Mandatory respect

Tom Harris at the Telegraph is disgusted by the suspension of Louis Smith.

He starts with Roy Hattersley’s submission to Islamist outrage at Salman Rushdie in 1989.

Hattersley, whose constituency of Birmingham Sparkbrook included a large number of Muslims, has revealed that as a consequence of pressure put on him by local Muslim leaders, he proposed a “compromise”: Rushdie’s book should not be issued in paperback, as would normally be the case after the initial marketing of the hardback.

Of course, this was no compromise at all. The Shadow Home Secretary was advocating a surrender to the threat of terrorism. He advocated the compromising of free speech as a route to sating the blood thirst of the leader of a fascist state.

And they’re still doing it.

Nearly 30 years on, it would be nice to imagine that our political leaders considered freedom of speech more important than the personal hurt feelings of the followers of a particular faith. So where are the voices condemning the absurd suspension by British Gymnastics of athlete Louis Smith for his “mockery” of Islam?

There are some of us, but not many in the government.

Yet still our MPs seem pretty shy about discussing this issue or defending Smith’s right to offend. Many of them will, of course, like Hattersley before them, have to consider the electoral consequences of being seen to defend mockery of one particular religion (even if it means a defence of mockery of all religions). Have they no faith? Have they no confidence in their Muslim constituents to be able to take a sensible, moderate view of this little controversy? Isn’t it a little condescending towards all Muslims to assume that they will be so enraged by Smith’s behaviour that they will switch their votes away from any politician who dares defend his right to offend?

British Gymnastics has behaved deplorably, and our political leaders should say so. And Muslim leaders in the UK should say so too. They should celebrate the fact that we live in a country and society where we can offend each other without the threat of violence or official sanction.

Except, as British Gymnastics have now proved, we don’t. In 1989, Lord Hattersley advocated financial penalties on a writer for daring to write something that was offensive to some. Ten years earlier, Glasgow City Council penalised its own film-loving citizens by banning local cinemas from showing The Life of Brian.

By keeping their own counsel, political leaders give the green light to a bullying, blinkered officialdom that will continue to behave however it likes until someone at a national level calls it to heel.

From the SPLC to British Gymnastics…we’re told to respect Or Else.

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