Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Name a country where only four years ago you could go to prison for blaspheming against the state religion.

Still on censorship, the BBC this week screened a dramatisation of the chat show in which John Cleese and Michael Palin of the Monty Python team came under fire from Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark over their recent Monty Python's Life of Brian film. This article on the controversy and censorship issues is interesting (I love the thought that in Sweden it was billed as "The film so funny that it was banned in Norway").

It's very easy to (if we have no memory of history) to kid ourselves that accusations of blasphemy and calls for the banning of the "blasphemous" items are purely a feature of militant Islam. Certainly Islam has made a big contribution, with the Jyllands-Post cartoons and before that with The Satanic Verses. I made a point of reading Rushdie's book when it came out, at the same time as Peter Wright's Spycatcher, also threatened with a ban (in the later case a political one). I have to say neither book was worth the effort, though neither was totally valueless.

While Andres Serrano's Piss Christ is not, IMHO, as great a work of art as the Bamiyan Buddhas, its destruction by religious fundamentalists stems from precisely the same cause: a feeling that it is a "blasphemous" work of art. And I remember as a student getting hold of a samizdat copy of James Kirkup's banned poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which had been deeemd blasphemous after a lengthy prosecution brought by such worthies as Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse. This report is of a protest against the (British, and specifically NOT Muslim) blasphemy law in 2002. (It took another six years, but in 2008 the pernicious law was struck from the statute book.) You will note that the poem isn't very good, but then Piss Christ and The Satanic Verses aren't too hot either. (If you think the text sucks, you should have seen the original artwork....I can't find it on the Internet, which probably says it all. I displayed the poem on the wall of my room as an act of solidarity, but wished it was accompanied by less in the way of homoerotica....)

All of which is just to say that we need to remember that Christians are happy to ban works they consider blasphemous, now as in the days of Galileo and Copernicus. And that until very recently our own legal system supported them.

And that, of course, is why Roger Waters gave Mary Whitehouse a starring role (from 8:10 onwards) in Pigs (Three Different Ones) on Pink Floyd's Animals.

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