A BBC television presenter faces a police investigation into alleged racial incitement after writing an article that attacks Arabs as "suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors".
Former Labour MP Robert Kilroy-Silk's article titled "We owe Arabs nothing", published in Britain's Sunday Express tabloid newspaper on 4 January, has been roundly condemned by race equality bodies and Muslim groups for collectively describing Arabs as murderers and terrorists.
A London lawyer specialising in discrimination, Makboul Javaid, told Aljazeera.net on Saturday police would investigate whether the presenter appeared guilty of "incitement to racial hatred" but launching a prosecution was a complex and sensitive matter.
"On the face of it the language was certainly intemperate," he said. "But the consent of the attorney general will be needed before a prosecution can be brought."
Javaid said the government's top legal adviser would weigh issues such as public interest, respect for freedom of expression and the need to avoid turning an offender into a martyr or hero for extreme rightwing groups to exploit.
"It would be a bold attorney general who would bring such a prosecution," said Javaid. "But it's important to send a signal that the freedom of expression is not absolute."
Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), agreed that Kilroy overstepped the bounds of acceptability.
"We already recognise the difference between freedom of expression and spreading hate," Shadjareh told Aljazeera.net.
Kilroy-Silk said on Saturday he felt "very deep regret" for the article. He claimed the column had been republished in error, and had originally been written in April last year in response to opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The article appeared to hold all
Arabs responsible for 9/11
"It has obviously caused great distress and offence and I can only reiterate that I deeply regret that," he said on Saturday.
"The article contains a couple of obvious factual errors which I also regret."
Ignoring centuries of scientific and cultural accomplishments that sowed the seeds of the Western Renaissance, Kilroy-Silk wrote Arabs had contributed nothing to the world's welfare except oil, which he claimed was "discovered, produced and paid for by the West".
He implied Arabs had collectively murdered "more than 3000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders".
The chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, labelled the remarks "indisputably stupid".
The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, called the BBC presenter "a man who positively revels in airing his anti-Arab and anti-Muslim views".
Kilroy-Silk is a former parliamentarian who resigned from politics to pursue a media career in 1986.
His popularity as a dashing daytime TV host led to his being offered newspaper columns in rightwing publications, which he wrote with an increasingly intolerant tone.
Kilroy-Silk wrote in May 2003 Iraq
was full of 'thieving Arabs'
He was forced to apologise to the Irish people after describing Ireland's EU commissioner as a "redundant second-rate politician from a country peopled by peasants, priests and pixies".
Following the breakdown of security in Baghdad in May 2003, he wrote in the Sunday Express: "Can everyone stop blaming the British and Americans for the fact that there are a load of thieving Arabs in Iraq?"
"The orgy of thieving in Iraq has more to do with the character of the people than the absence of restraining troops."
Shadjareh says the BBC should sack Kilroy-Silk, whom he describes as a serial Islamophobe the IHRC has complained about and boycotted for more than 10 years.
He said the public service broadcaster should ensure such people are not given a platform or respectability in the future.
The BBC said on Friday it would suspend his daily talk show Kilroy from Monday while it conducted an internal investigation into his latest outburst.
Last year, IHRC campaigners nominated Kilroy-Silk for the ‘Most Islamophobic Media Personality’ at their inaugural Annual Islamophobia Awards.
The Daily Express tabloid on Saturday defended the article in its sister paper, accusing the BBC of "attempting to stifle open debate". The Sunday title was quoted as saying it rejected suggestions Kilroy-Silk's article was racist.
"The article was not racist. It was legalled by lawyers and there is absolutely no case to answer," said the Sunday Express.
The Express titles are owned by publishing magnate Richard Desmond, a controversial figure whose media group publishes a number of lurid and pornographic titles, including "live sex" web sites.
His readiness to publish anti-Arab articles may be seen in the light of the Jewish publisher's known pro-Israeli stance.
Desmond last provoked an outcry in 2002 when the ruling Labour party accepted a £100,000 ($180,000) donation from the pornographer, prompting a backlash of criticism both inside and outside the party.