Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Letter from M A Currie[7]

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 God—and 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, Muslims—and indeed, most faith communites, including all Christian denominations—are 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 year—and 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

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