NAAR replies to Toynbee

Everyone has the right to live free from harassment and hatred. The bill to ban incitement to religious hatred should be supported.

Polly Toynbee confuses the rights to freedom of speech and artistic expression – which will remain – with a right to whip up hatred against people because of their religion, which will be made unlawful. Currently, only some religious groups, such as Jews and Sikhs, are legally protected from incitement to hatred, while Muslims are not. It is this inconsistency that the extreme right exploits.

The bill is proposing legislation similar to that which criminalised incitement to racial hatred in 1986, which has not curtailed any of the freedoms to tackle controversial issues Ms Toynbee implies. Islamophobia is not a nonsense. Recent Crown Prosecution Service figures show 50% of religiously aggravated offences were directed against Muslims. This hatred needs to be combated by the law.

Milena Buyum
National Assembly Against Racism

Guardian, 13 June 2005