July 12, 2005
Britain’s proposed anti-religious-hatred law
[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
You can review the text of this unfortunate proposed law here. Note that the text is presented as a series of amendments to existing text in the Public Order Act of 1986.
This is really awful legislation. And one of the reasons it is awful is because of Muslims themselves: recent history such as the “Satanic Verses” hoopla, and extremely recent history such as the Koran “desecration” nonsense (and the reactions it caused), show us that Muslims are particularly sensitive to any kind of criticism of their religion. I have no doubt that if this law passes, there will be many British Muslims who make it their sport to constantly point out alleged violations.
Of course the legislation suffers from the same kind of ambiguity that all speech laws suffer from. The key test seems to be whether you write, record or perform something and you “intend thereby to stir up racial or relgious hatred or having regard to the circumstances the words, behaviour or material are (or is) likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom they are (or it is) likely to stir up racial or religious hatred.” Got that?
Since many public policy officials are severely constrained by the rule of political correctness, they are stubbornly unwilling to recognize the obvious, including the following: of all the adherents of major religions in the world today, those who are most likely to be “stirred up” into religious hatred are Muslims. The problem is so severe that Muslims are regularly killing other Muslims for being alleged apostates. Yet this proposed law has come about specifically to protect Muslims, apparently because Muslims have complained that the existing laws protect only race (which would include Jews and Sikhs). So the religion whose followers are most likely to be offended as a matter of principle, is the religion that is to be protected from offense. I hope prosecutors are ready to handle the volume of complaints that I would expect to see from offended Muslims.
The Barnabus Fund is an organization that “exists to assist persecuted Christian minorities by prayer and practical support.” They have campaigned against this proposed law. You can review some of their reasons here. I found this set (availabe in the “Summary of Concerns”) particularly compelling:
Perceived as a Blasphemy Law
- Any “insult”, “outrageous comments” or “defamation in the character of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)” would be “a direct insult and abuse on the Muslim community” and illegal – Iqbal Sacranie, Muslim Council of Britain
- “Every Muslim leader I have spoken to wants to use the law to ban ‘The Satanic Verses.'” – Kenan Malik, Writer and Broadcaster
- During Report Stage debate in Commons Khalid Mahmood MP gave the impression that he does not rule out the application of the law in the case of ‘The Satanic Verses.’ When pressed on this point Home Office minister Hazel Blears avoided giving a direct confirmation that Salman Rushdie could not be prosecuted under the law.
I’d like to point out another thing that I think is also obvious, but that public officials will not acknowledge: if any religion today is deserving of scrutiny and criticism, it is Islam. And if any religion today could benefit from criticism, it is Islam. Yet this law, if passed, will most certainly put a chill on criticism of Islam in Britain.
Let’s play with more hypotheticals. Let’s assume that the law passes, that another terrorist mass murder occurs in London three weeks after the law comes into effect and that an Islamic group claims responsibility. Now imagine if a British columnist publishes the following in a major British newspaper:
It looks as though some Muslims have done it again. As has been their wont far too often lately, they have again caused carnage in our streets, heightening our awareness that Islam is in a state of grave crisis and that this crisis is as dangerous to non-Muslims as it is to Muslims themselves. (…)
What do you think? Would any British muslims complain?