Thirty-four years ago, one of the funniest movies in cinema history was released: Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The film was, for its time, one of the most daring satires of Christianity, poking fun at some of the doctrines of the religion and pointing out the double standards and hypocrisy in the religion. While having a good laugh at Brian, the mistaken Messiah.
Despite being 1979, many townships in the U.K. banned the film—some bans weren’t lifted until recent years.
To modern eyes, a silly movie is so inconsequential that such bans are hilarious and stupid. After all, why should religious whiners and nutjobs ruin freedom of expression?
Yet today, the triumph of Enlightenment values over petty self-righteousness is slowly being eroded by political correctness regarding Islam.
One of the big things at the head of the tense issues is the depiction of Muhammad.
It’s important to note that Shiite Islam permits pictures of Muhammad, while Sunni Islam does not. Though the Quran (the infallible and final word of God) does not mention anything about imagery of the prophet. A few of the hadiths (sayings of Muhammad, when off the clock as God’s Messenger) condemn any depictions of living things, human or animal, for fear of developing idol worship. But whatever a holy text claims is irrelevant; this is the 21st century.
It’s interesting that Muhammad himself openly admitted that he was not divine (merely God’s voice box), yet with all of the emulations of his actions and the swift silencing of anything derogatory about him, you’d think he was in fact divine. Nevertheless, it seems that so much of the push for censorship is not only forced upon Muslims (and to a fair number against their will), but also non-Muslims.
Remember the Danish cartoons of Muhammad in 2006? The authors and affiliates of the cartoons faced harassment and death threats because they “offended a billion Muslims” (a rather intimidating, though probably over-estimated statement).
A similar thing happened in 2010 when South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were threatened with death if they depicted Muhammad in one of their episodes (in the end the prophet appeared, but in a bear costume).
This obsession over imagery is rather curious, as Jesus Christ is revered as a holy prophet in Islam as well (second to last, in fact). Shows like South Park make fun of him all the time, and yet I’ve never seen any mass demonstrations in Cairo, Islamabad, or Riyadh about the mocking of one of Islam’s prophets. Such inconsistency.
Aside from the fundamentalists, some moderate Muslims and PC liberals seem to edge around the issue claiming hurt feelings. But it’s that kind of excuse-making that truly undermines the ideals of free speech, free press, and free expression. Part of living in a modern, secular country is learning to put up with people saying and writing things that you don’t like or may find offensive. Everyone has to put up with it sooner or later, so in a sense it is a form of equality.
To renew my commitment to freedom I’m making my own contribution to the snubbing of overly-sensitive political correctness, hypocrisy, and hypersensitive fanaticism. My contribution (though quite mediocre) will be in participating in “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” this May. Originally started in 2010 as a response to the censorship of South Park (the original idea being that Islamic fanatics couldn’t target thousands of people at once), the unofficial Facebook-originated holiday stands as a testament to free speech and expression. There are currently dozens of groups this year devoted to sharing pictures that regular people make. But looking at some of the drawings (they’re vile, and not even funny) and associated hate speech against Muslims themselves, I’d choose wisely if you associate with a group.
As for myself, I have my own very lousy drawing done. It’s a matter of principle, after all. With this as the first step, maybe one day soon the Islamic world will have their very own Python-esque “The Life of Moe.”