Saturday, December 11, 2004

Blunkett's Unintended Consequences

In today's online edition of The Telegraph [registration required], commentator Charlie Moore argues persuavively that legislation pending before Parliament which would outlaw any criticism of religious belief or practice will have profoundly negative consequences.
Why is it that so many people resent religion and turn against it? Surely it is because of its coercive force, its tendency to mistake the worldly power of its priests and mullahs for justified zeal for the truth. It is not God who turns people away, but what people do in the name of God. If a law against religious hatred is passed, even when blessed by St David Blunkett, the natural consequence will be a rise in the hatred of religion.
Particularly hatred of Islam. The BNP website describes Islam in the hands of some of its adherents as "less a religion and more a magnet for psychopaths and a machine for conquest". If a law says they can't say that, the BNP will, in the minds of many, be proved right. On Tuesday, Mr Blunkett said that it would be illegal to claim that "Muslims are a threat to Britain". People already censor themselves through fear of Muslim reaction to mockery - I don't suppose even brave, incontinent, foul-mouthed Paul Abbott would write a comedy for the start of Ramadan showing Mohammed downloading dubious images from the internet. If the law criminalises such activity, the scope for resentment is huge.

Indeed. Though Mr. Blunkett and the bill's supporters argue that the law would only prohibit derogatory attacks on religious belief, leaving legitimate, scholarly criticism unimpeded, it would only be a matter of time before the definition of derogatory was expanded to include even the most academic questioning of religious practice. Since opinions differ on what differentiates dispassionate criticism from slander, the temptation to expand the scope of the prohibitions would be almost irresistable for bureaucrats and elected officials, who very often bend in the face of the slightest pressure from activists. Moreover, every religion possesses a faction of believers who hold any critique to be intolerable heresy. One religion, however, currently finds its ranks occupied by a significant number of believers who not only see any criticism of their religion as an attack, but who hold violence to be a perfectly acceptable response. Hence the significant backing of Mr. Blunkett's bill by British Muslims who would like to see any negative reporting about Islam legally removed from the public discourse.

Where does all this come from? Not, I fear, from the right, if misapplied, desire for different faiths to live at peace. Incitement to violence, after all, is already an offence, and so it should be. No, the pressure is chiefly from Muslims.
Mr. Moore notes that Iqbal Sacranie, "of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, wants the new law because any 'defamation of the character of the prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him)' is a 'direct insult and abuse of the Muslim community.'" Again, what exactly constitutes defamation? If that determination is left to the activists and those who would applied the loudest pressure, one can be certain that the scope of Mr. Blunkett's law will grow larger every day. Since the angriest voice of any faith will tolerate no challenge to the "truth" of their doctrines, there can be no definition of derogatory that satisfies everyone. The end result will be a growing fear of prosecution by those who harbor negative views of religion (and of Islam in particular) which will lead inexorably to resentment and violent backlash.

Having identified the manifest dangers of the proposed law, and the real motives of its supporters, Mr. Moore then offers a useful comparison of the manner in which Muslims treat non-Muslims in Islamic countries:

According to Muslim law, believers who reject or insult Islam have no rights. Apostasy is punishable by death. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, death is the penalty for those who convert from Islam to Christianity. In Pakistan, the blasphemy law prescribes death for anyone who, even accidentally, defiles the name of Mohammed. In a religion which, unlike Christianity, has no idea of a God who himself suffers humiliation, all insult must be avenged if the honour of God is to be upheld.

Under Islam, Christians and Jews, born into their religion, have slightly more rights than apostates. They are dhimmis, second-class citizens who must pay the jiyza, a sort of poll tax, because of their beliefs. Their life is hard. In Saudi, they cannot worship in public at all, or be ministered to by clergy even in private. In Egypt, no Christian university is permitted. In Iran, Christians cannot say their liturgy in the national language. In almost all Muslim countries, they are there on sufferance and, increasingly, because of radical Islamism, not even on that.

The ancient plurality of the region is vanishing. Tens of thousands are fleeing the Muslim world, and in some countries - Sudan, Indonesia, Ivory Coast - large numbers die, on both sides. In Iraq, the intimidation of Christians is enormous. Five churches have suffered bomb attacks this year. Christians in Mosul have received letters saying that one member of each family will be killed to punish women who do not wear the headscarf. According to Dr Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund, a charity working for persecuted Christians, "Christians in Iraq are isolated and vulnerable this Christmas, and feel that they have been let down, even betrayed, by their fellow Christians in the West, especially the Church leadership".

The push for a religious hatred law here is an attempt to advance the legal privilege that Muslims claim for Islam. True, Muslim leaders are happy that the same protection should be extended to other religions in this country. But to a modern liberal society which claims the freedom to attack all beliefs, this should be no comfort. It says a good deal about the quality of churchmen and politicians in Britain that the most prominent opponent of the Bill is Mr Bean. The Archbishop of Canterbury is more or less invisible. The Government is on the side of repression.

The point here is hard to miss. In Muslim lands, non-Muslims have few if any rights, whereas in Western countries, Muslims enjoy the same rights as the believers of any other faith. Unfortunately, a significant number of Muslims reject the cultures into which they have immigated, and now seek to undermine the traditions of tolerance and open dissent that are the among the greatest acheivements of Western Civilization. Mr. Blunkett's ill-advised, philosophically poisonous law would eviscerate the one of the core principles of Enlightenment thought that has guided the West for centuries. By stifling the right of dissent against religious belief and practice, it would take a serious step toward making England resemble, in effect, Islamic theocracies in which dissent is punished by prison and death. That such a bill could be credibly proposed and stand even the slightest chance of being enacted indicates just how erroded the confidence of Europeans in their own culture - and their willingness to defend it - has become.


At 11:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!
[url=]My homepage[/url] | [url=]Cool site[/url]

At 11:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work!
My homepage | Please visit

At 11:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice site! |


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home