Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Britain’s new state religion

It is official: you can insult or ridicule a religion and cause distress to its followers with impunity. The law will protect this behaviour as an exercise of the right to free speech. I never supported the new legislation to outlaw religious discrimination and incitement to hatred, suspecting that it was more likely to be used against Muslims rather than to protect them. But that is beside the point. It remains a fact that Muslims are the only religious community not protected under British law. Other religions manage to take cover under the race relations legislation and Christianity has the blasphemy laws.

The legal landscape in Britain is becoming increasingly bizarre: Yesterday the conviction of a young Muslim law student was confirmed of having caused distress to a police officer by calling him racist. You must not ridicule or insult a police officer. You must not criticise the system. Yet you can ridicule and insult the religious identity of billions of people world-wide without impunity. Nothing is sacred in Britain except the British state itself and its institutions.

The Universal Declaration of Human rights, that grand holy text of secular society, has in its short half-a-century history been eroded beyond recognition because of the unwillingness of secularists to afford people with religious beliefs the same rights and protection as themselves. Article 2 sets out that the rights declared should be the entitlement of all without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We all know this to be a farce when a British Home Office minister can publicly pronounce that people of Asian or Muslim origin should expect to be singled out during stop and search procedures.

Article 5 states that no-one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition spring readily to mind. Article 7’s equal protection before the law does not apply to those detained under suspicion of terrorism on the basis of secret evidence and who do not have an effective remedy to fight the violation of their fundamental rights as postulated in article 8. When article 9 says that no-one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, we can all laugh out loud. Article 10 about the entitlement to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him does not apply to detainees either.

Even MPs are no longer protected under article 12 demanding that no-one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, since MI5 now also wants to intercept their communications. Article 18 postulates that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Muslim women in France or Turkey will read this with amazement when there right to an education granted in article 26 is denied to them on account of manifesting their religion by wearing a head scarf.

I’ve only mentioned a third of the totality of articles in this document hailed by the secularists as one of their greatest achievements, and I could go on demolishing another third as by now meaningless and irrelevant platitudes that governments only pay lip service to. Those governments still use human rights as a stick to beat other countries with when criticising their human rights record, but get very touchy when challenged on their own behaviour. The simple fact is that authority is based on power, and power corrupts.

Britain is no longer a Christian country. Having curbed the influence of the church the secular establishment resist that any other religion should be allowed to take hold to any degree. As secularism and liberalism resent being portrayed as substitute religions, the new object of worship becomes authority itself. Just like in the days of the pharaohs and god kings, authority is sacred. If a police officer harasses you, you are expected to be grateful for receiving attention by this representative of the state. To call him a racist is tantamount to blasphemy.

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