u t t e r i n g U p t h e M u s l i
m V o t e
probes the terrorist mind-set
and puts the Mohammed
Limits of Free Speech
OUR Government's policy to pander
to the religious
lobbies and substantially increase the proportion of subsidised "faith"
schools has continued, unabated, even since the London suicide bombings
of last July, though the Government has reacted to those atrocities, in
knee-jerk fashion, with other draconian responses.
These have included not only
against terrorists and would-be terrorists, but also the erosion of
many hard-won civil rights, even extending to the centuries-old
principle of habeas corpus
- which England, from the time of Magna
Carta, taught the rest of the
civilised world. The
Prime Minister stubbornly tried to get it suspended, by the Terrorism
Bill, up to a monstrous 90 days, during which suspects could be kept in
prison without charge. In the event, that attempt was defeated by
Parliament, with the aid of rebel backbenchers of his own Party -
though even then the period was substantially extended to 28 days,
which is draconian enough.
We were told by politicians and
mealy-mouthed functionaries that it was politically incorrect to call
the perpetrators of the London July 7 terrorists Muslims - but, of
course, everyone knew they were
Muslims, of the most zealous.
They were British-born Muslim
youths, three of whom
- all dead - were quickly identified. However, the identity of those
who recruited them and supplied their explosives has, apart from the
hate-preacher Abu Hamza, yet to he discovered.
Since the belief of a typical
suicide bomber in a
blissful after-life for "martyrs" is unshakeable, what we need perhaps
is a revered ayatollah to proclaim, with Koranic support, that suicide
bombers will actually go to hell!
For eight years, at Finsbury Park,
allowed to preach violent hatred and incite young men to commit murder,
before the Crown Prosecution Service started its criminal proceedings
against him in 2004 - and only then because the US was demanding his
extradition to their country to be tried for crimes against it.
Of course Britain must take care
to avoid a violent
backlash against the mostly peaceable British Muslim community, but
succeeding governments have in the past carried the exoneration of
Muslim law-breakers too far.
Islamic extremists held their big protest march in London in May 1989
to demand the death of Salman Rushdie for "blasphemy", I was foolhardy
enough to stand at the side of the route holding a banner that read,
simply, "Free Speech". Physically attacked by a surge of marchers
yelling "Kill, Kill, Kill!", I was saved from serious injury by a
plain-clothes policeman. On
the same occasion, 123 of the demonstrators were arrested for injuring
policemen, but all were released the next morning without charge -
obviously in accordance with a misguided Home Office directive.
that time, even on mainstream television, hard-line Muslim spokesmen
began advocating the murder of Rushdie, and even offering bribes for
carrying it out. Naively,
we expected them to be prosecuted for the age-old common-law offence of
incitement to murder
- but nothing happened, of course. This
crime was apparently immune from
prosecution if committed in the name of Islam - and the hate-preachers
were naturally emboldened by the pusillanimous immunity.
Free Speech in British Universities
As president of the
National Secular Society for 25 years (from 1971), I was constantly
invited to take part in university debates all over the country on
religious motions, and, in the hope that I might help a few young
people to start thinking for themselves, I accepted whenever possible. It was a foregone
conclusion that my atheistic side of the debate would lose the
subsequent vote, as such bodies as the Student Christian Mission were
always disproportionately represented in the debating chamber; but it
was more important to me that we should win the argument.
in the early 1980s, there was a sudden switch from fundamentalist
Christian to fundamentalist Muslim opposition, and it became obvious
that Muslim student bodies, not the faculty, were organising the
debates and bringing Islamic orators in to oppose secularism, though
the events were still officially under the university auspices. After
one debate, I remember, a non-Muslim undergraduate came up to me to say
he had had no idea how biased the set-up would be, and was
horrified by it. Members of the faculty, however, were seen only
fleetingly, even when I had specifically asked them to monitor the
I accounted for the number of Muslim students by assuming that they
included many from other universities and elsewhere. More recently I
have learnt that a number of committed Muslim A-level students would
decide jointly on their choice of university, so that they could form
the nucleus of a Muslim student body there. And it is reported that
they often spent time on it when they were supposed to be attending
official lectures and tutorials.
