Once the American experience had provided a foretaste of how terrorism legislation can be misused, it was a foregone conclusion that once the Terrorism Act came into force on 19 February, Muslim organisations would fall like dominoes under its impact.
So there were few exclamations of surprise when the British home secretary, Jack Straw, announced on 28 February that he was placing a raft of Islamic and other Muslim groups on the Act’s list of proscribed terrorist groups. It is an offence for anybody to extend material or moral support to any of these groups, either from Britain or abroad. Of 21 names on the list, twelve are Muslim, and one, the Abu Nidal Organsation, is a Palestinian faction opposed to the ‘peace process’. The ‘dirty dozen’ includes all the usual suspects and can be broadly sorted by the headings of liberationist movements, groups fighting western military presence in Muslim lands, and those fighting repressive regimes.
The Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Hizbullah of Lebanon, and the Kashmiri groups Harakat al-Mujahideen, Jaish-e Mohammed and Lashkar-e Tayyeba all find themselves proscribed. Groups opposed to Western interference in the Islamic world include the Al-Qaida group led by Afghanistan-based Usama bin Laden, and also the Islamic Army of Aden, responsible for the spectacular attack on the warship USS Cole last year. The outlawed organisations waging war on their governments include groups in Algeria and Egypt. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the governments of Israel, Algeria, Egypt and India are close allies of the West, and among the most insistent that Britain take the US’s lead to stem support for their opponents.
It is of course an accepted rule that whatever the US does, Britain copies. The lapdog has not let his master down this time either. With a few exceptions, the British list is almost identical to the US State Department’s own list of ‘terrorist organisations’, compiled in 1999 and reviewed every two years.
Muslims across the political spectrum have condemned the listing. In Britain the Islamic Human Rights Commission says that it violates international accords on the rights of self-determination and self-defence. “Struggles in Palestine and Kashmir, for instance, are undertaken by the indigenous population against illegal occupation. International law accepts that such struggles are perfectly just,” said chairman Massoud Shadjareh. “By targeting the resistance movements in these regions, the British Government is tacitly expressing support for the occupying regimes while illegally undermining the right of the occupied population to struggle for self-determination.”
Even the government-friendly Muslim Council of Britain, whose representatives met Straw just before his announcement, was scathing. It said the Terrorism Act was being applied selectively by a government which had neglected its responsibility to uphold human rights: if Britain and other Security Council members had enforced UN resolutions on Kashmir and Palestine, then wrongs would have been righted, and groups would not have been forced to adopt armed struggle.
The MCB demanded to know: “Will there be a clampdown on the activities of British-Israeli citizens funding, arming and promoting the illegal settlements? Moreover, will organisations fanning anti-Christian and anti-Muslim fanaticism in India also be proscribed?”
However, the new legislation under which the list has been published was first published in 1999, and passed into law earlier this year. From the earliest days of the legislative process, a number of Muslim groups have highlighted the fact that it was likely to be used against Muslims and Islamic movements. Lord Nazeer Ahmed, one of only four Muslims in the British Parliament, spoke strongly against the Bill when it was debated. Such voices found little support among the British community’s ‘representative’ bodies, who appeared to accept the government’s claim that the law was intended against ‘terrrorists’, not Muslims. Their criticism of the list now appears to be a hollow reaction to public pressure, and be too little, too late.
Among those directly affected by the decision, Hamas expressed regret at Britain’s decision, but remained ed defiant. It says that the struggle against Israel will continue, as its legitimacy derives from “divine authority”. A statement issued by its armed wing, the Izzeddin El-Qassam Brigades, said: “This right is guaranteed by all heavenly legislations in addition to international laws and norms, and no party whatsoever has the right to describe the struggle and jihad of our people for the sake of freedom and liberation as terrorism.”
It also accused Britain of employing double standards: “The British decision affirms Britain’s insistence on practising double-dealing with our people and their rights. London turns a blind eye to the Zionist occupation’s daily practices against our unarmed people. Britain refrains from describing all such practices as terrorism while it openly describes our people’s struggle and self-defence as terrorism.”