One silver lining to the assault on our freedoms

One silver lining to the assault on our freedoms

By Jeremy Corbyn

Morning Star, 22 November 2006

LAST weekend, the Stop the War coalition organised an enormous assembly linking the war and the defence of minorities and freedom of expression. Two days later, the British Muslim Initiative and Liberty came together to host a rally in Westminster’s Central Hall on the theme of Islamophobia.

Intolerance is not new in Britain. The Jews were thrown out in the 13th century and they were not allowed back until Oliver Cromwell allowed them in the 17th century. However, they suffered persecution for centuries more to come, with hysterical campaigns in the 19th and 20th centuries run by the popular media which enabled the far-right to gain ground.

Black migrants suffered racist abuse and stereotyping in the 1950s and, later, Asian and other groups suffered in the same way.

The Irish were singled out for special vilification and, after the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act, they had the unwelcome attention of the state itself forced upon them. The PTA was finally replaced by the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent acts, all of which have been designed to give excessive and unaccountable power to the security services.

The US may operate a blot on human existence in Guantanamo Bay, but Britain has Belmarsh and is holding dozens of foreign nationals indefinitely without trial, appeal or action date.

Ever since 2001, the vocal campaign against Islam has gained momentum. It has been given occasional puffs of credibility by public statements.

Each time that John Reid says something about parents spying on their children or the head of MI5 says, without offering any supporting statements at all, that there are X number of terror cells in Britain, the popular media publish another series of lurid headlines and fuel another debate about what people should or should not be allowed to wear.

The real danger is that this further isolates the target community and increases racism and tensions in our society. In this way, the so-called “enlightenment” policies of France and Netherlands in banning some clothing and symbols are actually oppressive and divisive.

Racism has always been used to divide and weaken unity and consciousness. A variety of expression and ideas does not weaken a community, but strengthens it.

One promising result of the scaremongering efforts of Reid and others has been to give heart and unity to a broad coalition which genuinely want to live in a positive multicultured society.