Archive for February, 2007

Youtube censors religious criticism?

Nick Gisburne, an atheist active on Youtube, has had his youtube accounts deleted after posting a video containing some of the more nasty quotations from the Qur’an amongst other religous criticism. Youtube later changed their reasons, claiming an error, saying that he had been banned for copyright infringement.

For those of you who don’t know, Youtube allows all its videos to be flagged by users for “inappropriate content”. Those videos flagged as such then show a warning screen before viewing. They are then reviewed by Youtube staff, and if they are decided to be “inappropriate” the warning stays, or the video is removed.

Nick has the full story, featuring copies of all the e-mails he has received from Youtube and copies of the videos in question at his website.

Won’t someone please think of the children?

So says Helen Lovejoy in many episodes of the Simpsons, and so says John Beyer in a Sunday Herald article recently. The article is about the apparant rise in internet related crime, including that shown on internet video sites such as Youtube. Beyer says:

The links between screen violence and unacceptable behaviour in public are well established and that we have continued to tolerate children’s exposure to this sort of material is outrageous.

The links are well established. Of course Beyer has a peer-reviewed study from a well-respected journal to back this claim up.

Well no, he doesn’t. Yet again Beyer confuses correlation with cause, something he seems to have built his career on.

The entire article is well worth a read with opinions from a variety of different people. Perhaps most surprisingly, the most insightful comment comes from Markus Berger de Leon, the Managing Director of Jamster, the mobile phone company that brought you the “pleasure” of the Crazy Frog ringtone.

He points out that although the amount of violent and pornographic material available on the internet has increased, it has only done so in direct proportion to the growth of the entire inernet. In other words, the same percentage of the internet is violence and porn as it was ten years ago and before that. He says:

Any responsible company takes this seriously, but ask the European police forces and they will tell you: is there more paedophilia? No. Are there more rapes and murders? No.

The only thing the internet has done is to bring such unpleasant cases to our attention. The web means that, no matter how far away they happen, every incident is reported around the world.

Absolutely right. There is no increase in violent activity, there is an increase in the reporting of it. And we, at least partially, have the internet to thank for that.

NSS sticks up for Clareification editor

Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, has issued a press statement in support of the editor of Clareification, and written separately to the college and Students Union. The press release is reproduced in its entirety here, as we at MWW agree with every word:

Staff and students at Clare College should make a stand for free speech instead of backing those who would destroy it, says the National Secular Society (NSS).
Reacting to news that a student who published a satirical issue of the student magazine that poked fun at religion is to be disciplined, Terry Sanderson, President of the NSS said: “We are shocked that the staff and even the students union at this supposedly liberal college have joined the attack on this student because he had the temerity to poke fun at religion. Free expression is such a precious commodity and is under such ferocious attack at present from religious interests that it is disgraceful that no-one is standing up for this young man’s right to be rude about religion – even about Islam.”
Mr Sanderson has written to the master of Clare College, Professor Tony Bader and to the Senior Tutor, Patricia Fara as well as the president of the Students Union, Calum Davey, as follows:
“We write after seeing reports in the local Cambridge press indicating that a contributor to your student magazine Clareification faces disciplinary action for having printed items that some people thought were “offensive” or “inflammatory”.
“If these reports are true, we wish to register our profound disquiet that a supposedly liberal college has reacted in this way. The reaction risks undermining one of the most precious and important rights that we have in this country: freedom of expression.
“Satire aimed at religion is no different to satire aimed at any other ideas and should not be punished or restrained. The freedom to poke fun at those who take themselves too seriously is a time-honoured tradition in this country. Regrettably, it is rapidly being eroded by cases like this. We urge you to think again and stand four-square behind the satirists, instead of disciplining them.
We would like to remind all concerned that satirising religion – even if that religion is Islam – is not racism, as this episode has been dubbed. Religion and race have very different characteristics. We would have heartily joined the condemnation if the satire had been racially motivated, but according to the reports we have read, the issue of Clareification in question was devoted to religious satire.
“We would like to draw your attention to a case that is pending in France at the moment, in which a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, has been brought to court by an Islamic organisation for re-publishing the Danish cartoons that are at the centre of so much controversy. In the French case, academics, artists and politicians of all hues have rushed to the defence of the magazine. Letters of support and statements defending free speech have been issued by some of the most influential people in the country – including Mr Sarkozy, who is potentially the next President of France.
“Your own reaction – as reported – does not bear comparison with the principled French reactions. It sides with the oppressors and censors who are doing so much to retard open debate in academe and elsewhere.
“We call on you to support the publishers of the magazine and to tell the would-be censors that their protests have been heard but that they will not prevail. Without the freedom to debate, discuss and, yes, mock, ideas and ideologies, there can be no informed political discourse. Satire is an indispensable tool in the operating of a truly free society.”

