Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ban Monty Python?

Politicians in Northern Ireland have put Newtonabbey council on the map with a crazy decision to ban a play by the Reduced Shakespeare Company because they regard the production as blasphemous.

Now this remands me of an episode of Father Ted when the eponymous priest and his sidekick, Dougall, are ordered by the fearsome Bishop Brennan (whom Ted has to 'kick up the arse' in a letter episode) which the pair duly do, of course, but with little success or enthusiasm.

But there's a serious point to this madness as well because the behaviour of the moral guardians in Newtonabbey puts them on a par with religious extremists in Pakistan who are fond of using that country's blasphemy laws to persecute non-Muslims - and it also takes us back to the bad old days in the 1970s when other 'moral guardians' in the UK tried to ban 'Life of Brian'.  

So the question for these crazy councillors is: "Are you going to ban Monty Python next?

Comedian Jake O'Kane criticises 'zealots' who cancelled play

Councillors decided the play made a mockery of the word of God

One of NI's leading comedians has criticised the council "zealots" who have banned a play in County Antrim.

Newtownabbey Borough Council cancelled the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) after complaints that it was blasphemous.

Jake O'Kane said unionist councillors who took the decision "weren't elected to be moral guardians".

Councillor Fraser Agnew said there was a "need to defend Christian values".

“They call themselves moral guardians - they weren't elected to be moral guardians. We elected them to empty our bins, make sure the leisure centres were open - that's the powers they have,” said Jake O'Kane a well-known comedian.

The play was to have been staged at Newtownabbey's council-run Theatre at the Mill on 29 and 30 January.

But it was cancelled on Thursday after a meeting of the council's artistic board.

Some councillors had previously called for the show to be cancelled.

'Dead in water'

Mr O'Kane said: "I haven't seen the play, and unfortunately I'll never be able to see the play because councillors have decided that we will not be allowed to see the play.

"It's like getting in a time machine and they went back to before the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

"There was £7m spent on this theatre, it opened in 2010, and they may as well close the doors. If they are going to be the moral guardians of what we see and don't see, that theatre is dead in the water.

"We already have laws, we have hate speech laws, that dictate what the arts can and cannot do. If it is hateful, if it is against minorities, the laws are already there to censor that.

"We don't need a bunch of unionist councillors in Newtownabbey deciding what we can or cannot go to see.

"They call themselves moral guardians - they weren't elected to be moral guardians. We elected them to empty our bins, make sure the leisure centres were open - that's the powers they have.

Comedian Jake O'Kane said if people were offended by the play, they should not go to see it


"They didn't put on their manifesto that they were going to decide what we can or cannot see."

Mr O'Kane told BBC Northern Ireland's Good Morning Ulster that "the vast majority of people in Newtownabbey, I guarantee, are humiliated by this decision".

Mr Agnew, an Ulster Unionist Party representative on the council, said: "Unionists were objecting based on the number of calls they were receiving and some people who had seen the trailer.

"I had a call from a chap who had seen the play, who had trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood, and he advised me that it was blasphemous.

"If it was a play to do with anti-gay material can you imagine the outcry there would be over that, if it was anti-Semitic, if it was anti-Koran... all of those things would create an uproar.

"People weren't going to go, but I think there is this need to defend Christian values."

Alliance councillor Tom Campbell said: "It's typical of the DUP, they're intolerant, they're a party that wants to see censorship of things that people want to see in the borough.

"I've had plenty of complaints from people who wanted to see it and indeed I was one of those who had booked to see the show."


Human rights group Amnesty International said that the decision to cancel the play was "utterly unjustified".

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said: "It is well established in international human rights law that the right to freedom of expression, though not absolute, is a fundamental right which may only be restricted in certain limited circumstances to do with the advocacy of hatred.

"It is quite obvious that those circumstances are not met in the context of this work of comedy and thus that the cancelling of the play is utterly unjustified on human rights grounds.

"Such interference with freedom of speech and artistic expression should be of concern to freedom lovers everywhere."

Mayor of Newtownabbey Frazer Agnew said the decision was made after taking on board what people and councillors were saying

However, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme on Friday, the Rev Brian McClung, welcomed the news that it would not be shown and said the play was "derogatory".

"There's a line that has to be drawn somewhere in what is offensive, and we certainly believe that what that company was putting on was highly offensive," he said.

"This is derogatory and offensive to Christians. Whether people laugh at you or not, you're standing up for the Bible and I make no apology for that."

Anne McReynolds, chief executive of Belfast's MAC theatre said: "It's a ridiculous situation, there's no question about that.

"You can see by the reaction of the vast majority of the population in Northern Ireland who engaged with the issue that there is no support for this kind of censorship."

Medieval Religions (12 January 2014)

In many ways Pakistan is a failed state - a country defined by religion (Islam) having been established only in 1947 as Britain finally withdrew from India and abandoned its aims of empire. 

