Thursday, February 02, 2006

Warning: this post may offend.

I think the first TV I saw that could be classed as possibly offensive to a religious group was Me Mammy

This was back in the late 60s . It featured Milo O'Shea an Irishman in the UK, frequently frustrated by his mother's interference in his life. It also cocked a snook at the Catholic Church - I dimly remember one episode where they were playing a (board game called Popeopoly. Of course , after nearly 40 years I only remember this show because it was very funny. (As an aside, Milo played Durand Durand in Barbarella , after which character the group Duran Duran were named)

Then there was one of the all time great comedians Dave Allen:

A man goes to heaven, and St Peter shows him around. They go past one room, and the man asks: "Who are all those people in there?" "They are the Methodists," says St Peter. They pass another room, and the man asks the same question. "They are the Anglicans," says St Peter. As they're approaching the next room, St Peter says: "Take your shoes off and tiptoe by as quietly as you can." "Why, who's in there?" asks the man. "The Catholics," says St Peter, "and they think that they're the only ones up here." ... and that was one of his weaker jokes. A very funny, very gifted man.

and also Not the Nine O'Clock , with their great song lampooning Ayatollah Khomenei. I still remember some of the lyrics without looking them up;

There's a man in Iran,
That I can't resist
Most revered, kind of weird,
Got this chick in a twist
Ayatollah, Khomenei closer
And I will fall for your charms...

Then there was the Life of Brian. "The greatest work of religious skepticism ever put on the screen ". A very funny film, lampooning religion, Jesus, stammerers and members of fringe political parties. I liked it, and I had a pretty embarassing stammer then,

The only time I felt that something was so offensive in a religious connection that it should be discouraged from taking place was as a student, visiting Lewes in Sussex on Bonfire Night. In this town they celebrate November 5th in a big way, with bonfire societies preparing special displays , some maintaining the old anti-catholic tradition. Seeing a crowd of thousands yelling "Burn the Pope! Burn the Pope!" as an effigy of the Pope was thrown onto a bonfire was something I found quite chilling. Even if this case, it was more the burning of an individual than any mocking of a religion that I disliked. But if I was a Catholic I think I would have felt threatened by that atmosphere .(I've no objections to bonfires, it's burning people in effigy that I dislike, and back in the late 70s the impression was that they were burning the contemporary Pope , not a historic figure).

Which brings me to recent events. It's great that the government was defeated last night over the incitement to religious hatred bill, but what's happening over the Danish cartoons , which I had written about a while ago, should really concern us. Freedom under the law needs to be freedom in real lfe.

I've no doubt that depicting Muhammed is offensive to a lot of people.But I believe in the freedom of speech, within limits, and these cartoons lie well inside the limits of acceptable, legal behaviour in a modern liberal democracy.

We should have the right to go through life without feeling threatened , but we don't have the right to go through life without being offended. Not me, not you, not anyone. I don't like offending people but occasionally we have to demonstrate our right to freedom of comment even if we know it will cause some offense.

Update: there is very comprehensive info on Wikipedia

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