You may have read that Cherie Blair, a British judge and the wife of ex-prime minister Tony Blair, suspended the jail sentence of a Muslim man expressly because he was religious. The man, Shamso Miah, struck another man, breaking his jaw, while both were standing in line at a bank. Miah was tracked down and arrested. Judge Blair (who, along with husband Tony, is showing serious signs of weakness toward faith) was lenient. According to The Daily Mail:
Yet despite saying violence on our streets ‘has to be taken seriously’ Mrs Blair, a QC who professionally uses her maiden name Cherie Booth, let him walk free from court.
She told him: ‘I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before.
‘You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank.
‘You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.’
Miah was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for two years, and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service.
Now this is an insult to everyone who is not religious: do only the faithful know that bashing someone in the face is unacceptable? I suppose a philosopher like Charles Taylor or Mary Midgley could find philosophical reasons to support Blair’s decision, but enter the philosopher (and atheist) Anthony Grayling, who takes apart Blair’s decision in a special piece written for RichardDawkins.net:
. . . As a barrister Mrs. Blair should be able to see the inadmissible corollary of passing lenient sentences on believers because they are believers; namely, that non-believers should receive less lenient sentences. If she had said – and said twice – in passing judgment on a person she knew to be non-religions, ‘I am going to apply the full penalty of the law based on the fact that you are not a religious person,’ she would not have merited any less of an outcry than she has caused, for the very good reason that this is the logical obverse of what she in fact said, and would be as unacceptable. .
Let me pick through the logic of Mrs. Blair’s view carefully here. She cannot consistently think that non-religious people have a tendency to be of good character because they are non-religious. If she did, she would think all people, whatever their beliefs or non-belief, have a tendency to be of good character. But this generous thought is precisely not what her statement says. On the contrary, her remarks to the jaw-breaking ‘devout Muslim’ (so the newspapers described him) Shamso Miah imply that she thinks that religious people have a greater tendency to be good than non-religious people. What justifies this assumption? Is it the fact that self-avowed non-religious people commit atrocities against other all other people, religious and non-religious alike, explicitly in the name of their non-religion, indeed driven to such actions in service of their non-religion? Of course not. So on what basis other than prejudice and religious sentiment can Mrs. Blair claim, in a judgment made in a British courtroom, that someone ought to be more leniently treated because he is religious?. . .
In the Times a young philosophy graduate turned journalist, Mr Hugo Rifkind, although claiming to sympathise with the National Secular Society’s complaint against Mrs. Blair, further claims that his ‘philosophy degree’ tells him that Mrs. Blair and her Roman Catholic church are the ones who are right in claiming that religious belief ‘gives you a sort of super, better morality, which outweighs everything else’. His reason for saying this is, as he puts it, that ‘There’s no such thing as abstract morality. It doesn’t even make any sense. If God isn’t the ultimate answer, what is?”
This is an awful advertisement for wherever Mr Rifkind studied philosophy. Either that or he was not paying attention in ‘week one’ when it appears (from what he says) his ethics course took place. And he certainly seems to have stopped thinking since then. Let me direct his attention to Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Hume, Kant, and a few dozen others among the thinkers he ought to have come across in his studies, whose ethics are not premised on divine command or the existence of supernatural agencies, but proceed from consideration of what human beings, in this life in this world, owe each other in the way of respect, concern, trust, fairness and honesty.
Indeed. Let’s have more of the dissection of tortuous logic, and exposing of hidden and invidious assumptions, that is the real good that philosophy can do. Grayling’s astute analysis is in strong contrast to that of Andrew Brown at The Guardian (I swear, the “Comment is free” section is fast becoming a archive of pusillanimous accommodationism), who waffles and waffles about Blair’s sentence and can’t come to a conclusion.
Anthony Grayling is a national treasure. Sadly, he’s Britain’s treasure, not America’s.