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Tweeting Mohammad: Get Religion, February 3, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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The Mohammad cartoon controversy has resurfaced over the past week with a flutter over a tweet.

The British press appears to have come down on the side of Maajid Nawaz. Newspaper articles, opinion pieces and television chat shows have defended his right to share a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammad. But they have also ceded the moral high ground to his opponents — Islamist extremists — by declining to publish a copy of the cartoon that has led to death threats and calls for Nawaz to be blacklisted by the Liberal Democratic Party for Islamophobia.

What we are seeing in the British media — newspapers and television (this has not been a problem for radio) — in the Jesus and Mo controversy is a replay of past disputes over Danish and French cartoons. Freedom of speech and courage in the face of religious intolerance is championed by the press — up to a point.

The point appears to be whether being courageous could get you killed or even worse, earn the displeasure of the bien pensant chattering classes.

The Telegraph gives a good overview of the affair.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has received death threats after posting a cartoon image of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.

However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden. More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.

The Guardian summarized Nawaz’s motives in this subtitle to their story:

Lib Dem candidate says he aimed to defend his religion ‘against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest’

It explained:

The row blew up after Nawaz took part in a BBC debate where two students were wearing t-shirts depicting a stick figures of stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?”

The politician, who is founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank, tweeted what he believes is a “bland” image and stated that “as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that”.

Both stories are sympathetic and are topped by striking photos of Nawaz, who is  running to be an MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. But neither article reproduces the cartoon that has led to the threats against his life. In their defence, it could be argued that a photo of Nawaz, rather than the offending cartoon was more appropriate as the article focused on the politician’s travails over the cartoon, not on the cartoon itself. A week argument but an argument none the less.

Television was not blessed with this excuse. During the debate on The Big Questions which sparked the row, the BBC declined to show members of the audience who were wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts. This censorship, avoidance, prudence (take your pick) led Nawaz to tweet a photo of the cartoon — leading to twitter threats to cut off his head.
Newsnight discussed the controversy over censorship, but decided not to show a copy of the cartoon. Newswatch also discussed the “Jesus and Mo” controversy, noting that complaints had been raised by viewers over its failure to show the cartoon. But Newswatch also declined to show the cartoon. Zero for three for the BBC.

The best (from a cognoscenti  of hypocrisy’s point of view) was Channel 4′s handling of the subject. It broadcast the cartoon, sans Mo. This prompted the popular British blogger, Archbishop Cranmer to write:

[This] censoring images of Mohammed establishes a narrow Sunni-sharia compliance: it is, effectively, a blasphemy code adopted by the state broadcasters.

The columnist for The Times, Janice Turner, excoriated the BBC and Channel 4 in an excellent piece entitled “Show us Jesus & Mo. It’s the price of freedom”. It was:

hard to watch Wednesday’s Newsnight without concluding that Britain has become a very strange place. We saw an artist so frightened for his life that his face and even his voice were disguised. We saw his hand sketching the Christian prophet in a crown of thorns, but forbidden to draw the Muslim one. An 11-minute film debated a drawing at the heart of a national controversy but at no point could we see it.

Turner further reported:

When challenged, Newsnight’s editor, Ian Katz, said that there was “no clear journalistic case to use” the cartoon, and that “describing” it was sufficient. (TV news will get a whole lot cheaper if we needn’t send a camera crew to war-ravaged Damascus: let’s just have it described by Jeremy Bowen.) Any depiction of Muhammad, Katz argued, “causes great offence to many, not just extremists” and to run it would be “journalistic machismo”.

She aptly summarized the journalistic and moral issues at play.

Mr Nawaz’s frustration is understandable. In banning the image, the BBC cast him as the faux-Muslim, his opponents as the rational, majority voice that must be heeded.

How can moderate Muslims be expected to speak out, if they are cast as apostates by national TV? Those who have not yet made up their minds will see angry offence as the default position. They hear it proclaimed by the deceptively reasonable Mohammed Shafiq, the Lib Dem, whose Ramadhan Foundation hosts homophobic speakers, and that hot-air balloon Mo Ansar, who argues that gender-divided public meetings are just like BBQs where guys cluster around the grill while wives chat with the kids. No biggie.

The BBC and Channel 4 are guilty of cant and hypocrisy. They are daring when it is safe to be daring, but cowards when it comes to militant Islam. Are the Guardian and Telegraph guilty of cant as well? They preach freedom of speech, but by refusing to show the Jesus and Mo cartoon are they not also ceding the moral high ground to the enemies of free speech?

First printed in Get Religion.

