Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

Tories Killing Free Speech and Democracy in the Name of Stopping ‘Nuisance’

March 16, 2021

Following the Met police’s rough manhandling of the women at the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common and the consequent outcry, our smirking excuse for a home secretary, Priti Patel wishes to introduce legislation with the explicit intention of limiting public protest. This, as Mike and the good peeps on Twitter have pointed out, is Fascism. It’s suppression of the fundamental right to public protest. The intention is to stop criticism of the government. But the Tories are past masters in lying, and so they’ve dressed this latest assault on democracy up as somehow empowering the public. They’re not doing it to stop free speech, you see. They’re trying to empower local communities, who may find themselves seriously disrupted by noisy protesters. It’s about stopping them making a nuisance of themselves. And so the proposed legislation will, if passed, allow the authorities to cancel a demo if even a single person complains about it.

There’s a quote, which unfortunately I’ve largely forgotten, which states that Fascism never comes as a repressive force. It always presents itself in friendly terms until it is too late, the concentration camps have been put up and thugs in jackboots are stamping on human faces, to use George Orwell’s metaphor. There’s another quote that says that the totalitarianism of the future won’t present itself as an oppressive tyrant, but as society’s benevolent, obedient servant. Patel’s wretched bill surely bears out the truth of this statement. It’s Fascism all right, but dressed up as defending local communities’ right not to have their peace and quiet spoilt by anything as vulgar as an enraged or concerned public.

While Priti Patel is trying to push the bill through parliament now, it isn’t just her that’s behind it. It’s a Tory idea that’s been around since ‘Dodgy’ Dave Cameron was in No. 10. He also tried to pass it, but with no success. Now, almost a decade later, the Tories are trying again.

The Labour party plans to oppose the bill. So should everyone who values democracy and free speech, regardless of party. And including and particularly Tories. One of the Transatlantic Conservative sites I used to read several years ago was opposed to government legislation outlawing Holocaust denial. There was a debate at the time over whether the Canadian government should join other countries in banning it. This was just during the Conservative Harper administration. The Jewish owner of the site was against this, arguing that Conservatives should not support legislation limiting free speech. If the precedent was set, then it would give a weapon to the Tories’ enemies, who could use it to their own advantage. Exactly. And I have come across Tories who are genuine, passionate defenders of free speech. Years ago Lobster reviewed a book written by one of them, which recognised that every democratic freedom we now enjoy isn’t a natural outgrowth of the development of some transcendent principle of freedom and democracy inherent in British or western society. No, these freedoms are the hard-won results of bitter struggles. And Patel’s vile legislation makes it very clear that struggle is far from over.

People are already organising petitions and planning protests against the bill. I received this email from Democracy Unleashed, laying out the arguments and asking me to sign a petition against it, which I did. It runs

‘Once again, the government is attempting to force controversial legislation through Parliament without proper scrutiny.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains provisions that could land peaceful protestors with up to ten years’ imprisonment if their protest is deemed capable of causing “serious annoyance” to any section of the public. 

Did the People’s Vote marches cause “serious annoyance”? What about Black Lives Matter? Or Extinction Rebellion? Or March for Women? Or Stop The War Coalition? Which one of those protests do you think the Home Secretary would ban under this new legislation?

I will not be silenced

Many thousands of people take part in hundreds of protests across the United Kingdom every year. In most cases, a little bit of nuisance is what gets them noticed and their messages heard. Whether or not you agree with their cause, their right to protest is an essential part of a healthy democracy and any legislation that dilutes that right should be subject to very careful scrutiny indeed. 

We don’t think protestors campaigning passionately (or noisily) but peacefully for a cause should face the possibility of a prison sentence just because the Home Secretary has decided that someone might find their protest “seriously annoying.”

This legislation represents a serious attack on the foundations of our democracy and history tells us that such attacks often signal the beginning of something more sinister. We need to wake up to the threat and do something while we still can.  

Sign the petition to tell the Home Secretary that government cannot be allowed to bury our democratic rights just because it suites them to do so. 

