And all I said to my wife was: “That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah”

By now I’m sure you’re aware of the fact that Maajid Nawaz, a Lib Dem PPC in Hampstead and Kilburn, stands accused of committing the thoroughly heinous crime of causing religiously aggravated butthurt in the first degree, the suggested punishment for which appears to be political career death by change.org petition.

At the heart of this is, yet again, a completely innocuous Jesus & Mo cartoon which Maajid clearly considers to be anything but offensive, hence the following tweet:

maajidtweet

As you might have already guessed, this precipitated the usual tide of feigned outrage and assorted other venomous cockdribble together with the aforementioned petition, which I wouldn’t usually bother with were it not for the fact that it appears to include a quiz – and who doesn’t like online quizzes – and because it maybe provides a few interesting insights into the passive-aggressive mindset of the people who routinely participate in this kind of abject nonsense.

To save time, I’ll skip the preamble which is just the usual formulaic whining you get whenever someone desperately wants to try and convince you that they have absolutely the worst cases of raging butthurt in the history of the universe and get straight to the quiz, which is apparently about “ethics, codes of conduct, civilised behaviour, and normative decency”:-

Let me ask first;

1. Is it right that the depictions of Ann Frank in bed with Hitler were censored in the west for being utterly offensive and distasteful to the Jewish community?

The short answer here is ‘No’ – and, by the way, it’s ‘Anne Frank’.

A somewhat longer answer would be that it not even clear that this ‘depiction’ was even censored at all, and if it was then it certainly didn’t happen here in the UK, or in the United States as it took only a few seconds to track down a copy of the ‘offending’ cartoon; and here it is:

toon-annefrank

To be fair, it’s a bit tasteless, yes, but not especially anti-Semitic. Mostly it’s not particularly funny although I dare say that the original version of this particular gag, which probably featured one of Charles II’s many mistresses and the punchline ‘Now put that in your diary, Mr Pepys’ probably had them rolling in the aisles in Restoration England.

For the record I actually picked up this image from a Jewish website where it’s published almost entirely without comment save for the site’s noting that there’d been a bit of a kerfuffle over a few cartoons at the time it was posted.

This cartoon was actually posted on the website of the Arab European League as a ‘Hey, look at us, we can offensive too’ response to the ‘Muhammed cartoons’ published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten back in 2005, but really it’s a bit of piss poor effort all round. I mean, come on, if you’re going to deliberately try and offend Jewish people with a few anti-Semitic cartoons you might make the effort to dig an old Nazi propaganda poster or two, or maybe some of the stuff that use to circulate around Tsarist Russia around the time of pogroms or even an old illustration of Fagin from a Victorian edition of Oliver Twist. None of these things are particularly difficult to come by and yet that’s the most offensive thing they could come up with?

And why pick on Jews when it was the Danes who published the so-called Muhammed Cartoons? What exactly is the thinking there?

I’ve actually got this mental picture of an editorial meeting at the Arab European League going something along these lines:

Okay, so the Danes have offended us by publishing their infidel cartoons of The Prophet and calling it ‘free speech’. How should we respond to this vile behaviour.

Err… maybe we could use their free speech against them and teach them a lesson by publishing something that they find really offensive…?

Brilliant… love that idea! But what can we publish that will offend the Danes…?

Anyone got any ideas…?

No…?

Okay, let’s try a different approach here. What do we actually know about the Danes?

Well… they eat bacon, smoke dope and watch absolutely humongous amounts of pornography…

Damn, that’s completely fucked that idea then. Tell you what, let’s piss the Jews off instead, at least we’ve got some idea of what we’re doing there… now, pass me another American flag, it’s getting a bit nippy in here?

[Cue theme from 'Pinky and the Brain and fade to black]

Anyway, enough of that. While I wait for the thought police to arrive let’s take a look at question 2.

2. Is it right that questioning the official 6 million figure in favour of e.g. 4 million, is tantamount to Holocaust Denial which is a criminal offence in Europe?

Again, the short answer is ‘No’. but there’s also a somewhat longer answer here as well because over the years I’ve read quite a few journal papers, books and other work of genuine scholarship that have questioned, queried and poked around with that ‘official’ figure not least because it isn’t actually an official figure at all. The noted historian Martin Gilbert, for example, puts the scale of Jewish casualties during The Holocaust as being at least 5.75 million, which is not far short of 6 million and very similar to estimates made by Lucy Davidowicz (5.934 million) and Jacob Lestschinsky (5.95 million). On the other hand, Gerald Reitlinger – who was one of the earliest scholars to tackle this question – argued for a figure of between 4.2 and 4.5 million and against higher estimates favoured by the Russian at the time, while Raul Hilberg, who was widely considered to be the pre-eminent figure in the field, put the number of Jewish casualties at 5.1 million.

According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, which is responsible for Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust there is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed, although they do have documentary evidence for over 3 million Jewish casualties, and the uncertainties surrounding the actual scale of the The Holocaust were also very clearly reflected in the negotiations surrounding the financial reparations paid by what was then West Germany to the Israeli State and the World Jewish Congress, in which the Israeli themselves insisted that no reparations could or should be paid for those killed because there were no precise figures.

