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The Problems With The UK 's New Religious Hate Law  

 

By John Gray

British Home Secretary David Blunkett is about to make a very serious mistake. With his support, a law against incitement to religious hatred is currently making its way through the British Parliament. It proposes to make it a criminal offence (punishable by up to seven years imprisonment) for anyone to stir up hatred against religion. Blunkett, predictably, trots out the usual platitudes about using the law to attack 'extremism', but it seems clear the legislation is actually a sop to British Muslims who feel alienated from the ruling Labour party over the war in Iraq . Traditionally, Blunkett's party has attracted virtually the whole of the UK 's Muslim vote, and so it is not surprising the new bill contains the very protections they have been demanding since the Salman Rushdie affair back in 1989.  

The complaint from Muslims, then as now, is that while Jews are protected under racial hate laws, and Christians by a blasphemy law, Islam enjoys no special legal status. True enough, though, in the case of Christianity, this is likely because no one has bothered to have this anachronistic law removed from the statue books. In any event, it has only been used once in living memory, and that in a private prosecution more than thirty years ago.  For Muslims to complain they haven't recourse to a law that Christians themselves see as laughably outdated is disingenuous to say the least.  

Betting, rightly, that it would be difficult to sell an extension of the blasphemy law to the British public, Blunkett has opted to play on the (justified) contempt people feel for racism instead. The legislation, he tells us, will be used to plug loopholes in existing laws that have allowed racists to attack Islam as a way of stirring up ill-feeling against ethnic groups.  

While this does happen, it is quite beside the point. We should legislate against racist speech, yes, but not against any kind of speech whatever that may be used by racists to further their agenda. Right now in the UK , there is a problem with gun crime among the black population -- Would it make sense to pass a law prohibiting criticism of armed robbery if racists began to use this as a reason to attack blacks?  

The point being ignored, of course, is that there is a striking difference between race and religion in that one is a morally-neutral fact about a person, the other a set of opinions often charged with moral-judgements of all kinds. It is dangerous to blur this distinction -- between biology and beliefs -- not least because it erodes the special status we reserve for racism. The laws against racial hate exist because it is obviously unfair to make judgements about a person based on their skin colour -- Considering the attitude of many Islamists to Jews and non-Muslims, Blunkett is actually coming perilously close to throwing a protective cloak around the very kind of bigotry he purports to be trying to silence. 

There are serious questions that need to be asked about Muslims in the West. Just a few days ago came news that this year alone the British Consulate in Pakistan has rescued almost 100 young British men and (mainly) women from forced marriages in that country. Honour killings are also being recognised as a major problem, and the UK police are currently investigating more than 300 mysterious deaths among Muslim women in the UK . Add to this the fact that many Muslim areas of France are virtual no-go areas for native French, and that there are more native Dutch leaving Holland because of fear of Muslims than foreigners entering the country, and it seems as though there is every reason for British people to be able to ask questions about the failure of Muslims to integrate into Western society.  

Yet, a week ago, David Blunkett gave some indication as to the scope of his new law by saying it would criminalize such remarks as 'Muslims are a threat to Britain '. This statement was telling, since it is hard to see how such a comment could realistically be taken as 'inciting hatred'. No, it seems clearer and clearer that the purpose of this new legislation is to stifle not only direct criticism of Islam as violent, backward and harmful to women, but also more general questions about the failure of the multiculturalist approach to integrate Muslim populations in Europe .  

As the cracks in this policy widen, Blunkett is desperately attempting to paper over them; to say, in effect, that the official line of cultural harmony with Islam must be protected from all criticism and dissent.  

There will be two consequences if this bill becomes law:

First, it will be much rarer to find anyone brave enough to offer any critical commentary at all on British Muslims. Already, journalists and politicians are careful of running foul of race hate laws -- little mention was made of the mobs of Muslim youths who celebrated in the streets of Bradford, Yorkshire on 9/11, and rioters in that city two years ago were uniformly described in the media as 'Asian'. This is technically true, but members of the UK 's large Hindu population were involved in neither of these incidents, and so it already seems as though there is a reluctance to target Muslims, specifically, for the problems they cause. Blunkett's new law will encourage this kind of squeamishness, and offer yet another disincentive to anyone who considers mentioning Islam in a negative context. Journalists will learn to censor themselves even more harshly than they do at present; 'Muslims' will always be 'Asians', and cultures will never be said to clash, even as they are obviously doing just that.  

The second consequence of the new law is even more disturbing. So far, all involved in this debate are assuming the situation as stands will not deteriorate further. But this year we have seen graphic evidence of how horribly untrue this is. In Spain , the tide of a democratic election was turned by bombs on commuter trains, while in Holland , there was the brutal murder of Theo van Gogh. That both these events are directly linked to Muslims and their religious beliefs is unquestionably true, and it is doubtful that even David Blunkett's proposals could completely divest references to Islam from a debate about a similar atrocity in Britain . What they would certainly do, however, is change the shape of such a debate, ensuring that each and every reference to Islam was skewed in favour of our adopting the attitude of tolerance and appeasement favoured by Blunkett and the left. In essence, the British government is attempting to place so many obstacles in the way of those who wish to speak out against Islam that it will be virtually impossible for anyone to do so. Maybe this will earn the Labour Party back some of the Muslim votes they have lost, but the price is a heavy one. The West is at war with Islam, and in war, it is unwise to create legal barriers against the criticism of one's enemies.  

 

Related Link: The United Kingdom of England  

 

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