I’ll sign the petition

Help us make this the loudest protest possible by sharing the petition on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp with the hashtag #SeriouslyAnnoyed. ‘

We have to oppose this bill, otherwise democracy in Britain will be as hollow and meaningless as Singapore. You have the right to speak in public there about political issues, but you have to register with the police in advance, who have the power to turn you down and arrest you. Needless to say, people aren’t exactly lining up at the Singaporean equivalent of Speaker’s Corner.

And that’s the kind of empty, hollow democracy Priti Patel and her predecessors want for Britain.

My Letter to BBC Local News Against the Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign Against David Miller

March 9, 2021

Last week the right-wing British press and the Zionist Jewish establishment launched another smear campaign against someone for criticising Israel. This was Dr David Miller, an academic at Bristol University, who had been one of the speakers at an event about defending free speech in the Labour party. Dr Miller committed the heinous crime of saying that Zionism needed to be ended. The Daily Heil, Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Community Security Trust, as well as the university’s Jewish Society, all went bug-eyed with rage and accused him of anti-Semitism. The issue has been on the local BBC news programme here in Bristol, Points West. Various members of the Jewish establishment have appeared on the programme ranting about how this is somehow preparatory to demanding full scale anti-Semitic persecution, hinting at the holocaust. One very angry gent on Sunday morning’s edition said of it that ‘we all know where that goes’ – clearly implying that Miller’s comments about Zionism, not about Jews, were tantamount to a call for pogroms and another Holocaust. They also claimed that Jewish students no longer felt safe and comfortable at the university thanks to Dr Miller’s comments. Which is peculiar coming from the right, which likes to rant about left-wing snowflakes. Well, there’s more than a bit of snowflakery going on here.

I’ve discussed this latest controversy in a previous article. As usual with these witch hunts, it’s nothing to do with real, vicious Jew hatred, but simply the right-wing British press and the Zionists of the British Jewish establishment seeking to defend Israel and its horrendous persecution of the Palestinians. They do this by smearing any and all critics or simply respectable journalists, who accurately report atrocities committed by the Israelis and their allies, as anti-Semites. They did it to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including such principled, self-respecting Jews as Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein. They did it to Marc Wadsworth, a Black anti-racist activist, who had worked with the Board to combat real anti-Semitic attacks on Jews by the scumbags of the NF/BNP in the 1980s. They did and are doing it to more ordinary members of the Labour party like Mike Sivier and Martin Odoni. All the above are genuinely anti-racist with no sympathy whatsoever for Fascism, and Martin’s also Jewish. But this means nothing to these moral frauds, who are determined to vilify and demonise decent people in their zeal for defending the indefensible.

Other speakers at the conference including Dr Norman Finkelstein, a respected American academic and passionate opponent of the Israeli state, and Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet in South Africa. Both of them are Jewish, which clearly demonstrates that whatever the British Jewish establishment claims, they do not speak for all of Britain’s diverse Jewish community. This is also a repeat of a campaign these organisations launched against another academic at Bristol Uni, Dr Rachel Gould. Dr Gould was also guilty of making anti-Israel comments, despite being Jewish herself.

I am heartily, heartily sick of this witch-hunt and demonisation of decent people. I therefore wrote to BBC Points West to express my outrage as a way to make my feelings about this whole sorry affair public. Normally I would have written to the paper, but as all of the papers are solidly behind the witch hunters and against their victims, BBC Points West looked like the best and only option available. Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Sir,

Thank you for coverage over the current controversy about Dr David Miller of Bristol University and the accusations of anti-Semitism that have been levelled against him. I am writing to you to express my utter disgust at what I see as a campaign of vilification against him for making a legitimate criticism not of Jews or Judaism, but of a political ideology. I am an historian and archaeologist, who was educated at school and as an undergraduate at College by Christian teachers and professors, who had a profound respect and warm sympathy for the Jewish people. They were acutely aware of the horrors Jews have suffered down the centuries, and taught their students about the Holocaust long before it became government educational policy. I myself have had the good fortune to enjoy the friendship of many people of Jewish descent and heritage.  I have also studied the history of Fascism and its loathsome doctrines, and its racism and violence towards Jews and people of colour.

