We are writing in response to a package presented by news correspondent Katie Razzall, on Tuesday 28 January 2014, which looked at the controversy surrounding Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Maajid Nawaz, and his recent tweeting of a
Jesus & Mo cartoon.
We were surprised and extremely disappointed to see that Channel 4 News took the decision to cover up the image of Mohammed when showing the Jesus & Mo cartoon, and we are thus keen to elicit the rationale behind that particular editorial
During the report, it was noted that this decision was taken so as not to cause offence to some viewers; however we would like to point out that by your making this decision you have effectively taken a side in a debate where a Muslim man has
suffered violent death threats after he explicitly said he did not find the cartoons offensive. You have taken the side of the reactionaries - the side of people who bully and violently threaten Muslims, such as Mr Nawaz, online.
By redacting the picture of Mo , you have contributed to a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists. Rather than defending free expression, one of the most precious pillars of
our liberal democratic society, you have chosen instead to listen to extremists and patronise British Muslims by assuming they will take offence at an irreverent and satirical cartoon. By taking the decision you did, not only did you betray the
fundamental journalistic principle of free speech, but you have become complicit in a trend that seeks to insidiously stereotype all Muslim people as reacting in one uniform way (generally presented as overly sensitive and potentially violent).
Given that your editorial decision seems to be have been weighted by a concern with offence, we might also note that you ended up with a report that was, in fact, very offensive to many; offensive to those who take seriously and cherish our basic
freedom to speak and question, and offensive to many Muslims, whose voices you do not hear because you insist on placating the reactionary voices of people claiming to represent what it is to be an authentic Muslim .
In the subsequent interview with Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, presenter Jon Snow made the point that there are a number of places in the world where blasphemy is punished by death. This reality provides an apposite backdrop to the
whole debate and, by extension, Channel 4's decision to censor. In a world where the notion of offence to those with religious views is being used to control and punish people of all religions and none, the UK has an urgent responsibility to
uphold freedom of expression in the face of religious extremism. Its news outlets share in this responsibility.
Whilst we understand that you covered both sides of the issue through your report and subsequent interview, we were keen to highlight the dangerous precedent you have set by taking the editorial decision to censor the Jesus & Mo cartoon, and
the deeply symbolic implications that decision has. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.
We are considering this an open letter.
National Secular Society
Offsite Comment: On the importance of the right to offend
Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch . So tweeted Maajid Nawaz,
prospective Liberal Democratic parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, last night. He had every right to be incandescent.
Rather than respond directly to an open letter from the National Secular Society, Channel 4 replied with a standard letter sent to all those
who complained about its redaction of the cartoon depiction of the religious character Mohammad.
The letter, from Steve Reynolds of Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries, reads:
As we are sure you can appreciate, this is a very sensitive subject for many viewers. Channel 4 News editorial staff gave great consideration to the issues involved and believe that they reached a fair and balanced judgement, weighing up the
potential for offence to some viewers by showing the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed and the necessity of showing the cartoon in full.
The senior editorial team decided that the showing of the entire illustration, whilst likely to cause offence, was not integral to the story, and therefore took the decision to pixelate. Whilst we acknowledge your views, we believe that on
balance this was the correct decision and as a rule, where we consider the likelihood of significant offence to our audience, we will attempt to mitigate against that. As to not pixelating the image of Jesus, it was not felt that the same level
of offence was likely to be provoked as the image is commonly depicted in cartoon form.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, commented:
The claim that showing the entire illustration was 'not integral to the story' is ludicrous. It was the story. The truth is that Channel 4, like so many others, is intimidated and afraid of the reaction from violent extremists. Such extremists
have got this country in a fearful stranglehold that is gradually destroying our commitment to freedom of speech. We may have abolished the blasphemy law, but who needs it when the same effect can be achieved by terrorising people?
LibDem politician Maajid Nawaz has been threatened by muslim extremists after he noted BBC censorship of Jesus and Mo t-shirts. And muslims have called on Nick Clegg to ban Nawaz from standing for election
The BBC decided that extreme Wahhabi and Salafi Muslims, who would ban all images of Muhammad, represented all Muslims.
It ordered its producers not to show the offending T-shirts. Nawaz left the studio in some disgust. He tweeted the cartoon of Jesus saying: Hey and Muhammad saying: How ya doing? and added: This is not offensive & I'm sure God
is greater than to feel threatened by it. God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did. A Liberal Democrat activist called Muhammad Shafiq took it upon himself to organise a national and international campaign against Nawaz.
At the time we went to press, about 20,000 people had signed Shafiq's petition to Nick Clegg, saying that the tweet had caused an extreme amount of insult, hurt and anguish . The Lib Dems must stop Nawaz standing as their candidate in
Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election, they demanded.
