Let’s criminalise blasphemy so we don’t have to kill the blasphemers


I might be verballing some of the people quoted in the BBC reporting, but not by much.

On 24 March this year, Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah was brutally murdered in his store by one Tanveer Ahmed, a taxi driver from Bradford. Initial reports speculated that Shah was murdered for posting a message on Facebook wishing “a very happy Easter to my beloved Christian nation”.

The reality turned out to be slightly different but no less disturbing. The Shah family migrated twenty years ago from Pakistan to escape religious persecution. Ahmadiyya, a sect to which the Shah family belonged, are considered heretics for believing that Mohammed was not the final prophet sent by Allah. While living and working in Scotland, Asad Shah propagated his beliefs in a series of YouTube vidoes; in some of them he even claimed to be a prophet himself.

Tanveer Ahmed saw some of Shah’s videos, travelled north to Glasgow, and after arguing with Shah in his shop, killed him, because as he later said in a pre-trail statement, “Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet.”

Tanveer is serving a sentence of 27 years for the murder. He remains unrepentant.

As disturbing as the killing of Asad Shah was, so are some of the reactions gathered by BBC’s Secunder Kermani:

I met friends of his in Bradford who told me they sympathised with his motivation even if they didn’t completely agree with his actions…

A spokesman for the Council of Mosques in Bradford – where Tanveer Ahmed lived – told me that while he completely condemned all acts of violence, one solution would be to introduce a blasphemy law in Britain.

Most people nowadays, having grown up in a secular Western culture that values the separation of church and state, would consider blasphemy to be a victimless crime: if a supernatural entity is offended, let him/her/it take care of it. Personally I’m not a big fan of offending other people’s faith and I feel slightly sorry for some militant atheists in particular who seem to have some deep psychological need to do so in the vilest possible terms. But equally I’m not a big fan of infringing other people’s freedom of speech, and I don’t believe that being offended is a good enough reason to silence someone – even more so if you are really being offended on behalf of someone else, including a deity or a religious figure. World would be a better place if we tried to be more polite and considerate to others, but these are private virtues to be cultivated and not public duties to be mandated by the state and enforced by its instrumentalities.

Not surprisingly, many people don’t share my views on this topic.

In 2011, a Pakistani politician Salman Taseer, who tried to reform the country’s blasphemy laws was killed by a man called Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri was executed in February this year but he is widely considered a hero and martyr by people who saw Taseer as a blasphemer. Kermani reports:

We’re used to small minorities within the British Muslim community holding extreme views, but what’s different this time is that many of the most vocal supporters of Mumtaz Qadri in the UK completely oppose groups like the Taliban and so-called Islamic State.

That includes Pirzada Muhammad Masood Qadiri, an Islamic scholar from Bolton. When Mumtaz Qadri was executed in Pakistan, he flew out to attend the funeral and express his support for him.

“The views of ISIS – these views are completely against Islam. In fact, we are the victims of their attacks,” he said.

“Our leaders and scholars have tolerated a lot and behaved peacefully throughout history – but when our prophet is insulted then we Muslims cannot tolerate that. We can tolerate everything but not an insult to his honour.”

Masood Qadiri refers to Mumtaz Qadri as both a “martyr” and a “warrior” – but says that he doesn’t condone the fact Mumtaz Qadri took the law into his own hands in committing murder.

He argues Mumtaz Qadri didn’t have a fair trial – and effectively blames the victim for provoking the attack with his statements on the blasphemy law.

“If a very decent person has his wife or mother insulted then he cannot control his feelings and so he will put his decency and proper thinking to the side and get very angry and out of control.

“And that’s what has happened. In this case he [Mumtaz Qadri] lost all control over his feelings and could not control his anger.”

As a result he says Mumtaz Qadri should have been freed on grounds of diminished responsibility – something that seems incredible, but is a view articulated by other British Muslim clerics too.

How long before provocation and diminished responsibility indeed will be seriously invoked in cases of religious violence in the West? And what’s the bet that large sections of the left, which champion all sorts of restrictions on “offensive”, “provocative” or “ridiculing” speech, will in at least some cases (perhaps short of murder) prove to be understanding of and sympathetic to this sorts of arguments?

An even greater danger is that more than two centuries after the Enlightenment, blasphemy laws will again become a respectable legal option, not because – as the previously quoted spokesman for the Council of Mosques in Bradford would argue – if you can shut people up by law you will save them from being killed by people who would have otherwise taken offence, but because there is such a thin line between concepts like racial vilification and religious vilification.

In the left’s victimhood Olympics, Islam’s views on women and homosexuals (and others) are trumped by the fact that Muslims more often than not fit the criteria of the deeply cherished and worshipped “Other”; they are migrants and refugees, people of different ethnicities and colours than the boring native white, often victims of Western imperialism and generally wronged, persecuted and victimised. This means that the left will be inclined to do for Islam what it would never consider doing for Christianity. We all, Christians included, should be very wary.