by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 8
June 2022
Reaction
15:00

Why is Cineworld bowing to Muslim activists?

Offending a small minority is no justification for censoring a film
by Ella Whelan

Protesters have spent the last week calling for a film to be pulled from cinemas in the UK. These were not blue-haired students upset over a new Dave Chappelle biopic, but Muslim activists calling for Cineworld to remove what they labelled a “blasphemous” film.

The Lady of Heaven is part biopic of the prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah, and part commentary on the violence of Islamic State and its historical origins. Focusing on the split between Shiite and Sunni Muslims following the death of the prophet Muhammad, the film moves between seventh-century Arabia and modern-day Iraq. A young boy, Laith, serves as the film’s vehicle for morality, refusing Islamist extremism after the execution of his mother by jihadists (an act which the film claims mirrors the attack on Fatimah — the lady of heaven).

Let’s be clear: The Lady of Heaven is not a good film. Reviews from December 2021 point to the biopic’s reliance on cliché, with grand battle scenes and wedding ceremonies ensuring that all “boxes of the historical epic genre are ticked”. The contrast between the cherub-like Laith playing with fidget spinners and the spitting, gruffness of ISIS fighters makes a violent reality seem almost pantomime. 

But the protesters outside Cineworld are not film buffs angry at the quality of the script or accents. Instead, these critics argue that the film’s portrayal of the story of Fatimah is an insult — “pure, unadulterated sectarian filth”, as one review put it. Though the film’s director promised to honour the Islamic belief in aniconism by portraying Muhammad with CGI and keeping Fatimah swamped in cloth and out of focus, protesters argued that his face was still clearly visible. A petition to have the film pulled from cinemas claimed that it “spread false information on Islam”, arguing that the film had “been created to cause heartache for all Muslims”. Protesters turned up outside cinemas across the UK, including Sheffield and Birmingham, holding signs which said “Cineworld promotes hate” and “say no to extremism”.

What distinguishes these protests from others is that the activists got their way. Further still, they included threats of further action, with one activist in Birmingham claiming that “we have been trained from birth that we must defend the honour of our prophet & we will lay our life [sic] on the line”. In response, one Cineworld employee in Sheffield was even sent out to address the crowd with a loudhailer, shouting “at a local level it wasn’t our decision to show this film, it came from above, we totally agree with what you’re saying and we’re not prepared at this cinema to show this film”. It is unclear what the employee was agreeing with — that the film was blasphemous (he didn’t look Muslim), or that arts institutions should bow down to those claiming offence.

God, in any of his or her religious iterations, should not be sacralised in a secular society like ours. Of course, huge numbers of moderate Muslims will be as bemused by Cineworld capitulating to 100 or so loudmouths as those of us who don’t believe in God. But these groups of extremist Muslim protesters have been building on the terror created by the Islamist murder of Charlie Hebdo employees in 2015 and the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty in 2020 to censor any discussion of Islam — and even Islamism — in the UK. In other words, we still don’t have courage to stand up to religious extremism. 

Arts institutions are making a habit of surrendering to the cries of the perpetually offended. At some point, we must rediscover our ability to say “get over it” to those who claim they are offended. Perhaps some brave cinema lover in Bolton will hook up a projector and screen The Lady of Heaven in protest against this insult to artistic freedom. Not because it’s worth watching, but because even bad films don’t deserve to be censored.

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
16 days ago

As a free speech absolutist, it is totally obvious to me there is only one solution to all this: *all* free speech, no matter how distasteful, how inciteful, and so on, is sacrosanct. Incitement, for example, is a myth: adults are capable of choosing who they are influenced by – the onus is on *us*. If adults are deemed so fragile that they can come under the influence of the nearest passer-by, by words alone, then they cannot be considered adults – with all the loss of freedoms that implies. The only exceptions to this are the routine ones: mentally damaged people, and children who by definition are not adults.

Free speech must be defended against all comers in all circumstances. Without that, we have nothing.

Dominic A
Dominic A
16 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Indeed. I imagine God would be kinda insulted (not really, as God surely is above such human pettiness), by the very idea s/he is so fragile as to be hurt by words.

D Glover
D Glover
16 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

What do you say about the jailing of ‘National Action’ organisers?
They didn’t bomb, shoot or stab anyone, but they did express [email protected] sentiments. Would your free speech absolutism let them do so?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
16 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

Absolutely – it’s self-evident that freedom of expression is meaningless unless it is extended to those who express views that are odious. It’s just the trade-off that has to be accepted.

