Saturday, March 25. 2006
Organisers for tomorrow’s ‘Freedom of Speech March’ (FEM) have encouraged supporters to sport t-shirts and carry placards depicting the abusive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in a rally aimed at defending the “free exchange of ideas” that “includes the right to criticise and mock”.
But the march has been condemned by the Muslim community of Britain who have hit back claiming it is an “offence against Global Civility and a provocation to 1.6 billion Muslims”.
The organisers of the march, Peter Risden and Patrick Vidaud, have supplied a link on their website where t-shirts brandishing the offensive cartoons, first published by the Danish newspaper Jylland-Postens, can be purchased. The site also has suggestions for placard slogans including ‘Islam, putting the world at war’, ‘Muhammad was a Sex Offender’ and ‘Death to Iran’.
But the Muslim Action Committee (MAC), a group set up to tackle the “global concern in the western media and government victimising and provoking the Muslims by producing blasphemous cartoons, depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist”, has condemned the march in Trafalgar Square as an attempt to vilify Islam and demonise Muslims. In response, it has organised nationwide counter rallies on the same day as FEM campaigning for Global Civility.
With 31 towns and cities preparing to demonstrate tomorrow, including Birmingham, Manchester, East London, Bradford, Glasgow and Oldham, the rallies will also be in response to the British National Party’s (BNP) concerted efforts in distributing the cartoons as part of their election campaign.
Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi, National Convenor of MAC, said: “The continued irresponsible actions of the BNP in distributing leaflets with the cartoons on across the country are also provoking anger throughout the Muslim community.”
Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi of MAC said: “[The marches are] partly in response to the Freedom of Expression March and partly in response to the campaign of the BNP and the continued republishing of the cartoons throughout the world.
“But, we’ve faced a lot of barriers from police and councillors around the country. Initially the councillors in Rochdale had been threatened by the BNP. The MP of Rochdale, Paul Rowen, has signed up for the campaign of Global Civility and he’s been very supportive of the MAC.
“In Bradford, they’ve said that demonstrators have to pay Public Insurance Liability; I’ve never heard of that liability being placed on demonstrators before,” said Mr Hijazi.
Further inflammatory material on FEM’s website includes a cartoon from a comic book called ‘Jesus and Mo’ depicting Prophet Muhammad and Jesus drinking together and a caption reading ‘After all, it is that very principle which allows you freedom to practice and preach’.
Mr Hijazi emphasised that abusive and uncivilised behaviour would only turn people away from listening.
“This society we’re living in and across Europe, instead of having real discussions, real dialogue, what we’re instead having is slanging matches in the streets.”
Leading up to the clash of rallies, the Global Civility campaign challenged the organisers of FEM to a public debate after they refused to answer questions on whether the right of freedom of expression should include, amongst others: ‘the right to incite racial hatred’, ‘the right to incite religious hatred’, ‘the right to glorify terror’, ‘the right to slander people’, and ‘do you believe in the right to question the official record of the Holocaust?’
“We didn’t just ask them, we asked all the supporting organisations; only two got back to us with even half reasonable responses, and the rest either ignored us or gave evasive answers,” said Mr Hijazi.
He added that criticism against FEM was justified for the “anti-Islamic diatribe” found on its website, which also has a ‘Muslim Offence Meter’. However, he insisted that MAC had never been against freedom of speech, but for civility.
“We’ve never said we’re against freedom of speech, we’re campaigning for civility and a change in culture – not for legislation and not for censorship – but that people voluntarily adopt self-regulating principles whereby they change their behaviour for the betterment of humanity. We’re not saying we don’t want to have disagreement, debate, criticism, we want all of those things; we welcome them in fact. But it has to be within a certain framework of civility.”
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has interpreted the real intent of FEM as “virulently Islamophobic and racist in nature” and has called for the upholding of British law in prohibiting demonstrators from carrying Islamophobic placards and t-shirts.
IHRC also questioned the organiser’s assurance that the BNP would not be welcome by pointing to evidence indicating the attendance of the “fascist group” Civil Liberty, whose leader is the BNP North-East organiser Kevin Scott, which apparently issued a call on its website for its supporters to attend the march.
IHRC said: “It is worrying that an event that appeals to the Islamophobic right is also supported by amongst others British Humanist Association, Ekllesia (a Christian monitoring group), the National Secular Society, UKIP, and Peter Tatchell. This event will set a dangerous precedent will be set whereby Islamophobic groups can use the issue of civil liberties as an excuse to demonise Muslims and Islam.
“This is not free speech or debate; this is vilification akin to the demonisation of Jews in Nazi Germany.”