Blasphemy in Europe is fast catching up with pornography as a fame-and-money-spinner, boosting the sale and popularity of worthless books, films and paintings, whose only eye-catching quality is their capacity to offend or shock. In the space of one week alone, two events blaspheming God, ‘Jesus Christ’ and the Bible have recently hit the headlines in France and Britain, host to Salman Rushdie, the worst blasphemer of them all.
In France, a book with a cover portraying Christ crucified as a topless woman proved so shocking that a court ordered certain bookshops not to offer it for sale. In Britain no action has so far been taken against Canongate, the publishers of a series of 12 books of the Bible - each with an introduction by a well-known figure commissioned to shock.
The French book, called I.N.R.I. after the inscription above Christ’s cross, is a photographic novel by Bettina Rheims, a novelist, and Sergei Brambly, one of France’s most famous photographers. Brambly is best known for her shock-art and celebrity portraits. The book examines iconography depicting the life of Jesus, upon whom be peace. Although it was subsidised by the French ministry of culture, its offensively anti-religious message provoked a Catholic priest to take bookshops in the Bordeaux region to court for displaying copies.
Father Phillippe Laguerie complained that the book’s cover was ‘iconoclastic’. And the presiding judge, Louis Montamant, agreed, ruling that the photograph ‘strongly shocks religious sentiment.’ The decision, delivered on October 7, bans the bookshops from selling or displaying the book, or face a 500 franc (₣5.40) fine for every copy sold.
Not surprisingly, the ubiquitous secularist defenders of ‘free speech’ raised their voices in horror, and the director of the FNAC, one of the three Bordeaux booksellers affected, said he hoped to get the ban lifted.
Jean Benoit Cazevana said his department store will sell any book that ‘does not include racial hatred, violence or pornography,’ adding that the I.N.R.I. ‘doesn’t belong to any of those categories.’ This is a strange assertion in Europe’s second most-racist country and the world’s acknowledged leader in porno-addiction. According to a survey published by the Le Monde daily in September, France is the second most-racist country in Europe after Belgium.
Father Laguerie’s lawyer, Dominique Remy, dismissed claims that the ruling infringed free expression, adding that his client would encourage other priests to use the court decision to obtain a comprehensive ban. The present ruling affects only the three Bordeaux bookshops sued by Laguerie.
No such good news can be reported in the case of the British outrage, which is even more blasphemous, since no one has so far sued the 12 pocket-books’ publishers, Canongate, or the British Broadcasing Corporation (BBC), which is serializing the introductions, read by their own writers. Radio 4, the flagship of BBC radio’s home service, has so far broadcast five introductions, the last on October 16.
One of the introductions - to the Book of Job - is by Louis de Bernieres, who describes God as an ‘unpleasantly sarcastic megalomaniac.’ Another introduction to the Book of Ecclesiastes is by the novelist Doris Lessing - a tireless advocate, over the years, of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. They and others are no experts on the Bible, having been drafted in as eminent persons to attract publicity to the project.
The BBC, which is publicly funded, has no business propagating such outrageously blasphemous material and of no scholarly value - particularly when Britain has a law against blasphemy that covers Christianity and Judaism. The statute does not protect Islam.
Vigorous campaigns by British Muslims, such as the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui, to extend the area of the law to cover Islam have so far failed to influence legislators. This is in stark contrast to the indecent haste with which the current parliament passed a law targeting Islamic activists worldwide. It took only the first fourty days of last September to put The Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill on the Statue Book.
There are also, indeed, some secularist Muslims who would oppose any extention of the law to protect Islam. Some of those are the Muslim feminists - encouraged by a myriad of western so-called human rights organizations, which claim Islam ill-treats women - who skip to Europe or America whenever their attempts to blaspheme Islam, or block the advancement of Islamic causes in their countries provoke strong local reaction.
But the west’s antipathy towards Islam is not only religious in nature, it also contains racial strands, which do not spare even lapsed Muslims. With the escalation of racism in Europe and America in recent years, some of them can summon the courage to return and face the music. The Bangladeshi playwright, Taslima Nasreen, who fled to Denmark to avoid the backlash for her blasphemous writings is now back in Dhaka, presumably preferring to stay in hiding in her own country instead of facing racial rejection in a ‘free society.’
The lesson is simple: blasphemy does not, should not, pay in the long term.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1998