The problem with a religious state are pretty obvious - just look at North Korea where the Communist Kim dynasty has become the country's state religion or Saudi Arabia which is one of the most intolerant and repressive countries in the world.

And here's an example of state religion gone mad as a British-Pakistani man, Masood Ahmad, was arrested and locked up on charges of blasphemy, for the heinous 'crime' of reading from the Koran - which he is banned from doing because he has been branded as a heretic.

Now in secular countries, where there is a separation of religion from the state, such things are impossible in the 21st century, but in certain fundamentalist Muslim countries this kind of barbaric medieval treatment is allowed - because religious nut jobs make up the rules to suit themselves regardless of what are regarded as people's civil or human rights in other parts of the world.

All this business of who was God's last prophet is so boring and ridiculous - apart from the Ahmadi Muslims, I think I'm correct in saying that the followers of Bahia have their own prophet who came long after Mohammed - and the Mormon religion believes that their founder, Joseph Smith, was acting under the God's command as well.  

So, what's the big deal about Masood Ahmad reading from the Koran - he's not exactly hurting anyone and locking a 72-year old man in jail for such a thing is as ridiculous as it sounds. 

Jefferson Davies, the President of the Confederate States fighting to retain slavery as a way of life in the south, was correct you know - his abhorrent views on slavery were supported in the Bible.

But that still didn't make him right.        

Family of Masood Ahmad want help after Pakistan arrest

By Athar Ahmad

BBC Asian Network

Masood Ahmad's family fear for his health inside a Pakistani prison

The family of a British man arrested in Pakistan for "posing as a Muslim" are calling for the government to help bring their father back to the UK.

Masood Ahmad was jailed in November on blasphemy charges after being secretly filmed reading from the Koran.

The dual Pakistani-British national, 72, belongs to the minority Ahmadiyya sect, considered heretics in Pakistan.

They were declared non-Muslim in 1974 by the Pakistan government and have restricted religious practices.

This is because of theological differences with mainstream Islam.

Secretly filmed

One of the restrictions on their religious freedom is that they cannot publicly quote from the Koran.

Two men posing as patients visited Mr Ahmad at his clinic in Lahore, before asking questions about religion.

They used a mobile phone to secretly film him reading the Koran and then called the police to have him arrested.

Ahmadis can be jailed for up to three years in Pakistan for referring to their faith as Islam, preaching or "outraging the religious feelings of Muslims".
Mr Ahmad's daughter Aasiya and son Abbas said the family just wanted him home

Mr Ahmad's daughter, Aasiya, who lives in Glasgow, said she was distressed by what had happened.

She said: "My father didn't hurt anybody. We just want him out of jail and with us here where he can practice his faith freely."

Mr Ahmad had several operations to remove a tumour in 2010 and his family is concerned that his health will deteriorate in prison.

His lawyers have applied for bail due to his age and illness, but have been unsuccessful on three occasions.

Humanitarian reason

The Foreign Office do not usually get involved in cases between dual Pakistani-British nationals and authorities in Pakistan but according to advice given to individuals detained there, it "may make an exception to this rule".

  • An Islamic sect founded in India in 1889, Ahmadi Muslims believe their own founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908, was a prophet
  • This contradicts traditional Muslims who believe the last prophet was the Prophet Muhammad, who died in 632
  • Most Ahmadi followers live in the Indian sub-continent
  • Ahmadis have been the subject of sectarian attacks and persecution in Pakistan and elsewhere
  • In May 2010, more than 90 people were killed after an attack on two Ahmadi mosques in the city of Lahore
  • In 1974 the Pakistani government declared the sect non-Muslim
  • Ahmadi Muslims are led by their fifth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is based in Southfields, west London
Mr Ahmad's son, Abbas, said he wanted the British government to put further pressure on the Pakistani authorities.

"They say because he has dual nationality, they have limited access for these kinds of things. For us, his children are here, he's a British citizen. We are taxpayers, he's paid tax.

"My father is 72 and he's never harmed anybody. Anyone can read the Koran - a Muslim, a Christian, anyone. We just want the government to help."

In response, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We cannot get British nationals out of prison or detention, nor get special treatment for them because they are British.

"We urge the government of Pakistan to guarantee the fundamental rights of all its citizens."

The spokesman added: "We engage at a senior level on the issue of the mistreatment of religious groups, including Ahmadis.

"We will continue to provide consular assistance to both Mr Ahmad and his family".

In an interview with the BBC from his prison last month, Mr Ahmad said he felt targeted prior to his arrest and was concerned about how his children were coping.

Mr Ahmad's family is trying to stay hopeful that he will soon be released from prison.

Aasiya Firdous said: "We are trying to do our best and stay strong for each other. We knock on every door we can. We are just looking for the good and trying to stay positive."