I am sitting at my desk in Moscow, updating my filing, and listening via podcast to yesterday's interviews on the "Today" programme. For once, the BBC did a good job. The interviewer put questions directly to Omar Bakri Mohammed of al-Muhajiroun and elicited a clear statement of the Islamic view. Those who drew, published and republished the now-infamous cartoons should, he said, be tried under Islamic law and executed. Free speech does not apply to racists, even in our societies, and by analogy it should not extend to those who ridicule the prophet, Mohammed. He was gracious enough to add that the execution should be after due process of Sharia Law and that individual Muslims should not take matters into their own hands. Presumably a "fatwa" (legal opinion) from a suitable authority - a la Salman Rushdie - would constitute sufficient due process for him, but the interviewer did not pursue that point. I think he was embarrassed that the BBC's cosy line on Islam was being so comprehensively shattered.
Asked what should happen if the "offenders" were beyond the reach of Islamic law, he answered that we "live in a global" village and the countries concerned should "take the consequences". The Muslim world does not have to deal with them and "...you don't have to deal with us". In this, I agree with him. We have no right to complain about what is done in the Muslim world provided that it is in accordance with local laws and (where the countries have signed up to them) the UN Charter and other international treaties. That's one reason why my family and I no longer holiday there, as we did for many years. If I don't want to submit to Sharia Law, I should stay away from Sharia jurisdictions. I wish British Muslims understood the corollary of that.
The chairman of the Muslim League, Amr Moussa, was not quite so open but his comments did reveal that he is under the impression that anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and even criticism of Israel are illegal in the West. He seemed to think Islam was only asking for the same protections as Judaism and that we were being hypocritical in claiming the right of "free speech" in relation to Islam.
This is a perfect example of the indivisibility of freedom. Racism is stupid, ignorant and wrong. Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are stupid, ignorant and wrong, but it is a mistake for them to be illegal. If we suppress the expression of some opinions, however repellent and disgusting, we inevitably face demands for the suppression of other opinions. Before the game is over, none of us will be free. All of us will have to live to the standards of the most ignorant, extreme and hypersensitive amongst us. The Muslims in our countries have done us a favour by exposing our errors.
It is time to recognise that the "progressive" thinking of the past 30 years has been anything but. It has in fact been regressive and has lost us many of the gains of the Age of Enlightenment. Given the bloody nature of the 20th Century and the damage done by totalitarian "isms", perhaps it is understandable that we have fallen into these errors. However, it is well past time to recognise that we have over-corrected. It is time to restore full freedom of speech and to laugh at idiotic opinions rather than to fear them. If there are those amongst us who can't hack it in the rowdy bazaar of human thought, then let them find a country where only their ideas, rather than ideas in general, are sacred and leave us modern men in peace.