Muslim MP would support fresh UK blasphemy laws
Labour MP Keith Vaz, above, who, in 1989, led a march of several thousand Muslims demanding that Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses be banned, says he would have ‘no problem’ with the recriminalisation of ‘blasphemy’ in the UK.
Following a Muslim Council of Britain conference last week entitled “Exploring the issues of extremism and examine credible responses to the issues of terrorism”, Vaz, who addressed the conference, was quoted by Al Arabiya News as saying that he would have:
No problem with blasphemy laws being reintroduced, under certain conditions. They should apply to all religions. If we have laws, they should apply to everybody. Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to them … but it must apply equally to everybody.
Britain’s ancient laws of blasphemy were abolished in 2008. They had largely fallen into disuse by then, given that the last successful prosecution was in 1977. But talk of their reintroduction surfaced in the wake of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, and the magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, which many Muslims deem offensive.
Talk of reintroducing blasphemy legislation arises over dissatisfaction over the the lack of power the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has to punish “grossly irresponsible” coverage of Muslim issues by some media.
The press watchdog does not currently have the power to pursue complaints of discrimination against groups of people, such as those of Muslim faith, if no individual is specified in an offending article.
But the Muslim Council of Britain and the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, have both called for that to change, amid what some claim is “slanted” press coverage of Islamic issues.
Anderson said some mainstream media have been “grossly irresponsible” in their coverage of such issues. And while IPSO can pursue complaints of discrimination against an individual, it cannot act when an entire religious group is attacked, he told the conference delegates.
It’s more difficult if there is a derogatory comment about Islam. And it seems to me that this is one thing that the press standards authority ought to think about.
Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Anderson said some media headlines about Muslims were “inflammatory”.
It is profoundly damaging to cohesion when journalists misreport stories by attaching the label ‘Muslim’. And I can’t see why Muslims should not be able to complain about that in the name of their faith.
The MCB has previously criticised media coverage of scandals such as the so-called ‘Muslim grooming gangs’, in which groups of men in areas such as Rotherham, Derby, Bristol and Oxfordshire were accused of raping thousands of children.
Representatives of the MCB have said that linking the story to the Muslim faith was not fair. Miqdaad Versi, above, Assistant Secretary General of the MCB, also lamented the fact that there is currently “no recourse” under the press standards code when a particular group is attacked by the media.
There’s been many examples in the media, where we’ve tried to go to the code but we’ve not been able to. If there is a way that a representative group can launch a complaint on that issue, that would be valuable.
Versi said it was difficult to determine where the “red line” should be when it comes to free speech.
Muslim communities need to be able to respond to accusations against Muslims, or against the “Prophet” Mohammed, in a more effective way, he said.
Whether there should be legislation is something that really is a more complicated question.
One of the most high-profile cases in which IPSO rejected a claim of discrimination came last spring, and involved a column in the Sun newspaper about the migration crisis. Controversial columnist Katie Hopkins suggested that Europe should use gunboats to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean, and compared those fleeing their home countries to “cockroaches.”
IPSO rejected complaints over her column, because it did not refer to specific individuals.