Hear the one about the Archbishop, the Muslim and the religious hatred bill?


by Rohin
21st October, 2005 at 10:06 pm    

Like most old men in their early 20s, I’m spending an increasing amount of time listening to Radio 4. Now I don’t really want to go over old ground about the religious hatred bill, as it has been covered in length elsewhere – Sunny has done an especially good job on Asians in the Media. To briefly state my position, I believe it to be a fig-leafed token gesture to appease the MCB after Blair pissed off a lot of Muslims. I simply want to bring a few fascinating comments from this evening’s Any Questions to your attention.

The Archbishop

The former Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that ‘redundant’ blasphemy laws should be scrapped. This statement coincided with a cross-party group announcing amendments to the controversial bill – which returns to the Lords on Tuesday.

In a nutshell, the current blasphemy laws can only be applied to Christianity but critics of the bill fear that its imposition will allow the government to extend this archaic law to other religions.

What I found most interesting about George Carey’s comments is that he said “It’s good for a religion to be knocked and challenged…we need that criticism.” I could not agree more and it makes me very happy to hear that. Carey said he enjoyed The Life of Brian and didn’t mind Jerry Springer the Opera.

The Muslim

Ziauddin Sardar was a panellist on the show and started by explaining how any extension to blasphemy laws would be bad news. He cited Pakistan, which had no blasphemy laws until about 15 years ago. “The emergence of blasphemy laws has actually led to an incredible number of injustices against minorities and women.”

But he was in favour of the bill with a rather interesting reason.

“In the Muslim community, anti-Semitism has run riot and it’s becoming a very major problem. So I would like the [bill to come in] so that we can lock all those anti-Semitic Muslims away.”

Now, I heard a few people titter and of course you can’t read a person’s facial expression on the radio. He later confessed he was speaking with some degree of irony and expanded on what he meant. He explained how he thought that a problem in the Muslim community is that “they perpetually see themselves as victims” and this is perpetuated by much of the media and/or public thinking that they are “a soft group in need of protection”. He stated that the Muslim community is very resilient with strong and dynamic characters and one of the key problems is that the leadership of the community is ageing. The ‘community leaders’ have

“no understanding of the modern world, very little understanding of the problems of the young and they have a very archaic and obscurantist view and interpretation of Islam. But right underneath them we have a very dynamic group of young people who understand what modernity is all about and who have a very reformist outlook and what we need to do is promote, promote, promote this generation change. We don’t need a religious hatred bill, we need to go out there and change the leadership of the Muslim community.”

Whilst I’m not entirely sure if he’s in favour or not at this point, don’t you think his words sound very much like something else?

So what’s my point? Pickled Politics rocks!

If you have some time, you can listen to this edition again here.


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Filed in: Current affairs,Party politics,Religion






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  1. jamal — on 22nd October, 2005 at 2:39 am  

    I’m undecided on these religious laws at the moment. In fact I try not to take any notice as any articles and reports on the issues either includes or is followed with one centering on Muslims, and these iuninterest me.

    However, these laws have to avoid infringing freedom of expression as if they do not then they are in fact infringing the religion itself. Religions are different and they always will be. In a non-religious state, people should be able to speak their mind whether their words are for or againsts prevailing religions. If this right is restricted then too many people will be walking around thinking it but not saying it, just waiting to explode and let it all out. Whether muslims, christian or jedi, let them say what theyve got to say, particularly if it is what their religion states.

    On a side note, Sardar’s been reading Pickled Politics!

  2. j0nz — on 22nd October, 2005 at 8:52 pm  

    “In the Muslim community, anti-Semitism has run riot and it’s becoming a very major problem. So I would like the [bill to come in] so that we can lock all those anti-Semitic Muslims away.”

    Legislation already covers this. Inciting hatred against Jews is already illegal under incitment to racial hatred law.

  3. jamal — on 23rd October, 2005 at 12:03 am  

    ^^ and here is the debate. I was watching a prgramme recently where the point being made was that people could for example quote a muslim reading from the Qur’an regarding jews, christians or idol worshippers and construe this to be an incident of religious hatred. I assume similar incidents could be construed by people hearing those of other religions refer to them by way of the text also.

    Due to this it was considered worrying that people were at risk of transgressing these new laws just be reading their religious texts or scholars and Imams recording religious litriture onto audio or video format.

    Therefore these laws are currently quite vague and open to interpretation, which puts the ordinary believer at risk of prosecution, while at the same time infringing their human right regarding freedom of speech and religious expression.

  4. fotzepolitic — on 23rd October, 2005 at 1:14 pm  

    I was speaking to a Muslim DJ a few months ago who thought that any art form which offends religious types should be banned. (the fact that he produces non-religious music, which certainly offends plenty of fundie Muslims, was somehow beside the point) I think he was mad about some Dutch guy who had portrayed the Koran with blood on it or something like that, and had used actual passages from the Koran in the painting. He felt that the artist should have used “fake Arabic” and that it would have had the same aesthetic impact while not offending Muslims. Huh? So I said, what if the artist’s POINT had been that Islam has a bloody history, or was currently in a bloody state in Iraq, or whatever? Doesn’t matter, artists “shouldn’t be allowed to purposely offend people.” Criminey. There’s some very dangerous thinking going on these days, and progressive religious leaders need to speak out more like this.

