The Daily Telegraph

Extremists ‘use blasphemy claims’ to stop free speech

- By Charles Hymas Home Affairs editor

THE Batley school “blasphemy” row shows free speech is under threat from groups using the accusation to silence critics, the reviewer of Prevent has said.

William Shawcross, the historian appointed by the Government to review the counter-terrorism programme, said free speech was being put at risk by extremist groups.

Speaking at a meeting of the Counter Extremism Group, he said the West had failed to “come to grips” with extremists using blasphemy to cover their attacks on free expression, some of which were “terroristi­c”.

He cited the teacher suspended from Batley Grammar School in west Yorkshire for showing pupils a drawing from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in religious studies class.

The incident provoked complaints from parents and protests at the school gates, and he went into hiding with his family saying he “feared for his life”.

Mr Shawcross also referred to a Christian preacher stabbed at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London, for critiquing the Koran and also spoke about the cancellati­on of the film Lady of Heaven, about the daughter of Mohammed, following protests from Muslims.

He said: “The charge of blasphemy does seem to be in danger of limiting free expression. The recent horrific attack on Salman Rushdie is something that is another example of the fact that we haven’t come to grips with it.

“Here in the UK, we’ve had a teacher go into hiding, a shopkeeper in Glasgow [Asad Shah] murdered, a Christian preacher knifed at Speakers’ Corner, and a Shia film pulled from cinemas at the demand of protesters.”

Hosting a “conversati­on” with former minister Michael Gove and Lord Carlile, the former independen­t reviewer of terror laws, he asked: “What needs to be done about free expression in terms of our concerns about extremism and terrorism, because some of these attacks were indeed terroristi­c?”

Mr Shawcross warned that Britain was not “pushing back” strongly enough against those who exploited blasphemy to stifle free speech.

Mr Gove said such behaviour “should not be indulged in a society like ours”. He added: “Free speech means nothing if it doesn’t give you freedom to offend.”

Mr Shawcross asked him if the Government should take a tougher approach like Emmanuel Macron, who gave a state funeral to a French teacher beheaded for showing his class Mohammed cartoons.

Mr Gove replied: “Emmanuel Macron has been incredibly robust.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom