A common accusation during the furore over Greggs replacing baby Jesus with a sausage roll in advent calendar was one of double standards. Many of those voicing opposition to the bakery chain’s promotional picture pointed out that they wouldn’t do that to Muhammad.
And of course, they’re right. But one practical problem with ‘doing that’ to Muhammad is that there tend to be very few images of the founder of Islam. Most Muslims consider depictions of Muhammad to be ‘forbidden’, so replacing him with a sausage roll presents a challenge.
Meanwhile, Christians have been putting Jesus front and centre of their religion for centuries. Whilst British culture is infused with Christian imagery, Islam hasn’t penetrated in the same way. It’s hard to think of a comparable scene to the Nativity where doing to Muhammad what Greggs did to Jesus would work.
But the central thrust of the argument – that Islam is immune from the mockery Christianity faces – is absolutely correct. Islam commands the compliance of non-Muslims through the threat of violence and death. Islam isn’t widely respected in Britain. But people are scared of it.
It’s not hard to see why. Right across the world we’ve seen a bloody trail of people murdered for daring to challenge the taboo of criticising Islam or depicting Muhammad.
The worrying message from this week’s sausage roll controversy is that some Christians seem envious of the power that militant Islam wields. They seem to yearn for the ‘respect’ Christianity once enjoyed when it too had the power to use blasphemy as an instrument to silence anyone that dared undermine its orthodoxy.
But those days are over. Christianity has secularised and the world is a better place for it. Humanity has flourished. As the late, great, Christopher Hitchens put it: “Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things. One of the beginnings of the human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority; it’s indispensable.”
It is concerning, then, that a minority of Christians think that rather than turning the other cheek to things they find offensive, it is better to ape the Islamic fundamentalists and demand the kind of ‘respect’ for their religion that Islam enjoys.
But anyone who cares about our precious freedoms should surely be doing everything in their power to create the conditions whereby criticism, questioning and mockery of religion is normalised. Only on that basis can we successfully challenge the unreasonable demands of Islamists that we all become sharia compliant.
So let’s not resurrect blasphemy codes around Christianity. Let’s continue to tear them down and do the same with Islam. Future generations with thank us for it, as will the millions of freedom-loving liberal Muslims around the world living under the intolerable oppression of fundamentalism.