Jewish World Review July 20, 2004/ 2 Menachem-Av, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Hating the crime, hating the criminal | Hate is not nice. Everybody knows that. But trying to define and eliminate hate with legislation is not as easy as the busybodies think it is. You could ask Tony Blair.

The lessons Mr. Blair is learning the hard way have application elsewhere, specifically here in America, where our own busybodies as well lust to fit the tongues of all with chastity belts, and where our own leaders sometimes pander to alien religious leaders who cry peace, peace, when and where there is no peace.

The usually levelheaded prime minister has succumbed to the persuasion of radical Islamic imams and their apologists in Britain, and has proposed a law to criminalize mere criticism of the faith of Mohammed. A lot of Englishmen are outraged.

Mr. Blair and his Home secretary, David Blunkett, describe their legislation in more delicate terms, of course. Mr. Blunkett insists that his law would merely "ban incitement to religious hatred," and would protect every faith. But no one doubts which religion the Labor government is pandering to. Jews and Christians don't want such "protection," understanding the dreadful implications even if the government officials don't, and cheerfully concede that all faiths, including Judaism and Christianity, should be fair game for criticism. Vilification, even, as long as the vilification stops short of prescribing the application of sticks and stones.

The growing number of radical Muslims in Britain has set polite British society on edge. Coming from places where "faith" is imposed by the force of law, and unbelief is occasionally punished by hanging or beheading, many new Islamic immigrants in the land of the Magna Carta are scandalized by the abundance of free and easy speech. They demand the cops put a stop to it.

Since politicians in Britain, like politicians everywhere, are always on the scout for a new cluster of aggrieved voters to whom they can genuflect, the legislation demanded by Muslims seemed at first a slam-dunk. The issue has been exacerbated by the visit to London of a Muslim divine named Yusef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian scholar who preaches that devout Muslims have an obligation to beat their wives ("avoid their faces and other sensitive parts"); that children should be encouraged to become suicide bombers; that Jews, homosexuals and British soldiers should be murdered; and for good measure, Rome should be usurped, desecrated and colonized in the name of the prophet.

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This preaching has appalled Britons, except in the mosques (where it receives loud huzzahs and amens), and criticism of Dr. al-Qaradawi is what incited certain British imams to demand, ever more loudly, legislative "relief."

Ken Livingstone, the goofy mayor of London once derided as "Red Ken" until his Marxist faith was repealed with the collapse of international communism, insists that the criticism of the distinguished Islamic scholar's preaching "showed why this legislation is necessary." His Honor's endorsement of the legislation echoed the remarks of one Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, who said the British should be allowed (italics mine) not to believe in Islam, but they should not be permitted to "criticize" it.

The law does not define "criticism," but churchmen, commentators and even — or maybe especially — entertainers think they know how empowered Muslim radicals would define it. When London's police commissioner said he didn't want his officers on the same stage with Dr. al-Qaradawi at a conference on child welfare, the Muslim Association of Britain demanded a royal inquiry into the commissioner's "bigotry."

Rowan Atkinson, the "Mr. Bean" of the BBC (and PBS) television series, says Monty Python, with its irreverent sendups of rampant religiosity and ecclesiastical pomposities, would never survive Mr. Blunkett's law. Neither could Christian evangelism, with its fervent teaching that "Christ is the answer." Even reading from Winston Churchill's memoirs could be worth a term in the pokey. "How dreadful," wrote Sir Winston in "The River War," his 1899 account of war in the Sudan, "are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is the fearful fatalistic apathy. ... No stronger retrograde force exists in the world."

Tough enough stuff, but it's the stuff that marks the robust give and take in the democratic societies of the West, where no creed, no dogma, no ideology is beyond debate, dispute and even rhetorical ridicule. Tony Blair, like the other leaders of the West, should be offering instruction to his Muslim immigrants, not stooping to pander. It's what civilization is all about.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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