Thursday, 21 April 2005
Mr. Charles Clarke MP
50 Queen Anne’s Gate
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.
(Deputy President, PEN, Chair English PEN Free Expression is no Offence campaign)
Moris Farhi, OBE
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/