British MP Effectively Argues for Blasphemy Law in UK Parliament

On July 6, Naz Shah — Bradford Labour MP (UK) — delivered an impassioned speech in Parliament during a discussion for the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts (PCSC) Bill . In her speech, Shah has directly compared the “emotional harm” of the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and the destruction of status. She also asked if there is a “hierarchy of sentiments” since the British Government is planning to impose prison sentences of up to 10 years and none for drawing cartoons of Muhammad. 

The speech comes as Britain is still in hot water over a suspended teacher showing school children pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. Varying news outlets in Britain were calling Shah’s speech a call for the return of blasphemy laws. Some news outlets were asking if the Labour Party is now “pro-blasphemy laws,” which comes after the Labour MP Kim Leadbeater superficially defends the suspended teacher and calling the actions of the Muslim protesters “understandable.” Ironically, it was the Labour Party administration that ushered the end of blasphemy laws in 2008.

Shah’s speech was directed at the proposed PCSC Bill, sponsored by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Priti Patel. Shah claimed that the UK parliament is ramming through the bill with provisions extending sentences for “damage to a memorial” from a meager three months to a disproportionate ten years. This significant change has become the primary motivation of Shah’s argument during her speech.

Shah insinuated that cultural and social figures such as Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill receive additional protection over religious figures such as the Prophet Muhammad. Using the term “emotional harm,” Shah has equated the emotional harm suffered by Muslims when the Prophet Muhammad is disrespected to the strong sentiments felt when a memorial status is being vandalized or destroyed.

Although the Labour Party is opposing the bill, Shah is seeking to expand the damage to a memorial provision in the PCSC Bill; to include religious figures. Claiming that “emotional harm” is valid regardless if the vantage is religious or secular.

Legislation on “emotional harm” can be a slippery slope as Shah failed to consider the critical distinction in her speech because damage to memorial acts has clear and concrete criminal damage. The harm for witnessing drawings of a religious idol infringes more on the instance of free speech and lacks substantial evidence for actual damage. It also puts religion in a position where certain groups can label ridicule and opposite opinions as an attack.

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