You may have heard of Keith Vaz MP. He is a narcissistic, walking, talking self-publicity machine, who has views on everything under the sun. He is always, without exception, right, even when he is wrong. Pompous does not go close. And now his latest wheeze is to call for the reintroduction of the law against blasphemy.
This, I suppose, would at least bring us into line with such enlightened countries as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where not only is the law against blasphemy still going strong, it also attracts the death penalty. Just think: if you make a joke about someone’s imaginary friend, you could end up being put to death. Makes sense.
Vaz made his remarks at an event organised by our old friends the Muslim council of Great Britain. Miqdaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the MCB, said “Muslim communities need to be able to respond to accusations [against] Muslims, or against the Prophet, in a more effective way.” In a more effective way than what? More effective than, perhaps, telling the police? And what sort of accusations is he referring to? None of this is made clear, but this doesn’t matter to Vaz why has “no problem” with a blasphemy law, adding: “Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to [a blasphemy law] … but it must apply equally to everybody.”
Now excuse me, but we do, allegedly, live in a free country where we have some freedom of expression. (I say “some” because there are already a number of laws which seek to deny some aspects of freedom of expression.) In such a society we should not only be able to express ideas, we must be able to criticise and indeed ridicule them, if we so choose. Why should religion be exempt from serious debate?
Mark Twain, for example, once said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Faith is belief without evidence, so why should we prevented from saying so? In many parts of the world, you’d end up in prison for saying these things. And why, if faith is such a good thing, is it not tested rigorously in the same way that science is? (Because if it was, the devout might not like the results.)
For those of us who are tired, exhausted even, by the pernicious influence of religion – all religion, but especially islam – the reintroduction of such a backward law would set a very poor example to the parts of the world we are trying to ween off religious extremism. I’d go further. I think the time has come when we need to ween everyone off religion, full stop.
Oh, you can’t un-invent religion at a stroke and I am certainly not saying you should ban it either but it requires forensic questioning. Do we really believe the ancient texts, often written hundreds of years later by people who weren’t even there and told to illiterate farmers who then passed the stories on to others, until god became real in the eyes of many and faith became ingrained in societies? Surely that deserves questioning, especially since half the people on earth live their lives on the basis of things that are probably, almost certainly in my opinion, not true. On the first day, man created god.
The last thing, the very last thing, we should do is to make blasphemy illegal. You can already be sent to prison for up to seven years for “religiously aggravated insults” which is bad and mad enough.
This is an argument about freedom of expression. More than ever, we need a secular state whereby no one of faith gains more privilege than anyone else. We need to be free to offend and free to be offended. And yes, free to believe and not believe.
There is not a bandwagon in town that hasn’t seen Keith Vaz climb on board throughout his political career. It’s about time this one was stopped in its tracks before the Godwhackers climb on board and before we know it we’ll enjoy the same freedom of expression of the good people of Islamabad.