And so it continues. Thousands of moderate Muslims took to the streets of London today to protest against those infamous cartoons. (Not that they’ve even been published in this country of course, at least not in their entirety. Our papers have claimed they did not to want to cause offence. But let’s face it: they were simply terrified of repercussions, which is tantamount to appeasement.)
Thankfully the march appears to have been peaceful, with approximately 4,000 people turning up to represent the views of moderate Muslims in this country. Not quite the 30,000 that the organisers hoped for, but at least the extremists seem to have stayed away. It’s been a bit chilly in London lately, so maybe they’ve decided to stay at home and burn some more Danish flags to keep themselves warm. At least we won’t be treated to the sight of banners calling for jihad in London. Not today, anyway.
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn was there, talking about the need for mutual respect, etc. So, too, was Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather who opined that the cartoons were “a juvenile posturing exercise”. You are entitled to express that opinion, of course, Sarah. After all, that is your right. But even juvenile posturing exercises are not forbidden under British law. She then went on to say that: “Nothing was done to further the cause of liberal values or the freedom of speech – the publication of the cartoons was just plain racist.”
Two points. Firstly, Muslims are not a ‘race’ – it is a religion. Secondly, nobody is claiming (at least, to my knowledge) that this was ever intended to “further the cause of liberal values or freedom of speech” in any case. The point is, the publication of these pictures was an expression of freedom of speech which is protected by liberal values. The question is: why are you so keen to defend only this one faith from being offended? Especially when so many aspects of this faith (which isn’t alone in this respect, either) clash directly with the values that you, as a member of the Liberal Democrat party, are meant to embody. Why aren’t you leaping to the defence of all religious groups when they are affronted by something, as you obviously feel so strongly about it?
The BBC caused a commotion amongst some Christian groups last year when it broadcast Jerry Springer The Opera on national television. The show depicts Jesus in a nappy, has him describing himself as “a bit gay” and generally wound up a lot of Christians in much the same way that the Danish cartoons have upset Muslims. Fair enough, they have the right to be outraged. They also have the right to demonstrate outside BBC offices (which some of them did). But unless my memory fails me, there was a marked lack of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs protesting with them. Maybe Corbyn and Teather were there, upholding the right of Christians not to have their faith mocked. I doubt it though.
The general response from a number of commentators and politicians to this issue has been disappointing. Our own government’s response was feeble, as was the Bush administration’s. The same was true when the fatwa was placed on Salman Rushdie’s head in 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini – condemning someone to death for the ‘crime’ of writing a novel. There was a general air of apathy along the lines of “well, he shouldn’t have written something if he knew it was going to offend people”. Pathetic.
If we’re going to start addressing any personal behaviour that might offend religious beliefs then where do we start? Taking the Lord’s name in vain? Depicting Jesus in a nappy? Depicting Muhammad in any form? Working on the Sabbath (this would have to cover Sunday and Saturday to keep Christians and Jews happy)? Worshipping false idols? These are all forbidden according to religious texts. I drink alcohol, eat pork and have sex outside of marriage (often at the same time). Should I stop, lest I ‘offend’ somebody? It wouldn’t be a case of knowing where to start: where would we stop is the question.
We shouldn’t be appeasing or protecting any religious beliefs or convictions as a matter of public policy. In fact, we should be scrapping our own (Jesus protecting) ‘blasphemy’ law and certainly not opening a debate on the concept of widening it. God forbid!