Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 2

October 13, 2013

In the first part of this post I discussed the way successive administrations since Mrs Thatcher – those of john Major, Tony Blair, and now, possibly, the coalition, had planned to introduce ID cards. Privacy campaigners such as Simon Davies have opposed them, because of the immense potential they represent for human rights abuses, the mass surveillance of the population, and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. I posted it as a response to Mike’s piece on Vox Political, which I reblogged, on Theresa May’s latest campaign against illegal immigration, and the fears landlords and immigrants’ rights groups have about the terrible effect this will have on them. The landlords in particular were concerned that this would lead to the introduction of 404 European document-style ID cards. In this part of the post I will discuss the dangers ID cards present, and their failure to do what is often claimed for them, such as to prevent crime and illegal immigration.

It looks like illegal immigration will be the platform by which ID cards will be introduced in this country. Mike and a number of other bloggers have commented on the way recent statements and policies by coalition ministers to combat illegal immigration suggest that they plan to introduce ID cards as part of their campaign. Illegal immigration has been the main issue driving their introduction in Europe, America and some developing nations. Davies book on the growth of the surveillance society in Britain notes that as the European Union dissolves borders in Europe, so the police were given greater power to check people’s ID. As for fears that ID cards will somehow stop illegal immigrants from claiming benefits, this has been disproved in Australia. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australia Card found that of 57,000 people, who overstayed their visa in New South Wales, on 22 were illegally claiming Unemployment Benefit.

Anti-racism campaigners are right to worry that ID will increase discrimination. ID cards carrying information on the bearer’s ethnic groups or religious beliefs have been used to discriminate against minority groups in many countries. The Japanese were accused of racism when they passed legislation forcing all foreigners to carry ID cards. The French police were similarly accused of racism in demanding Blacks and Algerians carry and produce ID cards. This was one of the reasons behind the race riots in France in the 1990s. In Greece, the authorities were also accused of using the religious information on the card to discriminate against those, who were not Greek Orthodox. Down Under, Aboriginal and Jewish Australians joined the campaign against the Australia Card from fear that they would also suffer discrimination. A few thousand miles across the Pacific in New Zealand, Kiwi trade unions and civil liberties groups also feared ID cards would lead to discrimination against minorities and the poor.

Contrary to the frequent claims made by various Right-wing governments like Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s, ID cards don’t actually stop welfare fraud. Says Davies ‘the key area of interest lies in creating a single numbering system which would be used as a basis for employment eligibility, and which would reduce the size of the black market economy’. In Oz, the Department of Social Security stated that much less than 1 per cent of overpaid benefits came from identity fraud. The true figure for such crime is probably 0.6 per cent. Most fraudulent or overpaid benefit claims – 61 per cent – came from the non-reporting of variations in the claimant’s income.

ID cards also don’t stop crime. This is again contrary to the statements made by governments wishing to introducing them. The problem is not the identification of criminals, but in collecting sufficient evidence and successfully prosecuting them. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Britain concluded in 1993 report that burglaries, street crime and crimes committed by people impersonating officials could be reduced through ID cards. They did not, however, present any evidence for this. The Association did fear that the introduction of ID cards would make relations between the police and the general public worse. Davies considered that only a DNA or biometric database could possibly link perpetrators with their crimes.

The introduction of ID cards do, however, increase police powers. Police routinely ask for ID cards in all the countries that have them, and detain those, who don’t possess them. In Britain the wartime ID cards were removed in 1953 after a High Court judge ruled that their routine demand by the police was contrary to the spirit of the National Registration Act, and adversely affected the good relations between police and the public.

In fact, instead of helping to combat crime, ID cards actually help it. ID cards provide a ‘one-stop’ proof of identity, and this can and is used by criminal gangs in their crimes. The technology used to manufacture the cards is now available and used by such organisations. As ordinary organisations, such as companies and the state civil service increasingly rely on ID cards as the unquestioned proof of an individual’s identity, so they abandon the other systems used to check it that they have been using for decades. As a result, crimes using fake identities are actually easier with ID cards.