D Glover
D Glover
16 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Good answer. It’s not self-evident to the Home Office or the judiciary, though.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

yes: it is far better that the debate is in the open… hate crime laws drive extremists underground and foster much more dangerous malcontent

Nell Larkin
Nell Larkin
16 days ago

“Birmingham will not tolerate the disrespect of our prophet. There will be outcomes from your actions. You will have repercussions from your actions. We have been trained from birth that we must defend the honour of our prophet & we will lay our life on the line.” I agree with you that it’s good that free speech rights allow this Twitter user to alert the rest of us to their menacing extremism. I especially hope it alerts Jews to keep their distance from “Muslims Against Antisemitism”.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

That absolutist position has never been held in Britain and even in the US. Can I scream ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema and start a stampede? If I started broadcasting that you were a paedophile on social media, should that just be accepted (or you just accept it)? Should we abolish all libel and slander laws?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

If you falsely shout “fire” and you cause loss of life or serious injury or damage you can of course be prosecuted if it can be shown you were doing so maliciously. You can also be sued by the people and parties damaged. None of this is anything to do with free speech.

And libel and slander laws are fine – the onus is on the party claiming being damaged to prove they have been damaged. One of the basis of those laws, is that you can’t libel the dead – but that is exactly what the protesters claiming blasphemy are insisting – “…you are not allowed to express opinions because you must not libel dead people I revere…” and that is everything to do with suppression of free speech.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
14 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The one thing more important (though obviously related) than free speech is the rule of law – which appears to be very compromised in this particular arena – how is this possible ?? have we become a ‘nation’ of cowards It seems so ;(

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
16 days ago

This is simply an outrage. People need to learn that in this country they have no right to not be offended.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
16 days ago

The politics of current Islam teaches muslims to play victims when in minority. There is no encouragement for tolerance, understanding or integration in its ideology. Every muslim thus considers himself a soldier waiting to take up arms at any imagined or real slight to Islam. This is what they learn every Friday in mosques, where namaz is just a side activity! This fact needs to be exposed: Islam is a political ideology disguised as religion.

Last edited 15 days ago by Vijay Kant
Andrew F
Andrew F
15 days ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Exactly,
That what happens when you allow savages into Europe.
Clearly these protesters do not agree with democratic, secular society.
Cancelling their passports and sending them to their or their parents country of origin would be a good start.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
16 days ago

Time to get used to it.
As the Muslim population of this country grows so the demands will grow more strident and we will give more ground.
On my drive home posters showing (not much) female flesh were routinely defaced as soon as they went up. Now they no longer bother putting them up.
It won’t stop until all women are wearing burkas and all men have beards.
What on earth did our rulers think they were doing. Silly me keeping wages down and lining their pocket while not giving a toss about the consequences for the country since it was not gong to impact where they live.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
15 days ago

What baseline measure is being used to refer to growth of a minority population that will lead to It won’t stop until all women are wearing burkas and all men have beards.? I don’t doubt the sentiment in the observation regarding the intolerance, but rather the hyperbole of conclusion drawn from it.
What % of the adult British population is Muslim?

D Glover
D Glover
15 days ago

.

Last edited 15 days ago by D Glover
Andrew F
Andrew F
15 days ago

Baseline measure is the level of Muslim immigration to uk and their birth rate.
You don’t have to be expert on Islam to see that countries following this particular religion are not beacons for human (especially women) rights, democracy and culture.
Why do you think that importing low IQ, violent savages from 3rd world is beneficial to the West?

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Yes yes, but he was asking for the numbers, not another opinion. How many? What birth rate?

Michael James
Michael James
16 days ago

Diversity working, no?

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
16 days ago
Reply to  Michael James

Diversity does not work when you are dealing with an ideology that demands total submission from its followers.

Last edited 16 days ago by Vijay Kant
Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
15 days ago

Moderate Muslims across the UK will no doubt be on the streets denouncing the demonstrators for bringing Islam into disrepute. Unless, that is, they agree with them.

