Hatred and religion are close kin. Nor is this solely a manifestation of original sin. How could hatred be avoided when both sides claim a monopoly of the truth which brings eternal life to those who accept it and eternal damnation to those who reject it?
In the days when religion dominated British intellectual life, the phrase 'odium theologicum'" the hatreds associated with theological disputes " had become a clich. Yet that only referred to intra-Christian arguments. Today, Muslims are making converts in Africa. Many of the new adherents to Islam are apostates from Christianity. A hundred years ago, when the Christian hierarchies were unapologetic about their faith, one can imagine the reaction. Here were poor benighted Africans, only recently rescued from heathendom, being lured into immortal peril by the wiles of Islam. In those days, it is probable that the outraged Christian missionaries would have demanded the assistance of the civil power.
Muslims are still unapologetic about their faith. That is why there are hardly any Islamic countries in which it is legal, or safe, for Christian missionaries to proselytise. Muslims are equally unapologetic " and intolerant " about the Koran. Modern scholarship has produced a lot of evidence that the writing of the Koran was a much more complex and protracted business than Islamic teaching would have us believe. It appears that the Koran did not achieve its final shape until some decades after Mohammed's death. This is not widely known in the Islamic world. There is no equivalent of the eagerness with which Christian theologians have embraced the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even in the West, Koranic scholars tend not to seek publicity for their revisionist endeavours.
But whenever the Koran was written, it contains some " literally " damning comments about Jews and Christians. There are passages which would not discourage suicide bombers. There are also passages in the New Testament which have encouraged violence. The Jewish mob brushes aside Pilate's attempts to spare Christ and demands His crucifixion while embracing blood guilt: 'Then answered all the people and said, His blood be on us and on our children.' Down the Christian centuries, this has often been treated as a guilty plea to the charge of deicide, thus justifying the most hideous crimes against Jews.
It is true that modern Christianity has abased itself in apology for these blood libels. But the words are still there, in the Gospels of peace and love. Many Jewish leaders were unhappy about Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ. Yet it was well sourced in the New Testament. It is not inconceivable that the same passages could still inspire some disturbed obsessive to arson or bloodshed.
So one might have thought that any legislator who was serious about proscribing religious hatred would start by demanding that the Koran or the Bible should only be published in bowdlerised versions (these days, the Christians might agree). Such a suggestion would be absurd, yet it is the logical conclusion of the Government's current moves to criminalise religious hatred, which is why the current Bill is illogical and absurd, as well as a violation of a vital human right: free speech.
As the US Supreme Court once acknowledged, freedom of speech is not an absolute entitlement; no one has the right to shout 'Fire' in a crowded theatre. In practice, however, the First Amendment to the US Constitution gives Americans an almost untrammelled right to free speech on the basis that no democracy can flourish without a robust exchange of opinions. …