Regular readers know that these daily posts are often me trying to work out what I think about something by forcing myself to write it into sentences. This one is overlong, sorry. Feel free to leave comments, but try and be polite, initially at least…
Time to slap on a frown and go through this shit one more time.
Firstly, I am a privileged white male. I have never experienced oppression because of race, gender or sexuality, any abuse I have received will have been due to my individual character traits and the glasses I chose to wear, so frankly, that is my fault, not society’s. Now, as the starting point for this is the LSE “Jesus and Mo” T shirt banning story, you may wish to stop reading now, what do I know? Mind you, if you read newspapers or watch discussion shows you’ll know people yap on despite lack of experience or evidence, so count it as one of those occasions.
I would also like to make it clear that, though I am an atheist, I am not Richard Dawkins. I have done two interviews recently where, after answering questions on my non-belief, the interviewer has said, “but Richard Dawkins doesn’t say that”, as if all of us without deities must follow his commandments.
Others have said that, due to the company I keep, it is fair to presume that I must defend the opinions of famous atheists and be tarred with any brush of theirs that may be dubious. I also keep the company of Unitarians, Quakers, Catholics and self-declared wizards, so I am a confused and confusing individual if I must take on all of their attributes too, like a fast metamorphosising alien from The Thing. My general view is that there is not a battle with general religion, but with anything that is manipulative dogma, whether it’s regimes using the jackboot of fundamentalist religion to control or the cosh of fundamentalist politics as seen with Mao and Stalin.
Obviously, I don’t see the Jesus and Mo cartoons offensive, I see them as light mockery, an absurd imagined world where a major messiah and popular prophet hang around in a bar and bed together. It seems to me to be a mixture of satire and light nonsense questioning religion. I also don’t find cartoons of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens skipping around like high hippies in their A for Atheist T shirts offensive, even though at the time of publication, some non-believers were affronted and also cried homophobia. Our skin changes thickness depending on the direction of ridicule.
Unlike some atheists, I do not believe Islamophobia is a fiction purely used to gain that advantageous state of potent victimhood that is used for cultural advantage. I don’t like the word itself, as I don’t think it is a phobia, I think it is about the surronding culture and education, which I don’t think is what causes arachnophobia.
“I weep and scream when I see spiders because my dad brought me up never to trust them and fear them because they are not from around here and do things differently”.
I do think there are problems with perceptions of Islam and many of us need to do more to understand what it is it and the different forms it takes if we are to enter into debates on it or feel we can pronounce upon it generally. Like most religions or dogmas, I have problems with its more fundamentalist forms and any use of its texts as an alibi for oppression and hampering of freedom of thought and action. When oppression or murder is apparently done in the name of Islam, I do not think we must be silent because we haven’t read all the texts.
Now I have attempted to express my general position, and smeared my liberalism into your eyes, let me ponder on the accused cottonwear.
Is the intention of the joke to create hate?
I believe the cartoons may be mocking, but mockery is a part of human conversation. Many of the great stories of faithful individuals sees them rising above ridicule.
In a world where cartoons can lead to rioting and deaths and authors who criticize Islam have been known to have fatwas put on them, I presume the author’s inspiration may be such ludicrous events. I am afraid that I think death for a scribble is pretty bloody stupid.
I have been told the T shirts are racist. I think they are mocking of religion, but is it the sort of mockery that incites violence or potent hate? I am not sure how many racists started their journey to hate based on a four frame cartoon. The language of the cartoons I’ve seen is often satirical, it mocks belief systems. Is mocking a belief system out of bounds? If so should all our beliefs be protected, beyond religion to philosophy and science or anything that is powerful in creating your worldview? Why should beliefs that cannot be empirically proved have greater protection than beliefs of natural selection or cosmology?
I think that claiming these T shirts are racist downgrades racism. Is race defined by belief?
Does this mean all jokes about Mohammed are racist and thus any joke that mocks prophets or gods is not wanted in a polite society and to ensure everyone feels part of that society, we must ban mockery. This form of enlightened society may find itself short on jokes .
This is a pity as jokes can also be a way of bonding. Many groups of friends have jokes about each other, in healthy friendships we may mock what each other believes, but that becomes unhealthy if we start physically attacking one of the pals because he is not from the same county as us or prefers Star Wars to Blade Runner. There are limits and those limits are when a quality of existence suffers beyond the level of “I don’t like that sort of thing, it insults me”. I don’t like the way a lot of people dress, but I keep quiet as that is living in a society where people are allowed to choose their clothes themselves.
Others have said that the level of suffering by Muslims in the UK means that a cartoon is just rubbing salt into the already gaping wounds. Again, I do not think the style of the cartoon is so hurtful in its ridicule that any liberal (ish) Muslim would be affronted. As for not being allowed to draw Mohammed, this does not seem to be a central part of the religion and, as part of that religion, is it not an instruction for followers, not everyone? Am I meant to follow the rules of all religions for fear of offending when passing by a mosque or Methodist chapel?
Jokes can be a way of framing an opinion, so must we then make further roads into preventing publicising opinions beyond opinions of hatred that are already covered by legislation?
Once we decide that we must curb our language and avoid all jokes towards a certain group for fear of offence, does this increase the outsider status and otherness of certain cultural groups which may exacerbate problems of inclusion?
I think of Jim Davidson’s refusal to play a gig with wheelchair users in the front row as he couldn’t make fun of them because they were not as others in his eyes. Doesn’t that marginalize more than include?
If we live in a nation where the most mockery must be censored as offence is the highest moral outrage, then we have to live in a silent country.
I am not a fan of offending for offending’s sake, but we have to look at the offence and think, what is the level of harm? If it is just a matter of some people saying, “well I am outraged” , then let them enjoy their outrage, it probably makes them feel better about themselves underneath it all, that outrage is like a free plane trip to the Olympian heights of golden ticketed victimhood. If it can be said that the article of outrage goes beyond that, that it is a call to arms and violence to others, a level of abuse that makes life ugly and difficult for others, then it should be scrutinized and possible action taken.
We need to be thoughtful with our mockery, but does anyone look at a Jesus and Mo cartoon and use that as the philosophical argument they require to justify their racism? Is it the number of cartoons read that eventually persuade you towards hate crime. Did the treatment of blanket suckers improve or worsen due to the portrayal of Linus in Peanuts?
To consider pencil sketched absurdist mockery as a gateway to physical harm is belittling of many far more important issues. Easier to prevent a T-shirt than look at the poverty and dogma that may really contribute to issues of division and bloodshed I suppose. The LSE banning the wearing of these T shirts at an event seems to fuel division and misunderstanding, and does little to create dialogue or find common ground. Let people argue and persuade, let’s try and get beyond the stereotypes through debate not restriction.
I believe that there can be much common ground between people of faith and people without, whether someone believes in a god or not is of little bother to me until it becomes a factor in brutality and hostile division. For those who say that the wearing of the T shirts is childish, perhaps the only thing more childish is to be upset by them and declare they must be banned. I worry this is not a game of religious respect, but a game of politics. Where is the blurred line where respect then demands censorship? I am afraid that I would see Jesus and Mo being classified as hate speech a dangerous precedent in the redefining of the word hate.
Sorry, what a long-winded post and all because of a T shirt.
I am on tour as usual with a new show for 2104 – London, Norwich, Sheffield, Bristol, Nottingham and many more, plus shows with Grace Petrie and Josie Long. all details HERE
Happiness Through Science DVDs (also including Brian Cox commentary) HERE