ID cards are a real danger to the privacy of personal information. About one per cent of the staff of companies involved in collecting the personal information used to construct the relational databases used in such cards are corrupt and prepared to trade confidential information. Each year, one per cent of all bank staff in Europe are dismissed for corruption. This is a minuscule percentage, it is true, but nevertheless it still presents a danger to the privacy and safety of the public. In Britain, computer crime amongst the civil services own ID staff massively increased in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Accounting Office estimated in March 1995 that hacking, theft and infection by viruses were all increasing on the IT network in Whitehall. In one year, for example, hacking rose by 140 per cent and viruses by a massive 300 per cent. Of the 655 cases of hacking in the Whitehall network identified by the NAO, most involved staff exceeding their authority to obtain the personal information of members of the public, which was they then passed on to outside individuals.

ID card schemes also tend to be much more expensive than governments’ estimate and allow for. Once again, Australia provides a good example of this. When introducing the Australia Card scheme, the Ozzie government failed to take into account training costs, and the expenses coming from administrative supervision, staff turnover, holiday and sick leave, as well as compliance, the issue of the cards overseas and fraud. They also underestimated the costs of issuing and maintaining the cards and how expensive they would be to private industry. In the first part of this post I mentioned how leading Australian bankers and financiers, such as Sir Noel Foley, were openly hostile to the scheme. This is not surprising, as the Australian Bankers’ Association estimated that the ID card their would cost Ozzie banks A$100 million over ten years. The total cost of the cards to the private sector was estimated at A$1 billion per year. At the time Davies was writing, the cost of the card system in the UK had not taken into account of administration and compliance costs. These could be as high as £2 – £3 billion. When Tony Blair launched his scheme to develop biometric ID cards, there was further embarrassment to the government when it was revealed by the papers that the scheme had also gone massively over its budget due to problems in developing the technology.

Another factor against the cards is the distress and inconvenience caused to the individual by their accidental loss or destruction. About five per cent of ID cards are either lost, damaged or stolen every year, and it can be several weeks before a replacement is received.

Governments have frequently insisted that ID cards will be voluntary. This was the stance taken by Tony Blair’s government on them. It is misleading. There is a tendency for them to become compulsory. Even in nations where they are voluntary, there is considerable inconvenience if they are not carried, so that they are actually compulsory in practice if not in law.

ID cards also have a tendency to become internal passports as they acquire other uses through function creep. These will include all government and a significant number of important, private functions.

Finally, opponents of ID cards object to them because they feel that they damage national identity and personal integrity. The movements against ID cards in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand called attention to the fears of ordinary people that the introduction of such cards would reduce them to mere numbers. They were a symbol of oppressive authority, and represented popular anxieties that their countries were ruled, not by elected officials, but by bureaucracies driven by technology.

Actually, reading through all the considerable negative aspects of ID cards and the list of the dangers and damage they represent to society and the safety and privacy of its members, I can see why the Coalition government would see no problem in introducing them. After all, such schemes are inefficient, corrupt and massively expensive. They expand the power of the state and the police at the expense of the individual, and are used to persecute and victimise minorities and the poor. Pretty much like all the Coalition’s policies, then. And ID cards are exactly like IDS welfare schemes and workfare in that, undercover of eliminating welfare fraud, which they actually don’t do anything about, they’re really about controlling the movement of labour.

So, corrupt, authoritarian and discriminatory: just right for Theresa May and the rest of the Coalition then!

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Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.

Another Angry Voice on the Government’s Introduction of Fracking to the UK

July 21, 2013

The Angry Yorkshireman has another excellent article up, this time criticising the government’s policy promoting fracking here in the UK. Fracking is the use of pumped fluid to extract natural gas from shale rock that holds it. It has resulted in environmental damage in the US, and George Osborne wishes to introduce it into the UK. The Angry One tells you what fracking is, the dangerous effects on it can have on the environment, and the conflict of interest between the Tories and the fracking industry. Many of the Tories have links to the oil companies involved. The Angry One’s article can be read here:

http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/fracking-tories-osborne-howell-browne.html

I’ve posted the link to this article as there are proposals to start fracking in here in the West Country. Somerset did have a coal industry, and there were mines in Bedminister, now a suburb of Bristol, Pensford, and Radstock. There is naturally an intense debate on these proposals.

