Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Guest post: Spray-painted burkas and religious freedom

Preaching is the best antidote to violent jihadism, says Rev. Julian Mann

Liberal intellectuals are unwise to scoff at Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn. His journalism on Jihadist activity in East London is of the highest quality.

His commentary today on the case of two young Muslims convicted for painting a burka on a bus shelter poster of Kelly Brook shows why anybody committed to liberty as it has developed in Britain should be concerned about the threat to it from radical Islam.

It would be easy to dismiss the individuals responsible for the bus shelter incident, Mohammed Hasnath and Muhammed Tahir, as ‘harmless eccentrics’, he writes, but ‘their actions come against a backdrop of growing militancy among young Muslim men and attempts to impose Sharia law on whole areas of Britain. The most serious incident of religious intolerance in Tower Hamlets came back in April. I brought you the story of a 31-year-old Asian shop assistant in fear of her life because she refused to hear a headscarf’.

Mr Littlejohn argues that Messrs Hasnath and Tahir should have been convicted for ‘religiously aggravated’ damage (the offence they were originally charged with) rather than ‘common or garden criminal damage’ (what they pleaded guilty to).

‘But their actions were religiously motivated,’ he writes. ‘The same philosophy underpins both painting a burka on Kelly Brook and issuing death threats against a woman shop assistant who refuses to wear a headscarf.’

That is true, but the law should only come into play in the criminal damage part of the equation. Prosecuting people for ‘religiously aggravated’ offences not only makes martyrs of extremists but threatens the very liberty the extremists want to undermine.

The same politically-correct culture that produced ‘religiously-aggravated’ offences has also given birth to attempts to impose hate speech legislation where the Attorney-General is left to decide the verbal parameters in which one is allowed to criticise another person's religion.

That is ironic because what is needed to counter the growth of Islamic extremism in the UK is not less free speech for fear of upsetting people but more of it.

The answer to the bad preaching of the Jihadists is good preaching not no preaching.

As a Christian, I would like to see more preaching of Christianity, including the separation of church and state that allows both religious toleration and persuasion to flourish. But a committed secular ideology with a basis for countering Jihadism is better than nothing.

The Jihadists win in a postmodern philosophical culture where ‘tolerance’ spells ‘whatever’. Whatever religion you want to believe, that’s OK - I won’t criticise it because I might upset you.

But religious ideas matter because they lead to actions, so bad religion needs to be argued against.

Jesus Christ argued and he upset people.

A culture that allows his kind of preaching is the surely best defence against violent Jihadism.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire - www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk