Europe’s New Blasphemy Courts

Europe is currently seeing the reintroduction of blasphemy laws through both the front and back doors. In Britain, the gymnast Louis Smith has just been suspended for two months by British Gymnastics. This 27-year old sportsman’s career has been put on hold, and potentially ruined, not because of anything to do with athletics but because of something to do with Islam.

Last month a video emerged online of the four-time Olympic medal-winner and a friend getting up to drunken antics after a wedding. The video — taken on Smith’s phone in the early hours of the morning — showed a friend taking a rug off a wall and doing an imitation of Islamic prayer rituals. When the video from Smith’s phone ended up in the hands of a newspaper, there was an immediate investigation, press castigation and public humiliation for the young athlete. Smith — who is himself of mixed race — was forced to parade on daytime television in Britain and deny that he is a racist, bigot or xenophobe. Notoriously liberal figures from the UK media queued up to berate him for getting drunk or for even thinking of taking part in any mockery of religion. This in a country in which Monty Python’s Life of Brian is regularly voted the nation’s favourite comic movie.

After an “investigation,” the British sports authority has now deemed Smith’s behaviour to warrant a removal of funding and a two-month ban from sport. This is the re-entry of blasphemy laws through the back door, where newspapers, daytime chat-shows and sports authorities decide between them that one religion is worthy of particular protection. They do so because they take the religion of Islam uniquely on its own estimation and believe, as well as fear, the warnings of the Islamic blasphemy-police worldwide.

The front-door reintroduction of blasphemy laws, meantime, is being initiated in a country which once prided itself on being among the first in the world to throw off clerical intrusion into politics. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been put on trial before. In 2010 he was tried in the courts for the contents of his film “Fitna” as well as a number of articles. The trial collapsed after one of the expert witnesses — the late, great Dutch scholar of Islam, Hans Jansen — revealed that a judge in the case had tried in private to influence him to change his testimony. The trial was transparently rigged and made Dutch justice look like that of a tin-pot dictatorship rather than one of the world’s most developed democracies. The trial was rescheduled and, after considerable legal wrangling, Wilders was eventually found “not guilty” of a non-crime in 2011.

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