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U.K. bans poppy-burning extremist group

  |   Nov. 11, 2011 at 5:35 PM
LONDON, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Britain is banning Muslims against Crusades, an extremist group that caused widespread outrage when it burned replica poppies, an almost sacrosanct symbol of remembrance for war dead since the early 20th century.

Burning poppies isn't illegal in Britain but causing distress or breach of peace is. The little-known group won lurid headlines after its act last year and announced plans to Friday's Remembrance Day ceremonies, which mark the sacrifice of soldiers in conflicts since the first world war.

The blood-red poppy became a symbol of remembrance and a quiet homage to the war dead partly in response to a poem mentioning the Flanders battlefields in bloom.

Canadian physician and Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote the poem "In Flanders Field" in May 1915 and had it published in London magazine Punch in December that year. The poem inspired generations of people to wear a poppy as a sign of respect for soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice.

During last year's Remembrance Day, Muslims against Crusades burned two giant replica poppies as a protest against wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts it interprets as Christian crusades against Muslims.

Ironically the poppy burning got the group what it wanted -- notoriety and publicity.

Media analysts said Friday the banning would do exactly the same and would have no effect, as the group is known to comprise persons who keep changing affiliations and re-emerging under different group identities.

As widely expected, MAC promptly responded to the ban, saying it had disbanded. But analysts said its activists would likely take other guises, as in the past, and continue regardless.

News of the Muslims against Crusades plans to disrupt Remembrance Day Friday drew the ultra-nationalist English Defense League but police arrested 172 of its members. EDL claimed on Facebook the police were "taking patriots out of pubs in tens and nicking them for breach of peace."

Police said the overnight ban on MAC and arrests soon after ensured there was "no reported disorder."

Home Secretary Theresa May said she decided to ban MAC as it was "simply another name for an organization already proscribed under a number of names."

MAC was a renamed successor to an already banned group, Islam4UK, and other proscribed organizations where the MAC leader, Anjem Choudary, was active in other ways. He is cited in British police records as a follower of Syrian-born firebrand Omar Bakri Mohammed, last reported under arrest in Lebanon after conviction on terrorism charges.

Britain's 2000 Terrorism Act so far has netted 48 international terrorist organizations, including groups implicated in alleged "glorification of terrorism."

May's banning order drew criticism, however. Henry Jackson Society analyst Houriya Ahmed said, "I'm not sure what, if any, effect this will have," she said, The Independent newspaper reported.

"It might send out a powerful message but it does little to actually stop the individuals in these groups from propagating their message of hate and intolerance. Muslims Against Crusades have been around for months, so why this proscription now?" Ahmed said.

May said, "I am satisfied Muslims Against Crusades is simply another name for an organization already proscribed under a number of names, including Al Ghurabaa, The Saved Sect, Al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK. The organization was proscribed in 2006 for glorifying terrorism and we are clear it should not be able to continue these activities by simply changing its name."

The Guardian reported in June the British Prime Minister David Cameron intended to target Islamists who hold "un-British" beliefs.

Cameron won a Cabinet battle to toughen up Britain's counter-terrorism strategy and take a harder line against Islamic traditions that fail to "reflect British mainstream values," The Guardian said.

"The successor to Labor's Prevent strategy is likely to redefine extremists as those who hold "un-British" views, such as intolerance of equal rights for women, because ministers believe there is a link between non-violent extremism and violent acts of terrorism," the newspaper said, referring to anti-terrorism measures adopted by former Labor Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

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