the Disillusioned kid: Ban Ban Not Dead, Part 2.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ban Ban Not Dead, Part 2.

Ken at Militant Moderate has an interesting post in which he argues that plans to ban Islamic extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HUT) are analagous to Belgium's decision to ban the far-right party Vlaams Blok. He believes that a ban is probably a mistake in both cases and I tend to agree with him. I posted my opinions on the Vlaams Blok ban at the time, but I think it is probably worth running through them again and applying them to the specific case in hand.

In both cases the first issue which springs to mind is that of freedom of speech. While I think this is important, I argue that it is a mistake to see it as an absolute right. To do so would render any rights system essentially meaningless. Should I, for instance, be allowed to barge into your house, plaster your walls with posters and excoriate this or that government policy through a megaphone while you try and watch Eastenders? Clearly not, because you have a right to privacy with which my freedom of speech must be balanced. There must then be circumstances in which we can - perhaps even should - curtail people's freedom of speech. The only question is when.

There are probably few hard and fast answers here. The classic example of somebody shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre does not have a particularly wide application. If people were actively inciting racist or terrorist attacks, this again would seem to be fairly clear cut, but most far-right groups have made increasing steps to appear reasonable and restrict their rhetoric, while HUT appear have been consistently non-violent throughout their history. Perhaps then their legality gives the positions these groups espouse some legitimacy in the eyes of potential supporters. My guess is that this is likely to be more significant in the case of Vaams Blok who have participated (and unfortunately done quite well) in Belgian elections, but I'm unconvinced that it is sufficient basis for a ban. Consider also that they might actually get more legitimacy if banned as they can present themselves as martyrs, repressed by an oppressive Francophone/Islamophobic (delete as appropriate) elite.

There is also a not insignificant matter of practicality. Groups can simply change their name and continue on virtually as before without legal censure as Vlaams Blok have done. Alternatively they can simply go underground. Many of HUT's Central Asian branches have done this. No doubt it has had some effect on their membership, but even in the face of vicious government repression the organisation may have as many as 20,000 members in the region. More worryingly there are rumours that repression may actually be pushing previously non-violent groups towards adopting more confrontational tactics. EurasiaNet reported in 2003:
Dr. Bakhtiar Babadjanov, a Tashkent-based political scientist, suggested Hizb-an-Nusra [a HUT splinter group - Dk] leaders believe that non-violent tactics will never be sufficient to bring about the collapse of Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s main tactic of distributing leaflets caused the arrest of "a significant proportion of Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s younger membership," Babadjanov wrote. As a result, the Hizb-an-Nusra leaders decided it "was time for more radical efforts."
This hardly looks like a model we should wish to emulate.

The final - and for me - clinching consideration is a decidedely self-interested one. Governments do make decisions to ban organisation partly on the basis that their views are abhorrent, but they also do so on the basis that they fall outside the elite consensus: Those advocating the bombing of tube trains are banned; those csupporting the bombing of Arab cities run the country. Insofar as Islamic extremists or fascists fall outside this consensus they may well be banned, but it is not inconceivable that they could also ban progressive organisations who manage to get themselves into a position where they can effectively challenge the status quo. In fact, we needn't lose ourselves in such fantasies. The government has on a number of occasions taken the decision to ban anti-fascist events such as a carnival in Burnley in 2001.

Events in recent weeks suggest an offshoot from this last point which did not arise in the context of Vlaams Blok; the issue of Islamophobia. Who is to say the government won't deicde that this or that Islamic organisation is "extremist" simply because it is Islamic. Note that they have gone after HUT very early on. Many of their views are indeed contemptible (and in my opinion they're a little crazy), but they do appear to have been consistently non-violent and according to Wikipedia, even government documents argue that they do not participate in or espouse terrorism. Where do we draw the line between disagreement, but tolerance and disagreement leading to a ban? Logic might suggest that the line would be based on advocacy of violence, but this doesn't seem to have been the case with HUT, so where is it?

Long story short: The ban's a bad idea. This I suppose raise the question of what I propose the government do instead to deal with Islamic extremism and/or fascism. On the latter I will simply note that I don't think it is something governments can deal with and as such, I think it's up to the rest of us to follow in the long, proud anti-fascist heritage and deal with the bastards ourselves. As for Islamic extremism, the response, I think, is the same as that I've suggested for dealing with alienation amongst members of ethnic minorities: tackle the causes of that alienation. If we deal with poverty and unemployment, tackle racism and sort out our foreign policy it's going to be a lot harder for HUT and the like to recruit. Of course, the government aren't going to do that. Much easier to maintain the status quo while satiating the right-wing press with an ineffective ban or two.

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