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UK govt under pressure to ban televangelist Zakir Naik

LONDON: The newly-elected Lib-Con coalition government in Britain has come under pressure to ban the

By Murtaza Ali Shah
June 04, 2010
LONDON: The newly-elected Lib-Con coalition government in Britain has come under pressure to ban the entry into Britain of controversial televangelist Dr Zakir Naik.

Naik, who is popular in India, Pakistan and households across Britain, recently became highly controversial after he praised Osama Bin Laden and acts of terrorism, criticised non-Muslims, and drew the indignation of Muslims of various denominations after criticising their beliefs.

Charismatic and silver-tongued, Naik, ranked at 82 in India’s most powerful people’s list, is billed to be the star speaker at the Al-Khair Peace Convention 2010 in giant Sheffield and Wembley Arenas.

A visa has already been issued to him for his latest visit. The News understands through its sources that many of his crew members were refused visas and a Labour MP was approached by the organisers to help expedite the visa process for those who were refused visas but he refused to help them.

Naik’s sermons, attended by thousands in India and beamed across the world through his own well-oiled research foundation and media networks, upset many when he said on his TV that Muslims who changed faith were liable to execution, American were “pigs”, “every Muslim should be a terrorist”, he was “with” Osama Bin Laden over attacks on “America the terrorist”, and that the 9/11 hijackings were an inside job by then president George W Bush.

His remarks on the battle of Kerbala and Islamic history led to protests against him in Indian and Pakistani cities and he was urged to steer clear of causing sectarian differences. Now both Muslim and non-Muslim campaigners have called on Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron to ban the cleric and prove that his government is serious about tackling the threat posed by radical Islam.

The News understands that lobbyists from both pro- and anti-Naik camps are lobbying Home Secretary Theresa May and Naik’s is a test case for the ruling Conservatives who, when in opposition, were arch critics of Labour’s association with some avowedly Islamic groups. They were instrumental behind the entry bans on Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian radical cleric who had previously visited London on the invitation of London Mayor Ken, Hezbollah’s leader Ibrahim Mousavi, and many others, including Pakistani clerics and former ISI chief Hameed Gul.

Through a statement sent to this newspaper, the chief organiser of the Al-Khair Peace Convention 2010 pointed out that his organisation would never, in any circumstances, countenance the transgression of any UK laws. Imam Qasim Rashid Ahmad said: “This includes any incitement or glorification of any act of terrorism or violence or discrimination however construed.”

He said the media treatment afforded to the televangelist had not been objective and his headline utterances had been quoted “out of context in all instances”. “It is also a matter for the record that Dr Zakir Naik has been unequivocal in his condemnation of all acts of terrorism (to include the 9/11 and 7/7 acts) where he specifically labelled those who committed the atrocities as non-Muslims,” Imam Ahmad said, adding that the Border Agency had desisted from moves to revoke his visa because they knew well about Naik’s views.

But a Conservative MP asked his government on Thursday to ban “all kinds of preachers of hate” and not be risk-averse to those who incited division. MP Patrick Mercer told The News he failed to understand why the preachers of hate were allowed into the country to “bend and twist” the teachings of Islam and corrupt the susceptible minds. “We have freedom of speech in this country that is extremely important to us and thatís why our men and women are dying in Afghanistan to ensure its supremacy. But there is a difference between freedom of speech and preaching hate and violence and disdain for human rights. I will ask the government to keep anybody out who is preaching hatred in any form.”

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “Each case is considered on its own merits. When assessing a visa application we will consider the previous conduct of the individual and we will ensure that the UK does not support or provide a platform for the promotion of violent extremism.“We reserve the right to revoke someoneís visa if they are found to be promoting extreme views which are contrary to UK values.”