Four million is certainly a rather low estimate, anything from five to six million is the widely accepted range, but not one that absolutely implausible if you understand that the estimate that have been made are based primarily on comparison of pre and post war population statistics and that with that there are some uncertainties surrounding the precise definition of what does and doesn’t constitute a casualty of the Holocaust. Does that include every European Jew who died in Nazi occupied territory during that period or only those who died as direct or indirect consequence of the persecution visited on that population by the Nazis? Irrespective of what the Nazis and their supporters and collaborators were doing the pre-war Jewish population would have been subject to some degree of natural mortality over the course of the period in the which the Holocaust, so how do we factor that into our calculations and, on the other side of the equation what account, if any, do we take of impact of The Holocaust on birth rates in that population? Are the children who could and would have been born were it not for the death or enforce separation of their parents also considered to be casualties of the Holocaust or not because their absence would certainly have some impact on the size of the post-war Jewish population simply because we are looking at population statistics in which birth rates and mortality rate are always a factor.

Ooh look, we’re discussing The Holocaust and noting the existence of uncertainties in the estimates of the number of Jewish casualties, which must mean that when the thought police do turn up on my doorstep (and I’m still waiting) I’ll also be accused of engaging in behaviour that is tantamount to Holocaust denial.

Or will I, because what I’m talking about here are no more than the kind of questions that historians and other scholars have been wrestling with for the last 60 years and will no doubt continue to wrestle with over the next 60 years and beyond, both here and in continental Europe, without ever once having the police turn up on their doorstep to arrest them for engaging in Holocaust denial because the difference between legitimate scholarly enquiry and Holocaust denial doesn’t rest on what you choose to question but how and why you question it and whether or not you choose to rely on credible evidence and credible historical sources.

I think I’ve made my point well enough for now so on to question 3.

3. Was is right that the play Behzti was cancelled due to the sensitivities in the Sikh community?

Again we have another ‘No’ and actually Behzti wasn’t cancelled due to ‘sensitivities’ in the Sikh community, it was cancelled because what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the play turned into a fucking riot which caused thousands of pounds worth of damage, all of which forced the Birmingham Repertory theatre to cancel any further performances after they were told by both the police and ‘leaders’ of the local Sikh community that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of the theatre’s staff or of members of public intended to attend those performances.

I wonder, is the petitioner trying to suggest here that that was right?

Really don’t think there’s much more to be said here…

4. Or that the poem “Education for Leisure” was removed from the AQA’s (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance – an Awarding Body for GCSEs and A-Levels) Anthology, after complaints were received?

Err… No.

Admittedly it’s not a poem that I’m overly familiar with but my understanding is that it was withdrawn on the back of three complaints in the middle of a typically overblown, media driven, moral panic about knife crime to which the AQA should have responded by growing a pair and telling the complainants to fuck off, and it’s seem that I’m not alone in that view hence Michael Rosen’s observation that:

“By this same logic we would be banning Romeo and Juliet. That’s about a group of sexually attractive males strutting round the streets, getting off with girls and stabbing each other.”

Quite… next question.

5. Was it right that Russell Brand had scorn poured on him, and faced disciplinary action for revealing on live radio (for entertainment purposes) to a grandfather that he had slept with his granddaughter?

One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong,

Can you tell which thing is not like the others. By the time I finish my song?

Did Brand deserve what he got? Yes, pretty much, it was a complete twattish stunt he pulled.

Should he have faced the possibility of disciplinary action just because he offended a few people, and mostly it seems the Mail On Sunday?

No.

For targeting a specific individual, Andrew Sachs, and engaging in a stunt which amounted to a gross and unjustified invasion of member of his family’s privacy, yes, but not just because he offended a few people.

Had he given it a bit more thought he might easily have made a prank call to someone who thoroughly deserved to be offended or be made to look a complete and utter twat in which case, so what?

Next..?

6. Was it right that 2 Australian radio DJs lost their jobs for making a prank call to a hospital nurse treating Kate Middleton, pretending to be the Queen? They had no idea that the nurse in question would consequently commit suicide, and intended it only to be a joke.

Two of these things are not like the other… see answer to question 5.

Would (if they were eligible and willing) the authors of any of the above offences be considered as parliamentary candidates for the Liberal Democrats, or any mainstream political party? I suggest not, simply on the grounds of respect, decency, and lastly (probably not least) party image.

Mmm…

Well for starters I’d expect that the Lib Dem’s would be delighted to have Carol Ann Duffy (question 4) on board, she is, after all, the current Poet Laureate and I can’t see them having any problems with historian or population statistician who’d published legitimate research on the Holocaust (question 2) nor even the author of Bezhti (question 3), Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, who incidentally won the 2005 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for the best play written in the English language for that play and was also short-listed for the 2010 John Whiting Award for her follow-up, Behud.

