One of Britain’s largest television stations is rightly facing censure from free speech campaigners after it chose to obscure a cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammad during a debate over the “Jesus and Mo” cartoons which have become the catalyst for a number of incidents in recent months.
Earlier this year, anti-extremism campaigner and Quilliam Foundation chief Maajid Nawaz posted a picture of the now notorious “Jesus and Mo” cartoons on his Twitter and Facebook pages, which we are made to believe are “offensive” and therefore worthy of censorship. Nawaz, who is standing for Parliament as a Liberal Democrat in 2015, accompanied his post with, “…this cartoon is not offensive & even if it was, so what, I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.”
Yet it only took a matter of moments before he began to receive a torrent of abuse and threats for daring to stand up for the freedom of expression. Nawaz was lambasted by a member of his own political party and religion, Mohammed Shafiq, the head of the Ramadhan Foundation in Britain, who claimed that he was officially reporting Nawaz to the Liberal Democrat party leadership for his offensive tweet.
Now, one of Britain’s major television stations, Channel 4, has caved to the extreme demands that such a cartoon be covered up, following in the steps of the London School of Economics which was forced to apologize to students after insisting they remove their “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts while on university property last year.
Channel 4 broadcast a debate on the issue, covering Muhammad with a black circle and leaving only a cartoon Jesus on display. At thirty seconds into the program, the narrator states, “We’ve taken the decision to cover up the picture of Muhammad so we don’t cause offence to some viewers.”
The National Secular Society of Britain sided with Nawaz and claimed the cartoon should have been shown in its entirety. In an open letter to Channel 4’s editor, the organization wrote, “By redacting the picture of ‘Mo,’ you have contributed to a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists… By taking the decision you did, not only did you betray the fundamental journalistic principle of free speech, but you have become complicit in a trend that seeks to insidiously stereotype all Muslim people as reacting in one uniform way.”
The situation has also shed light on a more concerning issue in British public life: that when moderate or integrated Muslims attempt to defend the principles of Western civilization or speak out against extremism, they are systematically targeted, threatened, and bullied.
In Nawaz’s case, he will almost certainly not be shaken, as he stated in The Guardian this week: “My intention was to highlight that Muslims can engage in politics without insisting that our own religious values must trump all others’ concerns…”
While Channel 4 has not yet commented on its decision to censor the cartoon, Shafiq and Nawaz issued a joint statement yesterday, seemingly burying the hatchet.
WATCH THE CHANNEL 4 BROADCAST: