Fear and Cowardice

by David Pryce-Jones

“If you haven’t met Jesus and Mo yet,” Salman Rushdie has said, speaking of a cartoon strip that has been running on a website since 2005, “It’s about time you did.” Well, Salman had his troubles about publication of his work, and now so has Mohammed Jones, the nom de plume of the man who draws the cartoon strip. It’s rather thin artwork, and rather feeble jokes too, but apparently Muslims follow it. A recent drawing shows Jesus saying “Hey,” to Mohammed who responds with, “How ya doin.’” Not exactly Emile Zola, is it? 

Brouhaha erupted all the same. Thousands of Muslims complained. Accordingly, the artist was invited to appear on the BBC’s flagship program Newsnight. The anchorman there is Jeremy Paxman, a clever fellow whose stock in trade is to give offense to whomever he is quizzing. On this occasion, the artist sat with his back to the camera, presumably for fear of being recognized. All he ever had in mind with the cartoon, he said, was to make people laugh. His Muslim opponents were “self-serving rabble-rousers.” Dropping his voice as though to bring out the seriousness of the charge, Paxman persisted in trying to wring out an admission that the artist was guilty of giving offense. Truly, this was rich. The cartoon was not shown on Newsnight or other television programs or in the print media.

That’s by no means all. Maajid Nawaz is a British Pakistani, a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group with the usual agenda of taking over the whole world. Egypt is one of the numerous Muslim countries that ban it, and Nawaz spent six years in an Egyptian prison in the days when Hosni Mubarak was cracking down on the group. Since then, Nawaz has rethought his position, and on the basis of his experience is now one of the more prominent Muslims taking a position against Islamism. A writer, he is standing for parliament for the Liberal Democrat party. Out of solidarity, he tweeted the cartoon. Thousands more Muslims were immediately up in arms, threatening fatwas and cutting off his neck. When these Muslims say Nawaz is not fit to stand for parliament, the Liberal Democrats — how to put it? — quake. It isn’t conscience that makes cowards of us all, as Shakespeare thought, it’s fear.