Double, Triple, Quadruple Standards

Let us now praise famous imams and representatives of various British Muslim organisations – every single one of them male, if I’m not mistaken. What a swell bunch – all two and twenty of them.

In light of the bizarre news that the Metropolitan Police is to “investigate” comments about homosexuality made by Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, we, the undersigned, Imams and representatives of various British Muslim organisations, affirm that Sir Iqbal’s views faithfully reflected mainstream Islamic teachings…The practice of homosexuality is regarded as being sinful in Islam.

Yes, and in other religions too, as Ratzinger keeps anxiously pointing out, in case we might confuse him with someone else. So what? Who cares what is regarded as sinful in Islam or any other religion?

Of course the Imams and reps are right that the police investigation is bizarre – but it comes a little oddly from them, frankly. Some of them at least.

All Britons, whether they are in favour of homosexuality or not, should be allowed to freely express their views in an atmosphere free of intimidation or bullying. We cannot claim to be a truly free and open society while we are trying to silence dissenting views.

Well, that sounds good, but let’s not forget that Iqbal Sacranie himself remarked that death was too good for Salman Rushdie. Because? Because he had freely expressed his views in a novel. After he did that, an atmosphere not free of intimidation and bullying sprang into being, thanks to Sacranie and others like him. Were they not energetically engaged in trying to silence dissenting views? Has Sacranie ever disavowed that activity? Not that I’m aware of. It was just recently that he expressed the wish that the religious hatred bill could silence dissenting views like Rushdie’s.

Nick Cohen and Evan Harris noted the same irony, or hypocrisy.

The most encouraging reaction to news that the police were investigating Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s foul comments about homosexuality came from gay and secular leaders. Instead of revelling in the discomfiture of the fundamentalist head of the Muslim Council of Britain, they quite properly said that they believed in freedom of speech and that included Sir Iqbal’s freedom to be prejudiced and foolish.

So we did. Okay, okay, I’m not a leader – but I did quite properly say.

As Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP, pointed out, the MCB has not returned the compliment. It’s all for freedom of speech when it comes to laying into gays. It also believes that the government has no right to ban the glorification of terrorism. When it comes to freedom of speech about religion, however, it’s a very different matter. At the height of The Satanic Verses affair in 1988, Sacranie said that ‘death was perhaps too easy’ for Salman Rushdie. This did not stop New Labour almost tripping over its feet as it rushed to embrace the MCB when it came to power in 1997. As well as knighting Sacranie, it responded to his lobbying by putting before parliament a law against incitement of religious hatred. In their attempts to keep this unelected homophobe in their big tent, New Labour is prepared to ignore its more liberal supporters – and the conclusively argued opposition of the House of Lords – and force the bill through.

So, we’ll all just have to keep on quite properly saying, over and over again. Monotonous but necessary.

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