Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 10 March 2024



Stop anti-blasphemy extremists from taking hold

As is so often the case with Islamic terrorism and violence, it is Muslims who are the main victims

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens
The Times

It is of course important to respect the religious views of others but when there is intimidation or threats of violence because sensibilities are offended, we have veered into anti-blasphemy extremism. Left unchecked it can threaten free speech. When a teacher in Batley is forced into hiding over showing a cartoon of Muhammad, it is time to address this issue before it escalates further.

Jihadists have long threatened, planned, and conducted blasphemy-related attacks in the West. While Europe has borne the brunt of this violence, from the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam to the massacre of 12 staff at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, Britain is not immune. There have been a number of plots and calls to murder blasphemers in this country in recent years, including two terrorism convictions last year.

Pakistan is the epicentre of such activism. The most violent anti-blasphemy group there is the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). It emerged from a hard-right extremist fringe of Barelvi Sufism. The TLP founder, Khadim Rizvi, who died in 2020, was known for his public calls for vigilante murder of blasphemers, and there is a concerted effort to import anti-blasphemy extremism into the UK.

A wake-up call was the 2016 murder of Asad Shah, an Ahmadi Muslim, in Glasgow by Tanveer Ahmed. Ahmed, a follower of the TLP who lived in Bradford, took Shah’s life based on the grounds that Ahmadi beliefs are heretical and make followers legitimate targets for execution.

One thing immediately noticeable: as is so often the case with Islamic terrorism and violence, it is Muslims who are the main victims.


The TLP’s ideology is disseminated in Britain via a network of supporters calling themselves TLP-UK. The group has held multiple events and protests across the country. Its supporters were at the forefront of protests against British schoolboys from Wakefield accused of desecrating a Koran last year, and against the Batley grammar school teacher in 2021. TLP-UK also holds annual events to celebrate the life and works of Rizvi. Attendees are told he is one of the greatest Islamic figures of modern times and a model to be followed by British Muslims.

A culture of violence and intimidation against blasphemers is gaining confidence and momentum in the UK. There is an opportunity for the government to stem the tide before another person is threatened, harmed, or killed by the enemies of pluralism and freedom.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is a lecturer in terrorism and radicalisation at King’s College London

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