The Corner

Agreeing to Differ

Here’s Mark Steyn on British plans to make it a criminal offense to incite ‘religious hatred’, whatever that might be.

“…Isn’t that pretty much how it’s likely to go once David Blunkett’s new protection for Islam is in place? If you’re the “moderate” Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, you’ll be invited to speak at the “Our Children Our Future” conference sponsored and funded by the Metropolitan Police and the Department for Work and Pensions. But, if you express concern about ol’ Mullah Moderate, an Islamic lobby group will file an official complaint about you.”

Read the whole thing (but you know that already). The piece also includes some thought-provoking comments on Islam from Winston Churchill, written just over a century ago, including this:

“No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytising faith… raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

You can agree with that type of analysis, or disagree, but you should not be able to threaten prosecution to those who make it.

Incidentally, those inclined to see those Churchill’s words as simple, and archaic, bigotry should note the dig about Christianity and science: old Winston was not a man who was easily pigeonholed.

The UK controversy is also interesting in the context of the way in which such matters are handled in the US. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is an official creed in the US, a bland ecumenicism that insists that (in public statements, at least) everyone should ‘respect’ the beliefs of everyone else. This is something that goes far, far further than merely respecting the right of others to hold those beliefs (a respect that defines the freedom of religion that is, quite correctly, a cornerstone of American liberty).

If some religious fundamentalist happens to believe that those who disagree with him are destined for a toasty afterlife that is his right – and it’s his right, and maybe even his moral obligation, to say so out loud. It makes no sense for such a believer to claim to ‘respect’ the differing beliefs that, according to his faith, lead to eternal damnation. Equally, it is everybody else’s right to say that our fundamentalist’s faith is complete nonsense, and wicked to boot. That’s called religious debate, and it’s healthy, something that people once understood in this country.

These days, by contrast, such frankness is frowned on. It’s insensitive, we are told, boorish, or worse. To take one trivial example, whenever (as occasionally happens) I write something unflattering about Wicca, a ‘religion’ so absurd that it makes creationism look like rocket science, there are always a few people, not all of them witches, who e-mail me with the (entirely accurate) complaint that I don’t “respect” the Wiccan creed. Well, that’s just too bad. It would be much more interesting if such correspondents could write explaining why I was wrong. Revealingly, they rarely do. In today’s America, false ‘respect’ is better than honest discussion.

What a shame.

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