Archive for August, 2008

Museum row evolves

Secularists in the UK aren’t exactly chuffed with an English museum at the moment, after, it’s claimed, it censored a Darwin exhibition. Indeed, the National Secular Society (NSS) has written to the leader of the local council about it.

But the local council says those with a special interest are making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe you can decide.

The full story is given in Northampton’s Chronicle & Echo, which says:

A protest, supporting rational thinking against attacks by religious fundamentalists, will take place outside a Northampton museum. The protest is in response to part of a display on evolution being censored following a complaint to Abington Park Museum.

A passage in a display on Charles Darwin at the Northampton Borough Council-run museum was covered up after a complaint from a Christian. The move has now sparked the Northampton Socialist Forum to decide to hold the protest tomorrow.

As reported in the Chronicle & Echo on Thursday, four lines of text were obscured.

We’re not told the exact wording. However, the information in the display explained how Charles Darwin used fossils to formulate his theory of evolution, which the forum said was “established scientific fact”.

Patrick Markey, of the forum, tells the paper, “People are entitled to have all sorts of ideas, but no right to impose them on others. This is a public museum and should respect rational scientific thought, not the ideas of some religious fundamentalists.”

But the paper cites Lewis Houston, who raised the issue some years ago with the museum, and he says that the issue of creationism versus evolution was not the basis of his query. Rather, he said, it was the accuracy of the text.

The National Secular Society has written to the borough council nonetheless. Its president, Terry Sanderson, tells the paper, “There is a global push by the so-called ‘creationist movement’ to undermine the theory of evolution. It is incumbent on all educators to resist this attempt to deny evidence and, in the process, retard science and progress.

“Visitors to the museum are entitled to a better explanation of Darwin’s world-shaping idea than the bowdlerised version you have on display at present.”

But Councillor Brendan Glynane, the cabinet member for museums says, “There was absolutely no attempt at censorship. The text contains a factual error which could cause confusion. It is disappointing to see that some groups have tried to use this error to further their own agenda and make proverbial mountains out of molehills.

“We have now uncovered the display board and are in the process of getting a new board produced.”

The text has been uncovered and a new board is being made.

The council says the revised wording will read:

He used the same layers of fossils to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to adapt to the rigours of its environment – the struggle for survival, through the natural selection, leading to the survival of the fittest.

So that settles that, then. But there’s no harm in complaining. And would this have been rectified if some secularists hadn’t made a fuss? Perhaps we’ll never know.

It’s a frog’s life

It’s not often frogs make it onto MWW, but one did recently when we carried a story pointing out an amusing post on the Freethinker‘s blog about a frog. Not just any old frog, you understand. No, this was a crucified frog, and it got Catholics hopping (it’s a pity some of them don’t just croak).

There was outrage that the crucified-frog sculpture had gone on show at all at the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art in Italy. Then it was learned that Pope Ratzo was holidaying nearby, and Catholics demanded that the piece, part of the artist Martin Kippenberger’s “Fred the Frog” series should be taken down.

Well, here’s a pleasing sequel to that story. The frog stays. The museum has said that it will continue displaying the sculpture after the board of the foundation of the museum voted to keep the work on view.

Earlier this month, Ratzinger wrote a letter to Franz Pahl, president of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, which includes Bolzano, denouncing the sculpture. It had “offended the religious feelings of many people who consider the cross a symbol of God’s love and of our redemption,” Pahl quoted the pope as writing in the letter.

Resurrecting Aisha

We’re glad to hear that a Danish publisher (appropriate that it should be Danish, considering the Motoons affair) wants to publish Sherry Jones’s novel about Mohammed’s infant bride Aisha, which Random House gutlessly pulled in fear of Islamic whingeing or whining or marching or demanding or shouting or violence (select and permutate as you will).

The Jewel of Medina was reportedly bought by Random House for an advance of $100,000, but academics and security experts warned against publication. So self-censorship became evident once again.

About a week ago, the Serbian publisher BeoBook withdrew a thousand copies from shops across Serbia, after protests from an Islamic pressure group. BeoBook also (again gutlessly) apologised for publishing the novel.

A small Danish publisher, Trykkefrihedsselskabets Library (which means Free Speech Library), is now in negotiation with Sherry Jones’s agent over publication of the meticulously researched novel in Denmark.

“Co-owner Helle Merete Brix said that the fact that Random House was prepared to pay $100,000 for the book showed its quality, and that she was determined not to ‘bow to any censorship’,” the Guardian (linked to above) tells us.

Good for Trykkefrihedsselskabets Library. A blow against censorship and for free speech. May the book become a bestseller.

The banned play on

It’s a well-known fact that, if you want to draw attention to something, you ban it.  Then the world will beat a path to its door.

The good literary folk of Chicago are going one further: they’re holding a Banned Book Week next month.

High on the list of exhibits is And Tango Makes Three, which is about a gay penguin, we’re told in Windy City Times, which continues:

The Chicago-based American Library Association is kicking off Banned Book Week in Chicago and throughout the U.S. with a free “Read Out” event Saturday, Sept. 27, from noon to 4 p.m., in Chicago’s Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan. Banned Book Week runs through Oct. 4.

Few people here in Blighty will be able to make it, but, if you’re in the vicinity of the Windy City at that time, you might like to know that you can see a complete listing of events and information here.

Don’t mention the H-word

Hitler, Hitler, Hitler! There! Said it! But some people get a bit worked up about mention of Herr H, so much so that they want to censor jokes about him.

It’s happening in Sweden, where The Local, the country’s English-language online news outlet, tells us that a radio presenter who said the verboten word on his programme has got a few people twitching, and reporting him to the Swedish Broadcasting Commission.

On Tuesday, presenter Rickard Olsson made a joke on live TV about Germans and Nazis when referring to the German women’s football team’s loss against the Brazilians in the Olympic semi-final.