I’m interested in the debate as one of the people I knew studying archaeology was an industrial chemist. The man had been part of the geology faculty at a Canadian university, which was doing work on extracting oil from the sand layers for one of the petrochemical companies in the land of the Maple Leaf. He had a look at what his colleagues was working on the for the project, and concluded it was impossible. It violated the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that you can’t get more energy out of a process than you put in. He reported his concerns to his superiors. In fact he had uncovered a piece of academic fraud by some of the faculty to take money from the Canadian taxpayer for fraudulent research. The process developed for extracting the shale oil simply wouldn’t have worked, and had been concocted simply as a way of winning funding from the Canadian government, who were naturally interested in developing the process. The scandal tore the department apart. Many of the whistleblowers were penalised for their exposure of the fraud, including being sacked. My friend managed to escape this as he had been offered a place at a very prestigious French university.

My fear here is that something similar could be going on here. Fracking is now a favourite cause of the transatlantic right. It is being promoted as a way for America and Canada to be independent of the Muslim Middle Eastern oil-producing states. My concern is not just for the environmental damage, which may result from the process, but also that, after the above oil shale fiasco in Canada, flawed or extremely partisan research could similarly be involved in its promotion here.

A Patriotic British Song from Colonists to the New World

July 4, 2013

Brown_last_of_england

I suppose I should accompany this post with a piece of music roughly on the same theme, such as Dvorak’s New World Symphony, or Rush’s New World Man. A little while ago I picked up an old songbook in one of the charity bookshops down in Bridgwater in Somerset. The book was a 1970’s edition of a collection of songs that had first been published in the middle of the First World War in 1916. Many of the songs were thus staunchly patriotic. They weren’t just British, but also included classic American songs, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Star Spangled Banner, Irish songs, including Let Erin Remember and St. Patrick, and one from the Russian Empire of the Tsars: The Russian National Hymn. One of the British songs appears to have been written for British emigrants embarking on a new better life, in the colonies. It has the lines

‘So farewell, England, much as we may love t6hee,
We’ll dry the tears that we have shed before.
Why should we weep to sail in search of fortune?’

The chorus includes the lines

‘Cheer! boys, cheer! there’s wealth for honest labour!
Cheer! boys, cheer! for the new and happy land!’

The actual destination isn’t stated, but the lines

‘the star of empire glitters in the west’ and

‘And ours shall be the prairie and the forest,
And boundless meadows ripe with golden grain’

suggest that it is probably Canada. The song’s sentiments could also describe the attitude of many British people who went to America in search of a better life in the same period. The late 19th and early 20th centuries also saw emigrants from England travelling to America. Arthur Machen’s classic tale of horror, The Three Impostors, includes one story set in the American west, told by one of the Impostors of the title. The story describes some of the other British emigrants to America. So common had it become, and so close were the connections between England and some parts of America, that one of the stories talks about English children running away from home to London, Liverpool or New York. One of the working-class protagonists in a John Galsworthy play about a miner’s strike at one point states proudly that he’s been to America, where the working class were treated better and had more opportunities than in the Britain of Galsworthy’s day.
Anyway, here below is the song:

Cheer! boys, cheer! no more of idle sorrow,
Courage, true hearts shall bear us on our way;
Hope points before and shows the bright to-morrow,
Let us forget the darkness of to-day:
So farewell, England, much as we may love thee,
We’ll dry the tears that we have shed before.
Why should we weep to sail in search of fortune?
So farewell, England, farewell for evermore!
Cheer! boys, cheer! for country, mother country,
Cheer! boys, cheer! the willing strong right hand:
Cheer! boys, cheer! there’s wealth for honest labour!
Cheer! boys, cheer! for the new and happy land.

Cheer! boys, cheer! the steady breeze is blowing,
To float us freely o’er the oceans breast.
The world shall follow in the track we’re going;
The star of empire glitters in the west.
Here we had toil and little to reward it,
But there shall plenty smile upon our pain;
And ours shall be the prairie and the forest,
And boundless meadows ripe with golden grain.
Cheer! boys, cheer! for country, mother country,
Cheer! boys, cheer! united heart and hand;
Cheer, boys, cheer! there’s wealth for honest labour!
Cheers! boys, cheer! for the new and happy land.

