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.