Saturday, 1 November 2008

Ross and Brand uproar, but what about religion ?



Most have you have by now heard about the latest BBC scandal, involving a prank call by two British comedians to the grandaughter of Faulty Towers veteran. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been taken back by the furor which has ensued after Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s distasteful prank on Brand's (now former) Radio 2 slot. Members of the British public were deeply offended describing the incident as ‘appalling’, the 11 day saga has resulted not only in a personal apology from Director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson but Gordon Brown himself recently jumped to the front line, calling for action by the BBC. What followed was the resignation of Brand from his radio 2 show, Ross being suspended for 12-week without pay (losing £1.5 million!) and the resignation of the BBC controller Lesley Douglas, saying: "I believe it is right that I take responsibility for what has happened.”

I totally support those concerned members of our community and I’m comforted by the fact that there still is a degree of dignity and respect alive in viewers. My fear is that this reasonableness will be lost as the older generation passes away. As each generation passes this value of respect along with other values will disappear. I’m constantly put off evening viewing by comedians resorting to crudeness when they run out of fresh, innovative ideas, like the crassness that has become “little Britain “or “Ali G” (which I know longer can view due to its content) the latter series being cruder by far.

But then it struck me. Within the wider discourse of “Freedom of speech”, why is this not permissible? Is this not just a matter of opinion? Surely this s a prime moment to resurrect Rousseau’s quote. Recent discussions about reinstating blasphemy laws have been quashed and beset by the right of “Freedom of speech” championed by secular fundamentalists and the very idea was viewed as antithetical to British values. Douglas Murray from the insidious Centre for Social Cohesion commented on “The Big Question”, that “We have a duty to insult.” So, what’s the problem? On one hand, it is very surprising that this prank as received such a negative response. Surely these viewers are aware of the virtues of Freedom of Speech. However, it seems that they have leveraged on a reasonable objective value to complain to the BBC that transcends absolute freedom of speech. Intuitively Freedom of speech without responsibility turns out to be just gratuitous speech.

What I want to appeal to is the very same leveraging point that has defended Andrew Sachs against the slurs and insults thrown at him. I as a Muslim hold my religion no doubt as dear to me as much as Andrew Sachs holds his granddaughter. The constant free rein to denigrate and subvert religion, mine or any others, in our post Christian society deeply insults me and many members of the British public also, no doubt.

Recent examples which spring to mind are: A Jesus statue was portrayed engaged in a lewd act, Jerry Springer the Opera depicts him as a sexual deviant and insults are made towards Mary. The latest attack on religion is Prophet Mohammed’s life degraded by a book describing his relationship with his wife in “porn fashion”.

What the British religious community are asking for is the same responsible “Free speech” which has been demonstrated by the reaction to the Ross and Brand saga. Free speech should exist without gratuitous insults and denigration; respect for people should always exist. It took a couple of crude comedians to show that what we ask for is reasonable and not, as some would have you believe, alien to British values.


Adam Deen

23 comments:

Aqeel said...

100% agree with you Adam. This is an absolute example of double standards, a prank call that offended 1 person resulted in such extreme actions and not even an apology for the mockery these people are making of Muslims.

Anonymous said...

firstly, we are sure that andrew sachs exists.

secondly, what those pratts did was not illegal and neither should it be. it was in bad taste and damaged the bbc's commercial interests. that's why the bbc took action.

thirdly, free speech has always been limited by law. incitement to violence is illegal, as is incitement to race hatred. individuals and organisations are protected by libel and slander actions. that's probably too much limitation rather than too little.

fourthly as george orwell pointed out in the 1930's, fascism would not catch on in the uk because we would laugh at the goose-stepping. the one thing that "strong leaders" cannot overcome is being laughed at. the people who most need laughing at are pompous politicians and self-righteous religious leaders. we must also include all holier-than-thous. if religion cannot be laughed, why not include politicians and the police? we could rename the country iran.

given the antics of the islamists, its great if they are being mocked. making a point via humour is more civilised than the often violent alternative, is it not?

you never hear jews complaining about jewish jokes. if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

DavidM said...

There is no double standard here.

It surprises me that Adam Deen is unable to see the categorical difference between Brand + Ross telephoning an old man to taunt him about his granddaughter, and the BBC broadcasting of Jerry Springer the Opera (for example). So I will endeavor to explain.

First, there is the difference between a direct phone call and a television broadcast. Sachs did not receive prior warning that he might be offended by the phone call, so it would have been impossible for him to avoid it. Viewers of JSTO received ample warning before and during the broadcast, and so had the option of avoiding being offended by the simple mechanism commonly known as "not watching". So anyone taking offence at the broadcast was probably looking for something to be offended by (some people do actively seek offence, in my experience - perhaps it gives them an opportunity to display their piety?).

