Wednesday 25 November 2009

If Hizb should be banned, why not the BNP too?

David Cameron again called for the banning of the extremist but non-violent Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir at Prime Minister's Questions today.

Like the Conservative leader, and politicians across all of the major parties, I have no time for Hizb-ut-Tahrir. They polarise and poison community relations, propagating the reactionary view that being a British citizen who participates fully in our democracy is incompatible with being a faithful Muslim, an argument that the vast majority of British Muslims reject.

But should they be banned?

In a Fabian speech, Being a British Muslim, back in 2006, Sadiq Khan argued that they have an analogous impact to the BNP - and that these extremist groups need each other to polarise social relations:

Let me be quite clear. Hizb-ut-Tahrir quite deliberately have the same effect on race relations as their mirror image the BNP. They encourage hatred and their preaching is used by the BNP to foster fear of Islam.

That seems to me a relevant analogy.

Yet, despite its racist and reprehensible nature, there are very few calls to ban the BNP.

I imagine that most people would think it would be likely to be counter-productive as a matter of strategy and tactics, probably allowing the far right to claim to speak for far more people than is the case. And many liberals may think it would be wrong in principle too to ban a non-violent group, even a reprehensible and extremist party.

Indeed, the BNP's recent electoral success has seen a marked further shift against the "no platform" approach to the BNP, with the dominant argument now being that 'sunlight' and democratic scrutiny will be the best way to counter the BNP. There are certainly some who doubt that. But it might be difficult for those who take that view to argue that a different approach would be more effective in countering the appeal of Hizb-ut-Tahrir among their target audience.

It seems to me curious that this shift in the 'no platform' debate about the white far right does not yet seem to have influenced or been linked up with other often hotly contested and polarised (and often pretty complex) debates about which organisations and individuals democratic civil society groups should legitimately engage with, platform or publicly challenge in particular questions or contexts.

Certainly, the analogy between the BNP and Hizb-ut-Tahrir is not a precise one in all respects. Both groups target the highly alienated, though the Hizb appeal often targets a more educated alienated strand within British Muslim communities than the core target audience of the white far right, so that its emphasis on ideological argument often makes its modus operandi more similar to that of the far left, while boots and fists play more of a role than ideology on the far right.

It seems to me that there would need to be clear links between Hizb-ut-Tahrir and violent extremism, or support for terrorism and violence, for a ban to be appropriate. (Other Islamist groups such as Al Muhajiroun and several various offshoots have been banned, with broad political and civic society support).

The government has considered banning the group, and announced in 2005 that they would do so. But the decision was reversed: the balance of informed opinion was that this would do more harm than good.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir explicitly disavows violence; evidence that it acts as a gateway to violent extremism is contested and appears to be fairly weak. (I would be interested in recommendations about the best academic and expert studies on this).

For all of those who are concerned about the broader social impact of Hizb's advocacy, the question remains as to what the best strategy is to challenge and diminish its influence.

Many universities, student groups and other institutions continue to have 'no platform' policies, which is a different issue from whether an organisation is legally proscribed. (And, somewhere in between, there are debates about which organisations might be incompatible with working in particular types of public service, for example policing or teaching: again, there seem to me to be plausible arguments about that for groups like Hizb and the BNP, particularly in the case of policing. Opinion appears more finely balanced in the case of teaching).

But is there a reason why Hizb should be banned, and is it one which would not also apply to the BNP?


The Provisional BBC said...

It's possible to have a position that in principle both should be banned, but that there are pragmatic reasons for not doing so which apply to one but not the other, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Firstly the fascists are the UAF who support Iran, hamas and hezbollah who want to wipe Israel and Israeli Jews off the map. Unlike them the BNP accepts Israel's right to exist. Secondly, Nick Griffin is in the process of reforming his party, ditching all the old clause 4 style baggage of the past, and bringing together a party of black and white loyal British people, who will challenge the One-Party-State corrupt liberal elites, end multicultural balkanisation, Islamisation and mass immigration and bring Britain’s sovereignty back from Europe.
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