ON the same day that a British barrister was reported as saying that sharia was “compatible with human rights”, and was good for the “community as a whole”, a Muslim fanatic forced the cancellation of a discussion of Islamic law at a London university on Monday.
Jennifer Hardy, President of the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society at Queen Mary University, London, said here:
Five minutes before the talk was due to start a man burst into the room holding a camera phone and for some seconds stood filming the faces of all those in the room.
He shouted ‘listen up all of you, I am recording this, I have your faces on film now, and I know where some of you live’. At that moment he aggressively pushed the phone in someone’s face and then said ‘and if I hear that anything is said against the holy Prophet Muhammad, I will hunt you down.’ He then left the room and two members of the audience applauded.
The fanatic also also filmed students in the foyer and threatened to murder them and their families.
The talk was due to be delivered by National Secular Society council member Ann Marie Waters on behalf of the One Law for All Campaign. She said:
Rather fittingly – and as if to prove my point – my human rights were quashed by a person demonstrating one of the effects of sharia law; the threat of violence for criticising religion.
Jennifer Hardy added:
This event was supposed to be an opportunity for people of different religions and perspectives to debate at a university that is supposed to be a beacon of free speech and debate.
Only two complaints had been made to the Union prior to the event, and the majority of the Muslim students at the event were incredibly supportive of it going ahead.
These threats were an aggressive assault on freedom of speech and the fact that they led to the cancellation of our talk was severely disappointing for all of the religious and non-religious students in the room who wanted to engage in debate.
On reflection of the incident, I am left wondering what exactly we could have done. I would love to say that we stood up to him and carried on bravely in a valiant defence of free speech, but it was a frightening experience and I know that people felt genuinely threatened and upset. In any case, is it the role of speakers and students to face off against potentially violent Islamists in defence of our free speech, risking our safety in the process? Just whose job is it to defend freedom of speech and can we be expected to fight for it when the state and other powers refuse to back us up?
Question: can you remember the last time you heard the Government – or any political party – give a robust and dogged defence of free speech? No, neither can I. But there have been plenty of opportunities.
Take the Danish cartoon affair for example. Look at the pathetic response of the British Government at the time; ‘There is freedom of speech, we all respect that … But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary. It has been insensitive. It has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.’ Even the UN said it would investigate whether the cartoonists were racists. How can we expect people in a university lecture hall to stand up to violent threats when this is the reaction of our leaders? The message is very clear – don’t insult religion. And if you do, and you get in to trouble for it, you have only yourself to blame (or ‘don’t come crying to us’?)
Freedom of speech needs to be defended from above. We need prosecution and punishment of those intent on frightening people into staying silent. Until the state speaks out and makes it clear to the likes of this guy that this behaviour is not acceptable – no excuses, no apologies – these things will continue to happen and more and more people will be frightened in to shutting up. We can then say goodbye to freedom for good.
Hat tip: Great Satan, Graham Martin-Royle, Adam Tjaavk