Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Taking the fun out of fundamentalism

Last night, Channel 4 repeated Jon Ronson's 1997 documentary on Omar Bakri Mohammed, now residing in the Lebanon after he was refused permission to return to this country. Aside from his rather attractive promise to have the Spice Girls arrested when his brand of Islam rules this country, he trotted out the usual range of unpleasant views - including some virulent attacks on homosexuals (putting them in the same category as people who have sex with animals). What the documentary showed was that the Omar Bakri Mohammed of eight years ago was a rather sad self-publicist (not that Rupert Allason was that much better) who was more focussed on the headlines and the media presence than developing a genuine political force.

Regardless of the religion that they claim to follown, all these extremists seem to share similar views - along with a frankly unhealthy obsession with homosexuality - some of the wackier comments of their American counterparts are noted here. And boy, are they an attractive bunch.

In a similar vein, we have the unpleasant folks over at Christian Voice, who understand that as they have a tiny number of members (around the six hundred mark), they need to punch above their weight by grabbing every tiny drop of media light that falls on them. So it was that Stephen Green, the former builder turned self-appointed representative of the Almighty on Earth (UK Division) turned up in Edinburgh at the TV Festival to speak on 'Direct Action and the power of the duty log.' He didn't miss the chance to have a go at his favourite subject of the moment - Jerry Springer - The Opera.
"If they know we may be offended by a programme, they have the chance to stop it," said Christian Voice national director Stephen Green. "But they just keep going."

Stephen. That's what we call freedom of speech. It includes the right to be offensive. As it happens, I did see the broadcast and thought that the first act was excellent, but the second act was as unsubtle as a sledgehammer and pushed the boundaries of good taste a fair old way. No-one could say I wasn't warned, but I chose to watch it. That's how things should work. And if the show does come to Birmingham, despite the national tour having been pulled because the Arts Council pulled funding, I might well go along. Not because the show is that good, but because I find 'Christian Voice' offensive - as I may have mentioned before. (I have just noticed that I used that headline twice on this blog. Whoops)

There are bigger Christian groups out there with more of a right to speak for their religion - not least the Catholic and Protestant church leaders, aside from groups like the Evangelical Alliance which can claim a million members. The only reason Christian Voice gets so much publicity is the exact same reason that Omar Bakri Mohammed got media attention - they are guaranteed to give good quote and stir up an argument. Go along and ask about their pet subjects and the output is just the same as pulling a string on a child's doll - Stephen Green will produce a number of stock, offensive phrases to order. Like his Muslim and American brothers, Stephen is also obsessed with homosexuality (psychologists are invited to draw their own conclusions on issues that he might have).

However offensive I find Christian Voice's views and however at odds they are with my own thoughts on Christian ethics and morals, I don't want to stop them shouting about it. That's the difference. With Omar Bakri Mohammed and Stephen Green, their views brook no argument, because they are based in faith and thus unshakeably immune to discussion. That's why religion should be kept well clear of politics.

Meeja folk - by all means talk to Stephen and his bunch of merry men, but do make sure that you leaven their extremism with mainstream, moderate views. Show some responsibility, eh?

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