First, some recap: Maajid Nawaz, a British parliamentary candidate, tweeted a Jesus and Mo cartoon, which contained an image of Mohammed. This made a lot of Muslims upset, and Nawaz has received a substantial amount of backlash, including death threats, from many Muslims. Friendly Atheist has a more in-depth summary of events.
Last night, Britain’s Channel 4 News covered the controversy, but decided to hide the image of Mohammed, replacing it instead with a black oval. This move angered many people, including the author of the cartoon. A common refrain was that, by censuring the cartoon in order to not “cause offense to some viewers,” they were capitulating to extremists and furthering the spread of Islamization.
It’s a well-known fact that when an image of Mohammed has been shown in the past, extremist Muslims often become violent. Cartoonists have been murdered, embassies have been attacked, and people have had to go into hiding to stay alive. Despite my strongly wishing for it not to be so, it’s a fact that showing an image of Mohammed does come with some risks.
I’m sure that the people at Channel 4 News are aware of this fact, which is likely at least part of the reason they chose not to show an image of Mohammed during their nightly broadcast. I’m fairly convinced that when they said they didn’t want to “cause offense,” what they meant was they would strongly prefer not to receive death threats.
I feel like this is a fair choice to make. After all, many of those people have families and friends they would like to see out of harm’s way, and would probably like to be out of harm’s way themselves. Their health and safety is understandably a priority for them, and I can hardly blame them for choosing it over some nebulous position on censorship.
Furthermore, asking (arguably even demanding) that Channel 4 show an uncensored image of Mohammed is asking them to commit to, and risk their lives for, a fight that most of them are uninvolved in and are unaffected by. While I commend and support those who do commit to this fight (especially at great personal risk) I also have to respect the personal decisions of those who decline to do so.
Condemning Channel 4 for their decision is unfair. Doing so is asking the people who work there to submit to what is likely a torrent of abuse, harassment, and death threats. While I wish that images of Mohammed could be shown without any sort of backlash from extremist Muslims, and while I’m fully committed to the cause of free expression, I understand that not everyone will want to join that cause, nor should they be expected to.