Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)|
THURSDAY 17 OCTOBER 2002
360. I think we are with you on most of that.
(Mr Thomson) Yes.
361. Where I would like to come in by way of
question along the lines of what we were just saying is to some
extent you align a new sort of blasphemy with incitement because
they are only a step change, according to your argument, and you
have set out some definitions in paragraph 31.
(Mr Thomson) Paragraphs 18, 30 and 31.
362. What worries me about this approach is
that it certainly does not deal with atheists or humanists, and
it is not intended to for the reasons you have given us, but does
it even deal with all major world religions? I think not.
(Mr Thomson) In my respectful submission, yes. I have
perhaps rather a liberal interpretation because I studied all
the religions and I did this even before I came to Islam myself
and made that choice. My understanding is that the origins of
the Brahminic faith, which you can say is the basis of Hinduism,
comes from the Prophet Ibrahim, so within the Upanishads you find
these statements of the unity of existence and of how really existence
is a manifestation of the divine attributes of the Divine. I would
say it has its roots in a revealed text because we know certainly
from the Qur'an that Abraham had a book that was revealed to him.
My understanding as far as Buddhism is concerned is that the Buddha
was sent to revive the original teachings of the Brahmins, or
the Hindus you could say, or of Ibrahim, just in the same way
that Jesus was sent to revive the teachings of Moses when they
had been changed. Therefore, Buddhism as well partly has its roots
in a revealed text. As far as the Sikh religion is concerned one
finds that in a way this is the product of the meeting of Islam
and Hinduism, so you find in their book that they take texts from
both sources and you find in the religion which has evolved as
Sikhism they have aspects which are completely in conformity with
the teaching of Islam and aspects which are completely in conformity
with the teaching of Hinduism. I would say, again, that they have
their roots partly in a revealed book and therefore would come
within my definition.
363. I am sorry but have you discussed this
definition with any of the other major faiths?
(Mr Thomson) I have not had the opportunity up to
364. Because I think that we would be very wary
of accepting this formulation unless we were sure that it did
not run into further trouble with people who very sincerely hold
other faiths. It certainly does not deal with the humanists or
(Mr Thomson) No, it does not even deal with the Scientologists.
It is interesting that in the law which has developed under the
law of charity where the respected judges of this land have looked
at what constitutes religion and what is God, basically they have
said that any following that they are prepared to recognise as
a religion basically involves the worship of the Divine, however
the Divine is perceived. Obviously the different religions may
have a different concept or different understanding of the Divine.
For example, the Buddhist understanding of the original void is
very much in harmony with what the Prophet Mohammed said about
what there was before the universe came into existence. This is
365. It may be another matter but the fact remains
that I would suggest to you that it would be very dangerous for
us to recommend to the House legislation which plainly leaves
out part of the obligations under Article 9. At the moment I am
not dealing with the qualifications of Article 9, I am dealing
with what is on the face of Article 9 which certainly includes
non-religion and certainly includes all the major faiths. I wonder
whether you have any lines of communication of your own whereby
you can find out what they think of the definition that you have
put forward to us.
(Mr Thomson) My Lord, perhaps we should take the example
of the Scientologists because they feel that they have been under
attack, they feel they have been excluded sometimes from the country,
that sort of thing, and they have tried to invoke the law, this
is in the realm of charity law, without success up to now. Clearly
they would probably be vocal in saying "even if our movement
does not involve worship of the Divine, we still regard ourselves
as a religion". I can see their argument, I can see their
point, but my argument and my response to this is two-fold. Firstly,
I think this is the Select Committee on Religious Offences, it
is to do with the recognised religions. I think if provisions
are needed as a counterbalance, if you like, to deal with non-religious
groupings then obviously they have to be thought about and perhaps
something will be drafted. To the best of my knowledge the non-religious
groupings are not under attack in the same way that some of the
minority religions are, especially Muslims and Islam.