Secondly, there is a categorical difference between verbally attacking a member of one person's family and mocking an idea or opinion. The fact that an idea or opinion are of a metaphysical nature does not magically make them worthy of any more respect than if they were of a purely political - or even a footballing - nature. They are ideas and opinions, and as such open to mockery and ridicule.

Are we to protect political ideas from mockery and ridicule? It has certainly been tried - it's not really democratic, to say the least. Many religious ideas are also political in nature, so cannot be exempt.

Where would we draw the line? Can we mock Scientologists for believing in Xenu? What about homeopaths and astrologers - should their ideas be treated with respect too?

Many people believe that religion is a largely negative force in the world (apart from the obvious acts of violence we can lay on its doorstep, it also causes confused thinking that leads to huge category errors). For them, to mock and ridicule religious belief is a moral act of real social worth.

In the end, if your metaphysical opinions are actually worth having, they will be able to withstand the knockabout of satire and ridicule. On the other hand, if they are basically bullshit, they are not going to fare so well - and the only way to defend them is to make unjustifiable demands for "respect".

Anonymous said...

ps the above was from tom who forgot to mention that.... tom

Nargees said...

In response to anon - you are correct in asserting that the very concept of the freedom of speech has always been restricted by other competing rights. But what would you say to the law being inherently tilted towards the freedom of speech/or to insult, depending on how you look at it, with regards to one communtiy as opposed to another. Allow me to explain, in Britain Blasphemy laws dating back from 1838 protect the tenets and beliefs of the Church of England but not, as we witnessed after the Salman Rushdie affair, for Muslims or any other faith community for that matter. Is this not a type of hypocricy embedded within the most authoratative institution in this country?

It seems as though action is only taken by public authority figures, corporations or the law against individuals or bodies if they have the backing of the majority poulation or a sizeable number within that population. If this is in fact an accurate assumption then it logically follows that the smaller your community, or the more different your community is percieved as being from the majority population, then the more likely your toes are to be tread on and the less likely you are to be protected from injustice- which ever shape or form it takes.

Extending common courtesy to other communities who feel just as strongly about issues that may not reflect the concerns of the majority community does not mean that we have to take things to an extreme i.e. becoming a British Iran. Instead we can take responsible steps like not publishing denegrating Danish cartoons of a religious figure, as the British press rightly decided not to do, an act which demonstrated a certain level of respect for the sensibilities of the minority Muslim communities within this country.

Freedom to take the 'mick' in a harmless way needs to be differentiated from the freedom to insult, for instance obsene jokes were recently made about the Queens genitalia in a BBC2 programme, i personally find this unacceptable. The boundaries between these two concepts are rather fluid and it is not always easy to distinguish when one has over stepped the mark. I nevertheless think it is essential that we at the very least attempt to censor some of the more lewd and disturbing remarks made in the public arena instead of constantly reffering to a seemingly 'inviolable' right to the freedom of speech.

With regards to your comment and i quote 'You never hear jews complaining about jewish jokes' try making a joke on public television or radio about the holocaust in order to test this theory...... i am afraid to say that i think you shall be proved very wrong indeed!

DavidM said...

Nargees, the Blasphemy Laws in the UK were abolished this year.

Nargees said...

In response to DavidM - I was unaware of the abolishment of this particular law, but even in light of this fact my argument does not alter very much in substance, if anything it strengthens my original assertion, i.e. that one group will continue to enjoy the priviledges handed to it by the state at the expense of another. At present instead of this group being the C of E it is now a type of liberal hegemony which trumps all other interests. In addition, the state enjoys the liberty that it grants itself of curtailing the freedom of speech if it were to go against its own interests. For example i could not publicly speak about overthrowing the current government without being reprimanded by the state itself.

In which case it would be fair to say that the right to the freedom of speech is a restricted right and not an unqualified right, the restrictions applying only to those sectors of society that have the states backing, including the state itself, while the liberty of free speech protects the interests of the liberals, as a consequence all other groups are expected to grin and bear the fact that they are not protected by any law or mechanism in this regard.

Ultimately whether you consider this to be fair or not depends on which side of the fence you are standing.

Frank said...

Thank goodness we in the 'free' west have laws that protect against unwarranted attacks, verbal or otherwise upon the person. Likewise I am grateful for the freedom to make fun of and even condemn ideas and beliefs. In the first instance it is the life of the individual that is put at risk and may suffer subsequent damage. In the second it is just ones feelings that APPEAR to suffer. And since I never did hear of anyone needing treatment for a damaged 'feeling', I think we can disregard any further Islamist desire to control our thinking.