As regards Russell Brand, his recent anti-politics schtick rather rules him out of the running for any political party and the two Australian DJs are Australian and therefore ineligible for consideration which leaves us with the guys from the Arab European League who are also probably ineligible but who I do strongly suspect wouldn’t go down a bundle anyway.

So I make that three ‘Yes’, one ‘No’ and two ‘who gives a flying fuck anyway?’.

Sorry, who writes these questions?

There is one question absent in all this, however, which is ‘What the fuck does any of this have to do with Maajid Nawaz’?

I’m rather disappointed here. What we were promised were questions to do with “ethics, codes of conduct, civilised behaviour, and normative decency” but what we actually got was a random list of people and things that have pissed some other people off at some point an assumption that the mere fact of having pissed someone off somewhere along the way is sufficient to invalidate someone’s candidacy for Parliament, but if that were genuinely true then there’d probably be about three people in the whole of the UK who’d actually be eligible to become MPs.

That said, nowhere in all this is the petition lack of self-awareness better illustrated that by this rhetorical gem, which you’ll a little further down the petition:

The party should consider if Mr Nawaz was aware of the consequences of his actions as an individual that claims to be a Muslim, and the extreme amount of insult, hurt, and anguish he knew he would cause, let alone the expected, suspected wanted, reaction from the minority of unhinged in those communities.

So the suggestion here is that the limits of free speech in Britain should be determined by reference to the ‘sensibilities’ of the ‘minority of the unhinged’?

I think it safe to say that the petitioner can have the word ‘off’ for free and choose the one that goes before it for themselves.

What there isn’t, in any of this, is a single cogent or coherent argument. It’s just of a bunch of people screaming ‘BLASPHEMER!!!’ while casting around for a market stall that sells fake beards and bags of gravel and if the Lib Dems were to be at all swayed by that kind of behaviour and take any kind of action against Maajid Nawaz then they wouldn’t simply be bringing the party into disrepute but democracy itself.

If you’re a Muslim and you do happen to live in the constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn then, in 2015, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to register your own opinions of his tweet using the ballot box. If you’re offended by it then you have the free and absolute right to choose not to vote for him but as regards the current charge of causing religiously aggravated butthurt in the first degree – CASE DISMISSED.

Oh, and by the way… still no sign of the Thought Police.

  • Jennie Rigg

    Personally I find your use of the sacred Pinky and the Brain theme to illustrate a facile point in this post GROSSLY offensive, and I am hereby issuing a death threat.

    :P

  • http://peterenglish.blogspot.com/ Peter

    Let’s say that we’ll accept censorship or self censorship. Let’s not publish any depictions of the prophet muhammed. What next? Well, my second sentence probably. I didn’t add “peace be upon him” after the prophet’s name, I didn’t use a capital letter, and possibly I shouldn’t have used his name at all – according to some Muslims.

    And what else? Well, you know all that Islamic architectural art? All those beautiful geometric shapes? They exist at least partly because it wasn’t just images of old Mo that aren’t permitted. Other people look a bit like him, so they banned all depictions of people. And pretty much all representative art. Do let’s ban all images that look like they could represent a person and just allow carefully selected geometric patterns.

    And what about those pigs the you mention – the ones the Danes farm and eat. That’s offensive to muslims too. Can’t be permitted. Pork, bacon, all pig-derived products – they’ll all have to be banned. And everything else that isn’t Halal. They’ll be bringing in EU legislation to ban that, too.

    All this to protect the sensitivities of a God that doesn’t really exist as far as anybody can tell – the fact that lots of people believe in lots of different gods proves only that humans are hardwired to (probably) believe in gods and the supernatural, not that these things actually exist. And if the god people believe in does exist, then he/she/it (let’s say “she” for the sake of simplicity) is perfectly capable of coping with the fact that some people don’t believe in her, and say things to that effect; and if she did care, she’d be quite capable of taking action by herself.

    And what about the next group to decide that something’s offensive? Perhaps they’ll decide that any references to anything in the least bit phallic are offensive. Any mention of a pole, sword, or tower would have to be deleted for fear of giving offence.

    The problem with legislating to avoid “causing offence” is that what people take offence at is often totally irrational.

    Of course Maajid Nawaz is guilty of nothing more than pointing out how irrational it is for anybody to get upset about a Jesus and Mo cartoon. And to support any action against him is to line yourself up firmly on the side of prejudice and unreason – or on the side of those who don’t care about what’s right, only about siding with whatever seems popular or powerful in order to maximise your own position.

    • TrickyDicky

      “And what about those pigs the you mention – the ones the Danes farm and eat. That’s offensive to muslims too. Can’t be permitted. Pork, bacon, all pig-derived products – they’ll all have to be banned. And everything else that isn’t Halal. ”

      This has already happened in the majority of UK schools.

      • Ben

        [citation needed]

  • pkoduah

    This is good, very good. Could do with some editing down though… And less swearing… I’m offended.

    • :)

      Ha ha! Yes let’s start getting offended over every silly littl thing.