Europe’s New Blasphemy Courts

Europe is currently seeing the reintroduction of blasphemy laws through both the front and back doors. In Britain, the gymnast Louis Smith has just been suspended for two months by British Gymnastics. This 27-year old sportsman’s career has been put on hold, and potentially ruined, not because of anything to do with athletics but because of something to do with Islam.

Last month a video emerged online of the four-time Olympic medal-winner and a friend getting up to drunken antics after a wedding. The video — taken on Smith’s phone in the early hours of the morning — showed a friend taking a rug off a wall and doing an imitation of Islamic prayer rituals. When the video from Smith’s phone ended up in the hands of a newspaper, there was an immediate investigation, press castigation and public humiliation for the young athlete. Smith — who is himself of mixed race — was forced to parade on daytime television in Britain and deny that he is a racist, bigot or xenophobe. Notoriously liberal figures from the UK media queued up to berate him for getting drunk or for even thinking of taking part in any mockery of religion. This in a country in which Monty Python’s Life of Brian is regularly voted the nation’s favourite comic movie.

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