Brendan O'Neill
Brendan O'Neill

Blaspheming against liberals

On July 8, Britain finally abolished its archaic blasphemy laws. It is no longer a criminal offence for we Brits to speak or publish any contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous words relating to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible. Yet already a new system of blasphemy is filling the gap. Now, anybody who blasphemes against the god of liberal orthodoxy will find himself labelled a denier or a heretic and given not a real lashing, but certainly a metaphorical one.

Over the past two weeks, two stern rulings against broadcasters have made it clear that there are some things that Must Not Be Said. On July 21, the regulatory Office of Communications severely censured Channel 4 for showing Martin Durkin’s sceptical 90-minute documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle last year. Following a campaign by environmentalists, Ofcom decreed that the film was irresponsible in the way it treated its interviewees and in the way it distorted some of the facts about global warming. Channel 4 was forced to read out Ofcom’s ruling on air.

The censure of Durkin’s film shows how screechingly intolerant the environmentalist movement has become. In 2007 there were thousands of hours of TV programming on climate change in the UK, from news reports on the possible end of the world to lifestyle shows instructing us to “go green”. Yet environmentalists could not tolerate one single TV show that dared to suggest man is not the main cause of global warming and that global warming won’t be as bad as people think.

Whatever you think of those arguments is beside the point: surely there should be space for sceptical views that go against the grain? According to environmentalists, there should not be. Martin Durkin and others who express scepticism about the politics and science of climate change are labelled “deniers” (just like those individuals who once dared to “deny” the existence of God) and are made to feel distinctly unwelcome in the world of broadcasting and commentary. The Ofcom ruling could have a chilling effect on TV broadcasting in Britain, discouraging TV stations from commissioning anything too edgy — or perhaps “blasphemous” — on the issue of climate change.

More recently, this week Michael Palin was censured by his own broadcaster, the BBC. The former Monty Python star turned presenter of gentle travel documentaries made a series called New Europe in September last year, for which he visited 20 countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain. In one episode, titled War and Peace, he visited Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Albania. While there, he dared to suggest that the Serbs were not entirely responsible for the horrors of the civil war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, and that other groups contributed to the bloodshed, too.

Bad move. It is forbidden in Britain to challenge the liberal orthodoxy that the war in Bosnia was a Serbian-led, Nazi-style genocide against Muslims, and to a lesser extent against Croats. Following just one viewer complaint, the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee censured Palin for being partial and inaccurate — for simply saying in passing that the war in Bosnia was a bloody mess for which many groups should shoulder responsibility. According to reports, the complaining viewer said — hysterically, in my view — that Palin’s comments were “the equivalent to implying that the Nazis and the Jews were equally responsible for starting and acting out the Second World War”. And the BBC Trust, it seems, agreed, arguing that Palin “could have done more to have highlighted Serbia’s role in the conflict”.

Like Martin Durkin, Palin dared to sin against the liberal outlook. Liberal-left journalists in Britain (and America) were at the forefront of presenting the bloody civil war in Bosnia in super-simplistic, morally relativistic terms as a “new Holocaust” enacted by evil Serbs against pathetic Muslims. And to this day, 15 years later, anybody who questions their view of the war can be written off as partial, wicked or even a “Serbophile”.

Indeed, it is striking that those commentators and academics who challenge the prevailing view of the Bosnian war are frequently labelled as “genocide deniers”, just as Martin Durkin and others are branded “climate change deniers”. In keeping with the blasphemy theme, anyone who speaks out of turn is effectively denounced as a heretic, a denier of established Truths and Wisdoms. The label “denier” explicitly suggests that there is One Truth about climate change, Bosnia and other issues close to liberals’ hearts, and that anyone who offends against this One Truth is not just wrong or misguided but also morally suspect. You don’t have to be an Exxon-funded climate-change sceptic or supporter of the Serbs to see that this chilling denunciation of any critical thinking on key issues is an affront to free speech and open historical debate.

