Another day, another episode of what Christopher Hitchens once described as “theocratic encroachment on free society”. This time it’s Olympic medallist and Strictly Come Dancing winner Louis Smith MBE who’s been thrown on the pyre – or more accurately – banned for 2 months from British Gymnastics after a video he recorded of his inebriated friend taking the piss out of the Islamic prayer ritual got snared by The Sun and circulated around the internet.
Being that I don’t care too much for gymnastics, nor do I occupy my time watching inexplicably popular ballroom dancing competitions, I only had a vague idea who Louis Smith was until the video of him and his mate drunkenly Allahu Akbar’ing appeared on my radar. Naturally I warmed to him in an instant.
The minute and a half long video was filmed at a wedding reception and basically consists of former Gymnast Luke Carson kneeling on a Persian rug, and wailing at the top of his voice in a surprisingly accurate send up of the Muslim style of praying, whilst a giggling Smith encourages him and occasionally offers some bland commentary to camera. That’s it. It’s not quite Four Lions, but it’s amusing enough and if I’d have been there in person (and had been as rat-arsed as Smith and Carson clearly were) I probably would have found it pretty funny.
Predictably however, many Muslims found it decidedly unfunny. Some demanded an apology and some resorted to the traditional Islamic retort to unappreciated jokes, by bombarding Smith and his family with blood curdling death threats. It’s a good thing that Islam is a religion of peace or who knows what might have happened.
Equally predictably, the usual self-appointed “Muslim spokespeople” stepped up to have their say and to simultaneously demonstrate the gaping humour vacuum that seems to be a prerequisite of their jobs.
The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press release claiming that the video was “confirmation of how Islamophobia has become acceptable.”
Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation described Smith as “a disgrace to everyone for his offensive video” and called upon him to apologise, adding “our faith is not to be mocked, our faith is to be celebrated.” This is not a request that the right of Muslims to practice their faith is respected, it is the insistence that the Islamic prohibition on blasphemy be observed by non-Muslims. It’s also worth remembering that this suspiciously threatening sounding demand was issued by a man who has a long and sordid history of support for blasphemy law.
Mehdi Hasan offered a weak justification for the action taken by British Gymnastics. As is customary, he called the offending video “Islamophobic” and rolled his eyes that Smiths victimisation had “led to (the) usual free speech outrage re Islam.” Ironically, Hasan also has form in this area and once found himself having to issue half-arsed apologies when a leaked video emerged of him at the Al Khoei Islamic Centre ranting like a mad man, calling disbelievers “cattle” and conflating homosexuality with incest and paedophilia. Amusingly, in his defence he said he was only quoting the Quran.
And so it’s clear that preaching and promoting this belief system, which espouses hatred and bigotry towards unbelievers, is a protected right, but criticising or making jokes about this same belief system is not. It’s also clear that somewhere near the top of Islam’s list of worldly ambitions is claiming a monopoly on offence, both as chief perpetrator and primary victim – an ostensibly impossible task that it is nevertheless steadily accomplishing with the help of organisations like British Gymnastics.
The fatuous propaganda term Islamophobia also helps in this regard. It allows Islam to avoid criticism and to covertly establish Islamic blasphemy laws in societies which reject them. This is not a word like the oft-compared anti-Semitism which refers solely to hatred of people – this “phobia” also extends to a dislike of ideas.
Can you name another ideology anywhere in the world today which gets away with treating dislike of its doctrine as a phobia, and criticism of its precepts as a hate crime? The closest I managed was the autocratic cultism of North Korea. And any religion which can be compared unfavourably to the ideological despotism of the Kim family deserves every ounce of criticism and mockery thrown its way. When criticism of Islam is deemed a phobia, and mockery of it is deemed a hate crime, free speech becomes impossible – which is precisely the point.
Conservative MP Charles Walker pointed out this cowardly preferential treatment of this one religion during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions:
“When people make fun of Christianity in this country, it rightly turns the other cheek. When a young gymnast makes fun of another religion widely practised in this country, he is hounded on Twitter by the media, and suspended by his association. For goodness sake, this man received death threats and we have all looked the other way. My question to the prime minister is this: What is going on in this country?? Because I no longer understand the rules!”
The Prime Minister’s woefully inadequate response, seemingly plucked straight from the apologist’s handbook, was the usual bumfluffery about respect and tolerance and responsible speech:
“There is a balance that we need to find. We value freedom of expression and freedom of speech in this country. We also value tolerance in relation to religions. I think we need to ensure that yes it is right that people can have that freedom of expression, but in doing so that right has a responsibility too – and that is a responsibility to recognise the importance of tolerance to (sic) others.”
