Sunday, December 12, 2004

Over in the UK, the inmates are in charge of the asylum

Ha ha! You can’t insult Islam but I can
Here’s a short Christmas quiz. Let me rephrase that. It’s a short Winterval quiz. I would not wish to frighten or alienate any Sunday Times readers by waving Jesus Christ in their faces.

Anyway, the first question is this. One of the two statements below may soon be illegal; the other will still be within the law. You have to decide which is which and explain, with the aid of a diagram, the logic behind the new provision. a) Stoning women to death for adultery is barbaric. b) People who believe it is right to stone women to death for adultery are barbaric.

The answer is that a) should be fine and b) may land you in court charged with inciting religious hatred against Islam, under new provisions in David Blunkett’s Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. He’s been a busy bee of late, hasn’t he.
Not exactly the insect I would have chosen.
The comedian Rowan Atkinson said this: “For telling a good and incisive joke (about religion), you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.”

Exactly — and Mr Blunkett was swift to respond. Apparently, comedians were to be exempt from the law. So, if I sail a little close to the wind in this article, please assume that I’m wearing a red nose.
Whew, what a relief! I can always claim to be a comedian and they'll let me visit.
But if I said people who believed in something that was stupid were themselves therefore stupid, would that land me in the dock? “Um. Not sure. Possibly. I just don’t know at this stage. It has to go to the attorney-general first. I suppose, if it were likely to incite people to hate Muslims.” Then the press officer said this. “There are no definitive answers.”

That strikes me as a problem, because the police and the CPS and the judiciary, when they’re attempting to bring a prosecution or trying a case, have a penchant for definitive answers.

Later the press officer rang back. “It’s all about context,” she said. “If you wrote something in your column about Islam the CPS might not be interested, but if the same thing was said by Nick Griffin (the British National party leader) in a pub in Bradford, they might well be.”

So I’m exempt too. Mr Blunkett, or his office, has bestowed upon me an honorary red nose, for which many thanks. But Nick Griffin isn’t exempt. Doesn’t that strike you as a tad unfair, a shade undemocratic? Can you imagine the court case against him? And his defence? Would it be okay if he’d said it in a pub in Droitwich, or Diss? I quite like the idea of person-specific crimes, mind. Perhaps we could devise an offence for which only, say, Robert Kilroy-Silk or Ainsley Harriott were prosecutable.
Maybe there should be special provision by their National Health Service for the clue impaired.