ii) Only Words?
iii) The Racialisation of Islam
iv) The Self-Referential Problem for Muslims
It is vitally important that the English Defence League familiarises itself with the Religious and Racial Hatred Act of 2006. Yesterday it was possibly the case that the EDL, or at least the EDL’s website, was a victim of this new(ish) law. Not only that, the EDL and its members will no doubt be future victims of this law. It is up to us, as members of the EDL and champions of the freedom of speech, to know exactly what it is we will have to deal with in the future.
The consequences of the initial Bill of 2005, and the reality of its wide cope, were captured very well by Lord Lester at the time of a main amendment:
‘The new speech crimes are sweepingly broad. They apply to threatening abusive or insulting words, behaviour, written material, recordings or programmes intended or likely to stir up religious hatred. Unlike most other serious offences they require no criminal intent. They apply not only to words spoken in public but in private. They cover the electronic media, plays, films, works of fiction, political argument, preaching by priests and clerics, comedians and politicians.’
The main problem with the 2005 Bill and the 2006 law is the wording, as it is with nearly all laws. Every bit of this law is problematic, even if only semantically.
The new offence was designed to stop hatred ‘being whipped up against people because of their religion’. What is meant by ‘hatred’? How does one ‘whip up’ hatred? Is there a standard way of defining a person’s religion if, say, he or she is not of one of the monotheistic faiths (say, he’s a white witch)? Thus, what is meant by the word ‘religion’ in the first place?
I suppose all this is nick picking or pure pedantry. But it has to be so because it is law we are talking about here. More relevantly, it is the possible criminalisation of all criticism of Islam, the Koran and Mohammed we are talking about. Thus the wording needs to be precise and the implications of the law need to be fully known and drawn out. We are talking about the possibility of people being sent to prison for seven years for saying that ‘the Koran is full of violence and aggression’, as just one instance. We are talking about a law which seems intent on freeing Islam from all criticism, as has been the case in all Muslim countries for the last 1,500 years. This law would help take us back to the 7th century, a time which in many ways Muslim or Islamic states are still stuck.
And here we go again. The 2006 law was intended to 'ban people from intentionally using threatening words or behaviour to stir up hatred against somebody because of what they believe'.
What is ‘threatening behaviour’? What is meant by the phrase ‘intentionally using threatening words or behaviour’? Are there unintentional cases of threatening words or behaviour? What if this X, which someone believes, is intrinsically objectionable or even nefarious? Would it be equally wrong to stir up hatred, in the jargon, against hateful religions or hateful parts of otherwise non-hateful religions? Can one stir up hatred against fascism or Nazism, for example? In other words, is it automatically wrong to hate a belief system or even a religion? If so, what about death cults or head-hunter religions? What if Islam itself is a grand death cult?
The prime word of contention, as it were, is ‘threatening’. More specifically, how do we disentangle that which is threatening from that which is (merely) ‘abusive or insulting’? Indeed, can’t the abusive or insulting also be seen as threatening? Yes, it has been seen that way and by many Muslims and Muslim organisations.
So what exactly is it to be threatening to a religion or a religious group? Let’s not mess about here. Many things can be seen as threatening to Muslims. We are talking about words, actions, publications and any other form of ‘inflammatory material’. This is all very near to burning-of-the-books territory, a territory which many Muslims seem to want to inhabit. Fair enough. Most non-Muslims do not!
There is another semantic problem which crops up here. The defendant must also have intended to ‘stir up religious hatred’ if he is to be justly prosecuted. How is someone’s intention proved or even defined/categorised by the court? Even if Mr X did intend to stir up religious hatred, what exactly would that mean? For example, is it automatically wrong to hate even if the object of that hate is itself hateful? How is religious hatred ‘stirred up’ in the first place? Can it be stirred up by correctly quoting the many, many passages in the Koran which call for violent jihad and endlessly castigate the Jews? Is publishing these passages stirring hatred up? If the use of such quotes does stir things up, is that automatically a bad thing if it is indeed the case that the Koran is jam-packed with hateful and aggressive passages?
The Racialisation of Islam
In one sense the 2006 law can be seen as an attempt by Muslims, and their friends, to racialise their religion – Islam. What I mean by this is that Sikhs and Jews already had full protection from incitement because the courts regarded them as distinct races. It does not see Muslims and Christians in the same light. Here we come across a problem of Muslim hypocrisy. On one hand many Muslims stress the fact that Muslims do not constitute a single race - as an argument against racists and fascists. On the other hand, many Muslims want to be seen and treated as a race simply because, in legal terms, that would benefit Muslims as a whole. Thus because the laws against racial incitement don’t fully protect Islam and Muslims from criticism, it was seen to be necessary to racialise Muslims legally, as it were. In that way they would gain the full protection which ethnic minorities receive from the state and the courts. Thus it was then hoped that it would come to pass that all criticism of Islam, the Koran and Mohammed would be seen as racist (or ‘the last acceptable racism’, as leftists describe it). Only in that way could all criticism of Islam, the Koran and Mohammed be stopped. And this is precisely what many Muslims, and their far-leftist friends, are trying to do. This is what this law essentially attempted to bring about.
