Another secularist rant from Nick Cohen

In today’s Observer, Nick Cohen rallies to the defence of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who published a book immediately following the Madrid bombing in which she argued that Muslim immigration is turning Europe into “an Islamic province, an Islamic colony” and that “to believe that a good Islam and a bad Islam exist goes against all reason”. In an earlier book, published after 9/11, she wrote that Muslim immigrants in the West have “multiplied like rats”. (See here.)

Cohen takes a relaxed view of this racist filth. He opposes a decision by the Muslim Union of Italy to take legal action against Fallaci, portraying it as an attempt to suppress free speech. “What she says may not be true”, he concedes (may not be true?!), but he defends her right to say it. “Fallaci is a raging prima donna. Still, since when has it been a criminal offence for prima donnas to sing, however tunelessly?”

Would Cohen take a similarly relaxed view of a book which claimed that Jews are breeding like rats and turning Europe into a Jewish colony? I think not. In any case, under existing race relations legislation, the author of that sort of writing would be open to prosecution in this country. If that happened, I rather doubt that Cohen would write a column for the Observer condemning legal action being taken.

As things stand, of course, there is an anomaly in the law whereby racists are open to prosecution if they incite hatred against Jews (who are defined as members of a mono-ethnic faith) but can get away with it if they say exactly the same thing about Muslims (who are defined as members of a multi-ethnic faith and therefore do not qualify as a distinct ethnic group).

The main thrust of Cohen’s rambling diatribe is against the government’s commitment to abolish this anomaly by extending race relations legislation to cover incitement to religious hatred. He characterises this, entirely inaccurately, as “a universal blasphemy law”.

Cohen even finds fault with the fact that “human resources managers from BT, Accenture, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, B&Q, Shell, the Co-operative Group and the BBC came together last month to form the Employers’ Forum on Belief. It will ‘recognise the religious needs of employees and promote good business practice toward religious belief’.”

The beneficiaries of this entirely welcome initiative will of course be the adherents of mainly non-white religions. Ensuring that employers recognise the right of Muslim workers to prayer, for example, is of particular importance in a predominantly white, officially Christian society. Cohen, however, quotes the National Secular Society’s objection that other workers may have to cover for them. No doubt the BNP would make the same point.

Elsewhere, Cohen tells us: “As I write, the radio reports that the Sunni Muslims of al-Qaeda are slaughtering Shia Muslims in Iraq. As true believers, they kill because they necessarily believe that every other religion incites hatred against them.” So Al-Qaeda are the “true believers” of Sunni Islam, are they? You can see why Cohen doesn’t have too much of a problem with Fallaci’s anti-Muslim bigotry.

Cohen concludes: “you might have expected that the governments of the countries which send young men and women to fight fanaticism on foreign fields wouldn’t be using the majesty of their laws to nurture fanaticism at home.”

Fanaticism, of course, exists in different forms, not all of them religious. There are also secularist fanatics who, drawing of the weaknesses of bourgeois rationalism, employ anti-religious propaganda as a cover for racism.

Postscript: The National Secular Society boasts that it “helped Nick Cohen with research for his article”.

NSS Newsline, 3 June 2005

First published by Islamophobia Watch in June 2005