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that the truth can only be established through free and rigorous public debate. “Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right,” he said. The new liberal laws of blasphemy — a kind of illiberal liberalism — only denigrate the truth by creating “received wisdoms” that must never be interrogated. Who wants to join with me in blaspheming against this witch-hunting culture? Step forward.

  • Grant W

    Great article and thank god somebody finally had the wisdom to abolish those idiotic blasphemy laws :)

    Serbophilia in Britain probably relates to the fact that the Brits and NATO happily bombed Serbia as the black-and-white, case-closed aggressor when in reality the situation and its dynamics were far, far more complex. Now the Brits can’t rightly question that decision unless they are ready to admit their somewhat gungho, supremely judgemental role in the mess which they quite clearly are not. Hence it remains a better idea to foster the idea of the ‘Evil Serbs’, strip them of their provinces and EU membership and drag Serbian generals in front of the ICC while allowing the rest of the planet, themselves included, to charge around bombing and attacking anyone they see fit to.

    Its just not cricket, old chap!

  • Alisdair Budd

    Dear sir,

    The only witchhunt I would go for is one against you.

    and someone tell the idion above that there’s more counries than Britian in Nato, if he’d like to google and that they all agreed as well.

    By the way.

    If you’d like to get your head out of your local winebar for long enough and stop making mooney of the misery of the Balkans, perhaps you’d like to become a proper journalist and visit some of my local refugees, including Serbs, for their opinion.

    then you might realise how offensive you are to anyone who went through the situation, or who treats those who did with humanity and dignity. and actualy does so much as talk to them on the street.

    Instead of using their misery to try and pontificate himself into making some money on sales of offensive diatribes.

  • Andrew

    This is a valuable article and we need more discussion to highlight this threat to progress through reasoned thought.

    So called “liberalism” seems to be some sort of fascism of the mind. Your use of the term “Blasphemy” is entirely appropriate due to the blind adoption of the approved line without any attempt at independent thought, or even consideration of alternative explanations.

  • david saks

    Fully agree – one form of thought control has been supplanted by another. Different ideologies is all.

    But what about Jon Qwelane’s much lambasted views on homosexuality? Admittedly – and typically – he expressed himself in a crude and gratuitously offensive manner. But if someone feels a genuine abhorrence against homosexual acts, whether or not they are practised by those who define themselves as homosexual, does he/she not have a right to say so? Apparently not. But that does not make such censorship acceptable.

  • Paddy II

    There’s a significant difference between God-denialists and global warming-denialists that is relevant to their respective censure. The former has no bad effects beyond hurting people’s sensitibilities and if it becomes mainstream opinion that won’t be a bad thing. The latter has many bad effects and if it became mainstream opinion, that would be catastrophic.

  • Bovril 24

    @ Brendan

    Interesting to note the change of law – but tell me, does it only apply to ‘blasphemy’against the Christian superstition?

    Surely, to be equitable, it must equally enable criticism of Islam, Buddism, Scientology, R. Catholicism, Judaism & all the other paraphenalia of Human Delusion?

  • Richard P


    You are editor of Spiked ….

    … founded by Mick Hume who, while editing of LM Magazine (formerly Living Marxism) had his arse royally kicked for libelling ITN for its reports on the Serb concentration camps.

    No axe to grind then, do you?

    I would commend the following articles (written by the man who filed the ITN report) to those who think that the Bosnian Serbs were just another warring party who did no greater wrong than the Bosnian Muslims.

    Yes, atrocities were committed by all sides in the Bosnian War, but two facts are inescapable: the war was started by the Bosnian Serbs and the vast majority of the atrocities against civilians were committed against the Bosnian Muslims and by the Bosnian Serbs, as is borne out by these casualty figures.

    Your lot are cut from the same cloth as Holocaust denialists.

  • graham

    I suggest your read Heat by George Monbiot, in which he maps out the political motives behind those who mobilised the religious right in the US to deny that climate change was man-made, or even existed at all. Were it not for this powerful movement, scepticism toward climate change would be an even more lunatic fringe position than it thankfully has only relatively recently become.

