In 9th Century Islamic Spain, non-Muslims were second class citizens, paying a special tax — the jizya — to ensure their protection and remind them of their place in society. So, when a monk, born in Cordoba under Umayyad rule, was challenged by two Muslim men to say who was greater — Mohammed or Jesus — he was understandably hesitant to answer.
Convinced that he would be protected if he gave his honest answer, the monk told the Muslim men what he believed: that Mohammed was a false prophet and therefore immoral. In April 850, he was arrested, found guilty of blasphemy and beheaded for insulting the Prophet. Recorded in Memoriale Sanctorum, this monk became Saint Perfectus, one of the Martyrs of Cordoba.
According to legend, his last words blessed Christ and condemned Muhammad and the Quran. He was allegedly the first martyr at the beginning of a period of persecution against Christians in Al Andalus.
Today, it is easy to relate to Saint Perfectus’ hesitance. You might not lose your head, but you could lose your job — however vanilla your opinion. Even recounting this story might get me in trouble.
According to the widely adopted definition of Islamophobia, it is prohibited to make certain statements about the prophet Mohammed or claims about Islamic history, such as: “Muslims spreading Islam by the sword or subjugating minority groups under their rule”. Understandably this has led to concern from historians, academics and other faith groups over its potential to limit free speech and discussion of the less rosy aspects of Islamic history or doctrine.
Despite warnings that it could be weaponised to silence dissidents and function as a back-door blasphemy law, the Labour party are going full steam ahead. Case in point is the Party’s suspension of well-known anti-racism advocate Trevor Phillips, on accusations of Islamophobia.
According to today’s Times, among the statements being investigated are Phillips’ concerns about the Pakistani-Muslim men involved in the Rotherham grooming gang scandal, and about an opinion poll showing sympathy for the motives of the “Charlie Hebdo” attackers.
Writing in the Times, Phillips reflected that tyranny is not always a pounding fist on your door in the middle of the night but it can take the form of “a bureaucrat’s warning: recant, repent, denounce your fellow deviants and you may save your livelihood”.
After 30 years in the Labour Party and a life time’s work devoted to combating racism, the language of the letter he received was the “cold-eyed, accusatory prose of the zealot”, he said, “I am accused of heresy, and threatened with excommunication”.
Labour’s actions have now left the party shorn of another dissenting voice, marking another step in its slow descent towards authoritarianism.