Letter from M A Currie
Re: The Religious Offences Bill 2002
In January this year, Lord Avebury introduced
the above mentioned Bill in the House of Lords, where it sought
to abolish several existing religious offences, most notably the
offence of blasphemy, and create a new offence of incitement of
religious hatred. I write to express my disagreement with the
first part of this Bill and my complete support for the second
part of the Bill.
With regards to the issue of blasphemy, it is
important to clarify a misconception in some quarters. Muslims
do not object to the current blasphemy laws and the protection
they provide to the Anglican Church per se. Muslims have,
however, on numerous occasions pointed out that such protection
should more fairly be extended to other faith communities. If
this is not possible for practical reasons, then it does not necessarily
follow that Muslims would like the blasphemy laws to be abolished
altogether. From a Muslim perspective, it is better for the law
to protect at least one religious denomination from blasphemy,
the Anglican Church, than no religion at all. After all, Muslims
share the same unitary God of all the Abrahamic faiths, believe
in the Pslams, the Old Testament and the New Testament as divine
revelations from this unitary God, and believe in Jesus and the
Old Testament Prophets as Prophets of Godand if blasphemy
against these articles of the Muslim faith can be prevented through
protection of the Anglican faith from blasphemy, then this is
better for Muslims than no protection from blasphemy at all.
With regards to the second part of the Bill,
you are of course aware that Muslims do not enjoy the same protection
against hate crimes in Britain as rightly enjoyed by other minority
communities and some mono-ethnic faith communities, like Jews
and Sikhs. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, following
the backlash against Muslims after 11 September, sought to address
this anomaly, but was only partially successful. Consequently,
Muslimsand indeed, most faith communites, including all
Christian denominationsare still not protected against
the offence of incitement of religious hatred.
Lord Avebury's Bill is of particular importance
to the British Muslim community for several reasons. Firstly,
Muslims are regularly vilified in various sections of British
society. This occasionally leads to indiscriminate harassment
and violence against Muslims. Currently, although there is protection
against those perpetrating such harassment and violence, there
is no protection against those inciting such perpetrators. Secondly
the far right is currently mobilising support on a specificaly
Islamophobic agenda. The British National Party (BNP), for example,
rallied support at the last general and local government elections
with an explicitly anti-Mulsim campaign, and continues this campaign
just as vigorously on its web-page (please see attached materials).
Grassroots support for the ideas proffered by the BNP and other
far-right, neo-Nazi groups are at least partially responsible
for the disturbances in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford last yearand
yet, there is no protection in British law from such hate campaigns.
Finally, there is currently an EU draft Framework Decision on
Combating Racism and Xenophobia. Widespread support for the Avebury
Bill would ensure the Governments support for this Framework Decision
and thus protection from incitement of religious hatred throughout
the European Union.
I hope very much that the above views will be
given appropriate consideration in the formation of your final
report and recommendations. Should it be required of me, I am
also happy to give oral evidence.
7 August 2002.
7 Identical letters were received from 43 other correspondents. Back