Petition to deselect LibDem candidate Maajid Nawaz for tweeting Jesus and Mo cartoon
Is this cartoon offensive?
The BBC thinks so. On their Sunday morning programme The Big Questions on 12th January, the producers opted not to display it to viewers even though the Jesus and Mo satirical comic strip was the very topic of debate. By doing so, they chose to manifest and perpetuate a certain hyper-sensitivity to an imagined sharia compliance with which very few British Muslims actually accord, let alone the vast majority of non-Muslims. By censoring this innocuous image, the BBC is inculcating the whole nation with the belief that depictions of Mohammed are haram - forbidden - and that everyone - people of all faiths and none - must respect and obey this precept.
Setting aside the irrefutable historic fact that Shia Muslims have a centuries-old tradition of depicting Mohammed, and this sort of strict censorship being principally a Sunni assertion of belief (including the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi strain), it is surely not for the state broadcaster to take a dogmatic view of the deeply-held sensitivities of one religious denomination, or to impose a moral view of religious blasphemy when Parliament has abolished the concept.
The fact that the BBC chose to censor a T-shirt depicting this cartoon rather upset Muslim Maajid Nawaz, who was a guest on the show. He proceeded to tweet out the image to his followers with the message: “This is not offensive & I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” Mr Nawaz is a former member of the Islamist revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and became director of the anti-extremist think-tank the Quilliam Foundation. He is now the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. Mohammed is his prophet, and Islam is his faith. But he understands perfectly that some people view Islam is a vile ideology and, for many, Mohammed is no kind of prophet at all. And depicting Mohammed saying "Hey" to Jesus does not offend him in the slightest.
No reasonable person goes out of their way to cause offence. In this instance, Maajid Nawaz was simply challenging the BBC's (myopic) interpretation of a particular (narrow) view of sharia, and demonstrating that British Muslims are moderate and do not reach for the nearest meat-cleaver to dismember the apostate or behead the blaspheming kuffar.
Sadly, a few Muslims have now threatened Mr Nawaz with certain 'surprises', and others have been more explicit in what they would like to do to him:
A few moderate types are simply demanding that he be deselected as a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate. They include Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, who tweeted: “I intend to formally complain to the @libdems about @MaajidNawaz and his offensive tweet of a cartoon.” And also George Galloway:
Mr Nawaz has tried to educate these dimwitted hooligans, explaining: “My point is, that cartoon is not offensive. That's my opinion. Don't like it? Don't read my tweets". And he has called for calm.
But there is a petition for the LibDems to deselect Mr Nawaz (currently with 5,476 signatures), and its organisers appeal to Article 3.1(b) of the LibDem Constitution, which says:
As a Member of the Liberal Democrats, you must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.And there is a counter-petition (currently with 1,150 signatures) to Nick Clegg urging support. Its organisers explain:
Islamists and political opponents have mounted a campaign against Maajid Nawaz, resulting in numerous threats to his life. We note that this campaign, rather than being based on legitimate concerns of Muslims, is a political campaign which is being spear-headed by a group of Muslim reactionaries with a track record of promoting extremism. They are seeking to use Muslim communities in order to whip up hatred against a liberal and secular Muslims. We are concerned that this campaign will also be used by anti-Muslim extremists as evidence of Muslim intolerance and incompatibility with liberal values which could, in turn, fuel anti-Muslim bigotry.Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society hits the nail of liberty squarely on the head. He says: "We simply can't have a climate where politicians are intimidated into silence by people who believe they have a right not to have their religious sensibilities offended. Anything other than complete Liberal Democrat support for Maajid could have a very chilling effect on free speech in this country."
This is more or less what Nigel Farage said in support of Ukip Councillor David Silvester, who has since been suspended (for continuing to stoke the fire, it must be noted; not for expressing his personal beliefs about divine judgment). This is also the rational view taken by very many Muslims, who must now it seems be styled 'moderate', as though they were an emerging denomination distinct from the extremists.
Freedom of expression is essential to the functioning of a liberal democracy, and strong passions may be aroused on both sides of any dispute. If we cease to respect such freedom, we no longer tolerate difference or dissent. And tolerance is important because the alternative is religious war or cultural conflict. Those who demand the censoring of the expression of religious beliefs have no sense or understanding of the common life, and so it disintegrates into a chaos of warring factions. Where there is no respect for pluralism or diversity, there is no grasp of the common good. And a society is only good when it sustains freedom from tyranny and the imposition of an oppressive uniformity.
His Grace has no wish to augment Nick Clegg's present woes, but this is important. Culture is a shared social reality, and the good of the British culture arises from the historic Christian commitment to support and foster religious freedom as a shared virtue. Please sign the petition in support of Maajid Nawaz. To be deselected by a political party and barred from standing for Parliament merely for articulating a religious opinion or supporting a particular theological doctrine is an offence to all that is reasonable, honourable and just.