    People who deny climate change are not comparable to those who denied the existence of God, as those people had valid arguments and at that time the debate was still very much in the open.

    People who deny climate change are more akin to people who deny the holocaust, in that the aetiology of their position does not stem from any reasonable scientific debate, but rather from other extrinsic factors to which I alluded above. In the same way that people who deny the holocaust usually do so because of some form of anti-semitism; their motivations are not historical accuracy.

    The reality is that climate change is not the liberal, left-wing agenda it was painted to be in the US under Bush. It is a scientific position, supported by more scientific evidence than other scientific positions which those very same climate change deniers have no problem accepting.

    So, your analogy is unfortunate. People who condemn climate change sceptics do so for the same reasons that we all condemn holocaust deniers. The climate-change denialists are motivated by factors outside of science, that is why its dangerous to allow them to peddle their views within a scientific context.

    To suggest that it is because there is some liberal agenda, akin to a religious agenda, which cannot tolerate dissent and is guilty of the exact intolerance that lead to the laws against blasphemy, is highly disingenuous.

  • Lyndall Beddy

    Sorry- I don’t buy it.

    Britain has strong labour laws, and independent courts. IF he was ubfairly treated he only had to use either, or both.

    Sounds like he might have written a sensationalist story for personal kudos.

  • Cathy

    Tut,tut. There is only One Truth. And He will deal with you in the end. Never mind what British laws have to say about blasphemy, it’s what God Himself has to say that counts.
    All these opinions, murmerings, stabbings, posterings will mean NOTHING when the Lord returns to claim His own.

  • Tim

    Very interesting (Brendan’s posting, not the inane comments).

    I think the observation of a new orthodoxy is most apposite.

    However, the man in the street is no closer to being able to verify truth for himself today than he was in years gone by.

    In years gone by, information was only disseminated through “Arbiters of Truth”. The church served as the sole Arbiter of Truth for much of the last millenium. The development of the printing press allowed others to set themselves up as Arbiters of Truth. However, the capital outlay required for publishing still meant that there was a limited number of Arbiters of Truth. In short, in order to publish a viewpoint, someone with money had to support that viewpoint.

    Today, the dissemination of information is not controlled to the same extent by any Arbiter of Truth. Any person – whether a crackpot or someone who in fact knows the truth – is able to publish a viewpoint.

    However, you and I are no better off in assessing the veracity of the available information. The man in the street doesn’t have the time and/or necessary background to interpret most scientific information and determine truth for himself. He must turn to an Arbiter of Truth for advice.

    So who does he choose as his Arbiter of Truth?

    When it comes to governmental action, the government has to choose its Arbiters of Truth. Using the example of HIV/AIDS, the orthodox view would be that the South African government turned to the wrong people as its Arbiters of Truth, yet most people holding this orthodox view have no direct, personal understanding of the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS.

    Brendan, how do you propose we deal with issues where action is required, such as (if the orthodox view turns out to be true) climate change?

  • graham

    Oh dear, another one!

    Seriously, the whole ‘God will get you in the end’ line is a little tired.

  • Pofmuis

    For us, Cathy, it is concerning but not frightening to see how far the New World Order has evolved. Read The Police State Road Map on and see how this world is under its rule. Fortunately for us, it is but a little while…

  • Graham

    Oh dear, and yet another!

  • http://Bloghome Chris2

    Author Andrew Anthony in his book titled ‘The Fallout – how a guilty liberal lost his innocence’ gives a very good account of the reality of so-called liberals betraying their principles. They are happy to witch-hunt ‘dissenters’ and try and demolish their reputations. It is surprising how pervasive this state of mind has become, particularly in the West, but also in South Africa. When this contradiction in terms is pointed out to perpetrators, they tend to bristle with indignation or simply go ballistic, but seldom recognise and concede the error of their ways.
    I think your examples are valid, but I can think of several more and also in South Africa. Thanks for raising the topic.