I recently lost enthusiasm for Brexit. Many are now equivocating; cold feet about leaving the club, worries that any deal we get will be poor, or make no real difference. My wavering began with the hideous death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was butchered on the orders of a Saudi prince who didn’t like his writing.
A tyrannical ruler hasn’t taken such drastic action against a writer since our Richard III had William Colyngbourne hanged, drawn & quartered in 1485, for, ‘Various bills and writings in rhyme.’ His entrails were hauled out while he was still alive for writing: ‘The cat the rat and the dog, rule all England under the hog.’ The hog being Richard, despite his honesty at having a swine as his official emblem.
This recent royal murder follows distress I’ve felt about the plight of people in Yemen, where a Saudi led blockade has left twenty million people facing starvation. News reports describe the terrible suffering of individual children and their increasingly desperate parents Then there are the people of Syria and the Uyghur Muslims in China.
These events have demonstrated that although the European project has only brought prosperity to a few countries in northern Europe while leaving the south in scarcity and chaos, the West as a whole, is nevertheless, cocooned in safety, luxuriating in the rule of law and free speech. Beyond those borders, there be dragons and savages on the rampage. Despite the wealth of the Middle East it seems to breed monsters by the day.
This led me to conclude that we need a fortress Europe, closely connected to the US, possibly bringing in Turkey. Like most people who voted to leave, I did so out of fear of further mass migration. If Turkey enters the EU a million Turks will instantly seek work in western Europe, but they will mostly go to Germany which makes Erdogan look increasingly like a good bet.
He’s locked up thousands of journalists but is not killing them. A recent summit conference with Erdogan, Putin and Assad about the future of Idlib in Syria, was terrifying. It was possible that the town was about to be razed to the ground. The Turkish presence may have prevented this. It’s unlikely that Putin demurs about mass murder. He destroyed Chechnya after the Battle of Grozny. In 2003 the UN declared Grozny, ‘The most destroyed city on earth.’
Assad would have guzzled up Idlib having already destroyed his own country, and following family tradition. In 1982 his father Hafez wiped out the town of Hama with the thoroughness of the Romans in Carthage.
For a few days I nurtured this idea of a tight union with Europe and Turkey. But now I’m thinking again. Last Thursday a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, (ECHR) showed that we’re at a turning point, not about the UK leaving the EU, but about the future character of European democracy.
The ECHR have upheld a verdict against a woman, named only as Mrs. S, from Vienna, accused of slandering the prophet Muhammad. Her struggle has been protracted; she was arrested in 2009 after she held a seminar in which she accused Muhammad of paedophilia. Legend says that aged fifty-six he took a bride, Aisha, aged six. In February 2011 she was found guilty by the Vienna Regional Criminal Court of ‘disparaging religious doctrines’ and ordered her to pay 480 euros plus legal fees.
She went to the Vienna Court of Appeal and Austria’s Supreme Court. They rejected her appeal and the ECHR has now supported their decision. It found there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. ‘The Court carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.’
It held that her remarks about paedophilia went ‘beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate,’ and classified them as an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam, ‘which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace, the domestic courts put forward relevant and sufficient reasons.’
The ECHR is not the EU, but it shows the character of European jurisprudence. Although over seventy percent of people in the EU ‘identify’ as Christians, there are no references to Christianity in any current or proposed Eu treaties. The European body politic is determinedly secular yet now bows before the intensely proselytising, and often threatening minority faith of Islam.
In this matter of what is really a blasphemy case, the ECHR had a clear choice between the right to debate and the right not to be offended and they chose the latter. Tim Stanley in the Sunday Telegraph wrote that he sees this as a new kind of blasphemy law. It also creates a new status for Islam. Their right not to be offended now trumps our right to free-speech.
This is the wrangle that’s been going on since the Salmon Rushdie affair in 1989. Muslims demand to be free from public criticism, and cannot understand our concept of open debate. On BBC Radio 4 in October, a spokesman for the radical Islamic group MEND Community, accused the British of ‘Islamophobia’ based on a poll they had organised.
It showed that over fifty percent of the random people questioned, agreed that, ‘Islam is incompatible with Western Liberal society.’ But he was much more interested in what he called, ‘press lies’ and ‘screaming headlines.’ His solution to social tension was consistent; tighter press control. It is not Muslims who have to change, it is our press, our habit of discussing issues openly.
Brexit is our only chance to escape from this culture of fawning to a minority faith. In January, Conservative MPs voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law after Brexit. A Labour amendment, tabled in the name of Jeremy Corbyn, tried to oppose this, but was voted down by 317 votes to 299.
The EU Withdrawal Bill, will transfer all existing EU law into UK law when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019. Government ministers insist the protections in the Charter of Fundamental Rights either already exist in British law or will be incorporated through other EU directives.
The Government avoided any possible defeat on the issue by promising a ‘right-by-right analysis’ of how the protections enshrined in the Charter will be guaranteed after Brexit. What more could any of us ask than that? We may not end up with our fishing grounds back, or our borders secure against mass migration, but it seems that the government does have a plan for protecting our laws on freedom of speech. It seems that once again in our history, going it alone is by far the safest plan.