As a member of the National Secular Society, I receive its weekly e-mail ‘Newsline’. After being distracted by an article on a constitutional toady, I returned my attention to the item at the top of the News, Blogs & Opinion listing, titled ‘“Be Careful With Mohammed”: Muslim Action Forum launches “legal strategy” to stop publication of insults to Mohammed.’ ‘Be careful… ‘? What’s that? A threat?
It commences with reference to a protest carried out last month by the Muslim Action Forum outside Downing Street, in the aftermath of the dreadful crimes in Paris. However, no demonstration of ‘Je suis Charlie’ solidarity this; with rank irony, the MAF exercised its right to free expression to protest against… free expression. Because it does not approve of Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoon depictions of its beloved prophet, whose sensibility is deemed so supernaturally fragile as to be in need of natural protection.
I followed the provided link to the MAF’s press release outlining its ‘legal strategy’, which it has devised with the aim of preventing publications by what it neo-terms ‘uncivilised expressionists’, defined as those with
‘a psychological disposition of the human mind which insults and maligns others without care or consideration of consequences.’
What is meant by those last three words I’ve emphasised in bold? ‘Be careful… ‘?
I have to state I find this disturbing. The press release, prompted by Charlie Hebdo‘s post-atrocity edition cover, includes no condemnation of the killings. This was supposedly dealt with in a separate statement issued three days previous; but which coupled ‘deep regret’ with a sentence condemning the reprinting of the caricature of Muhammad. Reads a tad “I believe in free expression, but…”-ish to me. But in case you consider I’m interpreting unreasonably, then check out the following paragraph, in which so-called uncivilised expressionists are grouped together with cold-blooded killers as ‘extremists’. Then follows a statement of appreciation for those outlets of the (UK) media that elected to not publish the cartoons; a policy the MAF deems a commendable act, not of terrorism-induced fear, but of ‘self-restraint and mutual respect’.
But back to the subsequent press release and MAF’s strategy. I don’t know how many attended the protest launching this; neither do I know whether the petition presented to Downing Street has garnered over 100,000 Muslim signatures, as claimed. What I do know, however, is that some of the statements and proposed methods in this strategy warrant scrutiny.
The MAF intends that depictions of its prophet be legally categorised as ‘the worst kind of ‘Hate Crime”. What then becomes relegated down the table of severity? Do acts of retaliatory violence thus become lesser crimes? To effect such legislative change, the MAF is beseeching Muslims to lobby their MP and political party candidates standing in the forthcoming general election, and to obtain from them written responses to three wiling questions (see here).
They’ve, of course, every right to do this. What is frown-inducing is the subsequent action proposed – that MP/candidate responses be fed back to the MAF and the respective local community. It reads as suggesting that a ‘No’ response to just any one of the three questions will mark that MP/candidate: he/she will be on a list of those demonstrating insufficient deference; and moreover, his/her respective Muslim community will know of it.
Because the MAF apparently denies an adult’s capacity to exercise free choice to not read/watch/regard published materials it finds unsavoury, MPs/candidates are being threatened with loss of Muslim constituents’ votes, should they respond negatively to any one of the MAF’s questions. Thus, the ‘honour’ of a prophet is rendered a factor in the general election, ostensibly to ensure those elected fully appreciate the ‘extent of Muslim sentiment’. Such attempt to subvert democracy and free expression over an issue the MAF deems ‘the single most important issue to every Muslim’ apparently renders all other political considerations secondary. Whilst we might assume our wannabe elected representatives will naturally stand up for the right to free expression, I imagine this may present a dilemma for many (particularly for the secularism-denigrating toady) – because that is precisely the intent.
Bad enough that we already have de facto blasphemy law borne of the fear of violent reprisal. I would suggest writing to your MP/candidates to ask them whether they have received such correspondence and, if so, urge them to reject the MAF’s sinister overtures, and not be duped by disingenuous machinations to instigate procedure aimed at effecting de jure blasphemy law. The right to free expression – to criticise, challenge and satirise – does indeed require that we be careful.