366. I think you would find that the Scientologists
would challenge you on that. They have been under very severe
attack in various countries, including Germany. I do not know
what may happen in the future but I do not think you are right
in suggesting that they are not under attack although they may
not be a religion in your terms. Are you sure that it is correct
to go ahead with legislation, or suggest legislation, which plainly
does not comply with Article 9?
(Mr Thomson) I think it is dangerous to argue, and
this seems to be the drift of the argument, that we cannot look
after everyone so we had better not look after anyone at all.
I think where there is a clear case for protection legislation
should be passed. It should be as wide as possible, it should
be as widely embracing as possible. I am not saying that it is
only the Muslims who should be looked after, I am saying all the
religions. If we had the situation of the Scientologists then
obviously the people ultimately responsible for drafting the laws
will have to come up with a formula which offers a measure of
protection to which they should be rightly entitled under the
Human Rights Act. I do not have any disagreement with that. Probably
because I have not had first-hand experience of being a Scientologist,
their situation is not as immediate to me as being a Muslim. Clearly
if legislation is needed to protect groups like the Scientologists
or like the humanists or the out and out atheists or even the
worshippers of Manchester United, if you like, then this could
either be a separate Act or it could be part of this Act but I
still maintain very respectfully that these offences are to do
with religions and not people who deny religion and people who
deny God. In the definitions which I have put forward I have tried
to simplify and make practical what has become an anachronistic
definition. The definition of blasphemy that exists at the moment
is out of date, it came from an historical situation which no
longer exists. There is now a new situation which requires legislation.
I know you asked my previous colleagues are there any previous
examples and of course one thinks of Australia where certainly
protection is granted to different religious groups. I have not
looked at it in detail.
367. I think you would have to decide which
state of Australia you were looking at because they are all different.
They are all different from Commonwealth legislation as well.
(Mr Thomson) It is a complicated matter. My Lords,
I have put forward what appears to me anyway to be quite a simple
and straightforward definition and by combining the two, combining
blasphemy and incitement to religious hatred, within the same
section, if you like, it does not get lost with the words "religion"
or "religious" being added to various other statutes
here and there and people do not have a clear idea of what the
law is. I think if it was promulgated in this way then it would
send a very clear signal to people. You may disagree but you have
to have a certain degree of respect for other religions. You may
not vilify them, or if you do, you do so at your own peril. I
think also this is another point that I make in my submissions,
that really it is hoped that by introducing both of these new
offences there would not be a string of prosecutions and convictions,
but rather there would be a deterrent effect which would mean
hopefully that these laws would never have to be invoked except
in very exceptional circumstances, but at the same time people
would feel secure in this land, that they could believe in God
and worship God as they saw fit according to their religion without
being attacked. As far as the mischief is concerned, and I am
moving on now really to incitement to religious hatred
Lord Clarke of Hampstead
368. You have been very clear about this religious
debate only but I will give you an instance of two groups of people
who have come together, a religious group, or a group of people
who have religious belief, and a group of people who are confronting
them. If one of the people who have faith says to the other "you
unbeliever"this is a fact, not a figment of my imagination"you
are an unbeliever", would the person making that comment
in your view be guilty of one of these offences?
(Mr Thomson) I think if they said "you do not
believe in God, you are an unbeliever", the person who did
not believe would agree, but if vilification entered the equation
369. If a person is facing somebody who is armed
with a piece of wood or something who says "you are a non-believer",
the question is would the person making that statement be guilty
of an offence in your view?
(Mr Thomson) Under the offences as I have framed them
probably not because the unbeliever does not belong to a religion.
I am aware of that difficulty. As far as the Qur'an is concerned
there is a very clear Surah which is called the Surah of the Unbelievers
and it says say to them: "I don't worship what you worship,
you don't worship what I worship. I will never worship what you
worship, you will never worship what I worship. To you your way
of life, to me my way of life". This is a recognition of
a difference of perception of existence but it involves no vilification.
