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Saturday, February 26, 2005

 

Disproportionate influence

The religious bigots are at it again, and this time it's closer to home. Iqbal Sacranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, recently wrote to Charles Kennedy threatening to withdraw Muslim votes from the Liberal Democrats unless the party drops its opposition to the incitement to religious hatred law.

I
posted last week about Kennedy's alarming concessions to the religious lobby. It is now clearer where the pressure is coming from.

Here is the
National Secular Society report in full:

Recent reports of the Liberal Democrats apparently making a bid for the religious vote, especially the minority religious vote, have left many secularists in a political wilderness. Most [letters the NSS has recently received on this topic from its members] are from those who had abandoned New Labour and had been counting on the Liberal Democrats, or were disillusioned LibDem supporters.

Keith Porteous Wood [Executive Director of the NSS] has written to Charles Kennedy as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, urging him to resist the pressure being applied to the party by the Muslim Council of Britain, whose leader Iqbal Sacranie was reported last week to be threatening to withdraw Muslim votes from the party unless the Lib Dems came down more clearly in favour of the incitement to religious hatred law.

In a letter to Kennedy, Mr Sacranie attacked the "mixed messages" and "misinformation emanating from the party" over government legislative proposals to ban incitement to religious hatred. "All of this has the potential to not only undermine the very important dialogue your party is trying to engage with the Muslim community, but also seriously put at risk the support your party has undeniably gained from British Muslims due to your principled opposition to the Iraq war," he wrote.

It is thought that Mr Sacranie is referring to the activities of Lib Dem MP and NSS honorary associate Dr Evan Harris, who has been a leading figure in the campaign against the proposed incitement law.

The Lib Dem victory in the Leicester South by-election last year was contributed largely to Muslim voters switching from Labour after the war. The Government has since been trying hard to get the community support back by promising measures that included a law against inciting religious hatred. Sacranie claimed that the fate of at least 25 seats would depend on Muslim voters.

Keith Porteous Wood pointed out that the policies being advocated by the bloc’s leaders are generally those that they personally want and that these leaders are often not democratically elected and, we suspect in many cases, are not representative of those for whom they purport to speak. There was no evidence that Mr Sacranie can command the Muslim vote in the way he seems to imagine.

Keith suggested that the growing visibility of minority religious groups — and, indeed, Christian organisations such as the Evangelical Alliance and even Christian Voice — could lead politicians to over-estimate the importance to the electorate of religion, and hence religious stances. He drew Mr Kennedy’s attention to the Home Office’s Research Study 274 which "gives some useful objective guidance: it ranked religion as being only the ninth most important component of their self-identity for the population in England and Wales, albeit those in minority ethnic groups rank it rather higher".

He also urged Mr Kennedy to consider the small numbers involved of minority faiths. "The democratic process can be damaged if a religious bloc, particularly a relatively small one as in this case, is able to gain disproportionate influence by suggesting it has influence over voters and securing advantages from this, sometimes even from more than one party. According to the latest Census, at 15% there were three times as many 'no-religion' voters as all of the minority faiths combined. The true multiple is rather higher because many of those who comprised the 72% who identified themselves as 'Christian' are simply cultural Christians whose affiliation is purely nominal."

Keith concluded by hoping that "your party will continue to stand out to defend freedom of expression, which is so important to a healthily functioning democracy."
I sincerely hope that Charles Kennedy continues to back Evan Harris and that he has the balls to tell Mr. Sacranie where he can shove his Muslim votes.

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