Channel 4 keeps it all in the Anglican family: Get Religion, January 22, 2013 January 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Women Priests.
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January has been a wonderful month for lovers of Anglican ecclesiastical drama. The resignation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury at year’s end should have led to a few month’s peace and quiet for the Church of England and the wider Anglican world. I had even thought of taking a vacation this month as little of substance appeared on the radar as of late December.

I could count on the penchant of Episcopalians in the United States to sue each other over church property disputes — 88 cases and counting. And there would certainly be some sort of gay story — thank you Washington National Cathedral for announcing you will host gay weddings! But I could write those stories in my sleep — and to tell the truth I would have had a hard time selling them. I could hear the editors say: “You want me to publish another gay Episcopal story? Tell me how is that news?”

But thank goodness for the Church of England. When life get’s me down. When I begin to think my mother in law is right and there is still time to go to law school and have a “respectable” career, the Church of England comes to my rescue. What a month it has been. Fights with the government over gay marriage, fights over gay bishops, and fights over women bishops. The CoE is at its most interesting when it is at war. Liberal and conservative wings in full war cry, possessed of the certainties of the Israelites who went out boldly to hew Agag in pieces and to smite the Amalekites hip and thigh.

Last week the fight over women bishops flared anew, illuminating the dreary skies of Westminster as the lay members of General Synod met at Church House in London to hear a motion calling for the impeachment of the chairman of the House of Laity.

Channel 4 News — which is the fourth British television network (BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4) — ran a story entitled “Women bishops: laity votes in no confidence motion,” previewing the meeting. It began:

The debate over women bishops in the Church of England is reignited today as one of the houses of the church’s governing body meets to consider calling for the resignation of its chair.

The House of Laity, part of the General Synod, is meeting in London for an extraordinary meeting to vote on a motion of no confidence in chair Dr Philip Giddings, who spoke against women bishops – directly after the Archbishop elect, Rev Justin Welby spoke in favour.

Canon Stephen Barney, who will propose the motion after setting up a petition, says Dr Giddings’ action “undermined” the speech of the archbishop-elect and were not representative of the house.

The story goes on to give the background to the meeting, noting it was the laity who blocked passage of a bill permitting the consecration of women clergy to the episcopate. The story then quotes the mover of the resolution, giving him space to summarize his views:

Speaking to Channel 4 News ahead of the meeting, Mr Barney, who has insisted the motion is not a personal attack, said the purpose of the meeting was not to debate women bishops in this particular incident, but whether Dr Giddings was representing the house which he chaired.

He said: “I hope that we will have a proper debate. It’s a question of whether this was appropriate given that he was not representing the view of the vast majority of the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and indeed all but 74 of the House of Laity.”

Three more paragraphs of quotes from Mr. Barney are provided, followed by the line:

Dr. Giddings has not yet commented on the issue and said that “the time for debate is when we have the debate.”

Oh, and at the bottom of the page is this announcement:

The author of this piece, Katharine Barney, is the daughter of Canon Stephen Barney.

Is that clear. Katharine Barney the author of the news article is the daughter of the subject of the news article, Stephen Barney.

Is it possible for a daughter to write a balanced news article about her father? Yes, it is possible. A good journalist can detach themselves and write a story that is fair to both sides.  Love or hate Dad, a good reporter can still do their job. Yet the appearance of impropriety remains.

In this case, the balance expected of a reporter — a normal one, e.g., not the child of the subject of the piece — is absent. The British blog Cranmer — one of the best written and more intelligent religion blogs out there — had this to say:

This debate will attract an awful lot of media attention: it touches on theology, equality, morality, the governance of the Church of England, and the right separation of powers. One might expect Channel 4 News to have done rather better than get the daughter of the motion’s proposer to write a superficial and thoroughly biased article on the matter.

Standing outside the issues, the Channel 4 story failed as journalism. It was unbalanced. While Dr. Giddings declined to speak to the issues, there were dozens of others in the Church of England — bishops, lay leaders, commentators — who could offer a contrary voice. The context for this story was insufficient. How did the Church of England get to this place? Has this happened before? How much does it cost and who is paying for it? What happens if Dr. Giddings is impeached, or if he survives censure?

Where these problems addressed in the article, then it could be argued that having the daughter of the subject of the story write the story was a bold move by Channel 4′s editors to show the professionalism of its reporter. This did not happen.

Opprobrium should not be heaped on the author of the story, however. We do not know what the original story she submitted looked like, and by her lights this may have been a balanced complete account. The fault lies with the editors at Channel 4. What were they thinking?

First printed in Get Religion.

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