Britain’s Labour government is contemplating the introduction of a law against inciting ‘religious hatred’, whatever that means. This is a bad idea: it’s easy to see how the threat of prosecution could be abused to, say, muzzle future Salman Rushdies.
David Green of the British think-tank Civitas is not impressed.
“[British Home Secretary] Mr Blunkett’s particular intention is to give protection to Islam, but of all the major religions it is the one that should remain open to free criticism, for its own good. A great battle is currently going on between moderates and fundamentalists. For moderates, religious faith offers moral guidance for free and responsible individuals. For fundamentalists, the Koran contains absolute truths that must never be questioned. Both are concerned with right and wrong, but moderates speak the language of chiding, reproach, remorse and forgiveness; extremists think in terms of heresy, apostasy and punishment. The fatwah against Salman Rushdie, calling for him to be put to death for stepping out of line, should have been warning enough. And yet Mr Blunkett wants to protect extremists and their fatwahs from liberal criticism…
“For the sake of religion, democracy and the continuance of our tradition of tolerance, there should be no law against religious hatred. Priests, rabbis and imams should develop thick skins.”
Indeed they should. As Nick Cohen wrote in last Sunday’s Observer “a religion is a system of ideas like any other and must have its claims tested in the necessarily rough arguments of a free society. If people’s sensibilities are offended, that’s tough.”
It’s not only tough, it’s healthy.
Needless to say, such thinking runs entirely contrary to the sappy, and intellectually insulting, ecumenism that is this country’s official creed, but that’s a topic for another time.