In the heat of battle, all sorts of promises to special interest groups are thrown out at election time. Usually these issues fail to resurface and sometimes is is a mistake to draw too much attention to them lest, out of a desire to show integrity, the politician restates the message with a fervour which backs them into a corner. But what are we to make of Ed Miliband’s interview with the Muslim News in which he states the intention to make Islamophobia an aggravated crime? Do we treat this suggestion as a serious one, or is it something as silly as Gordon Brown pretending to wake up to the Arctic Monkeys or David Cameron’s intermittent commitment to Aston Villa.
The trouble is that silliness varies in degree. Plastic bags will be taxed after the election, despite the Department of Environment’s own study which shows they are less damaging to the environment than any alternative. Though it will be irritating to put up with petty legislation that will have no good effect, one will do so with little complaint because it is essentially trivial in the whole scheme of things and other matters more deserve our attention.
Fox hunting is more serious. When Tony Blair overstated his own commitment to legislation he was forced into a vote that he didn’t want to have. The effects have been damaging, producing a constant tension in the countryside between the normally law-abiding and the law of the land. This has detrimental long-term consequences.
But Miliband’s identification of Islamaphobia for particular action is a grave mistake.
The whole issue of ‘aggravated crime’ contains so much muddled thinking that the only way it can be dealt with is to make the English language, which expresses the law, suffer as much as any victim of crime. There is no proper definition of, for instance, racially motivated crime but the Crown Prosecution Service, in its infinite wisdom, adopts the definition ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’
So, take your hobby-horse and use the same form of words. The CPS defines a religious incident as ‘Any incident which is believed to be motivated because of a person’s religion or perceived religion, by the victim or any other person.’ Crimes motivated by hatred of Islam already have protection by the law – the general protection of any religiously motivated crime. As the CPS says in its own literature ‘this includes Muslims, Hindus and Christians.’ Does Mr Miliband not know this? What else is he suggesting?
The trouble with the constant repetition of the word Islamaphobia is that it rather tramples on those of us who have rational reservations about Islam. As a believing Christian, is it a surprise that I think the Koran to be in error? As a cultural Christian may I not observe that, from the general tide of migration, many Muslims, too, prefer to live in countries with a Christian rather than a Muslim culture?
Special protection for Islam? Come on Ed, that’s just bonkers! We know that you want the Muslim vote but this is the UK, not Saudi.