Over the past two weeks, a political and media storm has been brewing in England — a tempest over a single-panel religious cartoon that is about as inoffensive as it gets.
The anonymous creator of Jesus and Mo typically presents the Muslim prophet and his Christian nemesis/sidekick in four-panel dialogs. Those dialogs are often sharp, the jokes tend toward the blasphemous (as befits an atheist comic strip), and some of the pictures could raise eyebrows as Jesus and Mo appear to be housemates who sleep in very close proximity.
It beggars belief that, with all that potentially contentious material for people to get upset over, the almost bland drawing above became a huge flashpoint. But it did, thanks to Muslims’ insistence that Mohammed may not be depicted at all, and thanks to Maajid Nawaz‘s innocuous tweet:
Nawaz, a former Islamist radical turned progressive reformer, is the Executive Director of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. He’s currently also a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 general election, seeking to represent Hampstead and Kilburn, a constituency in Greater London. But that may change, as angry Muslims want him to withdraw. In yesterday’s Guardian, Nawaz explained what happened:
On 12 January I participated in a BBC debate on human rights and religious rights. Two students were wearing T-shirts depicting a stick figure of Jesus saying “Hey” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How ya doin’?” Some Muslims, having just argued for their own right to veil, took issue with the students. I argued that just as Muslim women have the right to veil, atheists have the right to wear these T-shirts.
I am acutely aware of the populist sentiment in Britain that derides Muslims who seek special treatment for their sensibilities, so I tweeted the bland image and stated that, as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that.
By the time the week was up I had received death threats, the police were involved, and a petition set up by some conservative Muslims to have me dismissed as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn had gained 20,000 signatures.
So upset are tens of thousands of London Muslims that LibDem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has agreed to meet with the leaders of Islamic organizations today to try and smooth things over.It gets more bizarre. When Channel 4 broadcast a news item about the controversy last night, this is how the TV team showed the “offensive” cartoon.
Reporter Katie Razzall, heard in the voiceover, said,
“We’ve taken the decision to cover up the picture of Mohammed so we don’t cause offense to some viewers.”
Note that only Mo was censored. Interesting.
Just so we’re crystal clear, this is how Channel 4 sees it:
But maybe those labels should be reversed. Because, hey, Channel 4 — I’m actually offended by your black blob of censorship.
Also, I’m offended by a news staff that treats its duty to fully inform the public so cavalierly as to cross over into dereliction and cowardice.
I’m offended by the culture of dhimmitude that permeates British news media.
I’m offended by Muslim grievance junkies whose collective outrage machine goes into overdrive when they view cartoons or shitty Youtube movies, but who won’t generate a fraction of the 20,000 anti-Nawaz signatures in order to protest Islamists shooting schoolgirls in the head.
I’m offended that violence-fetishizing fundies have succeeded in effecting censorship of the kind practiced by the Telegraph, whose science writer and assistant comment editor admitted last week that he won’t reprint any Jesus and Mo comic “out of simple cowardice and the desire for a quiet life.”
It would be lovely if Channel 4 decided to remove the black blob of shame from its next news broadcast about this stupid controversy.
I don’t expect that the stain on its own reputation will be quite so easily lifted.
If you’d like to tell Channel 4 (politely) to stop censoring the news, here’s the contact form.