Dr Miller has been accused of anti-Semitism because he called for the end of Zionism at a recent conference on free speech in the Labour Party. This has provoked a campaign against him by the Daily Mail, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. This is profoundly and utterly wrong. Zionism is a political doctrine and is certainly not synonymous with the Jewish people or their faith. From what I understand, the Jewish people have never been the monolithic community claimed by anti-Semites. They have always held a variety of views on religious and political issues, including Zionism. Indeed, many Jews have strongly rejected Zionism because they viewed it as an internalisation of gentile anti-Semitism. Non-Jewish anti-Semites have claimed that a special state should be created for Jews, not out of sympathy for them, but simply in order to remove them their own countries. One example of this was the Fascist scheme to settle Jews in Madagascar. Jewish opposition to Zionism was famously expressed on the graffiti on a Jerusalem wall which stated ‘Zionism and Judaism are diametrically opposed.’ Several of the other speakers at the conference where Dr Miller made his comments were themselves Jewish, and also opponents of Zionism or critics of Israel. They included the noted American scholar, Dr Norman Finkelstein, and Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister in Nelson Mandela’s government.

I find it a matter of deep concern that the Daily Mail, the Board of Deputies and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, as well as Bristol University’s Jewish Society, are accusing Dr Miller of anti-Semitism through confusing Jew-hatred with anti-Zionism, just as was done four years ago to another academic at Bristol University, Dr Rachel Gould. Dr Gould was also accused of anti-Semitism because of comments she had made about Israel, despite she herself being Jewish. But the real existential threat to Jews in my opinion comes not from decent people criticising Israel, but from real Nazis like the utterly repellent and extremely violent National Action.

I am also astonished by the claim that Jewish students do not feel they are welcome at Bristol University because of Dr Miller’s comments. These were, as I said, about Zionism, not about Jews. One of the most important aspects of a university education – what makes it education rather than mere instruction – is the exposure to different views, opinions and perspectives. This should be able to include criticism of Zionism as a political doctrine while excluding the real political doctrines that threaten Jews and other minorities, like Fascism. Yet not only is it claimed that criticism of Zionism is supposedly anti-Semitic, but that Jewish students are too sensitive and delicate to be allowed to hear arguments against it for fear of offending them. This belittles these students’ resilience and ability to engage in robust debate.

I am also utterly disgusted at the way the organisations leading the campaign against Dr Miller are invoking the spectre of real, vicious anti-Semitic persecution and the Holocaust. Dr Miller has certainly said nothing to support such persecution. I am acutely aware that very many British Jews lost family and friends to the Nazis’ appalling persecution, and that their descendants and relatives are still traumatised and haunted by its horrors. I therefore find the invocation of such persecution by the Mail, CAA, and the Board of Deputies to be nothing less than grossly repulsive scaremongering in order to turn decent people away from a person who is, as far as I can see, completely innocent of real Jew-hatred.

I feel very strongly that Dr Miller is innocent of the anti-Semitism of which he is accused, and that it is his accusers, who are behaving in a vile and disgraceful fashion. I have no issue with his opponents defending Israel and challenging his views on Zionism, but feel it is utterly contemptible to do this by confusing it with real anti-Semitism. At the very least, abusing the accusation of anti-Semitism in this way robs it of its power to shock and identify real Nazis and anti-Semites.

Yours faithfully,

I don’t know if this will do any good or even be read. After I sent it I got an automatic message back from the programme telling me that it had been received, but they were receiving so many messages that it was impossible for them to reply individually. But I felt it had to be done, and will let you know if I get a reply from the programme.

Where Are All These Communists the Tories Claim Are Threatening Britain?

February 22, 2021

Okay, I might be a bit slow here, but I am starting to wonder what planet Nigel Farage, Priti Patel and the Tory party and press are on when they start screaming that British society is under threat from a resurgent, but covert Marxism? About a week or so ago now Zelo Street posted a piece about the McCarthyism that now seemed set to grip the nation. The smirking, odious, racist Priti Patel had announced that MI5 were looking into renewed threats from the Fascist far right and the Marxist left. According to her, the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Workers’ Party as it used to be known, might be infiltrating Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. Yup, as in the days of the Cold War, the Commies and Trots are at it again, trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and take them over.

