In Defence of Secularism and the Right to Criticise Religion
Not surprisingly the news this week has been dominated by one story, the murder of 8 journalists on Charlie Hebdo. The two assassins have in turn been killed after a siege.
However those racists who attribute what happened in Paris or Pakistan today to something peculiar to Muslims or Islam should bear in mind that it was only in 2008 that the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in Britain. I can remember the Whitehouse v Lemon blasphemy trial, presided over by that incorrigible reactionary, Justice Alan King Hamilton. What became known as the Gay News trial for blasphemy in 1977, arose after Mary Whitehouse brought a private prosecution against the magazine over James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name.
Blasphemy only applied to the Christian religion and when the move to secure the abolition of the blasphemy laws gathered pace, many liberals sought to give equal status to other religions! King-Hamilton himself was Jewish and the poem described homosexual acts between a Roman centurion and Christ after the Crucifixion.
|Street where journalists were murdered|
After the defendants were convicted, he fined the magazine £1,000 and Denis Lemon £500. He also gave Lemon a suspended sentence of nine months' imprisonment, a term which he later conceded was wrong and which was overturned on appeal. The verdict was upheld by a majority of 3:2.
However it should not be imagined for one moment that the murders that took place represent anything but a tiny minority of disenfranchised Muslim youth. Every community, religious or otherwise, has its share of bigots. If the prophet Mohammed is all he is cracked up to be then I find it difficult to believe that a few cartoons are more hurtful than the slaughter of innocents by ISIS or the starvation of millions in the world today.