Tony Greenstein | 10 January 2015 | Post Views:

In Defence of Secularism and the Right to Criticise Religion

Not surprisingly the news this week has been dominated by
one story, the murder of 8 journalists on Charlie Hebdo.  The two assassins have in turn been killed after
a siege.

However those racists who attribute what happened in Paris or Pakistan today
to something peculiar to Muslims or Islam should bear in mind that it was only
in 2008 that the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in
Britain.  I can remember the Whitehouse v Lemon blasphemy trial,
presided over by that incorrigible reactionary, Justice Alan King
Hamilton.  What became known as the Gay
trial for blasphemy in 1977, arose after Mary Whitehouse brought a
private prosecution against the magazine over James Kirkup’s poem The Love
That Dares To Speak Its Name
Blasphemy only applied to the Christian religion and when the move to secure
the abolition of the blasphemy laws gathered pace, many liberals sought to give
equal status to other religions!  King-Hamilton
himself was Jewish and the poem described homosexual acts between a Roman
centurion and Christ after the Crucifixion.

Street where journalists were murdered

The Gay News case aroused enormous public interest, both in this
country and overseas. At the outset, John Mortimer, QC, for Denis Lemon, the
editor of Gay News, moved to quash the indictment on the ground that
since England had become a multi-religious society, there could no longer be an
offence of blasphemy. King-Hamilton rejected this argument, saying that he
would be prepared to extend the definition to cover similar attacks on some
other religion.

After the defendants were convicted, he fined the magazine £1,000 and Denis
Lemon £500. He also gave Lemon a suspended sentence of nine months’
imprisonment, a term which he later conceded was wrong and which was overturned
on appeal. The verdict was upheld by a majority of 3:2.

But this is of scant comfort to the relatives of the murdered journalists of
Charlie Hebdo.  Socialists and
progressives should be quite clear that   
secularism, the separation of state and religion, is a fundamental
principle, and the fascist trash who carried out these murders deserve to be shot
like the rats they were.  It is no
surprise that those lovely creatures of US foreign policy – Al Quaeda and ISIS –
are the ones who have come out in support of the murder of the journalists.

However it should not be imagined for one moment that the murders that took
place represent anything but a tiny minority of disenfranchised Muslim
youth.  Every community, religious or
otherwise, has its share of bigots.  If
the prophet Mohammed is all he is cracked up to be then I find it difficult to
believe that a few cartoons are more hurtful than the slaughter of innocents by
ISIS or the starvation of millions in the world today.

Many liberals, including some on the left, supported replacing Britain’s
blasphemy laws with an incitement to religious hatred act which came close to
outlawing some criticism of religion.  We
should be clear that the criticism of religion is a fundamental right of any
free society, be it by Pussy Riot and the Orthodox Church in Russia or the Danish
cartoons.  Of course the motivation may
on occasion be racist but the way to deal with that is the way that all forms
of racism are dealt with, not by acts of murdering those who are deemed to have
been excessively critical.

Tony Greenstein

Posted in

Tony Greenstein

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.