Law is being used to prevent criticism of Islam

Andrew Brons

1ST DECEMBER 2010: This was a speech on the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation I was going to deliver to my Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE), yesterday morning.


However, the debate in LIBE co-incided with my voting in AFCO on the citizens' initiatives Contribution, so I was unable to attend.

But this is what I would have said:

"This is a splendid liberal proposition that tries to be kind to everybody but succeeds only in displaying its own internal contradictions. Most religions, however much good liberals might disapprove, insist on having strong opinions on human conduct of which they approve and human conduct of which they disapprove. They often seem to be particularly concerned with sexual conduct of which they disapprove. In these areas, we can either have freedom of religion for their adherents or we can have freedom of sexual minorities from being offended. We cannot have both.

The principle with which we have been presented with is of equal treatment of persons regardless of religion or belief. It does not say that religious doctrines should be immune from criticism or attack. However, the law is increasingly being used in member states to prevent such attack on one religious doctrine - Islam. Geert Wilders, somebody for whom I hold no particular brief, is being prosecuted in the Netherlands for criticising Muslim political and religious doctrines. In England a fifteen year old girl was arrested last Thursday for burning a copy of the Koran and positing it on Facebook. I can see no particular point in buying a copy of a religious book of which one disapproves and then setting fire to it. However, to criminalise such conduct is to protect religious doctrines as distinct from religious adherents. Furthermore, it shows scant regard for the beliefs of the book burner.

I have little sympathy even with individual book burners. However, book burning by states is an admission of totalitarianism. If we thought that book burning had disappeared with the unlamented demise of totalitarianism of the right and the left, we were quite wrong. Book burning is alive and well in many EU states."

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