Stop these exclusion orders against Muslim preachers

Sources tell me that the Home Office is currently considering issuing two exclusion orders. One would be against a Jamaican-born Muslim preacher called Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips and the other against Zakir Naik, who is due to arrive in the UK on Friday to begin a speaking tour to huge audiences at the Sheffield Arena, London’s Wembley Arena and the LG Arena in Birmingham’s NEC. Naik is based in Mumbai, India and has in recent years built up a huge international following among Muslims. His lectures and debates on the topic of comparative religion are played continuously on Peace TV – the satellite channel that he founded.

This is just the latest in a series of “naming and shaming” exclusion orders that began a couple of years ago when the former Labour government said that it would introduce a policy of banning “preachers of hate” from visiting the UK. At the end of last month the Sunday Times ran an article about Zakir Naik that seems to have panicked some people in the government. For his part Naik has since issued a press statement saying that he “unequivocally condemns acts of violence including 9/11, 7/7 and 7/11 [the serial train bombing in Mumbai], which are completely and absolutely unjustifiable on any basis.”

We already have a sufficient number of laws on the statute books to deal with incitement to hatred and violence, and the fact is that both Bilal Philips and Zakir Naik have visited the UK on several occasions in the past – and their speaking tours have passed by without incident. Neither speaker has said anything that has got them in trouble with the law, so why not just uphold our existing laws rather than seek to pre-emptively ban them? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the exclusion order policy is yet another government PR gimmick designed to show that it is getting tough on those it regards as being extremists.

Inayat Bunglawala at Comment is Free, 15 June 2010