Frank

davidM said...

nargees, you say,

For example i could not publicly speak about overthrowing the current government without being reprimanded by the state itself.

Yes, you could. It is not against the law, providing you do not incite violence.

But apart from that, you are quite right: the principle of freedom of speech is very unfair to those people who desperately want to control what others are allowed to say.

Anonymous said...

well, nargees, if you want to reduce the issue to its basics, there are 3% muslims in the uk population, so you would expect them to have about 3% influence, right?

as for religions being specially protected - why? should we allow aztecs to rip the still-beating hearts out of victims in luton? what other superstitions should be granted special status?

in fact, as islam is causing so many problems, and is such a tiny minority perhaps we should agree with you and ban it along with the aztec rites?

here is a joke from a jewish site:

Two Jews in Berlin are discussing their plight.
"Terrible," says one. "Persecutions, no rations, discrimination, and quotas. Sometimes I think we would have been better off if we had never been born."
"Sure," says his friend, "but who has that much luck--maybe one in 50,000."

do stop whinging. tom

Nargees said...

In response to David M - by qualifying the right to the freedom of speech with restrictions such as advocating incitement to violence requires entirely subjective judgement calls to be made as to whether such restrictions have been violated. It is not always such a simplistic and straightforward task as many percieve it to be. What would you say if an Iraqi man - born and bred in England called for the Iraqi people to rise up against illegal foreign occupation in Iraq - has this person overstepped the line and commited an act of inciting violence by virtue of his British citizenship? Would your opinion be swayed if you were aware of the fact that his pregnant wife had been murdered by British forces while visiting the country? In addition, what if Malcolm X were here today and he called for African-Americans to rise up against racism 'by any means necessary' would he have overstepped the line despite the fact that black people not even 50 years ago were being lynched in public in the deep south, including Malcolm X's very own father?

Since when has state law been invioable? If at every point in history we continued to believe this fallacy and simply submitted ourselves to following the rules set down by the state, then it would be accurate to assume that half the world would still be under colonial rule, apartheid would still be implemented in South Africa and Black and other non-white people would still be treated worse than dogs i.e. through slavery across the globe.

In response to Tom - The amount of influence a group has in any particular country is based on the percentage of the population they occupy, this is the reality as i am well aware. But the question goes beyond mere statistics and goes into the realm of ethics, how ethical is it for the majority population to just expect minority groups arriving into any given country to just abandon their cultures, religions and ways of life. There was a time when British politics demanded assimilation and expected this to happen, in fact Sebastian Poulter a well known legal writer appealed for ethnic minorities to abide by 'minimum standards' he soon killed himself after being branded a racist by his academic peers. British politics also changed and went from an official expectation of assimilation to a new standard of multiculturalism. On a side note, did the British in the colonial era just give up their ways of life, religious beliefs and culture when they went over to India and Africa and the Middle East and were at this point themselves minority populations or did they once again in their eternal arrogance expect the heathens to abide by their own standards?

At no point Tom have i actually said that specifically religious communities should be protected from the negative impact of the freedom of speech all i have indicated is that some sort of attempt should be made to censor some of the more lewd and disturbing remarks made in the public arena including refering to the Queens genitalia, publishing offensive cartoons and so on.

It is unfortunate Tom that you are unable to engage in this debate without constantly reffering to extremes of all varieties i.e. Britsh Iran, Aztecs ripping out the hearts of random individuals etc. I believe this stems from a fear of the other. You clearly mention that Islam is a problem and even consider banning Islam itself - how exactly do you propose one should go about doing this? A recent African legal scholar mentioned that Africans carry the village with them in their BONE MARROW so how exactly do you expect to extract this? Would it not be far easier to say we should just remove all these Muslims and anyone else who does not meet the requirements set by Tom from the country altogether?

And finally Tom i expected you would have been able to work out by now that there is a huge difference between a Jewish person making jokes about their own history, culture and appearance and a white - non Jewish person making jokes about the Jewish holocaust.

Anonymous said...

"At no point Tom have i actually said that specifically religious communities should be protected from the negative impact of the freedom of speech all i have indicated is that some sort of attempt should be made to censor some of the more lewd and disturbing remarks made in the public arena including refering to the Queens genitalia, publishing offensive cartoons and so on."