In addition. Adequate religious discrimination laws were already in existence before 2006. There were/are specific laws which ban religious discrimination in the workplace. This in itself shows us that the 2006 law wanted to go beyond the mere protection of religion or the protection of people from religious discrimination. In other words, the religious were already protected from ‘bigots’ by older laws. In that sense, the 2006 law was simply not needed.
That was why the original 2005 Bill was subject to various amendments. More specifically, it was stressed, at the time, that the freedom of speech must be insured just as much as the freedom from bigotry. Thus we are entering the world of semantics again. A distinction was made between ‘threatening’ words and behaviour, and things which were merely 'critical, abusive and insulting'. However, many Muslims tried, and are still trying, their hardest to close or even eliminate the gap between ‘threatening’ words and behaviour and mere criticism and insult. They are attempting to criminalise the criticism of Islam, the Koran and Mohammed. And one can say that the main reason why this new law hasn’t gone completely down that route is because the law itself was turned against Islam, Muslims and even the Koran, as we shall see later. If the 2005 Bill hadn’t thrown up this, as it were, self-referential problem for Muslims, God know how far down the banning route we would have gone by now.
What we should stress here is that it was the Labour Government of the time which wanted to go down the Muslim or Islamic route just defined. It was the Labour Government which essentially and basically wanted to criminalise all criticism of Islam, the Koran and Mohammed. It didn’t fully succeed because on the second vote on the 2005 Bill, the Labour Government lost by 283 votes to 282. That is, non-Labour MPs thought that it was right to criminalise ‘threatening’ behaviour against Islam or Muslims, but wrong to criminalise the criticism of Islam, the Koran and Mohammed (not only in an ‘abusive and insulting’ manner). We have non-Labour MPs to thank for this important amendment to the 2005 Bill, even though things still aren’t completely clear or acceptable today with the 2006 law.
However, the Labour Government of the day did try to defend itself and its new law. It argued that it was necessary because Jews and Sikhs were already protected by existing law, but Muslims weren’t. As we have already seen, this is argument is false. I have already said that Jews and Sikhs are protected as ethnic or racial groups, not because of their faith or religion. Muslims do not constitute a single race. (Indeed there can be Anglo-Saxon Muslims, etc.) Not only that. Racially or ethnically speaking, there already exist laws which protect Asians or Pakistanis as racial or ethnic groups, even the Asians or Pakistanis who happen to be Christian or non-Muslim. Thus, again, the Government of the time, and many Muslims wanted more than mere laws against racial or religious discrimination. And they did want more. They were attempting to make it illegal to criticise Islam, the Koran and Mohammed in any way.
The Self-Referential Problem for Muslims
The are a few examples of the self-referential problem with the 2006 law – at least problems for Muslims. For instance, a pressure group, Christian Voice, said that it would seek to use the law to prosecute bookshops selling the Koran for ‘inciting religious hatred’. Its director, Stephen Green, told the Guardian: ‘If the Qur’an is not hate speech, I don’t know what is.’ And in Australia a similar thing happened. That is, Christians used similar legislation against Muslims.
On a broader scale. Many commentators soon realised that Christians and Hindus, as well as Muslims, would soon seek to use such laws against each other’s religions, or against particular tenets or practices. Indeed this sort of thing is happening more and more often in places like India, which is the last thing this secular democracy wants.
On the scale of individuals. The anti-democratic Islamofascist, Sir Iqbal Sacranic, of the Muslim Council of Britain, wet his pants over the possibility that the new offence would give him the means to prosecute Salman Rushdie over his book The Satanic Verses.
These the real reasons why the law has not gone even further and why some Muslims have spoken out against it. And Muslims have spoken out against it – but not many. For example, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, of the Muslim Parliament, said:
‘The Muslim concern for protection, equality, and social inclusion is real and genuine. However, this piece of legislation is driven by political motives to stem the haemorrhaging of Labour support amongst the Muslim community.’
We all know precisely what he means and what New Labour MPs were like on this and similar matters. Let me give just one flagrant and disgusting example. During the 2005 election, the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, wrote to every mosque in the country pointing to the proposed Bill and highlighted the fact that Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs were against it.
However, nothing would stop the despicable exhibitionist George Galloway from voting for the Bill at its third reading (as a Respect MP). Then again, Galloway has never had a strong love of freedom and democracy, has he? His voting actions are hardly surprising. (His desire to ban the EDL, BNP and SOIE are similarly unsurprising. Thank God this political imbecile and reactionary has been kicked out of mainstream politics.)
In the end, we need to ask ourselves a simple question:
What is more important – the protection of freedom of speech or the protection from being offended or insulted?
Many in the non-Muslim world believe that the freedom of speech is more important. Many in the Muslim world think that Islam’s freedom from criticism and/or insult is certainly more important. This distinction between these two world-views is played out almost everyday somewhere in both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.