Jacob Rees-Mogg’s “extremist” views on abortion and gay marriage are more palatable because he is a white, Catholic politician who is part of the establishment, experts have said.
The backbench Tory MP, who is tipped as a potential leadership contender, made the controversial comments on Wednesday, sparking a backlash on social media.
He defended his views on Friday, saying: “The Catholic Church’s teachings are authoritative. To take a life after a rape is not the answer.”
Yet experts say the reaction would have been far more widespread and more critical had it been a Muslim politician espousing such views.
LBC host James O’Brien made a similar comparison this week, saying that Rees-Mogg’s opinions “puts him on the same page as an awful lot of imams, the lunatic fringe of Islam”.
And even in editorials slamming the Tory MP’s extremely religious views, there appeared to be a concerted effort to rush to his defence, with Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine praising his “authenticity” and “candour”.
“If a Muslim said things like that they (the Daily Mail) wouldn’t describe him as being authentic,” Dr Abby Day, professor of race, faith and culture at Goldsmiths University, tells HuffPost UK.
“She (Vine) describes him as being ‘unapologetically religious’. I mean, that’s a compliment?
“Can you imagine the Mail praising a woman wearing a hijab for being unapologetically religious.
“She is tortuously trying to say he’s ok while not quite lining up with his views on abortion.”
Earlier this week, Rees-Mogg said that he disagreed with abortion in all circumstances, even in cases of rape and incest.
The 48-year-old North East Somerset MP, who has become something of a social media sensation in recent months, justified his opposition to abortion and same sex marriage because he takes the teachings of the Catholic Church “seriously”.
Dr Day says that there is a disparity between how comments made by a Catholic politician are received compared to a Muslim politician.
The academic said that, because the person expressing these views is white and a member of the establishment, they are not being “attacked” to the same extent as someone from a different race or ethnic background would be.
“Having a look at the ways a lot of the media have covered the Rees-Mogg story, it’s interesting that they have often described him as a traditionalist,” Dr Day says.
“It’s interesting if a Muslim said that they would be labelled an extremist, why don’t we label him as an extremist?”.
Dr Day says a similar situation emerged when Tim Farron stood down as leader of the Liberal Democrats after he refused to say whether homosexuality is a sin.
“When Tim Farron resigned… everybody swelled around him and said he did the right thing.
“People like (Archbishop of Canterbury Justin) Welby said he’s a really courageous man. The guy stood down because his Christian views, predominantly about same sex marriage, were out of touch with the population,” Dr Day says.
“Everybody said ‘oh what a nice guy, that’s too bad’. They just would not have said that if it was a Muslim.”
If a Muslim said that they would be labelled an extremist.Dr Abby Day
When asked whether he believed gay sex is a sin, Rees-Mogg said on Wednesday that it is not for him to judge what other people do.
He also said that, if he were to become prime minister, the law regarding abortion would not change, although it was his personal belief that “life begins at the point of conception”.
According to a 2013 YouGov survey, only 14% of Catholics in the UK are in favour of a ban on abortion.
Meanwhile, 30% of Muslims surveyed supported an abortion ban.
Despite a larger number of Muslims agreeing with a ban on abortion, according to the YouGov survey, experts say they are less likely to voice their opinions through fear of how their views will be received.
Ahmed J Versi, editor of The Muslim News, says that Muslims are “afraid” to discuss certain views in public.
“If a Muslim person wants to say this in public, it becomes an extremism issue,” he tells HuffPost UK.
He says Muslims were seen “through the prism of extremism”.
“Whenever you look at the media you see a negative image of Islam, so how would you feel if you were a Muslim? You would feel that everything about me is negative,” Versi adds.
But when a high-profile politician expresses such views, more caution needs to be taken than if it was someone who wasn’t in a position of power, campaigners say.
Katherine O’Brien, head of media at British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), tells HuffPost UK: “One in three women in this country will have an abortion in their lifetime. We will all know and love a woman who has had an abortion, yet stigma still prevails.
“When high-profile individuals express these views, some women will feel that their incredibly personal decision to end a pregnancy is being judged on national TV by a stranger who knows nothing about their life.
“However, given the significant backlash from both members of the public and his colleagues in parliament, it appears the person most negatively impacted by these comments is Jacob Rees-Mogg himself.”
Meanwhile, LGBT rights charity Stonewall advises Rees-Mogg keep his opinions to himself.
Matt Horwood, communications officer from Stonewall, tells HuffPost UK: “It’s always disappointing to hear people make judgement on same sex relationships, even though these relationships are none of their business.
“If Jacob Rees-Mogg is so opposed to same sex marriage, the best thing for him to do is avoid marrying another man, rather than comment on other people’s relationships.”
Academics argue that extremists from different faiths often agree with each other - more so than the liberal members of their own religion.
“A lot of Catholics approve of abortion, a lot of Catholics approve of same sex marriage and most middle-of-the-road religious people are just the same to the majority of the people in the population who think these things are ok,” Dr Day says.
“It’s only the extremists like Rees-Mogg who disagree.”
The Goldsmiths professor raises questions about what it is about abortion and same sex marriage that bothers some fervently religious people so much.
“You have to wonder what it is that makes these guys come out against abortion.
“There’s only three things that they get exercised about – abortion, same sex marriage and divorce.
“You don’t hear them getting exercised about, well not often anyway, poverty, people sleeping on the streets, young people losing their jobs through the bad economy.
“You don’t hear them getting crazy about that. So it’s kind of important for us to see that they are really getting crazy about women’s rights and the right for people to be who they are.”
Marie Stopes, a charity which provides sexual and reproductive health services, said that religious planning and family planning do not have to be incompatible with one another.
Sarah Shaw, the charity’s head of advocacy, says: “Our teams work with religious leaders around the world to educate community members about sexual and reproductive health and enable them to make informed choices that are right for them.”