If you’re a free-speech advocate or a blasphemy-law opponent, yesterday’s Times of London piece, written by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, will make your day. It’s a passionate defense of free speech, an affirmation that blasphemy is free speech, and an assertion that, when it comes to criticism, no religion is more protected by law than others. Braverman was apparently inspired by the kerfuffle last week when Muslims in West Yorkshire became enraged after a Qur’an was smudged, and perhaps by the recent spate of people called in for a “chat” with the cops after posting stuff things on social media that offended someone.
Yes, she’s a Tory, but the piece could have been written by any secular humanist, and she makes no bones about her views.
I’ve love to quote the whole thing, but that’s not “fair usage”, so let me give a snippet. She begins by referring to the Qur’an incident mentioned above, and then goes on:
We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech. Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.
, , ,Everyone who lives here has to accept this country’s pluralism and freedom of speech and belief. One person’s freedom to, for example, convert from Islam to Christianity is the same freedom that allows a Muslim to say that Jesus was a prophet but not God Incarnate.
This freedom is absolute. It doesn’t vary case by case. It can’t be disapplied at a local level. And no one living in this country can legitimately claim that this doesn’t apply to them because they belong to a different tradition.
All of this is typically understood. If I told a socialist they should politely endorse my sincerely held conservative beliefs, he or she would laugh in my face — and rightly so. Roman Catholics readily understand that people are going to criticise the Pope or mock the concept of transubstantiation.’
Yet things are going in the wrong direction. We see that in the monstrous way that JK Rowling and others have been treated for daring to challenge radical gender ideology. And there is a particular issue with attitudes towards Islam.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims are tolerant, peaceful and embrace our values. But some Muslims and non-Muslims alike — as well as Islamist extremists — believe that Islam should enjoy a special status, protected from disrespect.
There is a long, ignoble history of that, which goes back at least as far as the furore over The Satanic Verses. It is rooted in a view — actually a bigoted one — that Muslims are uniquely incapable of controlling themselves if they feel provoked. And it has excused agitators using fear to force people to bend to their demands.
And she promises that the intimidation by the police of those who utter legal but “offensive hate speech” will cease:
I am not happy with the way non-crime hate incidents are recorded and I will soon be announcing new guidance for police.
Timidity does not make us safer; it weakens us. A fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” led to the grooming gangs scandal. It led the Prevent counterterrorism programme to fail to recognise the scale of the threat of Islamist extremism, to deny the individual culpability of extremists, and actively to co-operate with extremist groups. It fails to protect people from the mob.
Enough. It is high time for leaders — real leaders, not self-appointed hot-heads — to stand up for our free society. It is this country’s sacred promise to everyone who lives here, whatever their background. Every organisation that answers to me as home secretary will be in no doubt of where I stand.
While the piece deals largely with blasphemy (religious “hate speech”), her statement that “there is no right not to be offended” and that she’s unhappy with the treatment of “non-crime hate incidents” by the authorities gives me hope that the UK will stop intimidating people whose speech may offend some but is 100% legal.
“Enough” is correct!