It was just three weeks ago that Steerpike pointed out that Labour MP Naz Shah was being billed to speak at a charity fundraiser alongside a controversial imam. Now it seems the shadow minister for community cohesion has caused yet further headaches for her leader thanks to her speech on Monday on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Just hours after Kim Leadbeater took her seat in Parliament, following a campaign dogged by questions about a Batley school teacher forced to go into hiding for showing children a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, Shah delivered an eyebrow-raising intervention likening such depictions to the vandalism of Winston Churchill's statue.
This call from a frontbench spokesperson to treat cartoons of Mohammed as equivalent to actual public vandalism has caused something of a belated backlash, amid fears it would mean the restoration of blasphemy laws. Such restrictions were abolished in England, incidentally, by the last Labour government in 2008. Shah told the Commons:
“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.
Shah continued to quote the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw in praise of the Prophet before closing with the following:
“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?
Mr S looks forward to Shah's front bench colleagues justifying this stance next time they're out doing the morning media round.