A major row erupted on Twitter on Monday following an Al Arabiya News (English) interview with Keith Vaz MP, who heads up the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee, on the sidelines of a Muslim Council of Britain conference on terrorism in London.
Vaz, himself no stranger to controversy, last week told this website that he has “no problem” with blasphemy laws being reintroduced in the UK – although stopped short of saying he thought such a law would be a good idea, as our article made clear.
The report was then quoted at length by the National Secular Society – which, perhaps given its own particular outlook on life, went in a little stronger on the former angle.
A flurry of tweets followed, with the majority seemingly damning of Mr Vaz’s stance (and many pretty blasphemous, at least in one sense of the word, themselves).
One Twitter user even set up a petition suggesting Mr Vaz should resign for suggesting that Britain’s ancient laws of blasphemy – which were finally abolished in 2008 – should be reincarnated in some form or other.
Some have pointed out that Vaz apparently contradicted himself in his interview with this website. Vaz began saying he has “no problem” with blasphemy laws being reintroduced in the United Kingdom.
“It should apply to all religions. If we have laws, they should apply to everybody. Religions are very special to people. And therefore I have no objection to them… but it must apply equally to everybody.”
But – as the article which I wrote made clear – Vaz then said “no” when pressed on whether he thought a blasphemy law should be introduced. Yet in another apparent U-turn – he is a politician, after all – Vaz said that he would vote for such a bill should it go to vote in parliament.
“If somebody brings it forward in parliament I’ll vote for it… Obviously it depends what’s in the bill. But I have no objection to it being brought before parliament and having a debate about it,” he said.
And yet a quick search of the archives shows that Vaz himself called the old blasphemy law “archaic” back in 2008, when debate over the abolition of the legislation was in full swing.
Because of the apparent ambiguity of his stance, I chose not to lead my report with Vaz’s remarks. But the National Secular Society, perfectly legitimately, went down this road – adding its own comment condemning Vaz’s apparent stance – and prompting a huge reaction online.
It is certainly a politically charged debate, given last year’s deadly attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, and the magazine’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, something many Muslims deem offensive.
But it must be noted that the interview with Mr Vaz took place (and the report was published) before the more recent attack in Paris – the horrific events of last Friday, in which at least 129 people were killed. The National Secular Society’s report was published a couple of days after.
Neither article misquoted Vaz. And anyone wishing to interpret his rather nuanced message can listen to the brief interview below, in which the longstanding Labour Party politician also gives his views on the UK Government’s controversial ‘Prevent’ anti-extremism strategy.
But remember that the interview took place last week – and that we live in, tragically, ever more complex times.