Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Salman Rushdie Murder: A Tragic Anniversary Passes Without Justice..

The Government's New Racial & Religious Hatred Bill Gives Encouragement to the Perpetrators

Professor Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered by an Islamist on his campus in Japan 14 years ago today. He translated Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, into Japanese.

(I wonder, as an aside, whether that language could possibly have borne the beauty that Rushdie achieved in English.. "and that the silvery land of the past was her preferred abode.. the way she looked in the mirror when noone else was in the room". From memory.. something like that. Igarashi is a hero for even attempting it, requiring no martyrdom.)

The crime was part of an ongoing international criminal conspiracy to incite and commit murder, which has claimed many other victims. The people who are carrying out these acts do so because they have a subjective perception that the novel is offensive to a 'prophet', that is to say, one of very many individuals who have claimed that they received communications from a supernatural being. The murderer has still not been apprehended. The Japanese statute of limitations runs for 15 years.

Today's anniversary comes at an extraordinarily poignant time. In the Netherlands, another Islamist murderer has today confessed in court to his crime. Mohammed Bouyeri murdered the film director Theo van Gogh because he thought that Van Gogh's film 'Submission', which criticised the attitude of the Islamic religion to women, merited this action. He explained this to the victim's mother:

"I have chopped off his head according to the law that orders me to do so to
everyone who offends Allah. I do not not feel your pain..”

The killer pinned a note to Van Gogh's corpse which threatened a Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She has subsequently spent every day in hiding, in fear of her life for good reason, as gangster law rules her state.

Freedom to criticise religion and the religious has undeniably been severely curtailed throughout the world. In the UK, these events have inspired other religious groups to act against those they perceive to have been offensive either to them or the disposition of the supernatural.

In Birmingham last year, Sikhs caused criminal damage and issued plausible death threats to prevent the performance of a play, 'Bezhti', which depicted the abuse of young people by religious elders. Their terrorist tactics have successfully resulted in the enactment of a form of gangster law: The play has still not been performed. You still cannot see it. Innocent people have been prevented by violence from going about their lawful business.

Christianists then jumped on the bandwagon, and issued threats against the BBC staff responsible for a programme called 'Jerry Springer - the Opera', a weak musical satire of the media which they perceived to be offensive to another deity.

Given these facts, the only valid inference is that the criticism of religion needs active protection in all countries, whether this requires new legislation or the more forceful prosecution of existing laws (in the UK, by the offence of incitement to murder, perhaps).

How sickening it is, as Igarashi's grim anniversary causes us to reconsider the horror of 'the Rushdie Affair', that the UK Government has instead bizarrely concluded that it is religions that need to be protected from criticism, rather than the other way round. The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill passed the Commons yesterday. For the third time, this special protection for religion will be demolished by the Lords & returned to the Commons.

The enactment remains as it has always been: so vapid, so willfully vague* that no attempt has been made by the Government to defend it by explaining what harm it would allay. Instead, all criticism of its potential breadth is deferred to the excruciating wisdom of posterity's Attorney General, in whom the discretion to prosecute will lie. The notion that British subjects might want to know how they stand in relation to the law is cast aside in favour of considerations as mysterious as they are decisive. We will have to self-censor.

All of those responsible for the criminal actions described above believed they were in the right, that those who stirred up contempt for their deities deserved punishment ordained by celestial law. The Government's new Bill can only convince them that British law concurs. They were right, they knew it, Igarashi's widow mourns, and Ali hides. The Government has decided that it is the religious who need protection.

*What is 'religious belief'? The Commons has concluded that, because it cannot possibly attempt to define it, the courts will do so. Likewise, the notion exists within the Bill that it will be persons, not religions, that are protected. But 'groups of persons' are defined only by their religion. So it is the religion that will be protected. Example of the absurdities which might result are treated as a matter for the discretion of prosecuters.

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