"and so on".... indeed so.

all the best cartoons are offensive to someone. and are intended to be. how about anti-bush cartoons? or the anti-semitic ones from the middle-east? ban those too?

and no prophet jokes? there are some good ones about adam and noah in particular. also jesus. ban 'em all? or just ones about mohammed?

perhaps it had escaped your notice that islam can only be preached in the uk because of this despised (by you) and cherished (by brits) freedom of speech? try and change it at your peril. that would indeed be biting the hand that feeds you.

by the way, "multicultural" is so yesterday particularly since 9/11, 7/7 and the rest. how could it be otherwise? and clearly you mistook my "aztec irony" for a serious proposition. let me also explain a simple fact to you. conquerors do as they wish. immigrants assimilate.

but always the question remains for those who seek to restrict the freedom of others on grounds of taste or whatever:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

you?

finally, in your last sentence you use the word "white". surely that is a rather racist statement? why "white"? how do you know what colour I am and why would it matter? uncle tom

davidM said...

Yes, nargees, all very obvious but rather tangential to the original point. Which, to remind you, was that the article above illegitimately used the Brand/Ross affair as a springboard to call for religious censorship.

The premise of the argument was invalid because of the categorical difference between insulting a man directly via telephone, and showing disrespect for a set of metaphysical opinions via a work of art - as has been demonstrated several times by several commenters.

The implication was that there was a double standard. Demonstrably, there was not.

It is a bad article.

Walls Come Tumbling Down said...

Your reference to the 'Jewel of Medina' as being “porn” is absolute nonsense and really undermines any rational or objective argument that you are trying to make. You also make a range of sweeping comparisons that are rarely like for like and - as other commentators have written - do not present a choerent argument against the right that I believe we all have: to offend, and to be offended.

Frank said...

What about religion? What about the rights of the 13 year old Somali girl buried up to her neck then stoned to death. The Islamists that perpetrated this murder say they were undertaking the will of Allah. Her crime was to have been raped by 4 men who no doubt will escape punishment by virtue of the girls inability to provide witnesses as is required of Sharia Law. What absolute medieval nonsense.

Frank

Anonymous said...

If the blasphemy law in the UK had been enforced, it would have resulted in the banning of the Qu'ran.

The Qu'ran denies the divinity of Jesus(PBUH). This is blasphemous to Christianity.

Still want blasphemy laws?

Nargees said...

In response to Tom - What i have been arguing for since the very beginning of this discussion is a point you consistently fail to understand. Perhaps this is a result of your not having pursued any type of further education.

In the world of academia professors and students alike are expected to identify the defects of any particular argument. After having identified these defects through highlighting inconsistencies and raising difficult questions, that cannot simply be answered with yes or no answers, the student moves on to suggest proposals which can move the debate along. The smarter students tend to be those who do not reduce the world down to the most simplistic of terms, for example,

'conquerors do as they wish. immigrants assimilate'.

Especially without having, at the very least, read the works of scholars within those particular fields in order to confirm the veracity of your own statements, in which case i suggest you read Roger Ballard an anthropologist specialising in South Asian diasporas in the UK who speaks of Asians as skilled cultural/legal navigators, in which case it would be fair to assume that immigrants do not just assimilate. And perhaps you should also read the works of Professor Werner Menski for a brief overview on the laws and societies of South Asia - a brief commentary is made about how even the colonial powers had to to some extent reconcile their personal wishes with the practical societal realities facing them - thus demonstrating that even colonisers had to exercise some self-restraint and could not go about doing whatever it was that they wished.

Tom we seem to be living in a society on the verge of moral bankruptcy, as a consequence, i tend to argue in favour of restricting some of the more lewd and disturbing comments made in the public arena - this can be construed as a problematic statement - as i am well aware, simply because it is open to interpretation - I do not talk in absolutes, as you constantly do, perhaps this is because i have studied long enough to know that this is not the way forward in any debate.

You asked the question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? It is not up to me alone to watch the watcher but the watcher should be watched by us all. This way if society sets a standard then laws will not necessarily have to be enacted on behalf of the public.

And on a final note Uncle Tom if using the term 'White' alone was enough to constitute a racist statement then half the worlds news reporters reporting on the presidential elections would be branded racists for their use of the term 'black' as well as the term 'white'.

In fact the most basic definition of the term racist is 'A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others'.

I think it would be fair to say that i have yet to meet the above criteria by simply using the term 'white'.

In addition to this Thomas my statement which i quote 'There is a huge difference between a Jewish person making jokes about their own history, culture and appearance and a white - non Jewish person making jokes about the Jewish holocaust'

I have at no point stated you are white in fact all i merely did was draw a distinction you did not even factor into this equation.

