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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Religious and political hatred

The Queen’s Speech today is going to announce the revival of this particularly stupid bill (among many other, equally stupid bits of legislation).

What I still don’t get – an obvious point, maybe – is precisely how it is possible to ban incitement to religous hatred without banning religion itself?

Be it the Christians with their “one true God” (which is, of course, a slightly different one true God depending on which sect you belong to) or the Muslims with theirs, the whole POINT of religion is that you believe that you are right and everyone who believes differently is wrong – heathens, gentiles, infidels, whatever. If you are strongly religious – of whatever faith – you by definition have a massive superiority complex over all the unbelievers, as you have seen the way, the truth and the light and they have not. Such smugness breeds contempt on both sides; contempt leads to hatred.

In most interpretations of most different faiths, it is the solemn duty of any true believer to convert those who have not seen the light. Missionaries are sent out. Evangelists stand on street corners. They generally spout on about how we’re all going to burn in hell unless we do and believe exactly what they tell us. (Sounds a tad like the government and their terror warnings, come to think of it…)

Does someone telling me I’m going to burn in hell for not embracing The Lord God Our Saviour Who Died For All Our Sins (TM) count as religious hatred? Does me telling them to fuck off and leave me alone? Does slamming the door in the face of a Jehovah’s Witness count?

What about things like The New Humanist, which exist solely to dissect and challenge religious belief? Is the government proposing to ban The Rationalist Society? How about atheists – are they going to become illegal? They frequently mock and challenge religious folk and doctrine.

And in any case, isn’t part of the point of having faith to be able to have that faith challenged yet to continue to believe? The Christian martyrs were tortured to death, yet held onto their conviction that their God was the true one. Are their spiritual heirs really so weak-willed that having a few people mock them and call them idiots will make them abandon Christ? If so their faith is already dead and pointless. We’re doing them a favour.

According to that FAQ, the people affected by the new law would be

“Individuals and members of extremist and racist organisations and parties who stir up hatred of groups defined by their religious beliefs. Also, religious extremists who stir up hatred against members of other religions.”

So, that would include not only every evangelist in the country, but also the entire Cabinet, all of whom have been complicit in the post-9/11 anti-Muslim tirades (which, naturally, were aimed solely at the extremists and fanatics, but which have nonetheless ensured that Musliims throught the country are now viewed with distrust and fear by the rest of the population). Will Charles Clarke have to arrest first the Prime Minister and then himself?

Of course, what this really is is merely another facet of the “anti-terror” legislation Blair and Co. keep trying to force through. The people most likely to use inflammatory rhetoric will not be Catholic priests or the beardily inoffensive Archbishop of Canterbury, but the hardline mullahs of the more extreme mosques.

After years of trying and failing to get rid of the likes of Abu Hamza for connections to terrorism (for which there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, but we allowed him to be extradited anyway despite his holding a British passport because, erm…), a law like this would enable an instant lock-up because their overblow language – not that different to the fire and brimstone sermons of the Victorian Church of England – can happily be interpreted literally.

In other words, this will all come down to semantic interpretation. The local vicar telling us how the pharasees and Jews betrayed and killed Our Lord Jesus Christ will be fine (because, you know, the fact that Jews have frequently faced attack from irate Christians over the centuries due to their involvement in the Christian God’s death OBVIOUSLY hasn’t come from Biblical blame-throwing…). But if someone at a mosque suspected of having terrorist links happens to use the term “infidel” then we’ll lock him up and throw away the key.

By showing absolute contempt for religion in using it as a convenient veil for more suspect motives, is the government again in breach of the proposed bill? And what the pissing hell right does Tony fucking Blair have to dictate to anyone about religion in the first place? The smug little God-botherer. He was the one who incited me to religious hatred through his holier-than-though insistence that everything he does is alright because he “believed it to be the right thing to do”. This belief stems from his Christian faith, so I hold his faith in contempt.

Oooh, I’m annoyed.


  1. No doubt breaches will be defined in the same way that breaches of other hate crimes laws are defined. A breach of the law will have occurred if the victim reasonably feels it to have occurred. Which means that religious hatred is what the MCB says it is. And Christian Voice, and…

  2. Theres a difference between constructive religious criticism, and a dogmatic hatred of a group – which is what the government are (commendably in my opinion) trying to deal with. We are talking about discrimination against a group, and incitement to kill/hurt/mame the members of the group. From the FAQ you linked to, I think this passage is particularly important:

    "These provisions are needed to close an unacceptable loophole where some religions (Jews and Sikhs) are protected and others such as Muslims and Christians are not. Jews and Sikhs are covered by existing incitement to racial hatred laws as a result of decisions made by the courts (Mandla vs Dowell Lee 1993). This is on the basis of those groups also having a distinct ethnic origin. The existing law does not protect other religions that do not have distinct ethnic origins (e.g. Christians or Muslims) as it is currently interpreted. This measure will end that anomaly. Since the introduction of the incitement to racial hatred offence, some extremists have exploited this loophole, using religious terms to identify victims whom they would have previously identified using racial terms."

