Chaim Yitzchak


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On the Other Hand

Chaim Bermant

'Parliaments and preposterous proposals' (10 January 1992)

A GROUP calling itself the "Muslim Parliament" met in London a few days ago, and almost in its opening breath invited Muslim citizens to defy the law where they thought it was in conflict with Muslim interests and Muslim teachings.

Dr Kalim Siddiqui, a former subeditor on the Guardian, who is one of the leaders of the self-styled Parliament, said that Islam occupied the moral high ground of society, that Western civilisation was "the sick man of the modern world," and that "lslam alone is the antidote to a morally bankrupt and sick world."

Dr Siddiqui's remarks are, unfortunately, not wholly devoid of truth. The world is a fairly sick place, but some of the sickest parts of it are under Muslim rule, which may be why so many Muslims are clamouring to get into Britain, Europe, Canada, America, or any other Western country‹sick though it may be‹which will have them.

Which brings me to our own Jewish Parliament, which is about as representative as the Muslim Parliament, and which can sometimes be as obtuse, for at a recent meeting it voted to introduce to English law the concept of group defamation; and it did so, moreover, with but a solitary dissenting voice.

It is not often that the deputies are nearly all of one mind but when they are, one can be absolutely certain that they have it absolutely wrong.

Their efforts, if they should be noticed at all, will no doubt stir up a great deal of adverse publicity and comment, but there is fortunately no chance that they will succeed. If they did, the remarks I have just made about Muslims, though self-evidently true, would be deemed actionable in law and would have been killed by the lawyers. And so, no doubt, would some of the things I have said about the actions and utterances of rabbis and rabbinical courts.

I write about a hundred articles a year for one paper or another, and though I have no trouble ‹ or almost none‹with editors, I have a great deal of trouble with lawyers.

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for a national paper about someone whom I denounced as a reconstructed Mosleyite, and damned him with his own words. The truth, however, is no absolute defence in law, for there is no saying how a jury will see it, and even if the jury should find in one's favour there is no certainty of recouping the astronomical costs of a libel action from the plaintiff. In the end, therefore, the lawyers killed the piece.

There are enough restraints, as it is, on the freedom of expression. Moreover, the restraints, however defined in law, tend to be one-sided in application. If a British politician, for example, had spoken of Muslim society in terms which Dr Siddiqui had used to describe Western civilisation, that politician could have been (and almost certainly would have been) charged for incitement to racial hatred.

The Board, we are told, in seeking to extend the restraints on free speech, will also be arguing on behalf of millions of blacks, Asians, Chinese and Sikhs, and the Commission for Racial Equality is also considering proposals similar to those put forward by the Board.

I shudder at the thought of it. The Commission, even with its existing powers, has probably done more to exacerbate racial tensions in Britain than all the minuscule racist groups put together.

A few months ago it hauled a young English mother before the courts because she insisted that her child should have an English education. I mentioned this at the time, and could indeed fill this column with a catalogue of the follies of the CRE

It already has too much power, which it has used with too little wisdom. Were it to be given more‹ and the Board's proposals would do just that‹the impact on British life would be explosive, for majorities, too, have their rights and we would be approaching the point when they would no longer be free to protest against encroachments on them.

Who asked the Board to argue on behalf of blacks, Asians, Chinese and Sikhs? Certainly not the Sikhs, Chinese, Asians and blacks.

In any case, the people who have most been provoking public commotion and public wrath in this area are the minority of Muslims who have attempted to hold themselves above the law.

British Jews are not a new immigrant community. They have different interests from British Muslims and others. They also have a different history and different attitudes. If they are to make common cause with lawbreakers, or book-burners, they will provoke the same hostility and will be treated with the same contempt.

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