Incitement to religious disdain

For too long Mediawatchwatch has been neglecting the issue of the proposed law against Incitement to Religious Hatred. This law was intended to be part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, but was dropped owing to opposition from the Lords, so that the bulk of the bill could be passed within the term of the present parliament.

The Lords were lobbied by various groups, both secular and religious. Indeed the issue divided Christians, with the moderates and liberals thinking it would be nice to offer other faiths legal protection from criticism (the current blasphemy law only applies to Christianity), and the fundamentalists of the Christian Institute, the Barnabus Fund, the Evangelical Alliance, and the CCTV (among others) worried that they would no longer be able to call religionists of other varieties hell-bound heathens. This second group differed from the secularists, most notably the National Secular Society and English PEN, in that they wanted to keep the blasphemy laws – freedom of speech must have its limits, after all.

The Labour government has promised in its manifesto to pass this law in the next term, if it gets re-elected. It is widely agreed that the motivation for this is to court the Muslim vote, and indeed it is Muslims who seem to want this law more than anyone else. Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain was the first to express deep disappointment when the the Incitement to Religious Hatred section was dropped. Sacranie has stated that if the law had been in effect at the time the Satanic Verses was published, there would have been no need of a fatwa against Salman Rushdie because the government could have prosecuted him itself.

One of the most eloquent objectors to the law is Rowan Atkinson, who made a speech to the Lords.

To criticise people for their race is manifestly irrational but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas – any ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is one of the fundamental freedoms of society and a law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It promotes the idea that there should be a right not to be offended, when in my view, the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended, simply because one represents openness, the other represents oppression.

That is why English PEN now have a banner under the calendar, and The Muslim Council of Britain has been added to the MWW watchlist. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the Muslim Council of Britain. Woot!

UPDATE: Let’s hear it for the Muslim Association of Britain too!
UPDATE: As The Pub Philosopher points out, Fiona McTaggart made a promise in the Muslim News that Labour would invoke the parliament act to force the law through next term.

One Response to “Incitement to religious disdain”

  1. Steve says:

    Have you seen this though?

    Or go to the post on my blog if you can’t get into it from here.

    According to the Muslim News, Labour will re-introduce the religious hatred law and use the Parliament Act to force it through.