If you want to complain to the Cambridge Evening News for calling the cartoon “racist”, their contact details are here.

Toon rage in Cambridge

The 19-year-old editor of a student newspaper in Cambridge has been moved to secure accommodation and faces disciplinary proceedings from the college for republishing a Motoon. Clareification, the weekly satirical paper of Clare College, released a special “religious satire” edition which included a paste-up of one of the Motoons standing next to college union president. The photo was captioned suggesting one of them was a “violent paedophile” and the other was a “prophet of God, great leader, and example to us all”.

Predictably, Muslims were outraged (that being the natural state of a significant proportion of Muslims in the 21st century). Rather more disappointingly, the editor of the magazine has drawn condemnation from both the college authorities and the students’ union. Even the local Cambridge Evening News described the cartoon as “racist” and said the edition included “other vile material”.

A senior tutor, speaking for the college, said:

Clare is an open and inclusive college. A student produced satirical publication has caused widespread distress throughout the Clare community.
The college finds the publication and the views expressed abhorrent.
Reflecting the gravity of the situation, the college immediately began an investigation and disciplinary procedures are in train.

The president of Clare’s student union also expressed his “deep regret”

This material does not reflect the views of Clare students.

At least the local police are not investigating, saying that it is a matter for the college to deal with. Small comfort to the poor editor.

Here for your entertainment are some reactions from local Muslims:

Asim Mumtaz, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association:

I’m horrified and shocked. In such a seat of learning, I am horrified that things could stoop to this level.

I’m actually shocked that intelligent people know how offensive this cartoon is and that they have decided to reprint it in such a horrible manner. It’s disgusting.

I hope the magazine and the JCR apologise for what they have done. We thought we had gone past this and that people realised there is a difference between freedom of speech and outright insult.

I am very shocked, I would not imagine this in Cambridge, maybe some other university, city or country. We have such intelligent people and they understand the consequences of their actions.

Abdul Arain, of the Cambridge Muslims website:

I feel a mix of emotions, but I am absolutely abhorred this has happened on our backdoor.

These kind of inflammatory remarks brings about the worst kind of character. We need to rise above it. It’s one man trying to set up tensions. The Prophet Mohammed in the Muslim world is the most revered figure.

What this person has printed is highly offensive and it has caused abhorrence and distress to many people. This person must realise what he has done and take responsibility for it and come out and make recompense for it.

OK, listen carefully boys. The editor did nothing wrong. The only abhorrent thing about this affair is the fact that he now finds himself in hiding, he has been condemned by people who should be supporting him, and will apparently be punished for committing no crime. All on our backdoor, too.

Charlie Hebdo editor released

The state prosecutor overseeing case against Charlie Hebdo ordered that the editor Philippe Val be released without charge, and recommended that the case be dismissed. The official judgement will be made on March 15.

The weekly satirical paper had procession of presidential candidates and celebrities speaking in its defence. One witness, a Muslim refugee from Algiers, displayed a Saudi Arabian flag to illustrate that the “turbombe” cartoon was not the first to associate Islam with weaponry – the flag carries the Koranic declaration of faith underscored with a sabre.