    It is unfortunate that religious discrimination is now a reality within Britain, especially since September 11th. The law is designed as a sop, in many ways, to groups who have rightfully claimed that they are not covered within present laws on racial discrimination. Where Jews and Sikhs are protected by law through the Race Relations Act, Muslims are not as they are a multi-ethnic group.

    Having said this, I would agree with you that the law needs to be tight in referring to discrimination and actual calls to religious hatred. I haven't seen the law myself but in these contexts something is needed.

  3. I'm somewhat 50-50 on this bill at the moment.

    One thing it will achieve which is laudable is that it'll stop the likes of Nick Griffin and others from skirting around current incitement laws by substituting 'Muslim' for 'Paki' – which is what they'd really like to be able to say.

    The other thing to note, as an atheist, is that where there are such laws already – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has something similar – virtually all the prosecutions to date have been against right-wing Christian groups. The one case I do know of was actually at Salem of all places, where a couple of fundies were arrested for issuing threats to a peaceful gathering of Pagans.

    To be honest in many respects I'm more concerned about getting after Tony's usual 'bait and switch' on last minute concessions to Christianity which has been blown by the law not making it through before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election.

    If we are to have a law on incitement to religious hatred then the blasphemty laws, which were quietly reprieved last time around, have to go.

    Ultimately I would expect this law to go much the same way as did the Obscene Publications Act when it was passed.

    We'll no doubt see a number of vexatious complaints from various groups – I'm pretty much expecting that Christian Voice will try something – which will get thrown out as the judiciary sort out the whole case law side of things and start applying a few common sense definitions to the offence and it all calms down to a reasonable balance which protects free expression.

    We're perhaps fortunate but on laws such as these, the judiciary does have a fairly decent record of applying a common sense approach, especially to the protection of free and artistic expression.

  4. Unity: agree with you there. In terms of Islamophobia, which I have had the chance to study a bit at Uni, there are already respected definitions of what does and does not constitute a legitimate criticism (see the bit on open and closed views of Islam). I.e, its one thing to say that you don't agree with the content of Islam and forward a different view, but its another to make stupifying generalisations like Islam causes rape and the such.

  5. As you know I do not agree with Nosemonky about the EU, but I do agree with a hell of a lot of most other things.

  6. One salient point which should be mad is that there is already in existence, through case law, a very simple and straightforward legal definition of what constitutes a religion – I actually found this out from the Charity Commission's wonderful response to the 'Church' of Scientology's attempts to register as a religious charity.

    It's a simple two-part definition.

    1. A religion must involve a belief in a deity or deities – although its also generally accepted that Buddha counts as well despite not, strictly speaking, being a deity.

    2. A religion must involve an act of worship in its religious practices.

    All very simple, really.

    Oh, before I forget, the reason that L Ron's cronies failed the test was that the Charity Commissioner considered its practices to be therapy and not worship – very clever argument.

  7. David: I've be no means made a study of Islam but a religion which underpins a culture which produced architechure like the Alhambra, literature ranging from Omar Khayyam to Kalil Gibran as well as the little matter of algebra is not something you can either hate or dismiss out of hand.

  8. Unity,

    Absolutely. That is why the current fundamentalist streak in Islam must be strongly condemned as a dreadful perversion.

    (In much the same way that other commenters to this blog – me included – have no time for the fundamentalism of Christian Voice and its like)

  9. hew bg: I dont think anyone is disagreeing with you that guys like Abu Hamza should be criticised and be put subject to scrutiny. But the problem arises when people say things like "all muslims are as bad as osama bin laden", or make claims that idiots like Hamza represent the wider Muslim body, as people have done within the popular press. Thats Islamophobia.

  10. unity: exactly…

  11. David: Actually I can sum up my entire personal credo on life in one sentence:

    No one has a monopoly on wisdom.

  12. It is a stupid bill. Fortunately, as it wasn't in the Scottish Labour Party's General Election manifesto the 44 Labour MPs up in Scotland won't be voting on it, will they…..?