More on Religious Hatred Law

There is this excellent column by Nick Cohen in the Guardian for instance. (Nick Cohen debated Julian Baggini on this subject at Open Democracy last summer, but the debate is now behind subscription.) He talks about the strange incident at Index on Censorship (which we also talked about quite a lot here) when the associate editor ‘piled blame’ on Theo van Gogh instead of on his murderer.

What was most telling was Index’s treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who worked with van Gogh on the film. I can remember when she would have been a liberal heroine…She overcame enormous handicaps to become a Dutch MP and, as free men and women are entitled to do, decided she didn’t believe in God. Needless to add her secularism made her dangerous enemies, and the police had to protect her from Islamists…In the 20th century, feminists had a little success in persuading Western liberals that women should be treated as independent creatures whose intelligence ought to be respected. But these small gains can go out of the window when brown-skinned women contradict the party line that religious fundamentalism is all the fault of poverty or racism or Bush or Israel and isn’t an autonomous totalitarian ideology with a logic of its own. Jayasekera dismissed Ali as if she was some silly geisha girl.

Just so. I keep marveling at the way atheist feminists from Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, are ignored in favour of the devout variety of ‘brown-skinned women’; I’m glad I’m not the only one.

MPs didn’t point out that when society decides that people’s religion, rather than their class or gender, is the cultural fact that matters, power inevitably passes to the priests and the devout for whom religion does indeed matter most. To their shame, many on the left have broken with the Enlightenment to perform this manoeuvre. They have ridden the Islamic wave and agreed to convert one billion people into ‘the Muslims’. A measure of their bad faith is that they would react with horror if this trick was pulled on them, and they were turned into ‘the Christians’ whose authentic representatives were the Archbishop of Canterbury and ‘Dr’ Ian Paisley.

What I keep saying. Just plain atheists from Iran and the rest are also ignored. (Amartya Sen talks about this too – the way people in the West think of India as all-‘spiritual’ all the time, and ignore the secular rationalist tradition in India which is actually quite strong.) Because – what? The Enlightenment is a bad smell now? (Horkheimer and Adorno have a lot to answer for.)

Madeleine Bunting sees things differently (now there’s a surprise).

For starters, “religious hatred” is not about having a laugh, or criticising aspects of a religion: it is far more grotesque, and we can’t pretend that we don’t know the difference

We can’t pretend we don’t know the difference. Really? Some people can, it seems.

Speaking on a BBC Radio 4 programme the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, argues that the proposed ‘incitement to religious hatred’ law is required to prevent Muslims from being hurt by ‘abusive’ speech and writing.

Dave at Backword Dave has a transcript of part of the interview:

Khalid Mahmood: Well this law is not just needed now. This law became a real issue when the Salman Rushdie affair came into light. And there’s a huge amount of hurt that was felt by a lot of the Muslim communities. And the fact that they felt that they had no recourse …

Interviewer [interupting] So if we had this law, we’d have been able to ban the “Satanic Verses”?

KM: Well, what the scholars who’ve looked at the book at the time wanted was some editing of the very, very few minimal [?] amount of paragraphs within that which were just purely abusive …

Int: But is there not a difference between being abusive about a religion and inciting hatred?

KM: Well no; those two things apply, because what you do is by abusing, by being abusive about it is you actually incite those people and therefore those people go out in the street and take action, and therefore you’re inciting so the one follows from the other.

Oh fine. The ‘scholars’ who looked at the book just wanted some editing, that’s all. So everyone will have to permit clerics and other such ‘scholars’ to vet all manuscripts and edit anything they consider abusive of their religion – according to Khalid Mahmood, that is. But then Khalid Mahmood is an MP. MPs make the laws. So it goes.

There are good posts on all this at Harry’s Place – here and here and here.

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