Moore's paedophile 'slur' angers Muslims

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The Independent Online

Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, provoked a storm of criticism from British Muslims yesterday for an article in which he championed the right to call the Prophet Mohamed a paedophile.

Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, provoked a storm of criticism from British Muslims yesterday for an article in which he championed the right to call the Prophet Mohamed a paedophile.

Mr Moore, who opposes new legislation banning incitement to religious hatred, chose the sensitive issue of the Prophet's marriage to a nine-year-old to illustrate his case. "It seems to me that people are perfectly entitled - rude and mistaken as they may be - to say that Mohamed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett gets his way, they may not be able to," he wrote in his weekly column.

Responding with a mixture of astonishment and fury, Muslims yesterday described the remarks as inflammatory and deliberately provocative. Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the main voice of British Islam, said he was astonished that "a journalist and former editor with such wide experience could stoop so low".

Muslim groups have been at the forefront of the campaign for laws against religious hatred proposed by the Home Secretary in the summer. They have long complained that, while British Jews are protected by the 1976 Race Relations Act, there has been no similar ban on anti-Islamic prejudice.

According to Mr Sacranie, there is now a concerted campaign to confuse the public, with recent claims that new laws would prevent comedians telling religious jokes. He said there is no conflict between humour and laws banning religious bigotry.

Mr Moore, 48, has had a difficult few weeks. He was editor-in-chief when the paper printed false claims that MP George Galloway received money from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. This month the paper was ordered to pay £150,000 in libel damages to Mr Galloway, and the eventual legal costs could be huge. Mr Moore left the editorship of The Daily Telegraph last year to write a biography of Lady Thatcher.

Mohamed was 53 when he married his child-bride Aisha, then aged nine. Mr Moore wrote that he thinks it wrong to judge a historical relationship by contemporary standards, but said the issue of paedophilia remained the sort of legitimate line of discussion that could in future be outlawed.

Speaking yesterday, he said: "The purpose of the article was two-fold. One is to oppose the religious hatred law. The other is to try and explain where some of this is coming from: there are passages within Islam which regard any form of criticism or mockery as completely beyond the pale. I respect the fact that Muslims hold the Prophet in such high regard, but that has to be balanced against the interests of free speech."

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