Report: ‘blasphemy’ backlash could lead to violence

Posted: Tue, 25th Jul 2023

Report: ‘blasphemy’ backlash could lead to violence

Religious backlash to 'blasphemy' could "inspire intimidation, violence and even mass killings" in the UK, a new report has warned.

The report, published by the Henry Jackson Society, cites recent examples of how extreme anti-blasphemy actions have led to death threats.

These include Kettlethorpe High School, where a student scuffed a Quran, and Batley Grammar School, where a teacher was forced into hiding after showing pupils cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

It also draws on the 2016 murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow by an Islamist extremist who sought to defend the "honour" of Muhammad.

Shah was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which believes that Muhammad was not the final prophet. This belief is considered blasphemous by many Muslims and in Pakistan it is a criminal offence for Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims.

The report says a Pakistan-based religious movement known as Khatme Nubuwaat, which advocates capital punishment for Ahmadis, has been linked to extreme anti-blasphemy actions in the UK.

Extreme anti-blasphemy action deserves the same attention as "the likes of Al-Qaida and Isis", the report says, noting the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine and the 2020 murder of Samuel Paty in France as examples of the most extreme outcomes.

It also remarks on a "subculture of competition" between certain Islamic sects to demonstrate the most zealous defence against perceived insults to Muhammad.

The report recommends an interdepartmental task force be set up to investigate anti-blasphemy actions at schools; local councillors receive dedicated training to respond to anti-blasphemy actions; and the Department for Education issue robust public statements that prioritise upholding free speech in response to anti-blasphemy actions.

It comes in the wake of the UN Human Rights Council passing a resolution to ban the burning of religious texts including the Koran.

Blasphemy laws have been repealed in England, Scotland and Wales but remain on the statute book in Northern Ireland.

NSS: "Concrete steps" needed to support schools and other institutions

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: "This report lays bare the dangers associated with de facto blasphemy laws in the UK.

"Free speech is a fundamental human right which must not be undermined by fears of violence.

"The government must now take concrete steps to better support schools and other institutions accused of offending religious sensibilities."

Image: London/United Kingdom - October 30 2020: Muslim protesters stage an anti France demonstration outside French embassy in London. I T S, Shutterstock.

Freedom of Expression

Democracy cannot exist without the right to free speech. Join our campaign to protect freedom of expression from religious incursions.

Tags: Free speech