WHICH is worse, a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed – or hacking off an innocent teacher’s head?
The question from talkRADIO host Julia Hartley-Brewer scarcely needed a second’s thought.
For Muslim charity worker Mohammad Sajad Hussain last week it was debatable.
Hussain had just publicly named and seriously endangered the Batley schoolteacher who showed the cartoon during a lesson covering blasphemy. Some might call it a “fatwa”.
It is likely Hussain would have known the shocking fate of French schoolmaster Samuel Paty, slaughtered in the street near Paris just six months ago for showing pupils a similar cartoon.
He too was named online. His killer tracked him down and filmed himself waving the severed head.
Hussain’s on-air hesitation reveals the shocking cultural gulf between Muslim hard-liners, the British public and members of his own faith.
It has reopened a row over free speech and the explosion of dubious laws against so-called “hate crimes”.
Offence needs merely to be taken by an alleged victim — or even an uninvolved observer — for hate crime to be committed. This turns justice on its head.
The popular 29-year-old West Yorkshire teacher had gone out of his way to avoid offence, giving notice of his plan to display the image.
Yet his career is in ruins despite his apology and support from pupils and parents, many of them Muslim.
One Muslim dad wrote: “I would like to convey my support for the school and also the teacher. I am confident the teacher did not mean any offence.”
A petition backing the rugby-playing family man has been signed by 50,000 people.
At the centre of the row is an image of the founder of Islam as a terrorist — deeply offensive to Muslims who bar all images of the Prophet.
Staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo learned this the hard way, gunned down for publishing a similar cartoon in 2015.
This time, the image was shown during a lesson on blasphemy, part of the school curriculum. Other teachers had produced it previously without incident.
Angry protestors, parents and a local imam turned up at the school gates demanding, figuratively, the teacher’s head, saying he should be sacked on the spot.
After the Paty atrocity, police feared it might be taken literally and swept the teacher into hiding for his own safety.
To his credit, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has stepped in, denouncing the mob protest as “completely unacceptable”.
Equalities chief Baroness Kishwer Falkner weighed in, branding the teacher’s treatment “unacceptable” and urging police to act. BBC presenter Nicky Campbell slammed “the lunacy of blasphemy”.
And atheist comic Ricky Gervais tweeted: “What next? People being punished for insulting unicorns? Everyone has the right to believe anything they want. And everyone else has the right to find it f***ing ridiculous.”
Free speech is no small thing. Without it, democracy dies.
At its heart lies the right to offend — a principle which is being extinguished by human rights activists in the divisive culture wars on racism, sexism and gender definition.
Islam, far more than Christianity and Judaism, is an assertive faith. It demands respect from both believers and non-believers.
There have been calls for it to be protected by a specific hate law against Islamaphobia.
The clash with freedom of speech is inevitable. Which will prevail?
Gavin Williamson is planning new legislation to protect universities and schools from woke campaigners and the cancel culture. Staff will be given the right to sue if gagged.
“Batley is an absolute test of whether we believe in freedom of speech,” says a senior minister involved.
Life or death decision
PERHAPS to his own surprise, Tory Europhile and arch-Remainer Tom Tugendhat found himself telling Sun readers this week they were right to vote for Brexit.
Not in so many words of course, but the Tory MP conceded there is “one big advantage” to leaving the European Union – effectively the difference between life and death.
I would be prepared to offer this column space for diehards Michael Heseltine or Ken Clarke to follow suit and say whether they would argue today for Britain to rejoin this undemocratic gang of lethal incompetents.
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“If you threaten people aggressively, you win more often than not. It is not always a physical threat. People simply get howled down.”
The siege of Batley Grammar School may well be the acid test for Boris Johnson’s love of Britain’s hard-won freedoms.
Headteacher Gary Kibble’s instant and “unequivocal apology” does not offer grounds for optimism.
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