Friday 10 June 2011

Image Consciousness

A Blog Post by Patrick Redmond

 This was going to be a simple blog post promoting my recent interview with the author of the Jesus and Mo comic on our podcast. My original plan was to reproduce an example of the strip on the site, but if you scan down the page you’ll see that this hasn’t happened, and I’m finding myself increasingly annoyed by this fact. The reason ties in with the whole controversy over depicting Mohammed, although the cartoon in question claims to show a body double of Mohammed in a tongue in cheek circumvention of the issue.

When I mentioned my plan to some people there was a little intake of breath and a look of uncertainty. Imprinted on their minds are the scenes of Muslims marching down streets bearing placards calling for the beheading of cartoonists that satirise Islam. There was concern that it might not be the wisest thing to do, that there may be implications for families  and so I’ve not done it. But this really really irks me. And so with some shame, along with such luminaries as the producers of South Park
and the New York Metropolitan Museum, I’ve caved in and withdrawn the image.

My original concern was similar to when I posted about the Alpha Course. I worried then about what my Christian friends would think, and I was worried this time about what my Muslim friends might make of me enjoying a cartoon that mocked their religion. My hope then, as now, is that if they are my friends they’ll be able to approach me and talk about it. Funny though, I was less worried about my Christian friends this time than my Muslim ones even though Jesus plays as big a part in the strip as Mohammed, why should that be?

Most people know that Islam has a special prohibition about depictions of living things but funnily enough these don’t appear to be from the Quran. There is a proclamation about not worshipping anything alongside Allah but nothing specific about making images. All such injunctions come from the Hadith. These teachings based on the reported sayings and actions of Mohammed could be understood as being opposed to the production of any images of living things but they don’t specify Mohammed. Hadith are carefully interpreted teachings and traditions but different Muslim groups have different levels of tolerance attached to the production of images. These range from some that are quite relaxed and others that totally ban them. All the quotes that I could find seemed to imply that it would be Allah that punished the artists and not some mob wielding banners, torches and machetes.

In the case of the Danish cartoons and indeed the one by the author in the interview the intention is to mock religion and therefore you could argue that some people may be offended. Well, so what? As Phillip Pullman said in response to criticisms over his book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, “.... no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended”. It’s worth watching the short video of him making this statement, a clear and concise defence of freedom of speech and the right to reply.

There are many aspects of the main monotheistic religions that I could find offensive. I could, for example, find it offensive that their teaching would condemn me to an eternity of agonising tortures for not believing, whilst some elements of those same religions would allow for a priest that raped children then asked for forgiveness or a fanatic that blew up innocent bystanders with bombs strapped to their belly, to go to heaven. This might sound ridiculous to you, and if so you’re right, which is why this cartoon is so good. It ridicules the already ridiculous, often just by using their own arguments and words. It's certainly far more incisive and amusing than some of the stuff that gets put out on other more offensive and less intelligent sites on the Internet.

Please read the cartoon and listen to the interview and feel free to comment below, I’m open to discussion and reason.

Update 10/6/2011

You know what.... sod it!

Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) was Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub and presents the Birmingham Skeptics podcast. All views expressed in this blog post are his own and don't necessarily represent those of any other of the people connected to this website.


Unknown said...

Excellent, well argued and reasoned stuff Patrick!

I was on a debate panel where several people in the audience thought that if people should be 'allowed' to draw Mohamed then they should be allowed to voice homophobic views, as both are a matter of freedom of speech. They really didn't understand the distinction between attacking an 'idea' (in this case that Muslims have decided drawings are prohibited) and attacking a person for what they are and cannot help being.

It is very difficult to argue about the nature of offence when people don't, our don't want to, understand this important idea.

Author said...

Thanks, Patrick, for making my first interview such an enjoyable experience. Thanks, too, for making the decision to illustrate this blogpost with a J&M cartoon.

It might sound hypocritical of me to comment on this. As I said in the interview, I remain "impeccably anonymous" at the author of J&M. But I do run other websites under my own name, and I have published these strips without fear or even concern. Many people do, and I am glad you did, too.

Before the Update, I had prepared a long post about what Kenan Malik calls the "internalization of the fatwa" - when fear and self-censorship leads to self-fulfilling prophecy:
"In assuming that an ‘offensive’ work will invite violence one both entrenches the idea that the work is offensive and helps create a culture that makes violence more likely."

So, nice job, and thanks again.

Patrick (@paddyrex) said...

Thank you Tulpesh and Author for your comments. I very much enjoyed doing the interview too.

I think that the internal debate that I had is one that is experienced by lots of rational people. Society in general finds it hard to distinguish between being offensive and disagreeing with people on these topics.

I have this discussion with my children who seem to think they are not allowed to say to people that they think their religion is wrong in class because it might be deemed to be considered discriminatory.

The fact of the matter is that all the children of Muslims, Christians and other religions that are in that class and adhere to their parents' beliefs are saying that everyone but themselves are wrong especially the atheist children. (or to be fair the children of atheists ;) )

James Parker said...

Which Islamic groups take the Hadith proscription seriously enough to condemn images of Imams and Ayatollahs? It seems that those groups which protest images of Mohammed often have such images about, and displayed in such a manner as to suggest possibilities of idolatry -- which I understand is the reason images of living things is prohibited.

66steve said...

if allah has a problem with pix he can come and argue himself, if he needs muppets to do his smiting he's not that powerful. May i provide a link to the
Dublin Atheist conference where Maryam Namazie summarised modern islam rather well. Long but well worth it.

Andy said...

Excellent post, Patrick! And great work by the Author.

Can't help thinking that if the prophet was alive today, he'd have a heck of a time trying to dodge the papparazzi. On the other hand, maybe nowadays he'd change tack entirely and become a bit of a media icon like David Beckham or Pippa M... ;)

christian said...

Yeah ,Me too i agree with you..christian friends