  5. Col. Mustafa — on 23rd October, 2005 at 2:52 pm  

    It comes down to ignorance though.
    In the case of your friend who is a Dj and also upset over a dutch guys painting, its just pure ignorance.
    Muslims have to stop being offended at everything and anything to do with thier religion.
    I know so many defensive muslims whose personalities just change as soon as religion comes into the topic.
    But you’ll find the most vocal ones have the least knowledge about thier religion .

  6. Mirax — on 23rd October, 2005 at 7:03 pm  

    ‘Inciting hatred against Jews is already illegal under incitment to racial hatred law. ‘

    Wasn’t there a successful prosecution a year or two ago against a muslim who was accused of both jew and hindu baiting? That case showed how really unnecessary this particular bill is.

  7. Rohin — on 23rd October, 2005 at 7:22 pm  

    Well the two religions which are specifically already protected are Sikhs and Jews. Proponents of the bill say that it’s just an extension to cover other religions. But I think you may be right Mirax – cases have been brought against people for hatred against religions other than Sikhi or Judaism, and indeed that would make this bill unnecessary.

    Did you people spot Rowan Atkinson’s vocal criticism of the bill? In today’s Observer.

  8. Mirax — on 23rd October, 2005 at 7:31 pm  

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4366232.stm

    Read this story of a nun stabbed and coptic church under siege due to religious thuggery of some adherents of the majority faith in Egypt. Over defensiveness indeed!

    Z Sardar’s point of how blasphemy laws in pakistan are actively used to oppress minorities is a valid one. But there are many places where you don’t even need this to make the minorities knuckle under.

  9. jamal — on 23rd October, 2005 at 10:14 pm  

    The situation in Eqypt is entrenched wih political ramification and was fuelled by an offensive play that was re-released on DVD.

    Nevertheless, you cant use a situation in the Egypt to argue this inherently british issue. Generally in the UK people like to use examples from other places in the world which are very different, to slander muslims. However, if a muslim is to use a middle eastern issue to support his point it is regarded as irrelavant to living in british society.

    Either way, I think such a bill is too restrictive on freedom of speech and expression, as are the recent terror laws.

  10. Sunny — on 24th October, 2005 at 2:56 am  

    I couldn’t agree with Ziauddin Sardar more. I wish he was running things, we could have a more honest debate on race and religious relations.

    To a certain extent, a big percentage of the people who are going to be caught by this legislation are the fanatics who keep talking about Jihad against the west. Lets see how the MCB start back-tracking if this gets on the road and arrest warrants start getting served.

    On the other hand I am very worried that it will be open season by some very sensitive people, including Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Christians – to start using this against artists, the media and anyone else.

    Detractors say that its not true because Sikhs and Jews already have coverage and this will simply extend it to the rest. But that’s crap because otherwise all we would need is to extend the existing legislation.

    The new legislation is much more complex, untested, and open to interpretation. That mean every religious man and his dog will try it out in court, increasing the amount of sillyness in the press about “our freedom of speech” etc. Cue stupid articles like the one about banning pig toys multiplied by a 100.

  11. Am I allowed to say this? — on 24th October, 2005 at 3:17 am  

    Before we take our step into the dark, I would hope that our rulers would take the time to read this. It is over 200 years old. Surely in our enlightened age, we can frame a law that is at least as good?

    A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom

    “SECTION I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminals who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

    “SECTION II. We the [insert the name of your legislative body here] do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

    “SECTION III. And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”

  12. Mirax — on 24th October, 2005 at 9:11 am  

    “The situation in Eqypt is entrenched wih political ramification and was fuelled by an offensive play that was re-released on DVD. ”

    You appear to be quick to make excuses for objectionable and intolerant behaviour. The work in question seemed to have addressed a specific issue (islamist terrorism) for a specific audience (copts, clearly feeling under threat from said issue). How did such an issue flare up into violence against a much weaker minority?

    The answer may lie in the kneejerk and overly defensive attitudes of some muslims, in many places. Egypt, Malaysia (teapot cult anyone?), Indonesia (church bombings), Nigeria (ms universe fiasco), Netherlands (van Gogh incident) and so on. The supporters of the religious hatred bill in the UK are motivated by similarly intolerant attitudes (re their involvement in the rushdie affair) and this is not really such a uniquely british issue.

    My intent is not to slander muslims en masse but to point out that quite a few of them ,imo, have an uneasy relationship to art, and a readiness to perceive insult from ‘outsiders’. Some of this unease may be due to the strictly iconoclastic nature of sunni islam but really as Mustafa points out, often there is not much knowledge of the diversity of even muslim artistic expressions – from berber to persian to indonesian- which definitely contain elements that would set the puritans frothing.

  13. j0nz — on 24th October, 2005 at 11:53 am  

    My intent is not to slander muslims en masse but to point out that quite a few of them ,imo, have an uneasy relationship to art, and a readiness to perceive insult from ‘outsiders

    Art and music in the context of Sharia law is certainly an uneasy subject. There have been several fatwas that denounce music as haram, unless it is in the spirit of jihad.

  14. j0nz — on 24th October, 2005 at 11:56 am  

    Music haram

    Listening to music and singing is a sin and cause for the sickening and weakening of the heart. The majority of the scholars of the Salaf are unanimous that listening to music and singing and using musical instruments is Haram (prohibited).

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