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Home > Culture and Society

Oy! Are You Looking At My God?

6 February 2006

In September of last year, a Danish writer bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t get anyone to illustrate a book he had written about the prophet Mohammed. The reason for this of course is because in the Muslim faith, pictorial representations of the prophet are strictly forbidden. This means that although you are more than welcome to picture Mohammed pleasuring a pot-bellied pig in your mind's eye - if that’s what floats your blasphemous boat - you could never actually draw a picture of it, or at least not without incurring a fair bit of wrath. For the simple reason that this is a rather ridiculous state of affairs, a Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten, published a series of cartoons
featuring the prophet. Sadly, rather than drawing intelligent and inoffensive cartoons of Mohammed - thus diluting any of the subsequent hullaballoo and perhaps paving the way for constructive, even level-headed debate - the cartoonists plumped instead for witless and offensive. Then, before very long, there were death threats. And weak though the cartoons may have been, threatening to kill the cartoonists is, frankly speaking, beyond the pale.

We’ve been here a million times before of course. Rarely a month passes without some religious idiot or other taking offence on behalf of their deity, and threatening censure or violence or death as a result. The reason it rankles the rational of course is because it actually makes very little sense. Let’s say you’re a believer. You know - for a fact - that your god is all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful. And that He loves you. So when some godless halfwit happens along and says, ‘Hold on. Your god sucks the sweat off a dead man’s balls’, why would you get upset? It’s like weeping in the street because someone who can’t even afford a pair of decent socks has a pop at your Ferrari. Why should you care? And even if it hurts a little because someone you love is being badmouthed - chill out, for fuck's sake. Allah’s big enough to take care of Himself.

There is of course, luscious ripe irony at work here. A cartoonist draws a picture of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, the implication being that Islam, far from a religion of tolerance and peace, is actually a religion of violence and murder. Many Muslims are offended by this, and so, by way of response, threaten to murder the cartoonists responsible. You have to smile. ‘How dare you call us murdering bastards?! We’ll kill you! We’ll kill the lot of you!’

Surely the whole thing about being a civilised human being and not say, an animal, is that when someone insults you - or your mother or your god - you respond either by a) ignoring the insults and thus rising above them b) retaliating in kind like a small-minded infant, e.g. ‘My mother is a whore? How dare you! *Your* mother is a whore’, or c) entering into a debate, explaining to the person who has offended you why their assertions are unfair, misguided or just plain wrong, and in so doing, educating that person, opening their mind and increasing their awareness, thus moving the world forward and in a very real way making it a less worthless place. Sadly, no religion will ever do that, because there is no place for rational argument in religion. Nor humour. And humour helps.

This week newspapers across Europe reprinted some of the offending cartoons. More protests and threats followed. Reproductions of the cartoons have been burned. That’ll show ‘em. This morning the Danish Embassy in Jakarta was smashed up. Or at least the lobby. The managing editor of France Soir, Jacques Lefranc, published the photos inside his paper, whilst running the front page headline, ‘Yes, we have the right to caricature God’. The owner of the paper, Raymond Lakah, promptly fired Lefranc and issued an apology. Apparently we *don’t* have the right to caricature God. Apparently it’s 1478 and God must be
appeased at all costs.

In a rather sweet coincidence, this was also the week that the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was defeated in the British parliament. This means that when the much-diluted bill eventually becomes law, we will still be legally allowed to say or write that which is critical, abusive or insulting to religion and the religious. However, depending on how this cartoon controversy pans out, we may not dare.

We’ll probably just leave it to Nick Griffin.

The slippery fuck.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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