LONDON // A radical Indian preacher, who once counselled that "every Muslim should be a terrorist", has been barred from entering the United Kingdom. Zakir Naik, a 44-year-old television preacher based in Mumbai, was due to have arrived in London this weekend for a series of lectures across the country.
But the home secretary, Theresa May, decided to sign an exclusion order barring him from the country, a move that has dismayed civil rights campaigners who see the ban as flying in the face of the principles of free speech. Mrs May said yesterday: "I have excluded Dr Naik from the UK. Numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour. Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right, and I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter the UK."
Two years ago, Dr Naik claimed in a lecture on Peace TV, the free-to-air satellite channel he founded, that "it is a blatant, open secret that this attack on the Twin Towers was done by George Bush himself" to give the United States an excuse to attack Iraq. In 2006, Dr Naik, whose pronouncements have often caused divisions within Islamic sects, said: "Beware of Muslims saying Osama bin Laden is right or wrong. I reject them; we don't know.
"But if you ask my view, if given the truth, if he is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him. I don't know what he's doing. I'm not in touch with him. I don't know him personally. I read the newspaper. "If he is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, every Muslim should be a terrorist." Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said he believes that Mrs May was wrong to ban Dr Naik, who has lectured in Britain before.
"This is just the latest in a series of 'naming and shaming' exclusion orders that began a couple of years ago when the former Labour government said that it would introduce a policy of banning 'preachers of hate' from visiting the UK," he wrote on The Guardian newspaper's website. Mr Bunglawala said Dr Naik had recently condemned not only the 9/11 attacks but also the 2005 suicide bombings in London and the serial train bombings in Mumbai.
He pointed out that Mrs May is also considering barring another controversial Muslim preacher, the Jamaican-born Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips. "We already have a sufficient number of laws on the statute books to deal with incitement to hatred and violence," Mr Bunglawala argued. "The fact is that both Bilal Philips and Zakir Naik have visited the UK on several occasions in the past and their speaking tours have passed by without incident.
"So why not just uphold our existing laws rather than seek to pre-emptively ban them?" Dr Naik is the first person to be excluded from the UK since Mrs May, a Conservative, became home secretary in the new coalition government last month. The Peace TV website describes Dr Naik as "a medical doctor by professional training and a dynamic international orator on Islam and comparative religion". It adds: "Dr Naik clarifies Islamic viewpoints and clears misconceptions about Islam using the Quran."
Ironically, one of his talks during his UK tour was scheduled to be: "Freedom of Expression - an Islamic Perspective". firstname.lastname@example.org