Islam, Trans and Culture Wars
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
11 June 2022
Cinemas have seen protests from Muslims claiming the film
The Lady of Heaven is ‘blasphemous’
A new film, Lady of Heaven, has met with a fierce backlash amongst some Islamic sectors in Britain with calls for the film to be banned and the distributor being forced to pull it from most cinemas in Britain. We have been here before, but in the new woke modern world, this time round it strangely fits into the Zeitgeist, unlike when Salman Rushdie had to go into hiding over his Satanic Verses novel.
A British film chain, Cineworld pulled the film from its screens citing concerns about the safety of staff and customers. (1) The film was made by Shia Muslims and has angered Sunni Muslims who have accused it of being sectarian, with 117,000 people signing a petition to have it removed from all cinemas. “The chair of the Bolton Council of Mosques had urged the cancellation of the screening, saying the film was ‘underpinned with a sectarian ideology and is blasphemous in nature to the Muslim community’.” (2)
We should be clear what blasphemy means. The dictionary definition is the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk. It is an integral part of superstition and magical thinking and has no place in a modern society. It is also highly subjective. The 10 Commandments are quite clear that Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images and also that Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. This means no visual representations of the Abrahamic god and to not speak of him (clearly a him) outside of a religious context and a tone of reverence. Most Christian sects do not apply this rule, including the Catholic Church, though some protestants do. Jesus however, to Christians is the son of their god and to Muslims he is a prophet mentioned in the Qur’an more often Muhammed himself. Both of these positions are blasphemous to the other. All Catholic churches with representations of Jesus are blasphemous to Muslims including the Vatican. They conveniently ignore this, as Christians ignore the Muslim claim that he is not the son of their god. Though technically, only believers can really blaspheme. You have to believe in the magical being in order to offend him in the first place. Blasphemy laws or censorship on the ground of blasphemy have no place in any society.
But of course, we have been here before. Some commentators have stated that the film should not be pulled because Christianity is fair game for jokes, films etc. It is not quite the case though. The Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, did suffer, it was given a restrictive rating and banned in some parts of Britain and in Ireland it was banned entirely. Likewise, the controversial arthouse photo Piss Christ, a photo of a crucifix in a glass or urine, was heavily criticised with attempts made to prevent it from being shown, with a copy of the print being attacked and destroyed by Christian protestors in France in 2011. (3) The situation with Christians is slightly better in Europe, only because people have struggled against the Catholic and Protestant churches and their stranglehold on society.
Of course, some representations that have offended Muslims were intended to do so, such as cartoons with Muhammed wearing a turban that resembled an explosive device. But this is a different issue about racist attacks on Islamic communities. Salman Rushdie fell afoul of the fundamentalists with his novel The Satanic Verses, with a fatwa being issued against him. At the time most people on the left saw this as an issue about freedom of speech and Rushdie was even asked to speak out about the south of Ireland’s Section 31 censorship law. Rushdie was lucky in many respects. He would not have received the same support today. He would be placed in the middle of the culture wars and organisations such as the SWP, the Socialist Party and the myriad offshoots of both as well as student organisations would now be jumping up and down demanding the withdrawal of the book, its burning or an even worse fate for the author.
The religious points raised by some in relation to the film or even Rushdie’s novel are irrelevant, they are only of concern to the acolytes of those religions, nobody else. As the science fiction author Brian Aldiss said at the time of the Rushdie controversy that he was in favour of freedom of speech and the freedom to blaspheme. A secular society can have no time for how people engaged in magical thinking are offended by science, other religions or comments on theirs. But what does any of this have to do with the trans debate? Well, quite a lot.
Whereas in the past Rushdie and others would have received support from the left, now a left that has degenerated into a moralism, devoid of any politics and absolutely and resolutely opposed to a materialist perspective on anything, would not only not support him but they would actively engage in campaigns to have his book pulled. Am I stretching it too far? Well consider a number of books on the trans issue. Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Harm. Amazon pulled a paid advertisement on it and distributors and bookshops were pressured not to offer it. Helen Joyce’s Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality met with a wall of hatred and Kathleen Stock was forced from her job by “left” students who threatened her and other activists in Sussex University following the publication of her book Material Girls (though she had been subjected to a campaign of harassment for a number of years previous). The trans activists and Islamic fundamentalists have a lot in common: they believe in censorship; they have a dogma that cannot be questioned and any offence taken by them is automatically justified and must be accommodated. There can be no discussion, they are the supreme judges of all matters that they consider their exclusive domain.
Identity politics is dangerous, the reactionary liberalism of what once called itself a left represents a danger to all, to scientific inquiry, cultural production and the free exchange of ideas. All ideas can and should be questioned, offence is not an argument it is a feeling and again has no place in debate. Galileo and Darwin were also extremely offensive or at least their ideas were. And so what? They advanced society. Now we are asked not to question prepubescent children being prescribed puberty blockers, young lesbians being subjected through guile into “consenting” to double mastectomies and we are asked to accept the banning of a film. The BBC, if it had any courage, which it clearly does not, would buy the rights to the film and show it on television, but we have a long history of the BBC bowing to the offended brigade.
The state of healthy debate has never been worse and much of it is due to the embrace of identity politics, postmodernism and moralism by former lefties. I have read the three books mentioned above, I will probably never get round to reading The Satanic Verses, as it got bad reviews. Apparently, not a very good novel, according to those who actually read it. But I have every intention of trying to see this film.
(1) The Guardian (07/06/2022) UK cinema chain cancels screenings of ‘blasphemous’ film after protests https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/jun/07/uk-cinema-chain-cancels-screenings-of-film-the-lady-of-heaven-after-protests
(3) The Guardian (18/04/2011)
Attack on ‘blasphemous’ art work fires debate on role of religion in France