In fairness, this was a tactic of the Socialist Workers Party, which practised something called ‘revolutionary entryism’. The idea was to infiltrate other left-wing organisations and try to turn them into front organisations for the party in an attempt to make Trotskyite Marxism something like a popular mass movement. They did it in the 1970s/80s to Rock Against Racism, which had been set up to challenge the rise of the NF, BNP and other Fascist scumbags. All that it achieved, however, was the collapse of the organisation as the majority of its membership left. They weren’t interested in Trotskyite Marxism. They simply wanted to hear some great bands while combating Fascism and racial hatred. It’s because of its antics attempting to infiltrate and take over every vaguely left-wing organisation, or capitalise on every left-wing issue at the expense of other organisations, that many on the left, from the moderate, reformist Labour Party to various anarchist groups, don’t trust the SWP.

Besides this is the fact that Black Lives Matter, or at least its American parent, is already a Marxist organisation. If the Socialist Workers were trying to infiltrate it, it would be a case of one Marxist group trying to take over another. It’s possible, but seems unlikely. It sounds like something from the Illuminatus! books by Robert Anton Wilson and O’Shea, about warring secret societies plotting against and trying to infiltrate each other.

As for Extinction Rebellion, from what little I’ve seen of its broader political content – and this comes from idly looking at one of the organisation’s posters put up on a wall while waiting for a taxi – it does seem to be a radical left organisation. It’s very anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist. But it seems to me that this comes from the very radical programme adopted by parts of the Green movement. When it first emerged in the 1980s or so, the German Green Party – Die Gruenen – included as one of its leading members the lawyer for the Bader-Meinhof gang. There’s a section of the anarchist movement that is also very ecologically aware. The American anarchist intellectual, Murray Bookchin, was advocating a green, eco-friendly anarchism back in the 1980s and in the 1990s there was a British anarchist mag called Green Anarchist, I believe. You don’t need to invoke the Trotskyites of the SWP to explain Extinction Rebellion’s socially radical, anti-capitalist programme.

Would the SWP be interested in infiltrating Extinction Rebellion? I don’t know. Possibly. But they aren’t nearly as strong as they were. I think Marxism as a whole suffered a loss of credibility with the fall of Communism, which might be why radical anti-capitalists seemed to switch to anarchism or else an undefined ‘anti-capitalism’ that could take in a range of socialist and radical left views. The Socialist Workers, now renamed as the Socialist Party, are still about. You can find their videos on YouTube. But even before the lockdown they didn’t seem to be the visible presence on the streets they used to be.

The Tories and their press need to scare people with a threat from the radical left. I remember that in the late ’80s and ’90s they switched from trying to frighten people with the bogeyman of Communist infiltration – although they’d done that with the Labour Party in the 1987 election – to anarchism with the rise of Class War. Now that Class War has also gone the way of many radical movements and fizzled out, the Tories in Britain and the Republicans in America have turned once again to invoking the spectre of Communism.

And because of the very anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-LGBTQ+ policies adopted by some universities, they’re now trying to claim that western education is under threat from Marxist infiltration. Nigel Farage apparently was in the pages of the Depress a few days ago, writing that the Marxist takeover of our education system was nearly complete. Really? I must have missed all that. There are Marxists in the universities, and have been for a very long time. And some of them are excellent scholars. I got a feeling that Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist who first devised the notion of the Neolithic Revolution – the idea that agriculture and the rise of the first settled societies were linked and constituted a radical break with the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleo- and Mesolithic – was a Communist. He was, however, a brilliant archaeologist and highly influential, even if recent excavations in Turkey have demonstrated that people were settling down into villages before the invention of agriculture. And yes, there are and have always been academics with very pronounced left-wing views. I can think of a number from my own experience as a student. But many others, probably the vast majority, aren’t. And some academics, who privately hold left-wing views, are very careful to keep them separate from their teaching. And whatever their political views, I think the main concern of all teaching staff, from university academics to school teachers, is simply to teach, not to indoctrinate students.

