On Monday 5th July, Naz Shah MP (Bradford West) made a powerful intervention in the course of the debate on the Crime Sentencing and Courts bill,
. . . Yes, people can go out and debate, discuss, disagree and even respectfully and vehemently oppose any historical figure, but when they defame or vandalise in a mob-like fashion statues of people like Winston Churchill who mean so much to millions of Britons who hold his efforts during the second world war so close to their hearts, that does threaten the cohesive nature of our nation. We cannot pretend that a western liberal democracy like Britain does not consider feelings when it comes to such situations while at the same time today passing a law through Parliament giving such importance to protecting statues based upon commemorative feelings.
As a Muslim, for me and millions of Muslims across this country and a quarter of the world’s population who are Muslim too, with each day and each breath there is not a single thing in the world that we commemorate and honour more than our beloved Prophet, Mohammed, peace be upon him. But when bigots and racists defame, slander or abuse our Prophet, peace be upon him, just like some people do the likes of Churchill, the emotional harm caused upon our hearts is unbearable, because for 2 billion Muslims, he is the leader we commemorate in our hearts and honour in our lives, and he forms the basis of our identity and our very existence. In fact, the noted playwright George Bernard Shaw said about the Prophet, peace be upon him:
“He was by far the most remarkable man that ever set foot on this earth. He preached a religion, founded a state…laid down a moral code, initiated numerous social and political reforms, established a powerful and dynamic society to practice and represent his teachings and completely revolutionised the worlds of human thought and behaviour for all times to come.”
To those who say it is just a cartoon, I will not say, “It’s only a statue”, because I understand the strength of British feeling when it comes to our history, our culture and our identity. It is not just a cartoon and they are not just statues. They represent, symbolise and mean so much more to us as human beings.
In conclusion, while this law would now protect civil order and emotional harm when it comes to secular and political figures such as Oliver Cromwell and Churchill and does not necessarily put other figures that many people in modern Britain hold close to their hearts, such as Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, Moses, Ram, Buddha, Guru Nanak and many others, it does show that we recognise that there is such a thing as emotional harm. Finally, we must ask ourselves: when striking the careful balance to protect such emotional harms, can there and should there be a hierarchy of sentiments?