Nawaz told his critics he had merely said that he did not think the BBC should censor a mild cartoon. He then went to the core of what is wrong with extremist religion and Britain's thoughtless multiculturalism which, in the name of diversity
, spatchcock people into ethnic and religious blocks that deny their individuality. If you want to ban inoffensive images of the prophet, Nawaz said, then I am sorry, I am not that type of literalist Muslim.
In other words, neither community leaders nor multicultural bureaucrats could talk of the Muslim community whose taboos must be observed. There were many Muslim communities and ex-Muslims, too, and they should be free to argue
Shafiq denies that he is spreading fear and if you had not done the research you might believe him. Certainly, you could think him a man who can snuffle out offence where no one else can find it. You could think that the 20,000 or so who have
signed his petition are so desperate for reasons to censor that they will manufacture them. But this is a free country and they are entitled to their hysterias.
But to put it as politely as I can, Shafiq is not your standard Liberal Democrat. He is in charge of the Ramadhan Foundation, which has hosted speakers whose attitudes towards gay people and Jews are anything but liberal. To make sure that Nawaz
felt the full force of his critique, Shafiq slipped an aside into his open letter to Nick Clegg. He talked of Nawaz's expected, suspected, wanted reaction from the minority of unhinged in those communities . Nawaz was deliberately
soliciting attacks from the unhinged , apparently. He expected them. He wanted them. And if the unhinged should assault or kill him -- he had no one to blame but himself. Shafiq told me that he did not mean that Nawaz was inciting his own
murder, but I struggle see how else his followers can interpret his words.
By now I'm sure you're aware of the fact that Maajid Nawaz, a Lib Dem PPC in
Hampstead and Kilburn, stands accused of committing the thoroughly heinous crime of causing religiously aggravated butthurt in the first degree, the suggested punishment for which appears to be political career death by change.org petition.
At the heart of this is, yet again, a completely innocuous Jesus & Mo cartoon which Maajid clearly considers to be anything but offensive, hence the tweet
I've been a fan of the webcomic Jesus and Mo for years. The idea is a simple one: the two religious figureheads J Christ and Mohammed share a
house and discuss matters of religious philosophy, often in arguments with a wise atheist barmaid at their local. It's funnier than I've made that sound.
It is, of course, irreligious and arguably blasphemous. ( In its very first edition or episode or whatever you call it , Mo points out that it's forbidden to depict him pictorially. Jesus asks what he's doing in a cartoon, reasonably enough, and
Mo claims he's a body double.) It's also very clever, informed by philosophical and religious argument, and -- as mentioned -- funny.
Two Muslim commentators involved in a very public spat over a cartoon of the religious character Mohammed have agreed to make peace with each
other, over their shared intention not to further tarnish the Liberal Democrats.
In a joint statement, posted by Lib Dem Voice, both Nawaz and Shafiq agreed to call off the war of words that has raged for days on social media and the blogosphere.
The Lib Dem members acknowledged they had conflicting views on depictions of Prophet Muhammad and that other Muslims did too. It acknowledged that other Lib Dems had the right to complain to the executive about the behaviour of either side.
The statement continued with worthless half truths claiming that both sides supported freedom of speech.
Offsite: University Islamic Society tries to stop talk because speaker didn't condemn Maajid Nawaz
Nick Clegg has admonished one of his party's parliamentary candidates, Maajid Nawaz, for tweeting a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad .
He said Nawaz was in his opinion wrong to retweet the cartoon, but defended his right to do so:
We simply cannot tolerate anyone in a free country -- where we have to protect free speech, even if that free speech might cause offence to others -- being subject to death threats and them and their family being put under extraordinary pressure
to recant what they said.
I would be the first to say that when you are dealing with issues of religion and deeply held faith, you have got to express yourself moderately and sensitively, and with respect one to the other. That is the corollary of free speech. However
strongly you feel either side of this debate, we cannot in any way be tolerant of that level of threat to someone who says something that someone else does not like.
He is not going to be dropped as a Liberal Democrat candidate. He has the right - as any Muslim, non-Muslim or anyone of any faith or none in this country has - to say things even if that causes offence to other people.
Channel 4 News had just one job to do here, which was to present its viewers the facts they needed not only to make sense of the story but to form their own opinion of it and decide for themselves whether this cartoon is offensive
In my You Can't Read This Book , I gave 10 rules for fighting back against dictatorial
regimes and movements. The simplest, and the most important was:
If you are frightened, at least have the guts to say so. Once one did not write the word liberal and add hypocrite . Since the Rushdie Affair, the reflex has become automatic. The worst aspect of the fear the ayatollahs spread
was that Western intellectuals were afraid of admitting that they were afraid. If they had been honest, they would have forced society to confront the fact of censorship. As it was, their silence made the enemies of liberalism stronger.