The Muslim Action Forum (MAF), a group that describes itself as “working on the front line to deal with affronts to global civility” has announced a legal and political strategy to have depictions of the prophet Mohammed banned in the UK. And according to a press release published on the group’s website last week, the group will work towards its goal via a combination of litigation and lobbying MPs
MAF want depictions of Mohammed to be defined as a “hate crime” that is “perpetrated on the 3 million Muslims in the UK and 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide”. In addition to their litigation strategy, MAF say they will seek to amend existing legislation and present a Private Members Bill to Parliament that promotes the idea of ‘Global Civility’ in order to achieve their objectives.
“Global Civility” is a word you’re likely to hear more of in the future. It was the slogan of the Muslim activists who marched on Downing Street last month in order to protest the new depictions of Mohammed that appeared in Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that became the target of Muslim terrorists in January.
The demands for censorship are not restricted to cartoonists. MAF’s website also maintains a list of “uncivilized expressionists”, who they define as people who suffer from a “psychological disposition of the human mind which insults and maligns others without care or consideration of consequences.” Their examples include Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The National Secular Society is urging MPs not to cave in to MAF’s demands. Stephen Evans, the group’s Campaigns Chairman said: “We trust all prospective MPs will appreciate that there is no homogeneous ‘Muslim community’ and reject such unreasonable demands to undermine everybody’s fundamental rights and freedoms. Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society – and integral to combating the spectre of Islamism. Now more than ever we need to preserve and strengthen freedom of expression, not capitulate to extremist demands.”
The news has also triggered concern in the grassroots atheist community. Chris Moos, a campaigner who recently faced attempted censure by the London School of Economics for wearing a T-shirt depicting a Jesus and Mo cartoon, explained the importance of religious satire. “Satire is a very good way of getting people to engage with a topic”, Moos said. “There are few things more effective than laughing at those in power, or satirising their power structures. It’s why dictatorships and tyrannies always censor the activities of comedians and satirists”.
Like most would-be censors, the Muslim Action forum don’t understand the Streisand Effect, a digital-era concept that describes how censorship backfires. Simply put, the more you try and stop people spreading information – or cartoons, in this case – the more they will do so. People don’t like being told what to do, and in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen attacks, defiance is rightly seen as more important than “civility”.
Of course, the idea of “Global Civility” has allies in the progressive media. A few days after the Copenhagen attacks, the Guardian’s Hugh Muir urged western societies to “guard against the ‘temptation to be provocative”, and reminded his readers that although free speech ‘must be defended’ (by shutting up, if I follow Muir’s argument correctly), there are also ‘other obligations to be laid upon those who wish to live in harmonious, peaceful societies’.
Is it any wonder that people don’t trust the left to defend free speech anymore?
However, while progressives at the Guardian may bend over backwards to accommodate the enemies of free speech, most people will only be inspired to rebel. Particularly in the age of social media, I suspect the MAF will be seeing more “uncivilized expression” in the future.