Thursday, 3 November 2016


A British athlete has been banned from competition for two months, for “appearing to mock Islam”. In a video that was posted online he was seen to shout “Allahu Akbar” and mimic a praying pose. According to a spokesman for British Gymnastics, this was “a breach of the standards of conduct”. What standards are these, exactly? And how does a religion like Islam - whose holy book is a catalogue of violent acts and reprisals, and calls for yet more violence - expect to be treated, as of right, with respect? Nevertheless, the athlete apologised for “the deep offense I have caused”. He joins the many other people who have begged forgiveness for ‘offending’ purveyors of one of the most violent religions on the planet… mostly, I suspect, because they fear for their lives. Islam deserves to be mocked, readily and often.

It’s not a ridiculous belief that I particularly want to mock (thought I do look on in wonderment at the way that people will swallow the most unlikely stories if they emanate from an ancient book). What I find offensive is the idea that Mohammed is the last prophet and that the Koran represents God’s final revelations, which privileges a run-of-the-mill religion with a special status that it simply does not merit. The inevitable corollary - that the rest of the world must offer this religion respect - is what really sticks in my craw. And, let's not forget, the punishment for blasphemy - mocking Islam - is death.

Atheists can be offended too. But, crucially, you won’t find them threatening anyone with violent reprisals, or assassination. Free speech is something worth fighting for, and tolerating intolerance is giving in to tyranny. Respect is something that should be freely earned and freely given; when demanded, on pain of death, it is just a simulacrum of respect… a craven appeasement to a bully…

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