A cartoonist, unlike a a violent extremist, can innocently claim, “But these are just harmless cartoons, only a lunatic would take offence, let alone seek to ban them”. But make no mistake, cartoons are a political tool since the days of Thomas Nast, and they merit our intellectual attention.
Recently some atheists at the LSE Freshers day were asked by university authorities to remove T-shirts depicting the Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) sharing a beer together. Well, to be more exact, they were asked to remove “Jesus and Mo” cartoon t-shirts, where “Jesus” is depicted as a cartoon caricature of the real Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) and “Mo” is ostensibly a ‘body double’ of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Such conflicts are proliferating, and present an interesting challenge to our democratic society in the UK: do atheists have the right to offend Muslims?
On the face of it, this may seem a simple question, and most people probably will start reading this article with a fixed opinion on the issue. But it’s actually a rather complicated question!
The European Convention of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression in Article 10 of that Convention. However, like all fundamental rights, it recognises exceptions. Particularly relevant exceptions in this instance are for the purpose of preventing social disorder, of protecting morals, and protecting the reputation or the rights of others.
The Muslim Times’ Editor’s comments
Article 10 of European Convention of Human Rights provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas, but allows restrictions for:
- interests of national security
- territorial integrity or public safety
- prevention of disorder or crime
- protection of health or morals
- protection of the reputation or the rights of others
- preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence
- maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary