Sunday, February 19, 2006

Freedom of Association.

There is an excellent opportunity in the coming months to study how two different countries go about banning dissident organizations and the differences of a 'Political' and 'Legal' constitution.

In both the United Kingdom and Denmark there are calls to outlaw the Muslim political organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

In the UK, the Terrorism Bill, which the House of Commons passed on Wednesday, will make it possible to outlaw organization that "glorify" terrorism.(1) The bill is likely to become law, in spite of expected opposition to it by the House of Lords. With this Act in hand the government can issue 'Proscription Orders', which then needs to be passed by Parliament, against non-violent organizations deemed to "glorify" terrorism. Since the government to a very large extent controls Parliament through the 'Whip" system, it can basically ban any organization it wants to. The most prominent organization that the UK government is likely to outlaw is Hizb-ut-Tahrir.(2)

In Denmark there has been several calls by political parties to outlaw Hizb-ut-Tahrir, most recently by the 'Social liberal Party' (Radikale Venstre), which otherwise has a strong civil liberties profile.(3) The Danish Justice Minister has rejected these calls and a ban is very unlikely to happen. The Danish Constitution states that "Associations employing violence, or aiming at the attainment of their object by violence" or "instigation of violence...shall be dissolved by court Judgement."(4) The only criteria for banning organization is therefore violence and then only by an independent Court of Law.

I do not know much about Hizb-ut-Tahrir, but I find it disturbing that the UK government, through Parliament, can decide which associations that are to be dissolved. On this issue, I believe Denmark (and other nations with written "legal" constitutions) have got it right. Freedom of Association, which is also guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights article 11, should only be restricted on the basis of use of violence and no political institution such as Parliament should decide if an association fails that test. The UK's 'Political' constitution is therefore, in my opinion, completely inadequate to protect civil liberties from an authoritarian government.

(1)See Liberty's analysis of the Bill here.
(2) see The Guardian 16.02.2005.
(3) see Politiken 14.02.2006.
(4) Paragraph 78 (2).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Confessions of a Backslider

I realized this weekend that I'm a 'backslider'. A backslider is an unfortunate term used in church circles to describe members who are gradually becoming disconnected to the church. I dislike the term because it mistakenly indicates that church attendance is the essence of being a Christian.

What happened was that I woke up Saturday morning after my wife had left for church and realized that I no longer go. I can't really remember if I have been to church since Christmas (although I do know for sure that I didn't attend a Christmas service, as we had a lively discussion over the Christmas dinner as to whether Christmas has, or should have, anything to do with Jesus).

Anyway, for a while I have only been attending church to make my wife happy. Its not that I am against the church or that I don't believe anymore, on the contrary, my belief in Jesus is the central hope in my life. Its just that I'm bored to tears in church and really I don't feel needed there.

I accept that I must take responsibility for myself and actively strive to be a part of a church community. I do believe, however, that most churches fail to engage the majority of their members in important lifesaving work. Neither do they convey to their members the message that they are needed. When I say engaged I don't just mean being involved in the church service, but engaged in doing work they like, have talent for, and (most importantly) believe is important.

As a backslider I should know!

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Jyllands-Posten affair.

The whole Mohammed cartoon row in and outside of Denmark is quite alarming and depressing. I am gutted and disillusioned.

The angry muslim reaction feels like a stab in the back for those of us on the centre and left of Danish politics who have argued for tolerance. What can we now say, when the far-right tells us that muslims will never embrace the values of freedom and that immigration is undermining democracy?

In my view, the cartoons should be seen in the context of recent political history in Denmark. In the last 15 years the political debate has changed from tolerance of minorities to increased hostility, especially by the far right Danish People's Party which was founded in mid 90’s. The turning point, I believe, goes back to the Salman Rushdie affair in the late 1980’s. It was a shock for many Danes to see Danish muslims protesting against the freedom to publish The Satanic Verses. From then on the anti-immigrant voices in Danish politics were listened to by an increased section of society. The debate in Denmark has been fierce and has even intensified since the 2001 elections, which brought to power a Liberal-Conservative coalition supported by the Danish People's Party. Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons were, in this context, a protest against perceived censorship of those criticising islam.

I think Jyllands-Posten got it wrong, the public discourse in Denmark has up until now allowed criticism of all idiologies and religions. I also think that some of the pictures are offensive, even from a non-muslim point of view. Unfortunately, however, the cartoons have become self-fulfilling prophecies. Not just in the violence now being witnessed in the Middle East, but also in the voices of moderate muslim organisations in Europe and beyond who are calling for censorship.

I give up!

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Moot.

Yesterday I had my first Moot, which essentially is a mock trial for law students. Here is a "condensed transcript" of the turning point in the moot, which was an appeal case concerning contracts:

Junior Counsel for the Appellant (me): "It is therefore submitted, Your Lordship, that the Respondent was negligent within the meaning of section 2(1) of the misrepresentation Act 1967, as there were no reasonable grounds for believing that the represented facts were true.

Judge: "Mr. Pedersen, is this a question of fact or law?"

Junior Counsel: "Of fact, My Lord."

Judge: "Can we therefore not assume that the trial judge has considered the matter and decided that there were reasonable grounds?"

Junior Counsel (after standing for a while with his mouth open staring silently at the judge): "I do not know what to answer to that."

Judge: "Very well, carry-on."

Junior Counsel: "Yes, My Lord."

(More silence from the Junior Council)

Judge: "I believe this brings us to submission number 5 of your skeleton argument."

Junior Counsel: "submission number 5 is a point on section 2(2), which has the same basis as section 2(1). There is therefore no further submssion, thank you Your Lordship."

To say that it went bad is an understatement. In one sentence the judge took away the basis for all my arguments. The experience was depressing as I must have misunderstood the whole thing and has left me very confused.