Their self-congratulatory image of brave “speakers of truth to power”

Nick Cohen points out the very important difference between saying you are not showing a cartoon character named Mo out of respect, and saying you are not showing a cartoon character named Mo because you are afraid to.

When the BBC interviewed the artist behind Jesus and Mo, its editors told him privately they could not show his drawing of Jesus saying “Hey” and Mo saying “How ya’ doin’?” because jihadis might murder the corporation’s correspondents in Pakistan.

That’s a reason, but what a pity they didn’t say that during the interview. What a pity Jeremy Paxman did the very opposite, and insinuated that the cartoonist had done a bad wrong thing in drawing such a cartoon at all. What a lousy crappy rotten thing to do, Jeremy Paxman.

Fear may not be a noble reason for censoring, but it can be an honest one if you admit its existence. If I worked at the BBC and my colleagues told me that showing a bland cartoon might endanger lives in Pakistan, I wouldn’t broadcast it. If I worked at Channel 4 or edited a national newspaper, I wouldn’t put my colleagues’ safety at risk either. But I would also tell the viewers or readers that I was censoring out of fear: not respect or cultural sensitivity but pure fear. I would make it clear to them that freedom and secularism were in danger in Britain. I would say that the people who provoked the fear deserved no more true respect than a gangster did.

Instead of what the BBC and Channel 4 did, which was to make it seem as if the cartoonist and Maajid Nawaz are in the wrong, and the people threatening them are in the right. It’s dishonest and contemptible.

Not one editor has dared admit that he or she is afraid. The editor of Newsnight did not mention threats to his colleagues’ lives when he talked to the Independent about the Nawaz case. Rather he implied that he was a responsible journalist, while his critics, rather than, say, potential terrorists, were macho maniacs. “A lot of the people disappointed with us for not using it really wanted a demonstration of liberal virility rather than more informative journalism,” he said.

Cognitive dissonance anyone? It can’t be that the wonderful people at Newsnight hid the cartoon out of fear, therefore it must be that their critics wanted “a demonstration of liberal virility.”

If you admit to being afraid, you are acknowledging the scale of suppression. And it is only when you acknowledge that suppression exists that you can begin a campaign to challenge it. As it is, editors and senior journalists in the British media are not prepared to destroy their self-congratulatory image of brave “speakers of truth to power” by saying they are scared. The results are pernicious whichever way you cut them.

Quite: cognitive dissonance playing out as sheer vanity.

The liberal mainstream has abandoned liberal Muslims.

What is Maajid Nawaz meant to think? He says on a public platform that a bland cartoon is not offensive. He has rejected  Koranic literalism, endorsed tolerance, and done everything the mainstream wants an integrated Muslim to do. And look at how the mainstream treats him. It agrees with his persecutors by ruling that the image is so shocking no national newspaper or broadcaster can show it. Meanwhile editors’ failure to level with their audience and admit that they are censoring because of a fear of violence, has the added malign consequence of diminishing the real threat that Nawaz and others face.



  1. Al Dente says

    Actually Paxman could have made the point about fear when he was interviewing Author. The cartoonist said that he didn’t identify himself because of fear and Paxman could have said the Beeb wasn’t showing the cartoon because of a similar fear.

  2. says

    I’m pretty sure the cartoonist didn’t say that. Paxman said it for him and to him, and he didn’t say “no that’s wrong” – but I’m pretty sure he didn’t say it himself. He doesn’t put it that way.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    Ah, but if Paxman had come out and said that he was afraid of Islamists murdering his correspondents, then the chances are good that they would have murdered the correspondents anyway. We can’t have anyone saying that Islam is not the religion of peace, after all, and murdering random people is the BEST way to make sure they don’t.

  4. Bjarte Foshaug says

    No! No! No! Don’t call us cowards! Just look how bravely we are standing up to anyone who dares to challenge violent fanatics and theocrats. When a state leader put a price on a famous author’s head, we bravely stood up and blamed the author for bringing the death sentence on himself. When the religious mob went amok over some Danish cartoons, we bravely went out of our way to criticize the newspaper and cartoonists for their insensitivity. When Theo Van Gogh was stabbed to death for making a movie about religious misogyny, we took a very brave stand by condemning the victim and making sure his partner Ayaan Hirsi-Ali – a non-western woman of color whose life was being threatened by the same murderous thugs – had nowhere to go for support except for the American far right. And now that Maajid Nawaz is under attack from the same far-right ultra-reactionary movement, we are bravely doing it again. We will never stop.

  5. Decker says

    Cohen has missed something I feel is very important…and worrisome

    By consistently failing to face down the extremists in more and more of these types of confrontations, would it not be honest to say that sharia is slowly becoming the highest de facto law of the UK?

    If Islam is placed above and beyond any and all criticism out of fear of violence, then will that not become the case eventually?

  6. Omar Puhleez says


    I’m curious. I think I can tell the difference between Islamism and sharia. But how does one tell the difference between sharia on the one hand, and Islamist-sponsored sharia on the other?

    I ask this because Islamists are always in favour of sharia, and always stand to gain from whatever variety of it creeps or barges in.

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