Correspondent in London

Intimidation and threats against people believed to have disrespected Islam are on an alarming rise in the UK. Denouncing acts of “blasphemy” is said to be a well-defined strategy by radical Islamists to put pressure on British society. To the point of seriously alarming the authorities.

According to a report commissioned by the government’s head of the fight against extremism, of which the Times has seen, demonstrations condemning “acts of blasphemy” are increasingly frequent and have become radicalized. The study says a new generation of activists is trying to make blasphemy “a major concern for British Muslims”. And those seen as having insulted Islam are the targets of increasingly violent threats.

The report also shows that these activists, operating during recent protests in the United Kingdom, cultivate links with an extremist Islamist political party in Pakistan, which has regularly called for the beheading of blasphemers. He thus considers “very worrying” the emergence of a British branch of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which was for a time banned in the United Kingdom because of its violent gatherings and its support for collective executions of “blasphemers”. Preachers linked to the TLP have been hosted in British mosques and activists also close to the extremist party have been at the forefront of many demonstrations in recent years.

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The report also cites the Muslim Action Forum (MAF), which rose to prominence in 2015 by organizing a protest against Charlie Hebdo outside Downing Street. The movement has since designated so-called blasphemers for popular retribution.

Robin Simcox, British “tsar” of the fight against extremism, commissioned this study following in particular three incidents relating to accusations of blasphemy. In 2021, protests were held against a teacher in Batley, West Yorkshire, who was threatened with death after showing pupils a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. He always has to hide. The following year, activists also demonstrated in Birmingham during the screening of the film The Lady from Heaven, which tells the story of Muhammad’s daughter. Finally, last year, tempers also flared in Wakefield, also in West Yorkshire, after a copy of the Quran was slightly damaged at a secondary school. Two murders linked to blasphemy have also been committed in the United Kingdom over the last decade.

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The study estimates that such rhetoric radicalizes minds, aggravates community tensions and “increases the risks of sectarian and terrorist violence” in the country. These activists are also pushing for stricter laws against blasphemy. They would like to criminalize insults against Islam, “which they present as part of a broader war against faith waged by the so-called enemies of Islam in the West.”

This report comes as Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Communities, must establish a new definition of “extremism” in order to better combat its manifestations. The notion should be extended to all people whose actions “undermine” the institutions or values ​​of the country. Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak denounced the “poison of extremism” in a rare speech outside Downing Street.

Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts have increased sharply in the UK since the start of the new Gaza war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. At the end of February, the government granted an additional 54 million pounds (63 million euros) for the Community Security Trust, whose role is to protect the Jewish community. And this Monday March 11, the first day of Ramadan, he allocated 117 million pounds (137 million euros) to strengthen the protection of mosques, faith schools and Muslim community centers in the United Kingdom.

The political class is bearing the brunt of these tensions. On the Labor side, MPs were divided on the position to adopt in the face of the conflict and a candidate was stripped of the party’s nomination during a recent legislative by-election after comments deemed anti-Semitic. On the Conservative side, Rishi Sunak suspended a lawmaker last month after he said London Mayor Sadiq Khan was under the control of Islamists.