Maajid Nawaz Jesus and Mo Controversy

A few days late with this; from the IB Times:

A would-be Liberal Democrat MP who published an image of the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter has been targeted by online abuse.

Maajid Nawaz received threats of violence – including beheading – and an online petition was started against his bid to become MP in 2015.

It happened after the former Muslim radical and co-founder of Quilliam, an anti-extremism thinktank, drew the ire of critics by publishing a cartoon of the prophet of Islam on his Twitter timeline.

Nawaz posted an image of Jesus and Mohammed taken from the comic strip Jesus and Mo, for illustrative purposes. As he explained afterwards:

…I didn’t post it on here gratuitously. Rather, a week ago the BBC Big Questions featured a long-shot of this cartoon. I posted that image here to explain how, as a Muslim, I didn’t find this particular image offensive and think God is bigger than to find offence at such a bland cartoon…

The picture simply depicts Muhammad standing next to Jesus and saying “How Ya Doing?”, and it became the focus of controversy after two students were temporarily banned by their university from wearing t-shirts bearing the image. However, the strip from which it derives also shows Muhammad and Jesus drinking beer, making crude sexual comments and sharing a bed. The tone is sceptical and satirical, although not (from what I’ve seen of it) gratuitously hostile or aggressive. Nawaz makes no comment about the whole Jesus and Mo corpus, but it’s hardly surprising that some Muslims would be critical of Nawaz’s willingness to republish an obviously irreverent image with such a provenance and of his attitude towards it.

Nawaz demonstrates that not all Muslims necessarily take offence at a cartoon of Muhammad drawn by a sceptical satirist, or subscribe to the taboo against pictorial representations of the prophet of Islam. However, it’s clear that he’s also inviting debate, speaking from the position of being a well-connected media commentator who has positioned himself (or been positioned as) an exemplar of how a Muslim ought to be in the world in order to be worthy of the status “non-extremist”. Yet it’s now being portrayed (particularly by Richard Dawkins, who wrote a foreword for a Jesus and Mo collection) as though the primary issue is other Muslims telling Nawaz what he ought to be offended by, rather than what he thinks other Muslims ought not to be offended by.

Alas, though, the level of the “debate” has not so far been particularly encouraging. Take, for instance, this near-hysterical and petulant reaction from Mohammed Shafiq, a rival commentator from the Ramadhan Foundation:

We will notify all muslim organisations in the UK of his despicable behaviour and also notify Islamic countries.

What can that mean, other than that he intends to tip off authoritarian regimes that might inflict harm on Nawaz if he were to visit their countries? It should be noted that Nawaz has particular links in Pakistan, where accusations of blasphemy have fatal results. It’s clear that the controversy is here being used opportunistically to a settle a score.

I can see that some Muslims or Christians wouldn’t care for Jesus and Mo, and I’m not convinced that a religious sensitivity here is a sign of “bigotry”. Perhaps it would be more pertinent, rather than to argue about what people might or might not reasonably find offensive, to instead focus on how people ought to conduct themselves when they are offended.

UPDATE: Nawaz – after an initially bullish response (“As @IceCube once said in the intro skit to “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted”, while on death row: ‘ F%#* all y’all! ‘”) – has now issued a qualified expression of regret:

…But moderate language and a respect for others’ opinions is at the heart of both Liberalism and my understanding of what Prophet Muhammad (???? ???? ???? ?????) teaches us. I wish to take this opportunity to re-assert that although I do not agree with those who have interpreted my comments in a way that I did not intend – and although I continue to hold to my belief in both Islam and freedom of speech – I respect the right of all those who have taken offence to express themselves peacefully. 

I do regret if, in expressing my own views, I have caused inadvertent offence to any side in this debate. 

In conclusion, I bid you all salam (peace) and request that we all allow ourselves to put this unfortunate incident behind us

3 Responses

  1. “Perhaps it would be more pertinent, rather than to argue about what people might or might not reasonably find offensive, to instead focus on how people ought to conduct themselves when they are offended.”


  2. […] has come under threats of violence since he Tweeted an image taken from the Jesus and Mo cartoon series, and some of his opponents (such as Mohammed […]

  3. […] over Nawaz’s Tweeting of a cartoon from the Jesus and Mo cartoon strip, which I discussed here. The image showed Jesus and Muhammad greeting each other with “Hey” and “How ya […]

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