Anonymous said...

you said "white jewish person" which is only relevant if is in contrast to a black jewish person. what other point could you be making other than a racist one?

you have absolutely no idea of my race, religion or qualifications, which makes it rather dumb to engage in ad hominem attacks, but still, that's par for the course, eh? however i am pleased that someone had briefed you on the world of academia - however they forgot to tell you that negatives cannot be proved.

by the way custodes is usually translated as "guardians".

be that as it may, you have expended a lot of words saying precious little.

you may think out society to be on the brink of moral bankruptcy, but you would say that, wouldn't you? you have a point insofar that some women show their faces without being beaten.

in contrast pakistan is a heaven on earth, and most islamic countries have a huge queue of people trying to get in....

the west's intellectual advances are based on freedom of thought and speech unfettered by religious nutcases. we called it the "enlightenment". what you are proposing is a return to the dark ages.

no thanks. tom

Frank said...

I'm with you Tom. Most of the posts given here lie within the realm of pseudo intellectualism. Your posts suit me fine. Pointed. Considered and brief.Academia has its place - but not in the real world. Long live the 'simplest of terms.

Frank

Nargees said...

In response to Tom - Lets recap our debate for the sake of clarity.
1- You said 'You never hear Jews complaining about Jewish jokes'
2- I said test the theory make a joke on television or radio about the holocaust
3- In response you quoted a joke from a Jewish website
4- In turn i objected to your not having differentiated between Jews making jokes about themselves and white non-Jewish people making jokes about Jews.
5- You at this point assumed i had called you white and also claimed that the very use of the term 'White' was racist. I clearly showed you that you had misinterpreted and i had not in fact called you white and i also demonstrated that the use of the term white was not enough to constitute a racist term as it did not live up to the definition established in the English dictionairy.
6- You in turn said i had in fact been racist by virtue of the fact that i had omitted to mention other groups in my example.

So let me get this straight, you are trying to call me a racist because i ommitted to add all racial groups that were non-Jewish in my example? In other words you think i'm racist by ommision.. lol.. that really is a new one - clutching at straws are we?

You then proceeded to whinge and stated 'You have absolutely no idea of my race, religion or qualifications, which makes it rather dumb to engage in ad hominem attacks'

Once again, i have not definitively ascribed any characteristics to you thus far. I have not called you white, i made no presumptions about your religious beliefs and i was very careful to use the word 'PERHAPS this is a result of your not having pursued any type of further education'.

In your case being pedantic might not be such a bad idea especially if it means that you stop wasting time by constantly misunderstanding what is written in front of you. Why not take both your own advice and mine by trying to focus simultaeneously on the substance of the opposing argument while paying attention to details.

You then said that the term 'custodes' is usually translated as "guardians" (I see we have a pedant in the making ;-) This is quoted from Wikipedia the online Encyclopedia

'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal, variously translated as "Who watches the watchmen?", "Who watches the watchers?", "Who will guard the guards?", "Who shall watch the watchers themselves?", or similar'.

I spoke in passing about moral decay and once again you jumped to the conclusion that i was talking about something related to unveiled faces or the like, as opposed to serious problems facing every society on planet earth i.e. issues relating to teenage pregnancies, abortions, suicides, murder, rape, child abuse, war, genocide and the rest.

Thomas why do i feel you never learn? Once again you start talking about Pakistan and Islamic countries being some sort of safe haven as if i had somehow implied this very idea by making a passing remark about moral decay in this society. I think it's about time you start to realise that you are exhibiting all the traits of an irrational fundamentalist.

In reponse to Frank - You have managed in a brief paragrapgh to achieve what i hope to never achieve in an entire life time, you proved once and for all that you have, by far, the simplest mind. The funniest part of it all is you don't understand why!
In your ardent support for Tom you managed to contradict all that he was standing for, Tom fully supports, and i quote, 'The West's intellectual advances' and made explicit reference to the enlightenment making it clear that any regression would lead to a return to the dark ages and then you come along and say 'Academia has its place - but not in the real world. Long live the 'simplest of terms'. Thus demonstrating you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Good luck in the real world uncle Frank.

Anonymous said...

... although as mr einstein reminded us, not too simple! tom

Anonymous said...

mr nargees, what was the purpose of the word "white" if it was not racist?

"and the more he talked of his honour, the faster we counted the spoons."

tom

Frank said...

Nargees
"
Academia has its place but not in the real world". I did not want to confuse you but I had hoped that in the context of my use of the term you would follow quite easily.

Academics live often in a world of metaphysics, quantum physics and philosophical haze. To the academic, reality is not quite so defined as it would be amongst folks of the street. To this extent academia has its place but not in the real world. Hope this explains the matter for you. Thanks by the way for adopting me as your uncle Frank.

Frank