The prosecutor, Anne de Fontette, strongly defended the magazine’s right to free speech. She said that the cartoons did not attack Islam, but rather the fundamentalists who acted in Islam’s name. “Not all Muslims are fundamentalists”, she said.

She even praised Charlie Hebdo:

For a number of our citizens it is a lively reflection of the principle of press freedom in a democratic society which can never be a theocracy.

The plaintiffs, the Grande Mosque de Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organisations, complained that the trial had become “political”. In reality, they must be sorely disappointed that they wasted so much time and money on a prosecution which stands virtually no chance of succeeding.

It seems that the entire French establishment, politicians, press, and judiciary, is standing up for Charlie Hebdo on this one. We are looking forward to a decisive and unambiguous rejection of this silly case on March 15.

UPDATE: The Guardian reveals, without comment, that the lawyer for the Muslim organisations is called Christophe Bigot.

Sarkozy speaks up for Charlie

The French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken up in support of Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech.

Sarkozy, the frequent butt of Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures, said in a letter read out by the newspaper’s lawyer that he preferred “too many caricatures to an absence of caricature”.

Predictably, a representative of the French Council of the Muslim Faith branded Sarkozy’s contribution to the debate “unacceptable”.

It’s out of the question for a minister for religious affairs to take such a position. There’s no neutrality.

Since when was “neutrality” a requirement of government office?

Charlie Hebdo’s publications director Philippe Val opened the defence by saying the Mohammed caricatures were aimed at ideas not men, and

If we no longer have the right to laugh at terrorists, what arms are citizens left with? How is making fun of those who commit terrorist acts throwing oil on the fire?

UPDATE: (8/02/07) The French daily newspaper Libération republished the cartoons yesterday, to illustrate what this court case is about. And, in reaction to Sarkozy’s remarks, some members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith have threatened to resign.

Life of Brian strikes again

The classic Monty Python film, Life of Brian, still manages to upset some of the world’s more slow-witted Christians. The Anglican St Thomas the Martyr Church in Newcastle is set to screen the film as part of a scheme to show movies in unusual locations. And fair play to them, you might think.

However, one Carmarthenshire-based fundamentalist has reacted badly to the news:

I cannot see why any church would want to ridicule our Saviour.

Can you guess who it is?

Synod to debate pornography

This March the Church of England general synod will debate whether or not they should recommend more interference with the rights of adults to choose what they watch in cinemas or their own homes. The background paper submitted in advance to members makes its point with a characteristic mixture of cliché and misplaced metaphor:

The boundaries are continually being pushed back. If you continue to walk closer and closer to the edge of the cliff you must eventually either stop or fall off. Those pushing the boundaries in the media show no sign of doing either.

This is reminiscent of Bishop Sentamu’s claim last year that removing Christ from Christmas was tantamount to “literally throwing the baby out with the bathwater” – a statement which had the distinction of being untrue both “literally” and metaphorically.

Another failed blasphemy case

A Finnish judge has ruled that no action should be taken against the Finnish League of Freethinkers for publishing “blasphemous” cartoons of Jesus.

A private individual had requested an investigation, claiming that the cartoons were an incitement to hatred and a violation of the sanctity of religion. The judge, Jorma Kalske, ruled that freedom of expression extended to shocking opinions, and the Christian churches wielded so much power in Finland that even harsh criticism of them was permitted.

The cartoons had been on the website for about ten years. You can see them here.

Beyer for BBC chairman?

An odd little piece in Atticus today bemoans the fact that all the good candidates for the vacant BBC Chairman job have declared themselves not interested. This has left Auntie “scraping the barrel” with the only two “confirmed” to be left in the running being Heather Rabbats, executive chairwoman of Millwall FC, and “Massah” John Beyer!

Can you imagine?

UPDATE: (5/02/07) A reliable source confirms that Beyer has indeed applied for the post, but:

It is premature to say that I am a “candidate” so don’t panic yet!