With each new blasphemy controversy in the West, from The Satanic Verses to Charlie Hebdo, the corrosive effect on free expression worsens. In Wakefield, we see just how low the bar for blasphemy allegations has fallen, and how readily complaints are legitimised by our own institutions. As reported, four non-Muslim pupils were suspended from school after the unintentional scuffing of an English copy of the Quran. West Yorkshire Police said they were closely “liaising” with the school and that their enquiries “confirmed minor damage” to the text. In their response, the school and local authorities seem to give credence to an understanding of blasphemy which goes beyond the one advanced even by jihadists.
After a Batley schoolteacher was forced into hiding and a film, The Lady of Heaven, was pulled from cinemas, this is at least Britain’s third major blasphemy ‘affair’ in as many years. The recent review of Prevent drew attention to the frequency and danger of blasphemy controversies, but there is nothing that any counter-extremism initiative can do to address these persistent clashes in the UK. This is not a question of countering extremism, solvable with workshops on ‘British Values’ or critical thinking, but instead concerns the sovereignty of British law and the fundamentals of British democracy.