Last week, a controversy erupted in Batley, Yorkshire, after a teacher showed his class a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, during a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo massacre of 2015.
The school has many Muslim students and some of their parents were angry at the teacher for having done this. As we are all probably aware by now, some branches of Islam (not all) consider any depiction of the Prophet to be undesirable and blasphemous.
Where there is an alleged blasphemy, free speech rights are engaged, and people like me become motivated to opine. In this particular case, I was not so much motivated as mobilised: TalkRADIO called me at short notice to chat to Kevin O’Sullivan about it. Here’s our conversation, the first draft of my thoughts on the matter.
There is more to say, however. As I have come to realise whenever such controversies kick-off, there are usually several issues rolled up in the debate. I think it’s more intellectually honest to post ‘notes’ on what those issues are, rather than posting a piece of unequivocal click-bait that condemns one side or the other.
On Tuesday evening I participated in the launch of Defining Islamophobia: A Contemporary Understanding of How Expressions of Muslimness are Targeted, a report published by the Muslim Council of Britain.
I wrote a short article for inclusion in the report, explaining why I think the new definition of Islamophobia that the report recommends would be a good thing for free speech. Ambiguity is the ally of censorship, and so a narrower definition of Islamophobia — one that is rooted in racism, rather than an opposition to Islamic ideas and theology — should reduce the chill on free speech.
Why do any of us read anything? I have been meaning to read the Arabian Nights, or The Thousand and One Nights, for many years. Whenever I tell anyone that I have an interest in non-linear fiction, they usually mention the nested, story-within-a-story structure for which the tales are famous. In response, I have always said that I would get around to reading the collection “at some point.” Continue reading “My Introduction to 'A Thousand and One Recaps'”