In any case, there are laws against political or religious indoctrination anyway. I think it was introduced by Blair. Teachers are not supposed to teach their political or religious opinions as fact. They are to avoid this as much as possible. If they can’t, then they are supposed to make clear that this is just their opinion. This legislation has been around since at least the middle of the last decade, if not earlier. It should provide sufficient protection already from attempts by the politically motivated to indoctrinate their students.

All these claims of a surreptitious takeover of the education system by Marxists seems to be a return to the days of Maggie Thatcher, when rags like the Depress, the Heil and the local paper for Bristol, the Evening Post, ran stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating their students. The Scum attempted to titillate and scare its readers with a tale about children in various London boroughs – possibly Brent – being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ as an anti-racist version of ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’. This is supposed to have been invented by the wretched rag, but I’ve talked to people, who’ve claimed that it was done in their former school, so who knows? At the same time, I’ve heard that Thatcher also introduced legislation with the intention of purging Marxists from the education system. In fact the Marxists got round it by claiming to be ‘Marxian’. They were only Marxists in culture. It was a fine distinction, but it allowed them to retain their jobs.

But apart from this, university is supposed to be a place for the formulation and discussion of a wide range of views. A vital part of the university experience is the exposure to different opinions and encouragement to form their own views. The current scaremongering about the Marxists trying to takeover the education system is the opposite of this. It’s an attempt to limit free speech and discussion, as Zelo Street pointed out, only the approved Tory views will be heard. Hence the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’.

Now I will concede that some student bodies are intolerant with protests against talks by visiting personalities they believe hold unacceptable views. Gender critical feminists and their allies, for example, have found themselves blocked from speaking at some universities because their views are held to be bigoted against the transgendered. But there’s also a cancel culture on the right. The estimable Tony Greenstein put up a piece last week about attempts by the Board of Deputies and Bristol University’s Union of Jewish Students to have one of the lecturers, David Miller, banned as an anti-Semite. This is not because of anything Miller has said against Jews. His cardinal sin is saying that Zionism must be destroyed. As we’ve seen, the Board and the other, establishment Jewish organisations are fanatically pro-Israel and conflate opposition to that nation, or simply criticism of its barbaric treatment of the indigenous Palestinians, with real Jew hatred. But Zionism has never been synonymous with Judaism. For many Jews, it’s diametrically opposed, as the graffiti on a wall in Jerusalem had it. Zionism is an ideology, not a people. Stating that Zionism needs to be destroyed is a contentious viewpoint, but it does not mean that the speaker wishes harm to the Jewish people.

Who is the free speech tsar, who will defend lecturers like David Miller? I think it would be a very brave politician who would risk damaging his or her career by doing so in the present political climate. Even if they had the inclination to do so, which the political establishment doesn’t.

I do find some of the radical policies now being implemented in some universities alarming, like the reports that students in some places of learning will be required to take compulsory anti-racism training in order to combat anti-Black racism on campus. It’s obviously very well intentioned, but as I’ve said, racism really isn’t simply a case of White on Black, and I am afraid such mandatory courses are based on a very simplistic view of Whites that sees White culture as innately racist, or inclined to racism. But I see absolutely no evidence that Marxists are behind it.

All this nonsense by Patel and the Tory press about Marxist infiltration is just another Red Scare in order to whip up support for legislation designed to purge the universities of anything that contradicts received Tory ideology. They are trying to destroy free speech, not defend it, and the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’ is in many ways dangerous and hypocritical.

For further information, see:

Zelo Street: Free Speech Champion WON’T BE (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Zelo Street: War On Woke = Government Censorship (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Defend Bristol University’s Professor David Miller – Defend Academic Freedom – Defend Free Speech – Tony Greenstein

If you wish to defend Dr Miller from these outrageous allegations, you can sign a petition at Change.org here, as I have done.

http://chng.it/rTqY9r2FgM

Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

November 3, 2020

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.