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Batley protests

We can’t let “absolutist imams” strangle debates

The protests outside Batley Grammar School must “act as a wake-up call” to liberals, says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. It’s absurd that a teacher in Britain can be suspended – and forced to go into hiding – for sharing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. A free society allows us to choose our “fictional deity in the sky”, but it also allows us to disagree with those who believe in one, “even to tease them”. “Horrified” Christians hated the mockery of Jesus in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but they had to put up with the ridicule. They might even have learnt not to take themselves so seriously. 

That’s why it’s demonstrably wrong to coddle children from debate about Islam, Christianity “or any other institutionalised superstition”. I think of my second cousin, “who spent years in turmoil about his homosexuality”, unable to reconcile it with his community’s interpretation of the Quran. The whole point of our liberal education is to lift us beyond the “suffocating constraints of medievalism” – precisely where “absolutist imams” would like to return us. That strangles open debate. Fortunately, history teaches us that suppression rarely works in the long term. “But this future will unfold only if liberals develop some backbone and stop pussyfooting around religious sensibilities.” 

Why it matters

Although the teacher’s Muslim neighbours say he has always shown “great respect” for Islam, Mohammad Sajad Hussain, head of the pressure group Purpose of Life, has accused him on Twitter of hating Islam, insulting its prophet and committing terrorism against Muslims. These “horrible”, rhetorically violent accusations, says Charles Moore in the Telegraph, not only name him, but seem calculated to inflame passions and create a climate of fear.

Read the full article here.