Welcome to get-tough Britain, Your Evilness!
By Macer Hall, Political Editor
Daily Star, 8 July 2004
JUST AS David Blunkett was pledging a crackdown on religious hatred yesterday a fanatical Muslim cleric was welcomed into Britain.
The Home Secretary promised a new law to jail extremists who incite hate and violence against other faiths. The new offence is likely to be closely modelled on the existing crime of inciting racial hatred, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment. But his crackdown was branded a “nonsense” as rabble-rouser Yusuf al-Qaradawi waltzed into Britain.
The Qatar-based sheik – who supports attacks on Jews and backs suicide bombers – is banned from the US but allowed to speak at Muslim conferences here. Al-Qaradawi was born in Egypt, like hook-handed fanatic Abu Hamza, the Finsbury Park preacher the Home Office has been trying to kick out of the country.
Sneering yesterday, he shrugged aside the row over his visit to Britain. He said: “For over a third of a century I have been visiting London. It is an open city, so why is there this row today?”
Previous efforts to halt religious hatred have been blocked by the House of Lords, but Mr Blunkett is particularly concerned that Muslims are facing discrimination. However, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said al-Qaradawi’s visit made a “nonsense” of the new crackdown.
He said: “It is hard to take the Government seriously when such men are allowed into Britain. “There are already laws that could be used to keep such people out.”
As a row brewed yesterday over al-Qaradawi’s visit, a Home Office Minister had to withdraw support from a conference she is attending.
Fiona Mactaggart had been due to visit the Hijab, (Support the Veil) Conference in London. Earlier this week she cancelled while promising to send a videotaped message of support. However, the plan was scrapped yesterday as alQaradawi will be a guest of honour at the event. The Home Office said: “She’s dismayed a good cause has become a broader political issue.”
Tony Blair vowed that the cleric’s activities would be “monitored”. He told MPs: “We are totally opposed to people coming to this country and using it as a platform for views in support of terrorism or extremism. The Prime Minister added: “We have to be sure, however, that if someone is excluded from this country, they are excluded in a way that is lawful.”