Banning extremist groups is an affront to democracy

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Photo by Dan H

From midnight last Thursday the group Muslims Against Crusades was banned by the Home Secretary, Theresa May. Their crime was “glorifying terrorism.” It is now a criminal offence to belong to the group, or even to “profess to belong” to such a group. It is also an offence to merely encourage others to support a banned organisation, raise funds for it or assemble, with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Muslims Against Crusades stood for the implementation of Sharia Law in Britain and condemnation of the British involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Muslims Against Crusades have been accused of showing disrespect to the war dead, but isn’t the freedom to express disrespect a vital tenant of any healthy democracy? Why should Theresa May have the power to decide what views the British public should and shouldn’t be allowed to hear?

I find it extremely troubling that in the 21st century a supposedly “liberal” democracy is free to ban certain groups, under threat of imprisonment, simply for espousing views which are contrary to mass popular opinion. Banning groups such as Muslims Against Crusades not only is completely ineffective, but smacks of hypocrisy and threatens the openness of the society we live in when groups like the EDL and BNP are free to roam about our streets as they please.

Whilst I agree with the banning of groups involved in terrorism, as the state has a right to protect itself and its citizens from attack, banning groups simply for vocally supporting the aims and methods of those involved in armed struggle against our government is unjustifiable. Is banning the group really how a confident liberal democracy should be responding?

It seems to me that laws banning the glorification of terrorism are simply laws banning certain forms of political dissent. This type of political speech should not be banned for any reason unless it is a very good one. Banning the group seems to have simply fed them more publicity and opportunity to air their views. Perhaps Theresa May is not aware of the Streisand effect? Any effort to ban the group seems to have had little effect, as they simply change their moniker. The only thing it has succeeded in doing is making the Government look like they have something to hide, and suggest that what these groups have to say might become a threat to their established narrative.

The act of banning Muslims for Crusades exposes an insecurity that the Government feel the counter-argument may not be strong enough, particularly those who are most likely to be won over by the Islamist message. A healthy society is one strong enough to debate all points of view, no matter how radical or repulsive they may seem. A strong society should be able to allow a forum where different points of view can be debated, allowing a counter-argument which invalidates that viewpoint so the superior argument prevails.

How long will it be when “terrorism” simply stands for opposition to the actions of the government in power?

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