As you may know, Liberal Democrat Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim and candidate for M.P., tweeted a perfectly innocuous Jesus and Mo cartoon, which has of course aroused ire in not just the British Muslim community, but among left-wing Brits, who are scared to death of Muslim ire and cowed by thoughts of appearing “Islamophobic.” Nawaz has received the usual death threats (it’s scary that by now we’re used to these!), and a petition is circulating to the head of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, to remove Nawaz as a candidate. The petition has over 20,000 signatures.
On last night’s Newsnight on the BBC, Jeremy Paxman interviewed the anonymous Jesus and Mo artist, whose figure and voice are masked. The video below comes from YouTube, and seems to feature only part of the interview. Paxman seems puzzled about why anybody would make fun of religion, particularly if it would a) cause offense, and b) lead to violence. Those are fair questions, but Paxman seems more confrontational than objective in his questions:
The most contemptible part is that the BBC itself, as well as Channel 4 (a publicly owned station independent of the BBC) have censored the offending Jesus and Mo cartoon, at least according to a post on Cranmer. It was in fact censored twice: on the Channel 4 news and on Newsnight. Here are the versions given by Cranmer. Note how innocuous the original cartoon (first image) was. The absence of an image from the Newsnight show apparently means that they didn’t show the cartoon at all, though I’m not sure. At any rate, even not showing it is an act of cowardice.
This is contemptible, and shows that Channel 4 and the BBC are cowed by fear of offending Muslims. Would they censor, for example, Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (an “artwork” with a crucifix immersed in a jar of Serrano’s urine) for fear of offending Christians? I don’t think so, for “Piss Christ” featured prominently in a 2009 BBC documentary called “Why beauty matters” (video below). Here’s a screenshot from minute 42 of that show, and you can clearly see Jesus floating in the urine (this version, from Vimeo, has Spanish subtitles):
I’d like to ask the BBC why they don’t mind offending Christian sensibilities but bridle at offending Muslims. We already know the answer, of course.
This just in: Reader Chris called my attention to a Guardian piece by Maajid Nawaz defending and explaining his decision: “Why I’m speaking up for Islam against the loudmouths who have hijacked it.” It’s an excellent piece, and the kind of thinking we hear far too infrequently from Muslims. An excerpt:
My intention was not to speak for any Muslim but myself – rather, it was to defend my religion from those who have hijacked it just because they shout the loudest. My intention was to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge, on pain of death. I did it for Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was assassinated by his bodyguard for calling for a review of Pakistan’s colonial-era blasphemy laws; for Malala Yusafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education; and for Muhammad Asghar, a mentally ill British man sentenced to death for “blasphemy” last week in Pakistan.
My intention was to demonstrate that Muslims are able to see things we don’t like, yet remain calm and pluralist, and to demonstrate that there are Muslims who care more about the thousands of deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria than we do about what a student is wearing. My intention was to highlight that Muslims can engage in politics without insisting that our own religious values must trump all others’ concerns, and to stand before the mob so that other liberal Muslim voices that are seldom heard, women’s and men’s, could come to the fore. And many such Muslim voices have been heard this last week.
However, in the final analysis, my intentions are irrelevant. What matters is this simple truth: I am free not to be offended by a cartoon I did not draw. If my prospective constituents do not like me not being offended, they are free not to vote for me. Other Muslims are free to be offended, and the rest of the country is free to ignore them. I will choose my policies based on my conscience. As such, I will continue to defend my prophet from those on the far right and Muslim extremes who present only a rigid, angry and irrational interpretation of my faith. I will stand for fairness, as Amnesty International once stood for me when I was a prisoner in Hosni Mubarak‘s Egypt. Because I believe that the difference between fairness and tribalism is the difference between choosing principles and choosing sides.
Of course I’m not wild about Islam, but if there were more people like Nawaz, at least its malevolence could be weakened. Sadly, I think he’s put a target on his back, and this piece just makes it more visible.