Islamophobia linked to war on terror, says prosecutor

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The Independent Online

An explosion in racist crime and a sharp rise in the number of young Asian men being stopped by the police threatens to alienate Britain's Muslim communities, the Director of Public Prosecutions has warned.

An explosion in racist crime and a sharp rise in the number of young Asian men being stopped by the police threatens to alienate Britain's Muslim communities, the Director of Public Prosecutions has warned.

Ken Macdonald QC, speaking to The Independent after his first year in charge of prosecutions, said that the war on terror had sparked a growth in Islamophobia and led to a more divided society. He warned: "Terrorism is creating divisions between our diverse societies. We have to be careful that we respect diverse cultures and we prosecute cases without discrimination.

"What the figures are showing is that a large number of young Asian men have been stopped by the police." He added: "This is a period of heightened security around the issue of terrorism and that's a position that has to be managed. It would be dangerous for us to alienate whole communities, we just have to tread carefully."

Home Office figures show that stop and searches of Asians under anti-terror laws have soared by 302 per cent in a year. At the same time the figures for race hate crime revealed an increase of 50 per cent in the past two years with 2,000 more cases being prosecuted than when the law was introduced in 1999.

The trend is expected to continue when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) publishes further findings at the end of the year. Mr Macdonald said that the typical race hate element of a crime involved white youths calling Asians "Mullahs, Bin Ladens or Taliban".

He said that while there was a "real growth" in these kind of offences, Asian communities felt further threatened by the way the police were using their stop and search powers.

Mr Macdonald, a co-founder of Matrix chambers and friend of Cherie Booth QC, has made special efforts to try to reassure Muslim community leaders that the CPS will not discriminate in the prosecution of cases against Muslims.

The perception that Asian men are being unfairly targeted is supported by figures that show few of those arrested under the terrorism legislation have been charged or convicted. Between September 2001 and January this year, 544 people had been arrested, 98 charged and only six convicted.

The Director of Public Prosecutions compared the present situation to the "sus" laws of the 1970s, which were disproportionately used against black men and finally sparked race riots in Brixton, south London, and Toxteth, Liverpool. But the DPP said he didn't think that the current tensions posed that kind of danger yet.

Earlier this month the DPP held a meeting with 30 representatives from Muslim communities. He said: "There's a great fear on behalf of some of their leaders that under stop and search they are being criminalised."

He also defended the gap between arrest and conviction rates in terrorism cases. "It's inevitable that more people will be arrested for terrorism than are prosecuted ... A lot of people arrested under the Terrorism Act are prosecuted outside this legislation [for other offences] so they look like they have dropped out of figures."

Mr Macdonald conceded that "traditionally" the conviction rate for terrorism has been high - much higher than any other offence. But he said the nature of terrorism had changed since the days he defended IRA suspects when he was a leading defence barrister in the 1980s. "They were much more straightforward and almost no one was acquitted."

But he says that plans to introduce a religious hatred law had raised the expectation among Asian communities that they might be protected from people insulting their religions. "Of course it won't. We are all free to insult each other. To call someone a Mullah or a Bin Laden is not a criminal offence although it might be bad manners. We've got to manage it so that people don't think that anyone who says anything offensive about Islam [or any other religion] will be prosecuted," he says.

He added: "We will only prosecute those who incite religious hatred ... it's got to go beyond something insulting or offensive."