It is basically saying "Look, we have our differences. On
the Last Day, which you do not believe in, God will decide between
us". There is no vilification in that. Clearly if, say, a
Muslim vilified an unbeliever there would not be protection under
this law and this is why I said in my opening submissions if there
is a need for protection for unbelievers then it should be the
subject of different legislation or, if you like, alternative
sections within the same Act. Because they are opposites I do
not think you can actually unify them in the same section because
they would merely neutralise each other and negate each other
completely. It is what George Orwell called "double-think".
370. Would you like to say a word about the
mischief. I want to ask you about your paragraphs 13 and 15.
(Mr Thomson) Very briefly, I think my colleagues have
already drawn attention to the BNP leaflet campaigning. I do have
copies here of leaflets which were issued by the Jewish Defence
League, Kahane Chai, back in 1996 and at that time they said there
is only going to be one warning and this is it. Basically they
were threatening the Muslim community, especially the leaders,
charities and businesses, with the same treatment that the Muslims
in Lebanon were receiving at the time. I really add it is just
as another example of the kind of mischief that we would seek
protection from. I realise that it is probably a small group and
an extreme group, just in the same way that some of the other
groups are, but the point I am making is that mischief does not
only come from far right so-called Christian groups, it also comes
from far right so-called Jewish groups and we know there are so-called
new Hindu and Sikh groups as well who go to extremes. I make the
point in my submissions that groups such as these would not have
protection under this law. Just because you are a follower of
a religion does not mean to say that you have protection if you
vilify another religion and, therefore, if a Muslim group were
to vilify another religion they would be liable to prosecution
under this law. I think this is important for everyone to bear
in mind, again, in terms of the effect that it will have on society.
If these laws are on the statute books it will make extremists
think twice whatever religious group they belong to, including
the Muslims. It is important to bear this in mind. It is almost
the psychological effect that these laws will have if they are
on the statute books.
371. I am sure we are very grateful to you.
This is not an example that I have had before and I am very pleased
to have it, so many thanks.
(Mr Thomson) It is quite extreme. On the face of it
one would say I am surprised that they are not on the list of
proscribed organisations under the Terrorism Act. It was issued
against the Muslim community. This was issued mainly to Muslims,
so it was a direct threat. If it is distributed amongst the Jewish
community then it becomes an incitement to religious hatred and
an incitement to commit religious aggravated offences.
372. Perhaps you could tell us once more its
(Mr Thomson) May 1996. I have the original here.
373. How was it distributed?
(Mr Thomson) It was sent by post. This was sent to
the Furqan Charity Trust. I cannot actually see which day but
it is May 1996, posted in Birmingham. At the time I understand
it was sent to a lot of the Muslim organisations. Certainly I
was advising the Furqan Trust and he received two because the
proprietor was also a Muslim publisher as well as being the Chairman
of the Trust. I said "Send one of these to the Home Secretary
and ask him to do something about it". There was very little
else that could be done.
374. Did you go to the police?
(Mr Thomson) I believe that the police were contacted
as well by a number of Muslim organisations. I do not know what
the upshot of that has been but certainly at the time complaints
were made to the police and to the Home Office.
375. But nothing happened?
(Mr Thomson) Not to my knowledge. It was not something
that I pursued personally as a lawyer. I was not instructed to
go any further than that.
376. I just wondered if you knew.
(Mr Thomson) I do not know the outcome, no.
377. Could I just take a few moments to follow
up what you are saying in your paragraphs 13 and 15. As you appreciate,
it is not for us to go into the civil law on discrimination, however
much we might think it desirable that we should.
(Mr Thomson) I just think it is important to bear
that aspect and that context in mind.
378. Anything we suggested would need to fit
into a change in civil law, such as employment law.
(Mr Thomson) We know there are European Directive
laws and that there is going to be a law on religious discrimination
in the workplace. There are other spheres as well where it [protection
from religious discrimination] is required. In my first submission
in paragraph one I am asking you to consider whatever recommendations
you make should be within the general context of all the other
laws which are in the process of being drafted and thought about.
379. Yes. They are not, as far as I know, in
the civil field but at any rate we can point to that situation.
(Mr Thomson) It is a unified approach.