Beware of religious censorship
Protests by religious groups against films they consider blasphemous are not new. The Monty Pythons Brian’s life was picketed when it was released in 1979 and several councils banned it, including some that did not have a movie theater and whose members had not seen it. But it was widely released and many consider it a comic masterpiece.
While some have objected to it, the very idea that it should have been removed from view is contrary to the notion of free speech. However, this is what happens with another film, The lady in the skya religious epic set in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and retracing the life of his daughter, Lady Fatima.
Theaters in Birmingham, Bolton, Sheffield and Bradford canceled screenings after protests. Petitions calling for its removal from the public are circulating in Muslim communities. The film is sensitive because of the sectarian divisions in Islam between Shia, for whom Fatima is the only biological daughter of the Prophet, and Sunni. But it doesn’t matter whether the film can be seen by those who want to see it and ignored by those who might be offended.
It’s supposed to be a free country, but increasingly, anyone who makes enough noise can force people to be fired, censored or “cancelled” for having opinions they don’t like. As Dame Sara Khan, the government’s social cohesion adviser, wrote in this newspaper yesterday, such episodes undermine the bonds between different communities.
She criticized politicians for not standing up for free speech. But the onus is on cinema directors to deal with the bullying and keep showing the film, with police keeping the streets in order outside. The alternative is a slippery slope to religious censorship.