By Daniel Margrain
Under the 1st and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution it is possible, under the auspices of freedom of religion provisions, to obtain equal recognition for any proposed “religion” upon the payment of a nominal fee. A few US states have offered ordination by mail or on-line of The Church of the Latter-Day Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a result of their adherents’ willingness to stump up the requisite cash.
These, and other parody religions have also sought the same reasonable accommodation legally afforded to mainstream religions, including religious-specific garb or headgear. One approach to parody religion is to place the kinds of critical demands on it as one would do in relation to other issues in order to highlight its deficiencies.
This was clearly the aim of the groups above who used their right to freedom of expression under the US Constitution in support of a parody so as to expose the flaws in the original argument. If the right not to be offended can be codified in law as a result of parodying aspects of orthodox religious dogma, then it logically follows, believers in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the congregation of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude also should have their right “not to be offended” codified in law.
Satirists and others who believe in freedom of speech, actively embrace both their right to be offended and to offend the belief systems of others unhindered. One of my earliest memories of having my right to be offended and to offend curtailed was when, in their infinite wisdom, Torbay Borough Council and thirty-eight others throughout the UK decided to ban the Monty Python religious comedy satire, The Life of Brian, from cinema’s on the basis that it was deemed by a small minority to have been “blasphemous”.
Following the films release in 1979, I walked 6 miles to a cinema in Newton Abbot in the rain to watch it. Incredibly, the ban in Torbay continued until 2008 after the Council finally permitted the film to be shown after it won an online vote for the English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival. Perhaps more importantly still, the film was shunned by the BBC and ITV, who declined to show it for fear of offending Christians in the UK. Blasphemy was restrained – or its circulation effectively curtailed – not by the force of law “but by the internalization of this law.” (p.27).
Almost a decade after the controversy surrounding The Life of Brian, orthodox religion was again the catalyst behind the attempt to censor art. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel, first published in 1988, was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. As with his previous books, Rushdie used magical realism and relied on contemporary events and people to create his characters. The title which refers to a group of Quranic verses is based on the historical interpretations of events by the scholars al-Waqidi and al-Tabari.
Many Muslims accused Rushdie of blasphemy and subsequently engaged in a number of book burning exercises throughout the UK. In mid-February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in Pakistan, the Ayatollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shi’a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa against Rushdie and his publishers.
Disgraced British parliamentarian, Keith Vaz, who led a march through Leicester shortly after he was elected in 1989, rallied behind India’s decision to ban the book by calling for the same in the UK. To date, with police protection, Rushdie has escaped direct physical harm. However, forty-one others associated with his book have either been murdered or have suffered violent attacks leading to serious, and in some cases, life threatening injuries.
Islamic fundamentalism was again to play a part in regards to its opposition to the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The publication, which featured cartoons, reports, polemics, and irreverent jokes, was the target of two terrorist attacks, in 2011 and 2015 in response to a number of controversial cartoons it published of the prophet. In the second of these attacks, 12 people were killed, including the magazines publishing director and several other prominent cartoonists.
On Christmas Day, 2015, Jewish comic, Sarah Silverman caused controversy after she had tweeted to her 7.5 million followers ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS! Jesus was gender fluid!’. The joke triggered a fierce backlash online from Christians who were outraged at the suggestions that their Lord and Saviour identified as both male and female.
Meanwhile, in France, public officials, Jewish groups and others have attempted to censor the satirist, political activist and comedian Diedonne M’bala M’bala, who created and popularized the quenelle gesture in 2005. These groups have interpreted the quenelle as an inverted Nazi salute, while others view it as antisemitic and have sought to ban it.
Professional footballer Nicolas Anelka was fined and banned after he used the quenelle salute during a match, while British musician, Alison Chabloz made headlines after she was photographed doing a quenelle pose following the banning of her show at the Edinburgh festival on the grounds her material was deemed to have been antisemitic.
