Statement (unfortunately not) by the Muslim Council of Britain regarding the Louis Smith video and the resulting ban by British Gymnastics. (Link to BBC account)
As Muslims we greatly appreciate the freedom to practice and voice our religion in a country that has not traditionally been Islamic. Such freedoms can only exist in a country where people can dissent from, and indeed criticise, other people’s beliefs, political views and religions. We recognise that, from Swift’s A Modest Proposal to Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Britain has a long tradition of satire and mockery that examines and holds to account both political and religious beliefs.
We maintain that truth has nothing to fear from examination, and that only falsehood and error seek the protection of censorship. Holding our religion to be the highest truth, we declare that it is far beyond being damaged by satire or mockery. We declare our truths to the world, openly inviting people to examine them for error. Critics please speak up, since we are confident that we can more than meet any challenge. If you want to mock us, go ahead!
We are perturbed that British Gymnastics appear to think that we Muslims need more protection than others, and that it seeks to prevent anyone offending us. This seems to treat us as if we were children, as though we are so immature that we must get upset and perhaps violent if our religion is questioned or mocked. Quite the contrary, our response to such mockery is the join with Voltaire in declaring that we disagree with such speech, but, in the interests of the freedoms that we all cherish, we will defend the right of people to speak.
We thus thank British Gymnastics for their rather paternalistic concern, but declare that it is not necessary. We strongly suspect that British Gymnastics would not have disciplined an athlete who had been filmed laughing at The Life of Brian, and we ask them to rescind the ban applied to Louis Smith.
We are also perturbed that the video was taken at a private event. It is fair for British Gymnastics to regulate the conduct of athletes when participating in public events where they would be directly representing British Gymnastics, but it is an intrusion too far for such a body to concern itself with their private and lawful speech.
When Parliament repealed Britain’s blasphemy laws — a relic of the time when the state was held to have the right to regulate a citizen’s religion — and when it passed an Act against inciting religious hatred, it wisely sought to protect free speech. Thus Parliament declared that nothing in the Act “shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents”. British Gymnastics should not take it upon itself to re-impose a blasphemy law that is beyond its competence and that the country does not want.
Parliament has upheld the long tradition of free speech in this country. Recognising that it is the very freedoms of this country that have attracted and still attract many to seek a new life within these shores, we, as citizens, have adopted this tradition as our own. Our religion will be mocked!