Sunday, June 26, 2005

Religious Hatred Law in the UK -- Update

In the UK, NPR cites a growing 'backlash' against the proposed law banning speech that expresses "religious hatred."

Besides Salman Rushdie, Michael Palin of Monty Python (think of the parody of Christianity in The Life of Brian) and Rowan Atkinson of "Mr. Bean" have come out against the bill, as potentially restricting legitimate artistic expression that criticizes religious groups. Even after the Labour party made the language in the bill stronger to try and avoid confusion over what exactly is being banned, there is still evidently some confusion. The Labour Party says it's banning hate speech that targets "individuals," not "ideas," but this is a little vague. The kinds of statements that usually constitute religious hate speech targets groups by definition (the group element is what makes it hate speech!), and the line between religious groups and their religious ideas can be thin.

The pros and cons of this law were also discussed at Crooked Timber a number of times last December (start here).

The potential for abuse is very high, so I'm skeptical about whether this law is a good idea. But it looks like the Labour Party is sticking with it in the current party platform.


Sunil Laxman said...

Some how I feel that whenever something like this becomes a law, it just ends up entrenching existing feelings/hatreds etc. It just makes divisions more pronounced.

1:04 AM  
anangbhai said...

If I remember my research correctly, the encounter specialist Sadhu Agashe in Chappan was based on is named Dayan Nayak who holds a record of 83 kills. He was recently investigated because he took time off on sick leave and actually went to advise filmmakers on a Kannada biopic on him.
Also, he likes to point out that he has made more arrests than kills, and that the arrests are usually more important.
He exclaims that the encounter specialist title was created for criminals who escape through loopholes in the law, though he denies ever setting up criminals for an encounter.
I personally am divided on the police brutality issue, though i don't advocate filling up a suspect with 123 bullets, but I've known some cops (mostly friends parents) and to hear them tell it its worse for them than the criminals on the street because they're so damn identifiable, and there has to be a batman like mentality otherwise they won't be feared and not get their job done. Then there is the philosophical discussion of cops being similar in nature to criminals (and Agashe's comment about having a gang of 40,000) and that the number of cops on the street is inversely related to the number of criminals etc.

1:53 AM  
coolie said...

Badly thought out legislation. A couple of amendments to existing law to make violence aggravated by religious hatred a steeper offence would do the trick. As it stands this is dangerously close to restricting freedom of speech and the right to criticise religions.

5:54 AM  
Amardeep said...

Sunil and Coolie,

The funny thing is, they mean well. This law has been pushed especially hard by leaders in the Muslim community, who feel they've been the target of a great deal of harrassment of late.

Noting that, Rushdie, cleverly but a little cynically, has suggested that it's a sop to British Muslims after the debacle of the Iraq War. Labour is feeling a bit guilty and embarrassed...

I'm not sure I buy that connection -- one can easily see how they got to this law from the existing hate-speech law pertaining to race and racism.

And Anangbhai,

First of all, I should point out that you're responding to a comment I left to this post. And yes, the issues with police brutality are really complex. They have huge funding problems, are paid badly, are understaffed, and are hampered by an archaic legal system. But I still don't buy the rationale that making "more arrests than kills" is somehow a legitimate defense...

11:09 AM  
coolie said...


Suspicions have been raised that some of those religious bodies who are campaigning for the legislation see it as a way of effectively having it as a kind of blasphemy law that will enable them to prosecute against robust criticism of themselves, or even against internal criticism.

Ian Mc Ewan says as much in a letter he has written to Tony Blair on behalf of British PEN, which you can read as a pdf here:

It is worth reading.

1:00 PM  

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