Teacher requires protection for showing a cartoon

26 March 2021

Tim Dieppe comments on news that a teacher has gone into hiding after it emerged he had shown a cartoon of Muhammad in an RE lesson.

A school teacher has been suspended and is understood to have moved into hiding with police protection after it emerged that he had shown a cartoon of Muhammad in a school lesson.

The teacher is said to have shown students a cartoon during a religious studies class on Monday about blasphemy. We do not know what age the students were. There is speculation that the cartoon was one of those published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2012, which was used to justify the subsequent brutal murder of 12 people in the magazine’s office.

Just last year, French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded close to his school after being targeted for showing cartoons of Muhammad to students in a lesson about free speech.

Protesters force school to shut down

Batley Grammar school apologised and suspended the teacher as crowds gathered outside the school to protest. It has been observed that the protesters are largely young men in their 20’s who cannot either be parents or pupils. A pupil who set up a petition in support of the teacher noted that some of the protestors were “shouting aggressively, blocking entrances and many were found carrying knives.” He states that the teacher is not racist and did not support the cartoons. The school, nevertheless, has been forced to shut for two days in a row as a result of the protests. Many of the protesters have pledged to protest every day until the teacher is sacked.

Charity says it is ‘terrorism against Muslims’

Local charity, Purpose of Life, which has worked with the school, publicised a letter to the school complaining about the incident. The letter names the teacher thus making him a target. The letter states:

“It seems there are people out there that want to abuse the use of freedom of speech by insulting our beloved Prophet (PBUH). To me this is clearly showing what hatred people have for the beautiful religion of Islam and is clearly sadistic behaviour. This to me is terrorism to Islam & Muslims around the world.”

The letter goes on to demand that the teacher issues an apology and is permanently removed from the school, and states that “the fallout from this [sic] be far reaching.”

This letter is a shocking and appalling communication from a charity. It is unbelievably irresponsible to name the teacher given that protests had already started, and given that Samuel Paty was brutally murdered in similar circumstances last year.

It is absurd to claim that showing a cartoon is ‘sadistic’. It is also clearly intended to stir up animosity to call it “terrorism to Islam and Muslims around the world.” Does it need to be stated that showing a cartoon is not terrorism? Displaying a cartoon for discussion in a school lesson is not even comparable with violent murderous terrorism.

This is about free speech

What the letter does recognise is that this is about free speech. Unfortunately, the charity does not believe that free speech should extend to ‘insulting’ Muhammad. In effect, it wants a blasphemy law that prohibits anything which could be perceived as insulting to Muhammad to be said or shown or written. Sadly, it appears that there are many Muslims who would agree with this view.

Religion of peace?

The fact that the teacher requires police protection belies the nature of this ‘religion of peace’. Why would someone need protection from followers of a religion of peace? Perhaps because its teachings are not so peaceful after all. I have written before about whether Islam is a religion of peace. If you have not looked at the teachings of Islam before, then I encourage you to read that article. Sadly, whilst the majority of Muslims are peaceful law-abiding people, the teaching and example of Muhammad is not peaceful. This is why, when someone is perceived to have insulted Islam, police protection is required.

Blasphemy in Islam

A few years ago, I debated London based Imam Ajmal Masroor on radio about blasphemy after Richard Dawkins had an event cancelled because of his criticism of Islam. In the debate I contrasted how Christians respond to criticism of Jesus with the response of Muslims to criticism of Muhammad. When I explained that Muhammad asked for people who insulted him to be killed, Ajmal took exception and promised to renounce his faith if I could show him when Muhammad had said this. I was able to provide a reference on air, and then several more in an article I wrote about the exchange. I am still waiting, however, for Ajmal to renounce his faith. It is clear that Islamic teaching can be used to justify violence against someone who insults Muhammad.

De-facto blasphemy law

All of this links to a widely adopted definition of Islamophobia which seeks to restrict criticism of Islam and/or Muhammad. What we are seeing in the UK now is a de-facto Islamic blasphemy law. The teacher did not break any actual law, but he nevertheless requires police protection for his actions. How many other teachers will dare to display a cartoon of Muhammad now? This amounts to a heckler’s veto. If the Muslims complain loud enough, and threaten violence, then we all learn to proceed with caution when it comes to speaking about Islam.

No right not to be offended

It is encouraging to see that the Education Secretary not only condemned the “threats and intimidation” against the teacher, but also added that teachers are allowed to expose pupils to “challenging or controversial” issues. This is right, but will the government also act to protect the teachers’ job? No one should lose their job for displaying a cartoon of Muhammad. This is what free speech means. People do not have a right not to be offended. Attempts to restrict free speech need to be robustly challenged.

Two gods we dare not offend

At the moment in our society, there are two gods – or idols – that we dare not offend. One is Islam, and the other is LGBT. If you are deemed either Islamophobic, or homophobic, or transphobic, you are effectively a blasphemer in today’s culture. You have insulted the gods of these increasingly powerful groups. The relevant mob will hound you and try to force you out of your job. This is not how a free society operates. Sadly, too many churches are also afraid to offend these gods. Consequently, they avoid talking about Islam or LGBT issues, thus modelling acceptance of de-facto blasphemy laws. It is time for the Church to boldly speak out against the prevailing idols of our culture. Our freedoms, and those of our children, are at stake.

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