We’re now into the last week of teaching term here in Cardiff, and I’m feeling like I’m running the final stages of a marathon. I like the idea of fitting all the second semester’s teaching in before the Easter break but I have to admit I’m struggling to make the distance, especially because so many things have to be done this week before we finish. Next week I’m off to the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno too. For all these reasons (and a few others) I won’t have much blogging time for a bit, so my posts may be a bit thin on the ground (or whatever it is that the blogosphere rests on).
However, I couldn’t resist using this blog to express my opinion about one of the big news items of the day, the introduction, today, in France, of a ban on women wearing of the veil in public. I think it’s particularly interesting timing after the discussion of religion and science that arose after I reblogged a post by Andy Lawrence about the Templeton Prize.
Frankly, I think the new French law is monstrous. I’m not a Muslim, but it is abhorrent to me that the state should seek to prevent individuals expressing their religious beliefs. I obviously don’t think anyone should be forced to wear the veil against their will, but in an open society those who choose to wear it should be allowed to do so. And I don’t buy the argument that it’s some sort of identification issue, either. What’s next, a ban on sunglasses and balaclavas? No. In any case there are only about 2,000 women in France who regularly wear the veil. Let’s make no bones about it, this law is specifically intended to pander to anti-Muslim sentiments. It stinks. I like to think we’d never allow such a thing in this country.
But here’s the flip side. I read at the weekend of the case of a candidate for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly Elections. Sion Owens is on the South Wales West Regional List for the British National Party (BNP). At the weekend he was arrested under the Public Order Act after a video emerged in which he was seen to be burning a copy of the Qur’an. Apparently the original charge was dropped today when Mr Owens appeared before the Magistrates Court in Swansea, but investigations are still continuing.
I haven’t seen the video so can’t comment further on what precisely Mr Owens is alleged to have done. I’m not an expert on the Public Order Act(s) either- or at least not the parts that deal with religiously motivated offences – but some sections are open to extremely broad interpretations, and that’s really what the problem is.
I would say though that I’m the last person to want to support the BNP, which as far as I’m concerned is an extremist organisation run by right-wing thugs for the benefit of other right-wing thugs. It seems possible, therefore, and perhaps even likely, that this person did set alight to the Qur’an with the specific intention of provoking religious tension. If that were the case then it would clearly fall within the law as defined by the Public Order Act.
However, even if that were the case I have to say I do not think that what he did should be a criminal offence. It might be abusive, uncivilised, and reprehensible – words not infrequently applied to the BNP, I might add – but I don’t think it should be illegal. If we’re going to have a truly free society we have to get used to the idea that people have the right to do and say things we wouldn’t do or say ourselves. And if people even want to vote for creatures like Mr Owens, they should be allowed to do so….
..although I’ll be hoping he loses his deposit.