A brouhaha is brewing in Britain which has all the trimmings of the old Salman Rushdie case.
If you recall in 1989, the novelist Salman Rushdie was at a book party when the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa, an international call to all Muslims to kill Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses.
The initial monetary reward for his death was $1 million but would quickly rise.
The controversy this time is about a film called, The Lady of Heaven which was supposed to be screened at Cineworld locations across the UK, but it just got cancelled.
Other cinemas followed suit. In other words, they caved under pressure, and this puts freedom of expression in a very dangerous spot. The UK Guardian’s headline read, "UK cinema chain cancels screenings of ‘blasphemous’ film after protests.”
Blasphemy? In the UK? I know that Blasphemy laws existed in the UK many moons ago, but they have not used them against anyone for ages. However, the dreaded “blasphemy” term has now raised its ugly head, and this bodes no good for freedom of expression or speech.
I am an observant Sunni Muslim and I have been wanting to see The Lady of Heaven since I heard about it in December. The film is about Lady Fatima (Fatimah bint Muhammad), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad.
This epic film moves from the beginning of Islam in the 7th century AD, to Iraq a few years ago, as it suffered under the monstrous terrorist group known as ISIS.
It tells the story of an Iraqi boy who is orphaned after his mother is executed by militants. The child is adopted by an elderly woman who comforts the youngster by telling the story of saintly Fatima, daughter of Prophet Muhammad who is highly revered by all Muslims, and especially those of the Shia sect.
You may know that there are two major sects in Islam (among many others). The two are Shia and Sunni who have been at loggerheads with each other since the death of Prophet Muhammad.
Sectarian violence is rife in many Muslim majority countries because the two sects don’t want to interact with each other, and each are hell bound that they are on the right path.
Having said this, it is exactly the reason why a film like this should not be cancelled but to become a reason for dialogue and discussion - something that sadly lacks in most Muslim communities.
Take the satirical movie, Monty Python’s Life of Brian – at the time it was released, there was a major push back and criticism with some Christians being incensed, but it led to healthy public debate and discussion.
Whether one likes the film or not, and whether we agree or disagree with the content, art and culture should not be hijacked by cancel culture because freedom of expression is a fundamental value.
The film has been banned in Egypt, Iran and Pakistan and the executive producer, Malik Shlibak said he had received “death threats” as a result of the film.
This is a typical “Islamist” strategy to muzzle any healthy critique and a tactic the Islamists have successfully employed to silence dissent, because Western leaders and institutions cower in fear of Islamists.
In the Western world, one would expect that artists, filmmakers, and authors would be free. Not so my friends, as we’ve seen in many cases from Charlie Hebdo cartoons to the brutal murder of Dutch "Submission" filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh.
From some Muslims, one of the objections to the Lady in Heaven film was that the person of Muhammad was portrayed for the first time.
However, according to those who have seen it, it is a computer-generated image. The writer and producer of this film insist that they were very sensitive to Muslim sentiments, so they did not digress.
Another criticism is that negative characters were portrayed by black actors – what happened to diversity? And do Muslims forget that Prophet Mohammad freed the first black slave Bilal and asked him to give the call to prayer 1400 years ago?
The film has generated controversy among Muslim scholars and leaders as well.
In this case, the controversy is healthy because for 1400 years, many Muslims have pushed their own history under the sand to avoid talking about it.
It’s about time we grow up and face issues head on instead of reverting to blasphemy and cancel culture.