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Muslims, do not be fooled by this law

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Evening Standard
22 June 2005

With his dark new beard, Rowan Atkinson looks like one of those Iranian immorality squaddies who punish women on the streets of Tehran for wearing laughing too loudly. Yet Atkinson is a leading critic of the Government’s Bill to outlaw the stirring up of religious hatred.

He feels it will hamstring irreverent comedians like him. Despite the fact that the Bill passed its second reading in the house last night, many MPs and Peers as well as PEN and Liberty, agree that the Bill is an infringement of freedom of expression.

But Atkinson can relax. No court in Europe would convict a person for telling anti-religious jokes. A struggle going back hundreds of years has forever liberated society from that kind of religious domination. And while I, too, believe in the freedom of speech, free expression is often curtailed and controlled. Just ask Andrew Gilligan.

The real problem is that this is a bad law made for bad reasons at the behest of cynical people in high places. And the people who will suffer are not comedians and writers themselves. This classic case of special pleading will damage the ability to live in the modern world.

An unholy deal was struck between some self aggrandising Muslim chieftains and New labour, who needed to placate Muslims furious over the way Blair had embraced Bush’s suspect ‘war against terrorism’.

But these leaders are not representative: there are Muslims who detest this law, who have moved with the times. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament once personally encouraged the Ayatollah Khomeini to issue the fatwa against Rushdie.

Today, older and wiser, he has come out against the law: “liberty and freedom of speech are values which must be cherished because they guarantee an environment suitable for debate and understanding. Muslims should not ask to be a special case.” The sense that they deserve special treatment is already too strong among Muslims who really have come to believe no other groups suffer discrimination. This law encourages that tendency.

We already have adequate generic laws to deal with assaults on Muslims. A small amendment to the racial-hatred laws could cover serious acts to incite religious hatred by extremist groups.

The labour MP Sadiq Khan, writing in this paper in defence of the law yesterday, gave as an example of incitement a white woman convert who was abused in a shop. But what of the Muslim woman in a hijab in Queensway shop who told her young daughter not to smile at me because I was a kaffir (an infidel) and a bad woman? Should she be arrested and charged?

They are simpletons, the Muslims who believe this law will only be used to protect them. In Australia, Muslims got a similar law passed in some areas only to find evangelical Christians using against Muslims who show disrespect to Christianity. Here Jewish litigants will soon be spying on anti Semitic mullahs. This political sweetener will soon turn bitter.




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