hostility from everywhere, some Muslims are providing seemingly genuine reasons of being looked upon as a threat. 

As if the irresponsible statements of the dubious Omar Bakri were not enough, his organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir persuaded a 16-year-old student, Shabina Begum, of Bangladeshi descent, to challenge the decision of her school in the High Court and a lower court not to allow her to wear jilbab, a head-to-toe dress worn by Arab women. Denbigh High School in Luton, Bedforshire, that Sabina attended has eighty percent Muslim students and Sabrina was allowed to wear traditional Shalwar Qamees and a head scarf. She has won the case which has been welcomed by Muslim organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain. Muslim community is, however, sharply divided on whether Shabinaís action was necessary and majority view is that because she was allowed to wear head scarf and traditional dress by making jilbab an issue she has created an unnecessary controversy.

The actions of a few are adding to the day to day problems being faced by a large number of Muslims. They find it strange that with the definite knowledge, and presumably solid proof, of 200 Al-Qaida terrorists "walking on the streets" the British Government can not take any action against these alleged terrorists and against those who have been making provocative statements. What is unfathomable for a common Muslim is the arrest and detention of persons like Babar Ahmed. He was arrested by the British police for the first time in December 2003 when he and his wife were asleep. He was abused and brutally beaten in front of his wife while his religion was ridiculed. 

Normally any complaint of police brutality is investigated in Britain but in Babarís case this did not happen. After being released after six days he was rearrested on an Extradition Warrant from the USA. According to the US government Babar ran, in 1997, a web site on which he appealed to the Muslims to train for Jihad. He is also accused of raising funds for Muslim countries. Evidence? "This case in terms of evidence concerns publications on websites of the United States which publications the government said sought and incited and solicited contributions to terrorist causes in Afghanistan and Chechnya." John Hardy, representing the US State Department told the hearing in London. 

"Itís very important for us that he is tried here in the UK. I worry about the abuse of human rights in the US, especially at Guantanamo Bay. "Says Babarís father Ashfaq Ahmad.

"We are talking about someoneís life here. I am absolutely confident that Babar hasnít done anything wrong. This is very unfair and it has turned all our lives upside down."

In a world order where either you are with Mr Bush or are against him, it is highly unlikely that a government led by Toni Blair will have the courage to take a stand as it had taken in the case of Abu Hamza by saying that he would be tried in Britain. 

As far as Mr Blairís so called anti-terror bill concerned, he has been asked by the House of Lords to amend it. His biggest problem is that the current terrorism laws expire on 21 March 2005 which needs to be replaced by some legislation in the absence of which 12 men held as suspected terrorists in the Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons will have to be released.
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