Archive for January, 2008

Springer success at Carnegie

Chortle reports that the New York debut of Jerry Springer: Th Opera was a success, with “positive, if guarded” critical reactions.

And they even had their own protesters in the form of the snappily named American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property and its America Needs Fatima campaign, who naturally think the show is all about them:

Perhaps it is easier to list what is not attacked in this brutal ridiculing of the Catholic faith.

Next stop, Broadway.

Danish library to acquire Motoons

The royal library in Copenhagen is set to acquire all 12 Motoons for its records for “preservation purposes”. They are, indeed, important historical documents.

Of course, the idiotic Kasem Said Ahmad of the Danish Muslim Society has called the library’s decision “provocative”. But this time there’s a twist – a new strategy for Danish Muslims who choose to be offended by something:

We will not be holding any demonstrations as we got nothing from the Danish courts when we tried to sue the newspapers. We will ignore all provocations in future.

Well done Kasem. Growing up a little bit is indeed a very good strategy.

Archbishop of Cant calls for “cruel words” law?

The Times reports that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has called for new laws to punish “thoughtless and cruel” styles of speaking.

However, owing to the Archbishop’s opaque style of discourse, it is unclear whether or not Times reporter Ruth Gledhill is correct in her interpretation of his James Callahan Memorial Lecture. Other reports, from more overtly religious sources, do not put the same spin on it.

Whichever way you look at it, he was talking drivel:

The grounds for legal restraint in respect of language and behaviour offensive to religious believers are pretty clear: the intention to limit or damage a believer’s freedom to be visible and audible in the public life of a society is plainly an invasion of what a liberal society ought to be guaranteeing; and the obvious corollary is that the creation of an offence of incitement to religious hatred is a way of avoiding the civil disorder that threatens when a group comes to feel that it has been unjustly excluded.

Non sequitur upon non sequitur. Language offensive to religious believers is not the same as intention to limit a believer’s freedom to be visible and audible in public life; and the apparent admission in the last sentence is that the main purpose of incitement to religious hatred laws is to stop religious people being provoked into committing acts of violence.

He does agree that there is no case for the retention of the blasphemy law, but then he goes on to muddy the waters further by making vague suggestions about power:

Since the old offence of blasphemy – as we have seen – no longer works effectively to do this, there is no real case for its retention. How adequately the new laws will meet the case remains to be seen; I should only want to suggest that the relative power and political access of a group or person laying charges under this legislation might well be a factor in determining what is rightly actionable.

Is this man incapable of clarity? Have another go why don’t you, Archbish:

It is clear that the old blasphemy law is unworkable and that its assumptions are not those of contemporary lawmakers and citizens overall. But as we think about the adequacy of what is coming to replace it, we should not, I believe, miss the opportunity of asking the larger questions about what is just and good for individuals and groups in our society who hold religious beliefs.

This appears to be the section which has led the Times to shout that he is calling for new legislation. It’s not quite there, is it?

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society, commenting on the Times’ interpretation of Williams’ speech, is understandably worried.

It is as if the prolonged and widespread debate on the recently-introduced religious hatred legislation had never happened. Dr Williams takes us right back to the beginning with his special pleading for the protection of religious feelings – in other words, another form of blasphemy law that would be even worse than the one we’re about to ditch.

Let’s wait and see. The Archbishop of Cant has been forced in the past to issue clarifying statements. Maybe one day he will get it right the first time.

UPDATE: (2nd Feb) Ophelia Benson has read the Archbishop’s speech, so you don’t have to. It does seem that he was indeed suggesting, in his roundabout way, that Parliament should indeed legislate to protect certain groups from cruel and hurtful speech or publications.

Christians not allowed to eat Mohammed on TV

mo cookieWhile the world waits for Geert Wilders’ provocative Koran movie to debut on YouTube, a bunch of right-wing Christians are planning to eat a Mohammed cookie on TV.

The makers of Flamethrower TV (nasty Flash website), which airs weekly on Faith TV in the US, had already recorded the “All Things Islam” episode. But yesterday the channel pulled the episode because of its controversial nature.

The show looks pretty terrible, and the writers are clearly demented Jesus-Christers, but you have to love the Mohammed cookie idea.

The episode will be available for viewing in the Media section of their website later today.

Charlie Hebdo editor back in court

hebdo cover
Philippe Val, the editor of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo who was acquitted last year of charges of “offending Muslims”, was back is court yesterday on the same charges.

The Paris Grand Mosque accepted the March 07 ruling, but it was appealed by the Union of Islamic Organisations of France and later by the Saudi-based World Muslim League. At the start of yesterday’s hearing the court ruled that the WML was not an admissible plaintiff, so the UOIF was left to fight alone.

The verdict is expected next month.

This is Charlie Hebdo’s third appearance in a French court since it first published the Motoons (and other prophet-based funnies) in Feb 2006.

Three Little Pigs

If this story had appeared in the Mail or the Express it would have been easy to dismiss as bullshit. “Three Little Pigs deemed too offensive” tales crop up with monotonous regularity in places like that.

