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Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.

Lawless Tories Pass Legislation Allowing Security Forces to Commit Crimes

This is very ominous. It’s another attack on the security of British citizens from potential persecution and tyranny from their own government. On Wednesday, 6th October 2020, Mike put up a piece on his blog reporting that Boris Johnson and his cronies have passed legislation that permits MI5, the National Crime Agency and other organisations using undercover agents and informants to commit crimes. They do, however, have to show that the offences are ‘necessary and proportionate’, but won’t say which crimes are authorised for fear of revealing the identities of their spies to the criminals and terrorists they are attempting to infiltrate and monitor. Mike also points out that there’s the danger of ‘mission creep’, that the scope of the crimes the undercover cops and agents are permitted to commit will expand as the security forces decide that this is required by their activities.

The new law was opposed by both Labour and Tory MPs, criticising the lack of safeguards in it which they described as ‘very vague and very broad’. In fact, only 182 Tory MPs voted for it. Keir Starmer once again showed his Blairite utter lack of backbone, and ordered the party to abstain. Only 20 Labour MPs voted against it. This means that it would have failed if Labour had had any principles and opposed it. Unsurprisingly, the Labour MPs who voted against it included the ‘far left’ MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery, whose tweet explaining his reasons for doing so Mike also gives in his piece. Lavery said

I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight. This was the correct course of action. I simply could not support legislation that would allow #spycops to murder, torture and use sexual violence without fear of any legal accountability.

Mike’s article also includes numerous other tweets from ordinary Brits condemning the new law and the Labour party and its leader for not opposing it, except for Corbyn and the other 19 courageous and principled MPs. Carole Hawkins, for example, tweeted

Mass kidnappings, torture & assassinations all without any comeback now the rule of law in 3rd world, nonentity Torydom. Every so called “British value” disappeared on the 5/10/20.

And Elaine Dyson said

#StarmerOut The Labour party & the public deserve better. During the COVID-19 crisis & with Brexit just a couple of months away, we need a strong opposition against the Tory gov. Labour must stop whipping its MPs to abstain on bills that leave sh*tstains on human rights.

Mike comments

There is only one reasonable response to legislation that authorises government agents to commit crimes – especially extreme crimes such as those contemplated here, and that is opposition.

But opposition is not in Keir Starmer’s vocabulary.

Let’s have a leadership challenge. He has to go.

And if he isn’t ousted this time, let’s have another challenge, and another, until he is. He has turned Labour into a travesty.

This is a real threat to the safety of ordinary citizens, and another step towards despotism and arbitrary government. This is very much the issue which made Robin Ramsay set up the conspiracies/ parapolitics magazine Lobster in the early 1980s. There is plentiful evidence that the western security forces are out of control, and are responsible for serious crimes against people and their governments. The late William Blum, a fierce, indefatiguable critic of the American empire and its intelligence agencies, has published any number of books exposing and discussing the way they have conspired to overthrow foreign governments and assassinate their leaders. One of these has two chapters simply listing the countries, whose governments the US has overthrown and in whose democratic elections it has interfered. One of the most notorious is the CIA coup of the mid-70s that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by the Fascist dictator General Pinochet.

Britain’s own security forces have also shown themselves no strangers to such activities. In the 1950s we conspired to overthrow the last, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil industry, the majority of which was owned by us. We’ve since engaged in rigging elections and other covert activities in other countries around the world. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, British security forces colluded secretly with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans. The IRD, a state propaganda department set up to counter Soviet propaganda, also smeared left-wing Labour MPs such as Tony Benn as supporters of the IRA. All this and worse is described by the entirely respectable, mainstream historian Rory Cormac in his book Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

Such lawbreaking and criminality is the reason that there is a significant conspiracist subculture in America and Britain. Following the assassination of JFK and the shock of Watergate, many Americans don’t trust their government. This distrust mostly takes the form of paranoid, bizarre, and in my view utterly false and dangerous stories about the government forming secret pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli to experiment on humans in exchange for alien technology. But some of this distrust is justified. In the 1970s, for example, the CIA plotted to stage a bomb attack in Miami. This would be blamed on Cuba, and provide the pretext for an invasion to oust Castro and his communist government. Fortunately this was never put into practice, but this, and similar entirely historical, factual plots, mean that Americans are justified in being wary and suspicious of their secret state and intelligence agencies.

And so should we.

We’ve already taken several significant steps towards authoritarian rule. One of the most significant of these was the passages of legislation by Blair and then David Cameron setting up secret courts. This allows suspects to be tried in secret, with the press and public excluded, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security. The law also allows evidence to be withheld from the defendant and his lawyers for the same reason, in case it reveals the identities of agents and informants. As I’ve said numerous times before, this is very much the kind of perverted justice system that Kafka described in his novels The Castle and The Trial, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

The idea that the state, or high-ranking individuals within it, are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people has now become something of a staple in American cinema and television. There was Nine Days of the Condor in the 1970s, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a secret agent, whose co-workers are killed by another covert organisation while he’s out getting lunch, and then the X-Files in the 1990s. Not to mention Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, both of which feature rogue Federation officers conspiring to lead some kind of attack on the Federation itself.

Back down to Earth, the 1990’s British police drama, Between the Lines, also tackled the issue of rogue undercover agents. Between the Lines starred Neil Pearson and Siobhan Redmond as members of a unit set up to investigate offences committed by police officers. This included issues that are still, unfortunately, very much relevant, such as the shooting of unarmed suspects by mistake by armed police. One episode had the team investigating a secret agent, who had infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation. This man was responsible for a series of assaults, raising the question that he had actually gone native and become part of the group he was supposed to bring down. This was at least 25 years ago, and it depicts exactly the kind of thing that could and no doubt has happened. Except that the Tory legislation means that the individuals responsible for such crimes, or at least some of them, will be exempt from prosecution under the new laws.

As for the claims that there will somehow be safeguards to prevent abuse, I’m reminded of the Charter of Verona, issued by Mussolini’s Fascists towards the end of Fascist rule in Italy. By then the majority of Italy had been occupied by the Allies. Mussolini himself was the puppet head of a rump Fascist state in northern Italy, the infamous Salo Republic. The Duce attempted to regain some popularity for himself and his movement by taking a leftward turn, promising the workers’ a place in industrial management. The Charter declared that no individual would be held for more than seven days without charge or trial. Which sounds far more liberal than previous Fascist rule. The reality, however, was that the Salo Republic was propped up by the Nazis, while brutal deaths squads like the Deci Mas roamed the countryside killing anti-Fascists.

Britain isn’t a Fascist state by any means at the moment. But legislation like this paves the way for the emergence of a genuine authoritarian regime. It is an active threat to the lives and security of ordinary Brits, and Starmer had no business whatsoever supporting it.