(This article also appeared here in Areo Magazine)
Did you hear that there is a film called 'Life of Omar' in production? It is the Islamic equivalent of the Monty Python classic 'Life of Brian' in which a young Arab man alive at the same time as Mohammed is mistaken for a prophet and garners a loyal following that he can't shake off. Whereas the 'Life of Brian' poked fun at Christianity, the 'Life of Omar' will poke fun at some of the stories and core beliefs of the Koran and Islam. Only that it doesn't because there is no such film. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Danish cartoon controversy and the murder of Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh there are few artists and writers brave enough to show disdain in any shape or form for Islamic ideas.
There is also the fact that the silencing term 'Islamophobia' which is widely used by the mainstream media to conflate bigotry against individual Muslims, which is wrong, with any criticism of Islamic beliefs is now widely accepted across the entire liberal left spectrum. The witch hunt is back and Islamophobes are the new witches.You only have to look at the manner in which British gymnast Louis Smith was recently berated and encouraged to grovel by the British media for poking fun at Islamic religious practices. In particular, he was publicly shamed on ITV's Loose Women and made to grovel for the thought crime of mocking a set of beliefs. What was most shocking was that two of the witch finder generals, June Sarpong and Janet Street Porter, who were conducting his trial by chat show, have both worked in journalism. Ironically, the loosest thing about these two women would appear to be their grasp on the role of journalism in defending the values of free and democratic societies and the principle of freedom of expression which underpins the right of those in the media, as well as ordinary citizens, to challenge, critique, mock and ridicule any set of ideas that they find lacking.
In particular, June Sarpong accused Louis Smith of being racist and xenophobic. How does such a prominent broadcaster get to where they are without knowing the meaning of words? How many of us have to repeat ad nauseaum that it is not racist to criticise or mock beliefs. If June Sarpong and Janet Street Porter had been abiding by the principles of journalism they would have been defending Louis Smith to be able to speak his mind even if they disagreed with what he was saying. The fact that they put their energies in to berating Louis Smith instead of prioritising condemning those who made death threats against him shows their disregard for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.
This episode with Louis Smith is symptomatic of the fact much of the so called liberal media have in effect become the de facto enforcers of Islamic blasphemy laws. Whilst they won't call for you to be stoned to death the mere wagging of their finger in your direction could affect your career as Louis Smith has found out after being banned for two months by British Gymnastics.
It is still however completely acceptable, and rightly so, to laugh at and ridicule Christianity or Atheism or any other ideology. I have yet to see, read or hear about anyone in the media interrogating the head of Channel 4 for why they allow Father Ted and it's mocking of Catholicism to be regularly repeated. Where are the protests and the public shaming of those TV executives who sanction replays of the Life of Brian and the remaining DVD stores who sell it? Why are the heads of the BBC not brought on to Loose Women to express contrition at the occasional rerun of Dave Allen's eviscerating lampoonings of Christianity? In fact, anyone who sees merit in satire and humour directed at Christianity but not at Islam is a hypocrite. Even worse than being a hypocrite though you are complicit in reinforcing and legitimising the persecution of free thinkers across the Muslim world who are imprisoned or killed for either questioning their religion or for leaving it altogether.
Whilst much of our mainstream media spend more time reminding us that not all Muslims support violent extremism and less time trying to honestly report why Islam has a problem with both violent and non-violent extremism at least they have refrained from encouraging us to fight ISIS with love as Facebook chief Mark Zuckerburg did earlier this year. I don't know about the rest of you, but I think I'll pass on the hug a jihadi initiative as I have an aversion to hugging people that wear explosive undergarments. In 2016, we've also had Bono declare that the best way to fight ISIS would be with comedy. Ironically, his serious proposal was pure comedy itself and seeing as Bono is not a Muslim it is still acceptable to laugh at his beliefs without having June Sarpong and Janet Street Porter scolding you on TV. Luckily, Bono wasn't leading the fight against Nazi Germany because if he had been, instead of armed soldiers storming the beaches in Normandy in 1944 we would have had tens of thousands of clowns in clumsy shoes armed with squirty flowers throwing custard pies at heavily armed fascists. Maybe Bono has a point though. Perhaps we should keep Guantanomo Bay open and as form of psychological torture they could play Russell Brand and Jimmy Carr stand up sets around the clock to the detainees.
Now, for defending the rights of people to mock Islam and for criticising and disagreeing with Islam I have on many occasions been called an Islamophobe and it is a charge that I will only not deny, but a label I will proudly wear. However, in the a spirit of equality I am not just an Islamophobe, but I am also a Catholicismaphobe, a Protestantismaphobe, a Judaismaphobe a Mormonaphobe, and a phobe of any superstitious belief system that bases it's beliefs on what they perceive to be unsubstantiated revelations from the putative creator of the universe. At the same time I oppose discrimination and mistreatment of anyone based on their private religious beliefs and I know that many decent religious people ignore or dismiss the more illiberal and violent parts of their holy books. Much of the mainstream media and indeed most people on the liberal left spectrum need to learn the difference between opposing ideas and bigotry towards individuals and to fight for the rights of every individual to be able to criticise and mock beliefs that they don't agree with. No one has the right to not be offended. As George Orwell said "if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."