If anyone wants me to, I’ll put up the music to accompany the song.

The painting above is Ford Maddox Brown’s classic depiction of English emigrants for America, The Last of England.

Steyn, Levant, Channel 4 and the Western Suppression of Free Speech

June 9, 2008

Last week, the American Conservative journalist, Mark Steyn, went on trial before a Canadian Human Rights Commission court, accused of spreading hate against Islam. Steyn is extremely critical of radical Islam, and the author of a book, America Alone, which considers that America will quickly end up as the last refuge of Western values and politics as Europe is taken over by Islam. It’s a controversial book, and Steyn’s critics have pointed out a number of factual flaws in his arguments. It is not, however, the reason Steyn is on trial. Steyn, with the Canadian magazine, McClean’s, is on trial for an article he wrote for them critically describing the threat posed by militant Islamicists in the West, quoting violently bigoted comments by various western imams and religious leaders themselves. His opponents in this case are Mohammed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress and three young Muslims, who demanded that, through right of reply, McClean’s should run an article by them criticising Steyn’s comments. McClean’s refused to be dictated to in this fashion, so Elmasry and his three colleagues took Steyn and McClean’s to a Human Rights court.

The Canadian Human Rights Commissions were set up originally with the best of intentions to protect people from ethnic minorities from genuine discrimination, such as being summarily evicted by their landlords and left homeless. Since then, according to their critics such as Steyn and the Canadian Conservative journalist Ezra Levant, the courts have become increasingly dictatorial and anti-democratic. Normal legal rules of procedure and evidence don’t seem to apply to them. Neither does factual accuracy. Under Section 13 of the code establishing the Human Rights Commissions and their courts, factual accuracy is no defence if the accused is nevertheless considered by the court to be spreading hatred or prejudice.

Ezra Levant is similarly being prosecuted by the Human Rights Courts for his critical comments about militant Islam and specifically for publishing the notorious Danish cartoons. He is extremely critical of the Human Rights Commission and their apparent contempt for free speech and the normal rules that govern the police and judiciary in democracies in order to protect democratic freedom. His blog, like Steyn’s site, includes details of his individual case. Levant also covers what he considers to be the abuse of power by the Human Rights Commissions generally, and campaigns for their abolition.

While critical of militant Islam, Steyn and Levant also have the support of Muslim journalists and writers in Canada who are strongly opposed to the militant intolerance preached by the militants in the name of Islam. Levant has said something in his blog to the effect that the Canadian Islamic Congress is unrepresentative of Canadian Islam as a whole, and that their attempts to suppress criticism of militant Islam has probably done much more to spread suspicion of Islam generally than either Steyn or himself.

Now this would normally be a matter of concern only to Canadians. However, Steyn, Levant and their supporters, such as the Canadian writer and ID supporter Denyse O’Leary, have stated that foreign individuals outside Canada should closely examine the conduct of Human Rights Commissions in their attack on free speech in order to prevent similar abuses occurring in their countries. This also goes well beyond the lines of party politics. Steyn and Levant are Conservatives, but their prosecution is of real concern to people concerned with maintaining traditional democratic liberties such as free speech and conscience regardless of party allegiance. Some of the appointees to the Human Rights Commission courts were given their posts by Conservative administrations. As for Steyn and Levant, it shouldn’t matter here whether the accused are Conservatives, Liberals or members of the Socialist New Democrat Party. Their prosecution before a court system where factual accuracy is apparently no defence is a threat to democracy itself.

As for their comment that the situation in Canada should also concern non-Canadians, it’s a very, very good point. Unfortunately the prosecution of Steyn and Levant for their coverage and criticism of militant Islam is very relevant to British politics and the attempt by some parts of the British legal system to prevent the media from covering militantly bigoted attacks on British society by British Muslims. In the middle of last month, the Crown Prosecution Service and West Midlands police force gave a statement recognising that they had been incorrect to accuse Channel 4 of misleading editing in its programme, Undercover Mosque, and agreed to pay damages of £100,000 to charity. The programme Undercover Mosque was broadcast in January 2007 in the Channel 4 Despatches documentary series. It showed supposedly moderate Islamic clergy vehemently denouncing non-Muslims as ‘filthy’, ‘accursed’ and ‘criminals’. The West Midlands police then investigated the clergy involved, before claiming, seven months later, that the programme had misrepresented the clergy through selective editing. Ofcom, the government’s broadcasting watchdog, then investigated the programme, and came to the conclusion that the editing had not misrepresented the militant preachers. This verdict was accepted by the West Midlands police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

