Equality is essential, but complicated – that is why some Christians feel that Muslims get an easy ride
Simple things can be so difficult. Take equality, for instance. Britain now has an Equality Act, to promote that good thing. But when you start looking at what it means in practice, matters get more complicated.
by Timothy Garton Ash guardian.co.uk
I’ve been thinking about this because of some media reaction to a conversation I had recently with Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, for our Oxford University project on free speech. After we talked about the BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer: the Opera, which provoked angry protests from evangelical Christians because the satirical musical depicted Jesus as a petulant overgrown baby in a nappy, I put it to him that the BBC wouldn’t dream of broadcasting something comparably satirical about the Prophet Muhammad. He replied: “I think essentially the answer to that question is yes.”
This was picked up, first by the Daily Mail, then by the Daily Telegraph, the Spectator and at least one Christian website, with headlines such as“BBC director general admits Christianity gets tougher treatment”(Telegraph) and “Should Christians kill Mark Thompson?” (Spectator). On Mail Online, a reader identifying him or herself as D Acres of Balls Cross, West Sussex, posted the comment: “This man is disgusting. He should be taken out and put up on a cross. That would teach him not to disrespect this country and its Christian faith.” Plainly a fine patriotic Christian, Outraged of Balls Cross.
Difficult though it is, we must never abandon the quest for equal liberty under law. Everyone is entitled to what the philosopher Ronald Dworkin calls “equal respect and concern”. That does not mean treating everyone exactly the same in every circumstance. But whenever you hear anyone (including me or you) arguing for unequal treatment of any kind, shine the searchlight and take a closer look. The same evangelical Christian who complains of unequal treatment from the BBC will vociferously oppose gay marriage. The same European liberal who argues passionately that newspapers should be free to publish cartoons of Muhammad will defend laws criminalising genocide denial. Double standards are the warning signals of a free society.