Feb 03 2014

Don’t think you can straddle

Charlie Klendjian says it’s time to pick a horse.

In censoring themselves Channel 4 News and Newsnight not only failed in their task of reporting the news to their viewers – to enable their viewers to form their own opinion about the cartoon – but they also reinforced the very religious taboo that Nawaz had received death threats for challenging and which had landed Chris and Abhishek in hot water with the Libyan School of Economics – sorry, the London School of Economics. As Nawaz tweeted:

“Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch #LynchMobFreeZone #TeamNawaz”.

I am appalled at the treatment of Nawaz and I am appalled at the editorial decisions of Channel 4 News and Newsnight to censor the Jesus and Mo cartoon. Religious censorship is bad even on a good day, but when it prevents discussion of the actual news item at hand it becomes surreal.

But it’s not censorship, it’s careful sensitive thoughtful considerate avoidance of Offending someone. It’s Nice, which is the opposite of Mean, so it must be good. Mustn’t it?

It’s high time we all faced up to a very unsettling reality here: sharia law is alive and kicking in the United Kingdom in 2014, and so is its deadly blasphemy code. After Nawaz had tweeted the picture Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation referred to him as “Gustake Rasool”, which means “Defamer of Prophets”. This is a religious and legal charge punishable by a death sentence in Pakistan. Nawaz travels regularly to Pakistan and has family there. Shafiq also tweeted that:

“We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries”.

It’s tempting to think this is a difficult legal or moral conundrum. It isn’t. There are difficult legal and moral issues out there but this is not one of them. The question before us is very simple: do we have the right to depict Mohammed? It’s a simple question and so it deserves a simple answer. The answer is either yes or no. My answer is yes. If your answer is “yes, but”, then sorry that’s just not good enough. If you have to pause for thought before answering the question then you’ve probably already decided the answer is no.

My answer is yes with no buts. Religious taboos do not apply to people who have no interest in the religions that spawn them. As far as I’m concerned they don’t apply to people who do have an interest in those religions either, unless those people consent – and even then they shouldn’t apply in such a way that other people’s rights are abridged. A religious taboo on men talking to women could very easily abridge women’s right to work and function in the public sphere, like for instance doing their jobs.

“Oh but we have to be respectful because depiction of the prophet Mohammed is forbidden in Islam and so it’s offensive to Muslims”, I hear you say, clutching your dusty GCSE Religious Studies certificate proudly (I have an ‘A’ grade myself; it was one of my favourite subjects).

You’re wrong.

Point 1: there is a history within some strands of Islam of depicting Mohammed.

Point 2: all Muslims are individuals. Some of them will find a depiction of Mohammed offensive and some won’t. Why are you more concerned about the Muslims that want to enforce blasphemy codes rather than those challenging them, often at great risk? In choosing to instinctively sympathise with those seeking to enforce blasphemy codes you make it even harder for liberal and secular Muslims to rise up. As Nawaz says, you push them “further into a ditch.” You side with the oppressor rather than the victim. Think about that, carefully.

Why indeed? Why why why? Why side with religious zealots (to put it no more strongly) against the people who don’t want to be pushed around by them?

Point 4: if someone is offended, so what? Do you know how offended some men (and women) were at the idea of women having the vote in this country? Do you know how offended some white people were at the idea of racial equality in the US and South Africa?

That’s an argument I make often. The very people who are so offended by images of Mohammed are indeed also offended by women having rights and walking around in public just as if they were human beings too. Why side with them?

Don’t think you can straddle both sides of the Jesus and Mo argument, arguing in one breath how free speech and free expression are important but in another breath how we have to be “respectful” and not cause offence, like a Hollywood stuntman expertly riding two horses. At some point those horses will go their separate ways. Pick a horse now – while you still have something of a choice.

Now that’s a metaphor.


Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Blanche Quizno

    A religion’s rules only apply to those who, for whatever reason, embrace that religion. Their rules do not apply to anyone else.

    Don’t believe me? Well, then, do we see Christians carefully avoiding eating bacon, pork chops, and the traditional Easter Ham? Of course no – they aren’t Jewish! It’s only JEWS who need to avoid pork, according to the rules of Judaism. And do we see Christians avoiding cheeseburgers? That’s a double whammy – Hinduism forbids eating beef, and Judaism forbids mixing meat with milk products. But do CHRISTIANS care?? Of course not! They’re neither Hindus nor Jews!

    Muslims need to learn this. And they need to learn it NOW. They cannot require non-Muslims to obey Muslim laws – those only apply to Muslims.

  2. 2

    There’s an internet meme where you take an innocuous clip from a TV show – say, an episode of the Adam West Batman – and bleep out words so it looks like the characters were swearing.

    It’s quite funny the first couple of times you see it but that’s the same principle as the Black Egg of Blasphemy: by covering part of the picture it makes it look like something obscene is being covered up.

  3. 3
    Ant (@antallan)

    Where does Charlie Klendjian say this? That is, link please!


  4. 4

    I am puzzled by the theological justification for objecting to the Jesus and Mo cartoons.
    I understand that Muslims are enjoined against making images of the prophet in case they are tempted to worship them as idols.
    How can that apply to images made by atheists for their own enjoyment?
    Is it supposed that atheists must be saved from the danger of idolatry? Or is there a risk that Muslims might be tempted to worship these cartoons?
    Looks to me like a case of internalisation of sub-goals.

  5. 5
  6. 6

    Nicely said. So clear and understandable.
    So why don’t people get it (the ones who aren’t getting it, that is)???

  7. 7
    Bjarte Foshaug

    Why are you more concerned about the Muslims that want to enforce blasphemy codes rather than those challenging them, often at great risk? [...] You side with the oppressor rather than the victim. [...] Don’t think you can straddle both sides of the Jesus and Mo argument, arguing in one breath how free speech and free expression are important but in another breath how we have to be “respectful” and not cause offence, like a Hollywood stuntman expertly riding two horses. At some point those horses will go their separate ways.

    Of course many things had to go wrong (conflating Islam with Islamism, ideas with people, religions with races etc.) for people who consider themselves “liberal” and “progressive” to side with a far-right theocratic movement that represent everything they’re supposed to be against, but at least part of it seems to stem from the idea that “any enemy of my enemy is my friend”. And since the only legitimate “enemy” is white Westerners, it seems to follow that everyone else must in some sense be an “ally”. Hence common tropes like “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter (as if Islamists had any interest in anybody else’s freedom…).

    Never mind that Islamists want to enslave women, stone the gays and behead secularists. Never mind that Western lefties and liberals themselves would the first against the wall if the Islamists had their way. In the only battle that matters to the post-socialist left (the one against the West) they are on the “right” side, therefore any liberal or Ex-Muslim who dares to oppose them is a counter-revolutionary traitor and saboteur who’s serving the interests of the real oppressors (Yes, I do like Nick Cohen…).

    Again, the battle against Islamism is not a battle between whites and “non-whites”. What we have are some non-whites against other non-whites with white apologists on both sides. So the question white, Western liberals and progressives need to ask themselves is “Which non-whites do I support: those who share my values (feminists, LGBT rights activists, secularists etc.) or a far-right movement that I would be the first do condemn if it was dominated by white people?”. You cannot have it both ways. And as every good progressive will tell you: Neutrality always favors the status quo.

  8. 8

    And what about Islamic ‘offence taking’ that isn’t about comics?
    Dante and Michelangelo have both been targeted with censorship demands. After all they both depict Mohammed in hell.

  9. 9
    Ant (@antallan)

    @ Carmichael Thanks! /@

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