Unfortunately, this story looks true.

A CD-Rom version of the Three Little Pigs, titled Three Little Cowboy Builders, aimed at primary school children, was turned down by judges at this year’s Bett Awards because they had “concerns about the Asian community and the use of pigs raises cultural issues”.

They were also concerned that the story, which had already won a prize at the Education Resources Award, might “alienate parts of the workforce”.

Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?

Anne Curtis, of the Newcastle-based company Shoo-fly which produced the title, is gobsmacked. She regards the accusations of racism as “like a slap in the face”, and thinks that the attitude of the judges is more likely to inflame ill-feeling than to prevent the spread of prejudice.

Becta, the government funded agency behind the awards is standing behind its judges’ decision.

UPDATE: (24th Jan) The Telegraph reports the reaction of the Muslim Council of Britain – predictably, “We are not offended by that at all”.

This really does seem to be a case of culturally hypersensitive idiots trying to do the right thing but ultimately having the opposite effect to what they intended.

According to Merlin John online, comments on the judges’ feedback form included:

“Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?”

“The subject matter is questionable for certain groups within the UK.”

“The idea of taking a traditional tale and retelling a story is fine, but it should not alienate parts of the workforce (building trade).”

“Developers should make role models positive.”

“Although this may not be intended, it feels cynical and tongue in cheek.”

“Judges would not recommend this product to the Muslim community in particular.”

Merlin John also points out that the offending book and CD-Rom is given a glowing recommendation by the Becta-run website Curriculum Online.

“Christians Savaged at Carnegie Hall”

Yes, Jerry Springer: the Opera is still making waves. The American public proved admirably sanguine when the allegedly blasphemous stage show was going through an extended run in Chicago last summer; there was not so much as a squeak of protest. We put it down to a constitutional respect for free speech.

How could we forget about the clownish wannabe Irishman and leader of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue? In a press release hilariously entitled “Christians Savaged at Carnegie Hall” he says,

Never before in its illustrious history has Carnegie Hall been home to Christian bashing, but that is all about to change on January 29 and 30. Incredibly, it is allowing a patently obscene and viciously anti-Christian musical to be performed on its stage. Thus has it got into bed with the bigots, making a mockery of art in the process. This isn’t art—it’s license.

Watch out for pickets on Seventh Avenue next week!

Baptists back blasphemy abolition

Ekklesia reports that senior figures in the Baptist movement have joined the growing chorus of Christians calling for an end to the archaic blasphemy laws.

Rev Sian Murray Williams, tutor at Bristol Baptist College, said in the Baptist Times:

The provisions of the blasphemy law were designed to prevent giving offence to members of the state Church. As a dissenting Baptist, I’m wary of any law which shores up the privileged position of the Church. The right to religious freedom and to the expression of faith, Christian or otherwise, is now protected by other legal provision.

I think that the law is not only anachronistic but is unjust in a religiously plural society and should be repealed.

3 years in jail for Motoon editor

We’re a bit late with this one. A court is Minsk sentenced editor Alyaksandr Zdvizhkou for reprinting the Motoons. He was found guilty of “inciting racial hatred”.

The prosecution seems to be politically motivated, as Belarus has increasingly close links with Iran.

Bartholomew has more on this story.

UPDATE: (22nd Jan) It turns out the editor has actually been sentenced to 3 years’ hard labour – the toughest sentence received by a Motoons editor anywhere in the world – even those in Jordan and Yemen were only fined. According to a Jyllands-Posten spokesman

He (Szizhkov) was just doing his job and committed no crime – the crime was to convict him for it.

We (at the Jylland-Posten) have monitored very closely how the cartoons were controversial all over the word, but nowhere has a journalist been punished so severely (for publishing the cartoons

You are responsible for our reactions

syrian muftiFar-right Dutch politician Gert Wilders is due to release his controversial film about the Koran this month. He wants to show that it is a “terrible fascist book” which inspires people to murder, and he regards the film as a follow-up to Ayaan Hirsi-Ali’s Submission (although Hirsi-Ali has condemned Wilder’s film as “provocative”).

She could be right. In a speech to MEPs on Tuesday on the subject of intercultural dialogue, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun gave a warning to the Netherlands that if Wilders tears up or burns a Koran in his film,

this will simply mean he is inciting wars and bloodshed. And he will be responsible.

He goes on to say that he thinks it in “the responsibility of the Dutch people to stop Wilders”.

Perhaps more disturbing than the threats themselves in the fact that the European Parliament report on the mufti’s speech was too fawning to mention them. That was left up to the rather right-wing but well established magazine Elsevier.

UPDATE: (20th Jan) The Observer reports that the Dutch government is already in a tizzy, holding crisis meetings, drawing up security plans, warning overseas nationals to register with their embassies. They even wheeled out Foreign minister Maxime Verhagen to repeat the old falsehood:

It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend.

Oh yes it does!