“There is something about Hitler and Germany that somehow makes it difficult to feel sorry for them when they get slaughtered at football. You just think, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Hitler”, said Olsson on his live chat show Olsson’s Studio.

But jokes about Hitler have been around ever since – well, ever since Hitler. And one has only to think back to the seventies and a rather elaborate Monty Python sketch, not to mention the mildly amusing “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?”, the theme song to the sitcom Dad’s Army.

In fact we at Mediawatchwatch feel a competition coming on. Best Hitler jokes, anyone?

Imam of Dibley spiked by ITV lawyers

The Times reports that ITV’s latest comedy star, Katy Brand, is angry at the decision by ITV lawyers to veto a sketch called The Imam of Dibley, deeming it “culturally insensitive”.

Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show will not contain the theology graduate’s Vicar of Dibley spoof, premised on a new imam arriving in a sleepy parish and the misunderstandings that ensue.

Says Katy,

The vast majority of Muslims are able to have a laugh at themselves just like everyone else.

Why should they be excluded from comedy? It’s funny that ITV had no problem with a new sketch about a pregnant Jesus’s girlfriend who has to deal with dating the Son of God

A very good question – especially when you consider that Jesus is also a Muslim “prophet”, and that to suggest God had a son is highly blasphemous in Islam. Why didn’t they ban this too?

Random Mouse is a timorous beastie

Random House, the pusillanimous publishers who were frightened into spiking The Jewel of Medina by imaginary terrorists, have caved to prude-pressure once again.

Three complaints, and the threat of a boycott from Walmart-owned Asda, sufficed for the publisher to bowdlerise the latest children’s book by Dame Jacqueline Wilson. All instances of the word “twat” will be replaced with the word “twit” in future editions of My Sister Jodie, a novel for children aged ten and over.

What ninnies!

Mufti v mufti in Serbia

The story below about how a Serbian mufti called Muamer Zukorlic managed to get The Jewel of Medina withdrawn from bookshops has taken another turn. A rival mufti, this time from The Islamic Community of Serbia (as opposed to just The Serbian Islamic Community, or something like that), has accused Zukorlic of trying to make a name for himself as the sole representative of all Muslims in the country.

Adem Ziklic, the dissenting mufti, says:

This way Zukorlic has imposed himself as the only protector of Islam and causing this much stir over the book will only result in a bigger demand for the novel.

I doubt that the mufti has read the book and it seems he is acquainted only with the parts which directly refer to scenes from the Koran (the Muslim holy book).

The way Zukorlic is preening himself reveals quite clearly the urge for self-aggrandisement that so often lies behind these displays of religious outrage. Listen to this:

I expect that no one will ever again with any publication insult Muslim sanctity. The Jewel of Medina will not have its second edition.

Doesn’t he sound remarkably like Stephen Green?

(Hat tip, Islam in Europe)

Serb Muslims force Aisha book withdrawal

The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones’ historical Mo-ro about the prophet of Islam’s child bride, has been withdrawn from bookshops in Serbia after complaints from a Muslim “community leader”.

The book got its global debut three weeks ago in the Balkan state, where it was published by Beobuk. However, Muarem Zukorlic, leader of the Islamic Community in Serbia, deemed it offensive, and demanded all of the published copies to be handed in. He also demanded that the publisher Aleksandar Jasic repent for what he had done.

It is a book that absolutely does not refraining from desecrating something that is considered by all Muslims as untouchable.

So – Muslims shouldn’t touch it. That doesn’t mean everyone else has to keep schtum.

Obviously someone wishes to join the ranks of those who produced the cartoons in Denmark several years ago and it is an insult to all Muslims of the world, especially for us here in Serbia.

Note the standard veiled threat of violence. You want to end up in hiding like those Danish cartoonists?

Jasic needs to sincerely repent because of the incident he caused.

And sincerely repent is exactly what Jasic did.

“It was not our intention to offend anyone, so we withdrew the book from stores, apologised to the Muslim community and I hope that will be the end of it

Zukorlic initially thought this was not enough, but after consultation graciously accepted the gesture:

We decided to accept the apology from the publisher and give up stern reactions. In the following period our activity will be directed towards calming emotions and affirmation of the character and work of the Prophet Mohammed.

Isn’t that nice of him?

UPDATE (1pm) Interestingly, Le Monde blogger Pierre Assouline reveals that French publisher Editions Telemaque published an Aisha novel last year, without causing riots or death threats. In fact, Aïcha, la bien-aimée du prophète by Geneviève Chauvel, which contains “intimate scenes”, was prefaced by a theologian from the notoriously litigious Grande Mosque de Paris. The author also took part in a couple of conference debates on the subject.

Stéphane Watelet, the boss of Telemaque, seized the opportunity to take a pot-shot at US scarediness, suggesting that the “Old Continent” is less timid than the New World. Assouline takes similar delight, and suggests that the personnage of Aisha could become a “new barometer of political correctness”.

<b>The best-loved of the prophet</b>: Geneviève Chauvel's Bedouin bonk-buster was published in the winter of 2007.

The best-loved of the prophet: Geneviève Chauvel's Bedouin bonk-buster was published in the winter of 2007.

(Hat tip Butterflies & Wheels)

Rushdie condemns “censorship by fear”

Salman Rushdie, whose recent books are published by Random House, has criticised his publisher for shelving Sherry Jones’ 7th century burka-ripper The Jewel of Medina.

I am very disappointed to hear that my publishers, Random House, have canceled another author’s novel, apparently because of their concerns about possible Islamic reprisals. This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent indeed.

Especially since RH abandoned the project without a single threat having been made. They caved because there was a threat of threats.

This book needs to be published. We need to have this fight.