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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Britain needs a Bill of Rights

In her speech to the Royal United Services Institute, Margaret Beckett (the British Foreign Secretary) has joined her New Labour colleagues in calling upon British Muslims to lead the fight against Islamic extremism. The speech followed the well worn path of: “We know most Muslims despise these extremists, but it would be nice if they could actually tell us when they hear about a terrorist plot.” Most notably, she’s called upon them to spread the good word about life in Britain when they travel abroad to Islamic countries. Presumably in the hope that some deranged Islamist will abandon his plan to attack Britain after hearing from his brother’s friend’s aunt that really we’re not so bad.

When it comes to the Muslim community, New Labour is really trying to have its cake and eat it: repeatedly stating that we’re all in this together, then singling out Muslims as a special case. Muslims must do more to tackle extremism, we’re told. So does that mean the rest of us can carry on as we are? Yes, one of the biggest threats we face is from Muslim extremists, but there are better ways of getting the message across. Less divisive ways.

It’s the responsibility of everyone to deal with extremists - be they political, religious, or nationalists – including, as they’re part of British society, Muslims. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. It’s not just Muslims who come into contact with extremists, and it’s not just non-Muslims who are affected by their actions.

The debate about extremism, and how best we can deal with it, is part of a much larger debate about citizenship: What does it mean to be a British citizen. While we’ve had numerous speeches about the British “way of life”, Ministers have continually ignored the most fundamental requirement of an inclusive and democratic society: a set of rights guaranteed to every citizen. Such a democratic ‘Bill of Rights’ (unlike the one we already possess) would firmly emphasise that those it applied to were full British citizens, and provide a means of addressing grievances, should anyone feel they’ve been treated unfairly or singled out.

While talk of citizenship remains abstract it remains too elusive. We need something concrete. Maybe then we’ll be in a position to argue over how best we can tackle those who mean us harm.


Stran_ger said...

I agree with you Matt. You can't unite by dividing a society in clusters. As for the Bill of Rights, i didn't caught the idea. Isn't what you propose already in British Law?

Matt M said...

We have what's called a 'Bill of Rights' - but it only deals with the relationship between the Crown and Parliament.

What I think might be a good idea is a document stating exactly what rights British citizens have. Perhaps along the lines of the US version. At the moment we have the Human Rights Act, which is similar - but there's too many loopholes, and the government can simply get rid of it if they want to. I want something that guarantees us protection against excessive government power.

Stran_ger said...

I think that that is a great idea. I my country constitution there are the rights that any citizen has.
But one thing his almost as important (or even more important) as this "bill of rights" that is pratice and the justice system. I know from experience that sometimes is a huge step between the written law and the real life.

Eda said...

I just don't understand why it can be so difficult to define clearly what our rights are as citizens. After all, aren't we making a part of the state?