Counter-extremism lead: blasphemy codes are chilling free speech

Posted: Mon, 23rd Oct 2023

Cleric on 2023 UK speaking tour advocates decapitation for 'blasphemers'

I T S, Shutterstock

Allegations of blasphemy are suppressing free expression in the UK, the Commissioner for Countering Extremism warned last week.

Robin Simcox, the Home Office's counter-extremism lead, delivered the remarks in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on Thursday.

Simcox said there had been an "uptick" in anti-blasphemy actions among Muslim activist groups in the UK since 2016, the year Pakistan executed Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri, a bodyguard, had murdered the Governor of Punjab for his opposition to Pakistani blasphemy laws.

Simcox noted the cancellation of the 'blasphemous' film The Lady of Heaven and anti-blasphemy actions at Batley Grammar School and Kettlethorpe High School as recent examples.

UK mosques have hosted supporters of Qadri and other Islamist clerics with extreme views, he added. One such Bangladeshi cleric, who went on a UK speaking tour this summer, publicly claims anyone who criticises the Islamic prophet Muhammad should be beheaded.

While the Home Office should ban these speakers from entering the country, he said, the deeper problem is the desire of UK Muslim groups to host such individuals.

Simcox also noted Ahmadi Muslims, who believe Muhammad was not the final prophet, are subjected to religious violence in the UK because their religious views are considered blasphemous.

"I'm not interested in nor capable of refereeing theological disputes", he said.

"But you don't need to be a theologian to say that violence, persecution, discrimination, and abuse of Ahmadis is unacceptable."

In the most extreme cases, allegations of blasphemy fuel terrorism, he said, citing the 2015 attack on staff at the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Elsewhere, Simcox said efforts by some British Muslims to rehabilitate the image of the Taliban were "ominous". In July, the NSS reported a Muslim NHS chaplain, Suliman Gani, had travelled to Afghanistan to meet with Taliban officials.

Gani later appeared on Afghan state television and praised the "amazing vision" of the Taliban. The visit was organised with the help of a British charity which is now being investigated by the Charity Commission.

NSS: Religious efforts to stifle free expression must be 'robustly opposed'

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: "We are heartened to hear the Commissioner for Countering Extremism takes the threat of anti-blasphemy actions in the UK extremely seriously. The government should now heed this advice, stand up for liberal values, and robustly oppose religious efforts to stifle free expression."

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Tags: Free speech