Dundee Special Branch Controversy

Update 9 November 2006 - Bashir Chohan of Dundee Islamic Society Central Mosque was caught unprepared when he gave the press interview referred to below. SACC very much welcomes the support he has subsequently expressed for the Taking Liberties meeting and we look forward to working with the Central Mosque in the future.
Letter from 3 Dundee mosques in support of the SACC meeting

Dundee Special Branch Controversy – attack on Muslim spokesperson is "astonishing"

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
7 November 2006

Scotland Against Criminalisng Communities (SACC) was surprised to learn that a Dundee Muslim community leader has denounced anti-police sentiment supposedly shown at a meeting that our campaign helped to organise. The comments by Bashir Chohan, of Dundee Islamic Society Central Mosque, appeared in today’s Evening Times. He has clearly been misinformed. No anti-police sentiments were expressed at the meeting. We are particularly distressed by the ill-informed criticism that has been directed at Osama Saeed, a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain and one of the best champions of healthy inter-community relations that Scotland is likely to see.

Mr Chohan implies in his comments to the Evening Times that the meeting wasn’t adequately publicised. In fact, leaflets about the meeting were distributed at Friday prayers last week. In the event, the University's Baxter Suite was filled to capacity, with people sitting in the aisles.

SACC is a Scotland-wide campaign civil liberties campaign for people of all faiths and none. We don't presume to represent the views of the Dundee's Muslim community, although we certainly hope that our values are shared by a good number of Dundee people, Muslim and non-Muslim. Our purpose in joining with the Muslim Association of Britain to organise Monday’s meeting was to inform and advise people living in Dundee – especially students and staff at the university – and to stimulate discussion.

The position our campaign takes is very clear. We encourage people to cooperate with good policing. We encourage them to report real crime to the police. We encourage minority communities to engage actively and confidently with the whole community. But we insist that a healthy civil society can't exist unless people can discuss political matters freely and without fear. Politics has never been any business of the police in this country and it isn']t their business today. So we urge people not to discuss ordinary political activities with the police. In particular, we urge them not to respond to general requests for information from the Special Branch Community Contact Unit. The Unit is undermining healthy community life by treating community relations as a national security issue.

 

The primary purpose of the Special Branch Community Contact Unit is intelligence-gathering. This doesn’t mean that it simply invites people to report crime. The Unit seeks intelligence on a range of activity within the Muslim Community in order for it not only to detect crime but also to detect non-criminal activity that it regards as "extremist" – a term for which it provides no definition. It return for this intelligence it offers "reassurance" – another term that the it doesn’t define. This arrangement strikes us as something very close to protection racket.

Officers from the Unit said recently that they have found no signs of "extremism" at Dundee University. They also say that the Unit has been a success. Since the purpose of the Unit is to "create intelligence-gathering opportunities", it must be assumed that the police have gathered data on a substantial number of people who are neither engaged in criminal activity nor even in non-criminal activities that the police call "extremist". A further indication of this came when a member of our campaign submitted a Freedom of Information request to Tayside Police. He was told that substantial parts of the information requested were exempted from disclosure because they were made up of personal data concerning members of the public.

The effect of all this has been to impose a culture of suspicion on Dundee's Muslim Community. There have been strong hints that similar schemes may be introduced on other campuses around the country. If this is allowed to continue, participation of Muslim students in political and social activities will be steadily reduced and links between Muslims and other communities will be eroded. But the destruction of healthy community relations is only the beginning of the problem. The denial of ordinary rights and freedoms to the Muslim section of the student population can’t fail, in the end, to corrode political and social life for all students. Muslims have been uniquely victimised by Tayside Police. But the issues raised are much too large for this to be a matter for the Muslim community alone.

For all these reasons, SACC is grateful to Osama Saeed for the assistance he has given to our campaign. Speaking after Richard Haley, of SACC, at last night’s meeting he gave broad support to Richard Haley’s call for people of all communities to "say no" to Special Branch officers seeking intelligence.

It's simply astonishing to find Bashir Chohan of Dundee's Central Mosque saying of Osama Saeed that "these kind of statements will not help the relationship between the wider community and Muslims." Osama Saeed has done more than anyone to encourage Scotland''s Muslim community to look outwards. He is the best ambassador that Scotland's Muslims could wish for. Nobody – except perhaps, the two officers at Dundee's Special Branch Community Contact Unit – can possibly benefit from this kind of attack on him.

Monday's meeting was multi-cultural, vibrant, confident and friendly. In other words, it was a pointer to the future of community relations in Scotland. We urge everyone who feels inclined to pass comment on the meeting to inform themselves properly about what actually happened and then – if they want a Scotland free of fear and racism – to come and join us.

Richard Haley, on behalf of SACC

Notes

  • See A Dundee Muslim community leader today denounced anti-police sentiment, Evening Telegraph, 7 Nov 2006