Early on in my acquaintance with the Muslim students, sex segregation
became the order of the day. One time, a friend of mine turned up to
support me by joining the audience, and,
arriving early, chose a seat near the front of the hall. He was
approached and told that that side of the aisle was for women, not men;
but, as the hall had begun to fill up and there were no good seats left
on the other side, he refused
to move. In fact, dozens of male students had to stand throughout the
lengthy debate, though half the seats on the
female side were vacant. Leaving early, my friend was pursued
menacingly out of the building and spat at.
I took to writing to the university secretariat prior to each debate,
asking them to rule that sex segregation was unacceptable in British
universities, but they always replied that I could put it to the
students to choose, before the debate. When I did so, the vote - on
both sides of thehall - was overwhelmingly in favour of segregation.
Later I understood why the women students would prefer it: because many
of the sex-starved young men took to groping if they found themselves
near a woman.
The Muslim undergraduates invariably declared that democracy and free
speech were contrary to the will of Allah, though they would support
the principle of democracy when it suited them, as in the matter of the
seating vote - and I could hardly go against it myself after agreeing
to a vote being taken on it. They also liked to declare that Britain
was destined, with their help, to be the first ever true Islamic state.
When I cited Pakistan as an existing Islamic state, they said it was
not truly Muslim, and they were confident (no doubt encouraged by the
official reluctance to prosecute Islamic crimes) that Britain would
soon become the first
(Parliamentary) Appeasement 2005/6
In the wake of the
threats against Rushdie in 1989, the Labour Party's pledge of
appeasement to the Muslim community was enshrined in an official policy
document entitled Multicultural Education. Their promise of more faith
schools went along with support for the Muslim demand for "parity" of
protection against disrespect through an extension of the old blasphemy
law, which (though rarely used these days) still shields the Church of
However, when the
amended version went back to the Commons for ratification, Blair
refused to accept this compromise, so Labour MPs were "whipped" to
reject the amendments. But Blair was unexpectedly defeated by a
sizeable bunch of his own backbencher rebels - just as he had been two
months earlier, on the proposed 90-day suspension of habeas corpus.
The "blasphemy" of which the imams accused Rushdie was a satirical
episode in his novel Satanic Verses obliquely referring to the life of
Mohammed. By contrast, the film
The Life of Brian, which had been made, and publicly screened, ten
years earlier with impunity - and has recently been chosen in a tv poll
as the best film comedy ever made - was a far more explicit and
detailed satire on the life of Jesus than Rushdie's novel was on that
of Mohammed. Admittedly, a century earlier the film would have landed
the Monty Python team in jail - but typical English opinions have
become more liberal since then, while those of Islam have, in obedience
to Mohammed's injunction of immutability, stood still.
It was assumed that if only Muslims were able to invoke the blasphemy
law through the courts of justice, it would help to circumvent their
resorting to violent protest; but surely the reverse is likely: every
time a judge dared to rule against a Muslim blasphemy prosecution, that
would be a direct invitation to mass violence.
Later, this blinkered political approach was reinforced by the birth of
New Labour under Tony Blair; and buttering up the Muslim vote became
even more important to the Party when the ill-judged Iraqi war cost
them a large slice of it.
Eventually, vociferous Muslims were to be mollified by the Government's
introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Fortunately, this
was watered down in the Lords, not only by making it more difficult to
obtain a conviction under it, but by signally restricting the proposed
crime to "threatening" words as opposed to mere "abusive or insulting"
The fact that his defeat this time was by only one vote and that he was
complacent enough not to be in the House to cast his own personal vote,
added to the gaiety of nations. However, even in its modified form, the
new incitement law encroaches
on free speech - not least through
self-censorship, which had already, since the Rushdie affair, been
operating in deference to Islamic hauteur, to the detriment of the
public spread of knowledge and comment.
