Love the Believer, Hate the Belief

The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) has called for the publishers of the website “Jesus and Mo” to cease publishing the eponymous cartoon in which Jesus and Mohammed debate, satirically, the doctrines of Islam and Christianity.

The following is from a press release issued by MAB on the 20th of January:

The depiction of the holy Prophets Muhammad and Jesus (the peace be upon them) is, we  believe, as insulting as those published in Denmark and this organization urges all those  responsible to recognize the offensive and potentially inflammatory nature of these cartoons  and remove them from the Internet with immediate effect.

Whilst the Muslim Association of Britain recognizes the rights to free speech and artistic expression, we strongly question the wisdom of any individual or organization that places at risk the dignity and values of anyone else, even if they might not hold those values.

In a free society, any and all ideas (values, beliefs, philosophies etc.) must be open to criticism, satire, and yes, even mockery. Ideas will live and die on their merit in the open marketplace. Defenders of ideas should not, must not, mistake attacks on ideas as attacks on personhood, as the MAB is doing here. Resorting to this defense, confounding ideas with personhood, signals that their ideas are weak and not well supported. In a free and just society it must be acceptable to love the believer and hate the belief.

Folks, like the MAB, want to maintain the status quo – that religious ideas are beyond reproach. They want to maintain the special status that religious ideas have enjoyed for far too long. This is not limited to Islam. A contemporaneous story out of Ireland illustrates this point. A play entitled “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)” was to be staged in a theatre in Newtownabbey, close to Belfast in Northern Ireland. The play was cancelled after a protest from religious conservatives because the play was judged to be blasphemous. You be the judge:

The decision to ban the play was made by city council, which is shameful. (I wonder if they would ban “The Book of Mormon”?) Now the play might have been cancelled anyway as only 20% of the tickets had been sold. But that would have been okay, because the public would have made a decision on the merits of the production. But having the city council ban the play constitutes censorship, which has no place in a free and open society.

Clamping down on ridicule can only lead to an unjust and closed society. Witness what happened in Russia to Pussy Riot. They were incarcerated for hooliganism because they mocked the Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin. This is the inevitable consequence of censorship and could only lead to this.

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