In her recent blog article entitled, A Song Is Not A Crime, Chabloz recounts her alleged harassment at the hands of supposed anti-racists. The musician and satirist currently faces a criminal conviction for malicious communications for two of her songs, allegedly on the basis of evidence supplied to the Crown Prosecution Service by members of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), Gideon Falter and Stephen Silverman.
As I previously stated, the CAA are in reality a pro-Zionist and Israeli front organisation whose role is to characterize anybody who opposes the State of Israel – particularly anti-Zionist activists and Corbyn supporters – as antisemites. In addition to chairing the organisation, Falter is a board member of the Jewish National Fund which has a long history of supporting ethnic cleansing in Palestine.
The notion the UK is awash with antisemites serves a political and ideological purpose. The promotion of the idea that Jews within the diaspora are under threat of antisemitism, intimidation and violence is intended to encourage their emigration to Israel, thereby helping to further reinforce Zionism’s role as Israel’s state ideology.
Jewish fundamentalist groups like the CAA and others need “antisemitism” to flourish in order to justify their continued government funding. I, myself, have recently been subject to the iron fist of the pro-Israel lobby following Jeremy Corbyn’s recent capitulation in response to the CAAs political weaponization of antisemitism.
My application to join the Labour Party was rejected on the basis of an opinion piece I wrote in which I supposedly used “anti-Semitic language, including the use of ‘Zionist’ as a term of abuse and indicated support for a candidate other than the Labour Party candidate” at the last election. I’ll leave it the followers of this blog to decide whether this is an accurate characterization of my article.
The smears and attacks by the Israel lobby on anti-Zionist activists and campaigning journalists such as Mike Sivier, Dinah Mullholland, Rebecca Massey, Ken Livingstone, Shami Chakrabarti, Jackie Walker and Craig Murray, is indicative of a McCarthyite attack on freedom of speech, whether that be through the medium of satire and the performing arts or through political writing in blogs like this.
It’s worth pointing out that the latter individual is currently being sued by the lawyer Mark Lewis for libel in the High Court in England on behalf of the Zionist, Jake Wallis Simons, Associate Editor of the Daily Mail Online. It was Mr Murray’s Sky TV appearance which led to the libel action against him.
Mr Wallis Simons boasts on his website:
“In 2015, I published a series of articles exposing Jeremy Corbyn’s links with anti-Semitic figures, and this led to what is now known as the “Labour anti-Semitism scandal.”
In an interview, Mark Lewis characterizes opponents of Israel such as Mr Murray as “Nazis” and opines “I am quite happy to take their homes off them… at least they can be a homeless Nazi.”
Mr Murray has stated on his blog that he cannot afford to defend himself against the charges made against him. I implore all those who care about freedom of speech to dig deep and donate to Mr Murray’s defence fund. The stakes for the rest of us couldn’t be higher.
Ultimately, in terms of whether myself or others agree with the views of the likes of Mr Murray or Ms Chabloz is neither here nor there. For the record, I strongly support Murray’s stance on Israel and fundamentally disagree with Ms Chabloz’s Holocaust “revisionist” views. The latter is as insane as claiming the earth is flat, or the twin towers on 9/11 were brought down by controlled explosives.
The point is, though, the ability to be able to circulate ideas that some extremely rich and powerful people deem to be uncomfortable, should not be the reason for these ideas to be suppressed. The disproportionate and widely discredited UK libel law is increasingly being used by rich people against poor people for this reason.
The great musician and satirist, Frank Zappa, believed rightly, that no barrier, however “offensive”, should be placed in the way of freedom of expression. Zappa’s targets were everything and everybody from religion, politicians and corporations through to “Catholic girls”, “Jewish princesses”, “valley girls”, black people, white people and ideologies and dogmas of all kinds. He showed no mercy for the human race and regularly exposed hypocrisy at every turn. This is the spirit of freedom and openness that we should all aspire to but which religious dogmas and political ideologies often try to suppress.
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