May’s utter failure to condemn the death threats and her inability to unequivocally defend the most fundamental of civil liberties is nothing new in Western leaders, but the nausea I feel when witnessing it never truly gets old. Sam Harris, in speaking about the Charlie Hebdo attacks last year, made the following statement that could easily have been mistaken as a tailor-made rebuttal to May’s quivering spineless remarks about compromising our free expression to appease Islam:
“There is no balance to be struck! Freedom of speech never infringes on freedom of religion. There is nothing I could say…about religion generally or about Islam in particular, that would infringe upon someone else’s freedom to practice his or her religion. If your freedom of religion entails that you force those who do not share it, to conform to it, well then that’s not freedom of religion. We have a word for that – that’s ‘theocracy’.”
As repentance for his private joke, Smith took part in an excruciating trial-by-housewife on ITV’s tepid daytime magazine show Loose Women. Smith carefully explained the context of the video before June Sarpong stepped in to reassure him that the panel were not there to attack him. She then immediately followed up this remark by attacking him (the mixed-race Smith) as a racist and xenophobe. Smith, of course, denied that he was a racist and issued an apology to the Muslim community which resulted in a wave of patronising maternal approval from the panel. Phew – panic over.
This was then followed up with face-saving appointments at a couple of mosques run by Ahmadiya Muslims – a sect who ironically are routinely persecuted and murdered as blasphemers by orthodox Muslims – and a meeting/photo opportunity with this Islamist pillock:
The Twitter abuse, the cringe inducing show-trial, the apologies, the “community visits” and the mountains of death threats he was subjected to were apparently still not enough to defend Smith’s right to free expression. And so a British Olympian filming a private joke between him and a friend has become the latest victim of Islam’s concerted attack upon British values whilst our leaders and institutions hold the door open.
“As the custodians of the integrity and values of the sport, we have had no choice but to act responsibly…” said Jane Allen, chief executive of British Gymnastics, whose idea of acting responsibly seems to entail legitimising Islamic blasphemy law in a secular democracy.
Subsequently the afore mentioned rent-a-gob Mohammed Shafiq appeared on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s Talk Radio show to support the action taken against Smith – a man who has breached no law of this country – and to claim that the death threats he received (which are a crime in this country) are to be merely “condemned”.
This sinister nonsense is par for the course with Mr Shafiq. While a mother of five named Asia Bibi sits on death row in Pakistan, convicted of blasphemy – a crime which has already resulted in the murder of one of her more high profile supporters, Shafiq’s only comments on the case have been to mildly condemn the assassin of her supporter for “taking the law into his own hands”.
He also remained suspiciously mute whilst the revolting #HangAsia was trending on Twitter last month. However, can he really be blamed for his attitudes when all four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence and the Ja’fari school of Shia jurisprudence all unanimously declare that blasphemy is a crime punishable by death?
I took the liberty to try and get some straight answers from Mohammed Shafiq regarding blasphemy law and free expression by politely putting some questions to him that he has avoided in the past and which have resulted in him describing me as his “chief troll”. This time he declined to respond at all.
But then people like Hasan and Shafiq belong to a collective of Muslim spokespeople who have decided that truthful answers about Islam’s position on certain issues would be infinitely more damaging to the public conception of Islam than blatant diversion and smug obfuscation is.
I happen to agree, incidentally.
Whether obstinately withholding information, or refusing to answer simple questions, or desperately trying to change the subject, this deeply suspicious behaviour can only be the solution to Islam’s image problems if a straightforward, honest and accurate proclamation of its precepts makes Islam look worse.
Inevitably, these apologists end up looking every bit the dishonest, equivocating, obfuscating, enemies of freedom that they are, but consider it a price worth paying to protect Islam from scrutiny and criticism. It’s a form of martyrdom essentially, which as we all know, has nothing to do with Islam. And while Louis Smith is being pilloried as racist, Islamophobic, offensive, childish and blasphemous by all and sundry, the people who do their best to whip up these theocratic frenzies slip quietly back into the woodwork until the next time, secure in the knowledge that their target has been rendered Sharia-compliant.
There really is an offensive joke at the heart of this story, but Louis Smith and Luke Carson are not responsible for it.
*You can register a complaint with British Gymnastics here: firstname.lastname@example.org
*You can also sign this petition calling for a retraction of Louis Smith’s ban.