A man arrives in Heaven and is given the orientation tour by Saint Peter. Muslims mix happily with Jews, Buddhists with Christians. The newcomer is most impressed. One thing puzzles him. A great wall runs the whole length of the place. "What's that for?" he asks. "Ah" says Saint Peter, "behind there are the Catholics. They like to think they are here on their own".
This is a classic Dave Allen joke. Does it insult or abuse Catholics? I doubt many of them would think so. As the popularity of Father Ted showed, most Catholics have a sense of humour. But if you changed the religions around and put the Muslims behind the wall? Would they take offence? Very probably. They certainly objected to a Danish cartoon showing Mohammed waving back suicide bombers from Heaven with the words "Stop, stop! We have run out of virgins".
My Dave Allen joke is a mild example. Modern humour tends to be more aggressive. I am thinking of an Emo Phillips gag with the punchline "Die, heretic, die!" for example. The point of that joke was to mock sectarian divisions and it is quite politically-correct, but other versions could certainly be seen as insulting or abusive.
The fact that such a discussion is even necessary ought to scare the Hell (no offence to Satanists intended) out of all of us. If the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was the end of habeas corpus in Britain, then the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill may prove to be the end of free speech. The bill is the result of a manifesto pledge designed to appease Muslim opinion.
Many British Muslims have historically voted Labour, but were thought likely not to do so because of Tony Blair's role in the Iraq War. So Labour promised them this little piece of Sharia Law to win back their support. You may say that's an unfair characterisation, because the law "protects" all religions, not just Islam. The fact is that other religions didn't want or need such "protection" and will be very unlikely to use it. British Muslims will have no hesitation in doing so. Every person who uses it will, in effect, reveal that he does not subscribe to the British way of life.
This bill, if passed, will make wicked, divisive law. It will alienate non-Muslims and increase racial tensions. It is the duty of every decent parliamentarian to vote against it tomorrow.
BBC NEWS | Politics | Religious hate bill changes urged