Letter to Charles Clarke asking about manifesto and letters to mosques

Thursday, 21 April 2005

Mr. Charles Clarke MP

Home Secretary

Home Office

50 Queen Anne’s Gate

London

SW1H 9AT

Dear Charles Clarke MP,

English PEN and its wide ranging membership were distressed to see that the proposed legislation on “incitement to hatred on religious grounds” appeared in the Labour Party Manifesto and did so in the most ambiguous terms – ones which might lead interested parties to believe that a promise to criminalize provocative writing was indeed on the agenda.

When we went to see Fiona MacTaggart, she adamantly denied that there was any intention in the proposed legislation to conflate criticism of religious belief with criticism of the person of the believer. We know, however, that there is confusion about this on your own back benches (see Mr. Mahmood, in Hansard for 7th February 2005, who is ready to prosecute Satanic Verses). Now, it seems that for election purposes, you are willing to make that confusion more general. This seems to be a case where expectations of a law if not fulfilled will cause grave disquiet in one community, whereas if they are fulfilled, our basic freedoms will suffer a constraint disastrous to the culture of this country.

You have now compounded the problem by writing to Mosques around the country, once more promising legislation which could easily be construed to have a broad rather than narrow remit. Have you written to other faith groups? The conflation of religion, which is a set of beliefs and hierarchies, and race, a question of history and ethnicity, is inflammatory in our multicultural society. Your letter pits Jew and Sikhs against Muslims. Is it Labour policy to aggravate tensions here?

Are you seriously setting out to create a climate in which expression is constrained for those who might wish to criticize some of the palpable ills associated with religious hierarchies, while encouraging those who want to use the courts and media to entrench their authority?

The letter to Mosques seems to us to be an attempt to exploit the religious and race card in marginal seats. It goes directly against the assurances given us by the Home Office, is objectionable in principle and dangerous in practice.

As writers of many faiths and none who care about our liberties as well as our civil society, and who might indeed, like mosque and churchgoers, be stirred to vote Labour, we trust you can provide us with some clearer indication of your intentions.

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Appignanesi

(Deputy President, PEN, Chair English PEN Free Expression is no Offence campaign)

Julian Evans

Moris Farhi, OBE

Philip Hensher

Amanda Hopkinson

Kenan Malik

Philip Pullman

Salman Rushdie

Anne Sebba

Richard Sennett

Gillian Slovo

Marina Warner

Timberlake Wertenbaker

And the members of English PEN

CC: Rt. Hon. Tony Blair

Ms. Fiona MacTaggart MP

The Right Hon. The Baroness Anelay

The Right Hon. The Baroness Cox

Mr. David Davis MP

The Right Hon. The Lord Dholakia

The Right Hon. The Baroness Falkner of Margravine

Mr. Dominic Grieve MP

Mr. Evan Harris MP

The Right Hon. Lord Plant of Highfield

Mr. Michael Howard QC MP

The Right Hon. The Lord Hunt of Wirral

Mr. Charles Kennedy MP

The Right Hon. The Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Mr. Mark Oaten MP 

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/aboutenglishpen/campaigns/offence/archiveofnews/lettertocharlesclarkeaskingabo/

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