Sunday, December 12, 2004
Charles Moore asks a few trick questions for the pc crowd: Is it only Mr Bean who resists this new religious intolerance?.
Was the prophet Mohammed a paedophile? The question is sometimes asked because one of his wives, Aisha, was a child when he married her. As Barnaby Rogerson gingerly puts it in his highly sympathetic recent biography (The Prophet Muhammad, Little, Brown): "…the age disparity was considerable: she was only nine while Muhammad was 53". Aisha was taken from her seesaw on the morning of her marriage to be dressed in her wedding garment. After sharing a bowl of milk with the prophet, she went to bed with him. ...
Iqbal Sacranie, of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, wants the new law because any "defamation of the character of the prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him)" is a "direct insult and abuse of the Muslim community". In effect, he is asking for the law of libel to be extended beyond the grave, giving religious belief a protection extended to no other creed or version of history.
Where does all this come from? Not, I fear, from the right, if misapplied, desire for different faiths to live at peace. Incitement to violence, after all, is already an offence, and so it should be. No, the pressure is chiefly from Muslims. If we want to understand its context, we should look at what happens in Muslim societies.
According to Muslim law, believers who reject or insult Islam have no rights. Apostasy is punishable by death. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, death is the penalty for those who convert from Islam to Christianity. In Pakistan, the blasphemy law prescribes death for anyone who, even accidentally, defiles the name of Mohammed. In a religion which, unlike Christianity, has no idea of a God who himself suffers humiliation, all insult must be avenged if the honour of God is to be upheld.
Under Islam, Christians and Jews, born into their religion, have slightly more rights than apostates. They are dhimmis, second-class citizens who must pay the jiyza, a sort of poll tax, because of their beliefs. Their life is hard. In Saudi, they cannot worship in public at all, or be ministered to by clergy even in private. In Egypt, no Christian university is permitted. In Iran, Christians cannot say their liturgy in the national language. In almost all Muslim countries, they are there on sufferance and, increasingly, because of radical Islamism, not even on that.
The ancient plurality of the region is vanishing. Tens of thousands are fleeing the Muslim world, and in some countries - Sudan, Indonesia, Ivory Coast - large numbers die, on both sides. In Iraq, the intimidation of Christians is enormous. Five churches have suffered bomb attacks this year. Christians in Mosul have received letters saying that one member of each family will be killed to punish women who do not wear the headscarf. According to Dr Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund, a charity working for persecuted Christians, "Christians in Iraq are isolated and vulnerable this Christmas, and feel that they have been let down, even betrayed, by their fellow Christians in the West, especially the Church leadership".
The push for a religious hatred law here is an attempt to advance the legal privilege that Muslims claim for Islam.