The Daily Mail reported yesterday that another teacher has been suspended for showing an image of Mohammed. This image hadn’t been shown in a classroom setting for educational purposes, however, but was featured on his coffee mug from which he was drinking outside the staffroom; indeed, he was reportedly “photographed carrying the item in the playground at Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex”. And it wasn’t some venerable 15th-century Shia portrayal of Mohammed encountering the angel of half-fire and half-snow, but rather a ink-line cartoon of him standing next to Jesus saying, ‘Hey’, to which Mohammed responds, ‘How ya doin’?”
The satirical cartoon is from ‘Jesus and Mo‘, which was created by Mohammed Jones (pseudonym [..for fear of death]) in 2005. It is either perceptive, astute and funny, or offensive, blasphemous and Islamophobic, depending on whether you’re slightly sensitive and easily fomented into a state of religious fury or not; and whether you believe Allah feels threatened by an ink-line cartoon and needs shielding from the violation or not.
Mr Jones tries to defuse allegations of Islamophobia and mitigate any offence by deploying the ‘Life of Brian‘ argument that the Mo character isn’t supposed to be Mohammed the Islamic prophet, but a “body double” who is now being widely mistaken for Mohammed the Islamic prophet, but he isn’t Mohammed the Islamic prophet; he’s a very naughty boy. Jesus, however, is based on the real Jesus, not Brian.
The cartoons gently lampoon aspects of both Christianity and Islam, and often raise some interesting philosophical and theological questions, such as the nature of God, the meaning of life, and the source of divine law. These are also reproduced on merchandise, such as coffee mugs and T-shirts. This is how the Daily Mail featured the teacher holding his mug:
Perhaps the Editor feared a fatwa or threats to bomb Northcliffe House. But there is nothing illegal about the mug (or the T-shirt), and there should be no prohibition on carrying (or wearing) one in public. A school, however, is not a public place, and the Headteacher of Colchester Grammar has every right to rebuke a member of his staff who may be purposely inciting trouble: it is one thing to drink your coffee in a ‘Jesus and Mo’ mug in the privacy of the staffroom, but quite another to carry it into the playground knowing full well (as he surely would have done) that some students might find it offensive. Unlike the incident at Batley Grammar (whose RE teacher is still in hiding, in fear for his life and the lives of his family members), there was nothing educational about this.
Don’t blame the students: they have not been taught that the Qur’an doesn’t explicitly prohibit images of Mohammed, or that there is a centuries old tradition within Islam of depicting him in works of art going back to the Mongol and Ottoman empires. The quranic prohibition, as in the Bible, is against worshipping such images: it is perfectly possible (and, indeed, spiritually desirable and theologically acceptable) to depict religious figures out of love or veneration rather than idolatry.
If the Daily Mail falls for censoring images of Mohammed, then more newspapers will censor them, and more television channels and other media will censor them, and then more schools will censor them, and then universities will censor them, and then we will all be caught by the impending ‘Online Safety Bill‘ so Facebook and Twitter and YouTube will censor them, and before we know where we are the whole United Kingdom is subject to a very narrow hadithic understanding of sharia for fear of civil disorder, or even death, and so everyone conforms, or is forced to conform, on pain of fine or imprisonment.
A free press and free media shouldn’t bow to a new sharia blasphemy code, or help to usher one in by the back door. We didn’t abolish the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in 2008 in relation to Christianity and the Church of England only to see them return to guard Islam and shield Muslims from offence. Here is the mug the Daily Mail felt the need to censor:
Honestly, what is there here which demands media censorship?