Murad Qureshi’s article on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in the Morning Star has prompted an interesting debate in the paper’s correspondence columns, which we reproduce below.
Letter in the Morning Star, 24 November 2005
Murad Qureshi’s comparison between religious hatred and racial hatred (M Star November 21) is specious, because, while people may choose what they believe, they have no such right to choose their race.
As a communist Christian, I find that I have more in common with believers from other faiths and, indeed, many who declare themselves atheists than self-styled US “Christians” whose support for US imperialism violates everything Jesus lived and died for. I do not think that it would be too strong to say that I hate their pernicious doctrines.
If I were to attack them with words like John the Baptist’s “generation of vipers” castigation of religious hypocrites of his day, would I fall foul of a law prohibiting religious hatred? Most probably.
Likewise, if I seek to show that zionism violates the Judaic emphasis upon respect for the “alien within the gates”, shall I be accused of anti-semitism.
As Shaykh Riyad Nadwi pointed out in the very same issue of the Star, apologists for Israel like Melanie Phillips already do so. I can imagine bigots like her using any new law against inciting religious hatred to stifle any justified attacks on Israeli racism.
Experience shows that, however “liberal” a law, it is deployed invariably against the left, as happened with the pre-war restrictions on fascist hooliganism, which Labour used to ban May Day demos after the war. No government should be allowed to meddle in matters of faith, whatever its excuse.
Letter in the Morning Star, 25 November 2005
As a militant atheist, I think that Councillor Murad Qureshi (M Star November 21) is wrong. Britain does not need a religious hatred law. Its result would be the imprisonment of secularists who criticise and the comedians, whatever rate they are, who satirise religion. If this law had been on the statute books, I doubt if Monty Python’s film The Life of Brian would have been made or the Freethinker published.
History is full of examples of laws supposedly designed to curb the ultra-right being used against the left. The first people to be prosecuted under the Race Relations Act were Black Power advocates. A thriving democracy needs unrestricted freedom of speech, not more and more laws to silence those who express minority viewpoints.
One person’s criticism is another’s insult. Some will remain silent out of fear of imprisonment.
Twenty-two per cent of people in Britain have no religion. If they speak their minds in public, will they be prosecuted? It is not so long since the atheists were imprisoned under the blasphemy laws. This unjust legislation protects Christianity from criticism. Now, Muslims and Hindus want the same. Will pagans be next in demanding that the law silences their critics?
What is needed to combat the BNP is not more legislation but a united militant anti-fascist movement which, in the short term, can combat the physical threat of fascism and, in the long term, as part of the labour movement, addresses the problems of poverty, unemployment and urban decay.
Letter in the Morning Star, 1 December 2005
“Militant atheist” Terry Liddle (M Star November 25) need have nothing to fear from the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, since it is designed to prevent atheists from having hatred stirred up against them as well as Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc. The Bill inserts section 17A into the Public Order Act 1986, which defines religious hatred as meaning “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.”
The Public Order Act 1986 succeeded the Public Order Act of 1936, which was introduced to quell the wearing of uniforms by fascists in the 1930s. Its provisions against incitement to race hatred have been used sparingly and to an overwhelming extent against racist thugs.
If the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill is passed, there will be a further remedy against any revival of Jew-baiting and a proper remedy for Muslims suffering from Islamophobic abuse or being baited for their faith.
While those Muslims who are taunted for their nationality already have a provision which protects them, since incitement to race hatred is already illegal, if their tormentors confine their hate-filled words to vilification against their Islamic faith, they will not have a remedy unless the Bill is passed unamended.
The Bill’s wording makes it clear that it will not be used against people who merely ridicule a religion, make jokes about it, argue against or denounce any religion.
Terry Liddle’s worries are entirely unfounded and the likelihood that the prosecution service will misuse the new provisions against incitement to religious hatred is remote, as its proper, but sparing, use of existing provisions against incitement to racial hatred adequately demonstrate.
Letter in the Morning Star, 5 December 2005
Karl Dallas’s reply (M Star November 24) to Murad Qureshi’s article on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill illustrates the widespread confusion and misunderstanding that exists over the proposal to extend the present racial hatred law to cover incitement to religious hatred.
Karl claims that religious hatred and racial hatred are not comparable. “While people may choose what they believe, they have no such right to choose their race.” But the idea that Muslims or Hindus deserve no protection, because they have the option of renouncing their religion, should be unacceptable to any socialist.
As Sadiq Khan MP observed during the Commons debate on the Bill, “Some people talk about religion as a lifestyle choice, but what is being suggested? That Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims should convert to Christianity or become atheists?”
Karl asks whether a law against religious hatred would leave him open to prosecution for denouncing Christians in the Bush government as religious hypocrites. The answer is No. His warning that the new law will be used to have critics of Israel prosecuted as anti-semites is equally baseless. It would make no difference to the legal position regarding anti-semitism. As a monoethnic religion, Judaism is already covered by the law against racial hatred.
Karl concludes that “however ‘liberal’ a law, it is deployed invariably against the left”. The logic of this argument is not merely to reject a law against religious hatred but also to support the abolition of the existing law against racial hatred, clearing the ground for the British National Party to produce its race-hate propaganda.
It is duty of the labour movement and the left to support all laws that defend minority communities against oppression.