If you want to see our grievance-ridden, huckster-driven future, looks to Northern Ireland, which has always been a world leader in the fevered politics of religious victimhood and aggression.
Just as the Tories and much of the politically-correct liberal centre think they can force us to be nice by allowing the cops to arrest those who ‘spread hate but do not break laws’ (in George Osborne’s sinister words) so Northern Ireland has all kinds of restrictions of ‘hate speech’ to police its rich and diverse tradition of religious bigotry.
I suppose it was inevitable that they would catch 78-year-old Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in North Belfast. The pastor is a protestant of the fundamentalist kind. Irish Catholics, one feels, would not be embraced as brothers and sisters in Christ at his church. As for Muslims, he told his congregation in May last year:
‘People say there are good Muslims in Britain – that may be so – but I don’t trust them.
‘Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.
‘In Muslim lands Christians are persecuted for their faith. Their homes are burned, their churches destroyed and hundreds of them literally have given their lives for Christ in martyrdom.’
He went on to say that, inevitably, Enoch Powell was right, and the children of immigrants were indeed making the streets run with blood.
There is no way you can defend him, but many ways in which you can maintain that his prejudices are none of the law’s business. If he had confined himself to arguing that Christians are persecuted for their faith in Saudi Arabia, or that Islamic State murders Christians along with so many others for not being Sunni Muslims, he would be telling no more than the truth. As for Islamist terrorism in Britain, the body count speaks for itself.
In any case, in damning Muslims for not being Christians, the pastor was expressing the view that fanatics of all faiths hold: reject all gods but ours, denounce all beliefs except the true faith, otherwise you are hell-bound. All the warm and fuzzy words on the BBC, all the progressive pontificators telling us that we mustn’t provoke the faithful, and all the syrupy calls for inter-faith dialogue, cannot quell the belief of the fundamentalist that Mohammed and Jesus can’t both be right.
I fear religion precisely because of its willingness to divide humanity into the damned and the saved. But even I wince at the notion of the law prosecuting fundamentalists, unless it can prove that their sermons are inciting violence.
But I suppose I am being too much of a picky liberal. If I were a Muslim, I am sure I would have agreed with Raied Al-Wazzan from the Belfast Islamic Centre, who said:
These are irresponsible comments coming from a person who is supposed to be in a responsible position. This is really inflammatory language and demonising all Muslims.
So concerned was Al-Wazzan that he agreed to become the chief prosecution witness in the Crown’s case against McConnell for contravening the catch-all charge of sending ‘grossly offensive’ communications over the internet. (McConnell’s sermon was streamed.) As I said, I wouldn’t have objected overmuch, particularly if I were a Muslim, and particularly when Northern Ireland has such a foul history of religious violence. Until, that is, I read Suzanne Breen in Friday’s Belfast Telegraph who revealed that Al-Wazzan was a fan of Islamic State. In a radio interview he had said that it had been a ‘positive force’ in his home town of Mosul in northern Iraq. Yes, of course he accepted that ‘there are other things going wrong there‘ and that, unfortunately, ‘they are murdering people,’ but we shouldn’t let these minor details distract us from the bigger picture. In remarks, which he later retracted, he continued:
Since the Islamic State took over, it has become the most peaceful city in the world. You can go from east to west of the city without fear.
Let me see if I can get this straight. In the name of fighting extremism, British prosecutors are relying on the evidence of a man, who at least for a while, regarded the rape and enslavement of captured women, the persecution and mass execution of Christians, Yezidis and Shia Muslims and the installation of a genocidal dictatorship as nothing when set against the peace Islamic State has brought.
In the name of defending diversity, Britain promotes the fellow travellers of theocracy. In the name of tolerance, it elevates the apologists of clerical fascism, and allows their notions of ‘offence’ to determine what freedom of speech British citizens can enjoy.
McConnell’s lawyer reasonably described the trial as a ‘pantomime’, and when the legal help of a Bible-basher sounds reasonable, Britain is in more trouble than it can imagine.
I and many other secularists oppose ‘hate speech’ codes, and say the law should only get involved when fanatics whip up violence, precisely because PC prosecutions are wide open to abuse. If Muslims goad the state into prosecuting a Protestant pastor, Christians will retaliate, Muslims will hit back, and so it will go on. Every variety of demagogue will whip up the faithful and build their congregation, by demanding that the full force of the law be brought against his chosen targets. Only prison sentences will be able to soothe the ‘offence’ they are so eager to take.
And if the state refuses, it will be Islamophobic, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, homophobic, gay friendly, sexist, man-hating or whatever other insult the zealot wants to throw at it. In other words, if there is a prosecution, the zealots can punish their victims. If there isn’t, they can play the victim. Either way they win.
The alternative is what it is has always been: take on the Pastor McConnells and Al-Wazzans in argument and thrash them. It’s not hard. It is not as if they have subtle points to confound us. The task should not be beyond sixth-form debaters. But it seems to be beyond modern Britain. So we scream for the cops and create a lawyers’ paradise where everyone can sue everyone else.