Monday, August 08, 2005

None dare call it treason... because no one knows what it is anymore 

The formal process will begin this week of "examining the potential for charging" three prominent Islamic clerics for existing offences including solicitation to murder and incitement to treason, the attorney general's office confirmed yesterday.

The director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, will meet senior Scotland Yard officers to discuss the cases of Omar Bakri Mohammed, founder of al-Muhajiroun, who has said he would support hostage-taking at British schools if carried out by terrorists with a just cause; Abu Izzadeen, spokesman for al-Ghurabaa - "the Strangers" - who said the suicide bombers in London were "completely praiseworthy"; and Abu Uzair of the Saviour Sect, one of the successor organisations to al-Muhajiroun, who has claimed that the "banner has been risen for jihad inside the UK".
The debate over the concept of treason is long overdue. Arguably overused in the times past, treason has rarely been invoked in liberal democratic societies. Is it because we have grown so tolerant that we deem every form of dissent to be acceptable and deserving of protection? Is it uncool nowadays to betray one's country, or uncool to accuse people of betraying one's country?

Similarly overdue is a more general debate on the limits, or lack thereof, of political debate. Tony Blair is now considering banning the main radical Muslim organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (Australia's John Howard is also looking into the matter). HuT is not a terrorist organization, but it advocates setting up Sharia-based Islamic governments, including in Western countries.

Is advocating a violent overthrow of the democratic system of government an acceptable exercise in free political speech? Probably not, since it can be taken as an incitement to violence. What about advocating a peaceful transformation from democracy to theocracy? Should the basic foundations of our political system (such as the democratic nature of the society) and our way of life be out of limits for discussion? Or should all ideas be openly debated rather than criminalized and driven underground?

I don't necessary know the answers, but I think it's good we're having these debates, and I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot on these topics.


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