What is disturbing about this case is that rather than accept that militantly bigoted comments and sermons were being preached by the clergy concerned, the police force and CPS instead attempted to suppress its reporting. This seems partly to have been due to prevent racial tension and violence. Anil Patani, the West Midland Police Force’s assistant chief constable (security and cohesion), stated that the programme threatened ‘community cohesion’ by unfairly representing the Muslim preachers. My own view here is that this is rubbish. Community cohesion was threatened long before Channel 4 made the documentary the moment when the imams concerned were allowed, or invited to speak. In fact violent denunciations of non-Muslim Britons by radical Muslim clergy have been a problem for a long time. In the 1990s the BBC filmed one cleric telling his congregation that British society was a monstrous ‘killing machine’ and that ‘killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ This particular cleric was intensely controversial in the Muslim community, and there were demonstrations against him and his bigotry by British Muslims.

However, there also seems to be a real reluctance to act against militant Islamic bigotry on the part of the British authorities, even when they have been alerted to a very real threat posed by some mosques and their clergy by concerned Muslims. The people who first attempted to alert the authorities to the militant activities at Finchley Park mosque, which was closed down a few years ago after it was found to be supporting Islamicist terrorism, were Muslims, and for a long time their warnings were ignored.

My feeling is that there’s a political aspect to this reluctance by the authorities to act against the Islamicist militants. Some of it is probably an attempt to avoid making this situation worse by appearing to provoke, or increase suspicion and hatred of Muslims in wider British society. However, there’s also a diplomatic element involved. Many British mosques are funded by the governments of Muslim countries, partly as a way of extending their influence into British Muslim society. Where that particular Islamic nation has a particularly intolerant attitude, there’s a danger that this influence will be passed on to British Muslims through the funding nation presenting it as a genuine part of Islam. Moreover, the programme Undercover Mosque was particular embarrassing for the British government as it showed supposedly moderate Muslims as preaching vehement hatred instead of peace and harmony.

My point here is not to attack or criticise Islam or muslims generally. The militant preachers of hate are intensely controversial in the Muslim community, and I can remember reading comments by muslim writers demanding that the media also pay attention to demonstrations by Muslims against them and more generally as normal members of British society. Across the world, ordinary muslims have acted to save non-muslims from terrorist atrocities committed by the Islamicists. When a party of German tourists was massacred by Islamicist militants in Egypt in the 1990s, a number of them were saved by the local people running out to hide them in their own houses. The Shari’a, the Islamic legal code, explicitly forbids killing women, children and non-combatants, and members of the Egyptian public condemned the Islamicists’ atrocity as ‘completely against Islam’ when interviewed on a BBC Radio travel programme. What concerns me is that rather than tackle the fact that there are bigoted clerics preaching a vicious hatred of non-muslims, the authorities have instead attempted to prevent it being reported. The suppression of the reporting of militant hatred for apparently political reasons is the real issue here, and it is a genuine, threat to democracy whatever the group or organisation preaching hatred and bigotry is. Christians and members of other faiths and ideologies have and are being persecuted for their conscience in numerous states around the world, so I’m acutely aware of the danger of creating a similar climate of religious intolerance in Britain towards Islam. However, genuine democratic politics depends on the free discussion of issues, and this becomes particularly important when there is a very real danger from terrorism and susceptible, confused or alienated people being turned against their fellow countrymen by bigots. In this situation, it is entirely appropriate that the problem should be reported and discussed. Attempting to ignore the problem, or deny that it exists by prosecuting those who do report it won’t change the situation and will set a dangerous precedent for the official suppression of news the authorities consider embarrassing or potentially threatening generally. The Human Rights Commissions in Canada and the attempt by the West Midlands police force and the Crown Prosecution Service in Britain to prosecute the producers of Undercover Mosque aren’t just a problem for the reporting of militant Islam, but a threat generally to free speech and democratic politics.