Turning off hate?

This week, it has now been a year since I started writing a weekly column for the Sikh Times. I’d like to thank the team for their continuing support and commitment to this publication. Over the last year I would like to think that the readers and I have explored & shared a range of subjects and ideas. For example, world affairs, globalisation, the need for debt reduction, ID-Cards, Bollywood’s gloss/hype, charity, peace/harmony and the potential trouble with patriotism. The aim of my commentary is simply to raise awareness and cover lifestyle issues. I believe that the very fundamental theme of journalism is the right to express ones view and aim to stand-up and defend the defenceless in society. Knowledge is power. Take for example, the proposed Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. On Tuesday 7th December at the House of Lords, the bill will have received its second reading. One of the bills aims is for the inciting of religious hatred to be made a criminal offence. Back in July 2004 David Blunkett suggested that there was a need to stop people being abused or targeted just because they held a particular religious faith. ‘Extending anti-discrimination law is only worthwhile if we actually change the processes on the ground.’ In addition, previously he is quoted to have said that the legislation would not curb people’s right to express their view of other people’s religions. ‘The issue is not whether you have an argument or discussion or whether you are criticising someone’s religion. It’s whether you incite hatred on the basis of it.’ NB There is already an offence of inciting racial hatred but this does not offer protection if someone is being targeted because of their religion. It is proposed that any passed legislation will be supported by a ‘British FBI’ – the Serious Organised Crime Agency, bringing together the National Crime Squad, National Criminal Intelligence Service and parts of HM Customs and the Immigration Service. However, there are some that consider this whole area as questionable. Some commentators suggest that religious based jokes will be disallowed – leading possibly to imprisonment. There is also the need to stop negative influence. Remember last years trouble with an assignation based computer game. One game in particular, ‘hitman2’ was clearly both blasphemous and insulting to an implied community. Does the bill prevent free speech commentary or anyone raising questions around a religious community or an associated group’s activities? A Home Office spokeswoman on defended the bill. ‘There is a clear difference between criticism of a religion and the act of inciting hatred against members of a religious group,’ she said. ‘The existing offence has not interfered with free speech and we are confident that an offensive incitement to religious hatred will not do so either.’ The home secretary believes the law change would help tackle religious extremists who preach against other religions. Another concern that is often raised by those opposed to legislation against incitement of religious hatred is the difficulty involved in defining religion. According to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, ‘religious hatred’ means ‘hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.’ This definition was seen to be too vague and open to abuse by extreme groups and fringe cults. In response to this criticism, any attempt to define religion was dropped from the Bill altogether. Is there a need to make a distinction between religion and ‘religiosity’- the quality of being religious? – A matter of personal choice. NB Those that incite religious hatred rarely make this distinction. The BNP’s campaigns, for example, are not only targeted at ‘religious’ members of a community, but a religious community across the board. The fundamental issue here has to be the need for facilitating respect. Boundaries do not grey when negativity towards religion is expressed in public. An insult against a religion is exactly that. If such tones are used to fuel violence then clearly this is wrong and its associated perpetrators must be brought to justice. A law that is flexible enough to interpret explicit anti-religious references to protect communities has to be a positive for all affected.

Categories: 2004

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