Few people will lose much sleep over the ban on Islam4UK and its parent organisation, al-Muhajiroun. However, even liberals who loathe everything these vile theo-fascist outfits stand for may question the government's motivation and tactics here. The ban was announced the day after I wrote this post about freedom of expression - and if, as liberals and humanists, we defend the right to criticise religion and the political reactionaries who exploit it for their own ends, then to be consistent we surely have to defend the freedom of those very reactionaries to express their views.
The only basis on which that freedom can be circumscribed by government - using the old 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' principle - is if those ideas, or the act of expressing them, deliberately or intentionally stir up violence. That seems to have been the justification in this case: these organisations are said to have 'glorified terrorism'. But if that's the argument being used, then one has to ask: why wasn't the ban imposed before, given that al-Muhajiroun in its various guises has been organising in Britain for some time and its ideas are well-known?
The suspicion has to be that the ban was imposed as a direct reaction to Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary's inflammatory proposal to organise a protest march through Wootton Bassett. One is tempted to draw the conclusion that the government acted not in response to the actual violence, or violence-inciting words, of Islam4UK's members, but out of panic at the thought of the likely violence against the group if the provocative march went ahead. Slapping a ban on the organisation must have looked like the quickest and most efficient way of putting the lid on a situation that was threatening to spiral embarrassingly out of control.
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that the Brown government has used the sledgehammer of a blanket ban to avoid the prospect of a little bit of social disorder. Last year's refusal to allow Geert Wilders entry to Britain seemed to be motivated less by a belief that Wilders was advocating violence (though that was the dissimulating justification), than by fear of the violence threatened by his Islamic fundamentalist opponents if he were allowed to travel here.
Surely it's no coincidence that, on the very day that the Islam4UK ban was announced, the government also let it be known that it was renewing its ban on US shock-jock Michael Savage travelling to Britain. As I've said before, I hold no brief for Savage and his ultra-conservative opinions, but as in the Wilders case, it's the threat of violence against him by Muslim activists that seems to have been behind the original ban (Savage is, among other things, a vocal critic of Islam).
Renewing the ban on Savage this week looked like a cynical and populist tit-for-tat for the Islam4Uk ban: as if the government were sending a message to Muslims saying 'See, we're not anti-Muslim - we've banned an anti-Islamic extremist as well.'
If I'm correct in my analysis, then these bans are a further sign of the Brown government's willingness to use civil liberties instrumentally, as just another tool in its paternalistic approach to managing 'communities' in the interests of 'social cohesion'.