In a move that will please the religious right as well as egalitarians, it seems Home Affairs Committee chair Keith Vaz is open to blasphemy laws being brought back onto the books, so long as they protect the butthurt of all religious cranks “equally”.
Speaking after the subject of blasphemy was discussed by the Muslim Council of Britain last week, Vaz flip-flopped from one side of the debate to the other, first seemingly supporting the laws before backtracking.
According to Al Arabiya News, a Saudi-owned media group, Vaz said:
“It should apply to all religions. If we have laws, they should apply to everybody. Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to [blasphemy laws]…but it must apply equally to everybody.”
He went on to contradict himself by saying that he didn’t think there should be blasphemy laws, before concluding:
“If somebody brings it forward in parliament I’ll vote for it. Obviously it depends what’s in the bill. But I have no objection to it being brought before parliament and having a debate about it.”
Responding to Vaz’s blithe acceptance of a religious veto on free speech, the National Secular Society’s executive director Keith Porteous Wood said:
“In any plural society, ideas, including religious ideas, should be open to rigorous debate. We already have an armoury of laws restricting freedom of expression. Religiously aggravated insults already carry a seven year tariff. This is already likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”
This isn’t the first time that Vaz has come out in favour of religiously-inspired persecution, nor been seen to be standing on both sides of a contentious debate.
According to the memoir of Salman Rushdie, the British author whose novel The Satanic Verses inflicted epic butthurt across the Islamic world – with some of the afflicted even having read the book – Vaz was just as equivocating in his support of Rushdie when the Iranian spiritual chief Ayatollah Khomeini called for the murder of the writer in response to the novel’s publication in 1989.
In a scene that took place shortly after Khomeini’s fatwa was issued, Rushdie’s agent took a phone call from one Keith Vaz:
“Vaz said, in that phone conversation, that what had happened was ‘appalling, absolutely appalling,’ and promised his ‘full support’ [for Rushdie]. A few weeks later he was one of the main speakers at a demonstration against The Satanic Verses attended by over three thousand Muslims, and described that event as ‘one of the great days in the history of Islam and Great Britain.’”
Image Credit – Keith Vaz, February 2011 by daliscar1