Jamie Smith
Jamie Smith
15 days ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Moderate Muslims, if they exist at all, will be cowering in fear of beheading.

harry storm
harry storm
11 days ago
Reply to  Jamie Smith

“If they exist at all”??? Are you serious. Of course they exist, and in large numbers. They are, however, the first victims of Islamic extremism. Even so, those Muslim lawyers, physicians, engineers, bus drivers etc. aren’t going to forego their jobs/careers to become Islamists. But they do tend to keep their heads down, and I can’t say I blame them under the circumstances.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago

just look at the way the British horse racing establishment creeps and crawls in unctuous, oleaginous, and sycophantic unison to Middle East owners and interests?

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
16 days ago

This is outrageous.
I suspect 100 demonstrating Christians would have dealt with rather differntly..
The police are not in a difficult situation. There are laws in this country we are all expected to recognise and follow.

Last edited 16 days ago by Tom Scott
Andrea ...
Andrea ...
17 days ago

Let’s ban the life of Brian, the last temptation and, since we are at it, Robert Powell’s Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ Superstar, plus others.

Last edited 17 days ago by Andrea X
Karen Mosley
Karen Mosley
16 days ago
Reply to  Andrea ...

The Life of Brian was banned in huge swathes of the country

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
15 days ago
Reply to  Karen Mosley

Good point.

D Glover
D Glover
16 days ago
Reply to  Andrea ...

John Cleese has acknowledged that Life of Brian would not get made in today’s climate.
I think that it was made at the only time in history when it could have been.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
15 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

And indeed what a fabulous film it was!! Says this Christian. Im particularly fond of the “Stan wants a baby” scene, very relevant these days!!

D Glover
D Glover
15 days ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Reg:   What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies, when he can’t have babies?
Francis: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.
Reg:   It’s symbolic of his struggle against reality.
 

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
14 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

It is seriously sad if that is the case !! How did todays ‘climate ‘ get to have so much power when supported by so few – again cowardice in so many areas dammit.

Pete Williams
Pete Williams
16 days ago

even bad films don’t deserve to be censored.

CATS, (starring Judi Dench, Taylor Swift and James Corden) is surely deserving of public outrage, mass protests and outright censorship. I’m sure there are others (the middle three Star Wars episodes for example)

JP Martin
JP Martin
14 days ago
Reply to  Pete Williams

The satirical Book of Mormon was staged on Broadway and in the West End. But, as always, we are forced to change the rules for the group that repeatedly turns to violence.

harry storm
harry storm
11 days ago
Reply to  Pete Williams

Ricky Gervais said CATS the movie was the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
15 days ago

‘any discussion of Islam — and even Islamism ‘
Perhaps the author could explain what the difference is.

Jamie Smith
Jamie Smith
15 days ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Islam is the ideology. Islamism is the implementation of the ideology.

Sherwin Philip
Sherwin Philip
15 days ago

Not surprising

Last edited 15 days ago by sphilip25399
jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
16 days ago

It must be an impossible situation for the cinema chain and the police. Even though there were so few protestors and most Muslims are wondering what the fuss is about, if they didn’t withdraw this film then who knows what some nut job will do? There are serious fruitcakes out there who are seriously dangerous. This might have been the vehicle for a much bigger event.

D Glover
D Glover
16 days ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

There are serious fruitcakes out there who are seriously dangerous

There are indeed, but if they are of a right-wing persuasion they get very substantial prison sentences. Are you happy that a film got banned, in effect if not in law, because it might have been the ‘vehicle for a much bigger event’?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
16 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

I doubt very much that jules was “happy” about it, why do you suggest that? The comment was simply an acknowledgement of why the withdrawal of the film occurred. (jules might’ve added the threat to Cineworld staff whilst just doing their job, which though very annoying is no doubt real.) The bigger question is, of course, where do we go from here?
The police have a legislative framework and sufficient powers to curtail such demonstrations, since they clearly provide a threat to the general public. Only when there is action by the police in that regard will the tide start to turn. No doubt, that would lead to threats to attack police stations, or even threats to lone police officers. This is what we all face – but face up to it we must. I don’t have the answers.
It’s as if we’re all back in the 15/16th century, still fighting the battles of the so-called Christian religious demoninations. On which note, the author also failed to mention that the film was made by a director belonging to one branch of Islam, Shia, and the protests are by Sunnis. So when one of their ilk rants about Muslims being trained from birth to do X, Y or Z (shudder at the idiocy of that worldview), they don’t speak for Muslims, just one branch.

Last edited 16 days ago by Steve Murray
Andrew F
Andrew F
15 days ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

So, if you follow your logic we in the West should surrender our freedom and way of life to a threat of violence from adherents of Religion of Peace?