Paradoxically, this gives the impression that Muslims are
an inferior, down-trodden section of the British populace, unable to
accept robust criticism or to defend their own corner rationally - let
alone to laugh at themselves, which is a redeeming asset in British
The more moderate and percipient Muslims in this country recognise
this, seeing the continual propitiation of Islamic touchiness as
patronising - and probably the main cause of mounting islamophobia.
However, because the hard-line Muslim organisations make all the noise,
they are falsely regarded by the media, as well as the Government, as
being representative of their whole community.
Fundamentalists take themselves much too seriously, and their feelings
are too easily hurt. They really need to imbibe the traditional
playground retort, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can
never hurt me."
Welfare and Halal
Farm Animal Welfare Council - an official advisory body - has
repeatedly recommended that an end be put to the Jewish and Muslim
exemptions from the law requiring pre-stunning for the slaughter of
farm animals; but no government has had the courage to introduce this
religions that oppose pre-stunning are
up in arms at the prospect of having to obey the general law of the
country, and insist on their "religious rights" in this matter. But
what about animal rights? And, indeed, the
rights of meat-eaters of other religions, or of none, who are given
no opportunity to avoid
cruelly slaughtered meat. Since orthodox Jews
only part of the animal, the
rest is sold,
unlabelled, in butchers' and supermarkets.
And many of the state schools in areas of the country with a sizeable
Muslim population now serve only halal meat.
If the shechita and
halal methods of meat-slaughter are
then the general law that demands pre-stunning in non-religious
abattoirs should be repealed.
Otherwise, the same
British law should apply to all, and
people who choose to come to settle in Britain should be prepared to
accept it. After all, they have the alternative of turning vegetarian.
At the end of January, all hell
broke loose, fundamentalist Muslims having maliciously spread the news
among themselves internationally that, some four months earlier, a
Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, had published a series of twelve
cartoons caricaturing Mohammed. One of the twelve (innocently reprinted
on the cover of the November Freethinker!) depicted
him as a suicide bomber, his turban a smoking bomb. Even moderate
Muslims have described it as "insulting" to their
religion, though few of them have actually seen it. Anyway, since
suicide bombers are regarded as "martyrs", how can it be insulting to
depict the Prophet as a martyr?
We are told that Islam forbids the imaging of any human being, not just
Mohammed. In that case, why are so many imams willing to appear on
television and pose for photographs?
The fact is that hundreds of cartoons of the Prophet have appeared over
the centuries - some of them far more offensive than these recent ones
- with no retaliation from his followers. For instance, a German
woodcut print of 1481 shows
a drunken Mohammed being scolded by one of his wives. And there is a
fresco from the same century in Bologna's church of San Petronio, by
Giovanni da Modena, who, inspired by Dante's Divina Commedia, depicted
Mohammed being tortured in hell. That piece of medieval art did,
however, attract Muslim wrath, when, in 2002, a terrorist group was
discovered plotting (rather belatedly) to blow up the church.
Though the twelve amusing Danish
cartoons were far less scurrilous than the medieval ones, it is not
surprising that devout Muslims failed to see the joke. But the extent
and violence of their reaction to the cartoons was surprising.
A ferocious protest outside the Danish Embassy in Indonesia was
followed by similar outbreaks in many cities of Asia and Europe,
including London. It prompted newspapers in several western European
countries to reprint the cartoons defiantly in defence of free speech -
but no national newspaper in Britain dared to do likewise.
The same buttery Jack Straw, now promoted to Home Secretary, rushed on
to television to decry publication of the cartoons - apparently seeing
them as more reprehensible than the actual raining of bombs on
defenceless women, men, and children in Iraq - that being something
which, unlike the late Robin Cook, he had felt able to endorse.
Barbara Smoker February 2006