After the July 2005 bombings, which killed 52 innocent British citizens and injured over 700, Tony Blair announced that we would immediately proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir and its successor organisation, Al Mujahiroun. To date, neither organisation has been banned and Al Muhajiroun is planning to conduct a debate this evening for the first time since 2004, now that it has appointed its new British leader. This Government should concentrate less on rhetoric and more on reality and taking the action which is needed to protect this country and its people from terrorism.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is an extremist organisation that poisons the minds of young Muslims against Jews, Christians and other ‘unbelievers’ and some who have been through its ranks have ended up in Al Qaeda. David Cameron reminded Gordon Brown at his first Prime Minister’s Question Time in July 2007 that the Government had repeatedly pledged to ban it and yet no further action has been taken.
Al Mujahiroun used to be led by banned preacher, Omar Bakri Muhammad, who once described the September 11th hijackers as ‘The Magnificent 19’ and said he wished to see the ‘flag of Islam’ flying over Downing Street. This group was also responsible for organising the despicable protests in Luton when our men from the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Anglian Regiment paraded through the town centre.
Why isn’t this Government taking the action needed to ban these people from preaching and practising their hatred?
Al Mujahiroun has little support in the wider Muslim community and has operated under various different names over the last five years. The Home Office began to talk about banning al-Muhajiroun in 2004 so its leader, Omar Bakri Muhammad, formally shut it down and fled to Lebanon after being banned from entering the UK by then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke. However, it then became fragmented into two groups: the Saviour Sect and al-Ghurabaa which both later became two of the 45 proscribed organisations (under The Terrorism Act 2000 & 2006).
Bakri Muhammad, formerly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut- Tahrir, has been preaching to UK followers since being in Lebanon. For example, in March, former members of Al Muhajiroun held a public meeting in the Sudbury Primary School in Brent. At the event, Bakri Muhammad addressed the audience by telephone. In addition to broadcasting his speech, recruiting new members and rallying their followers, the group also handed out Islamist literature calling for Muslims to re-establish the ‘Khilafah’ which they envisage as an expansionist, totalitarian super state that will conquer the world by force.
It seems perverse that our laws are not capable of dealing with these people. What is the point of Prime Ministers setting legislative agendas and MPs spending a great deal of time forming and scrutinising the legislation in Parliament to get it right, when the powers are then never used? If we don’t even bother to use the powers that we have enshrined in statute after hours of amending and debating, we are directly aiding and abetting the enemies of the state.
However, we must be practical about this. It could be that there are good reasons for the police and Security Service wishing to keep these organisations above the parapet and not forcing them underground. By banning organisations, we may in fact make it harder to monitor the actions of subversives as they will do everything they can to evade detection. However, we must decide which route we are going to take because when politicians say one thing, and the police and Security Service seem to follow a completely different strategy, it is very damaging to our counter terrorism efforts.
In October 2002, then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said that proscription of terrorist organisations “will send a clear message that the United Kingdom is committed to playing a leading role in the international campaign against terrorists and their supporters – whether operating here or abroad.” However, I would argue that the message we are currently broadcasting is one of indifference and empty rhetoric.
The divide between rhetoric and reality does not just occur in the area of proscription. In 2006, the police were given powers in the Terrorism Act to shut down extremist websites and yet the Government has failed to close a single one. Vile topics are discussed on these online forums, including one which prompted me to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons when it appeared that a plot was being formulated to target MPs whilst they travelled to and from their constituencies. More must be done to ensure that radicalisation and terrorist communication on the internet is stamped out.
The laws in these areas either need to be removed from the statute books or simply applied consistently and rigorously across the board. The Government must either be serious about proscribing extremist organisations, such as Al Mujahiroun, or admit that the laws are currently unworkable and re-write them so that we can effect in reality the rhetoric we espouse from the conference platform.