Listening to the Father Teds of the Muslim world perform their own The Passion of Saint Tibulus (and I don’t mean the dirty version), I heard one start saying “it’s like an insult to your mother or father….” Like Father Dougal myself, without a thought for the consequences I started trying to empathize: never a good idea, not least because the man on the Clapham omnibus is a cretin. The sight of a hair-splitting ex-science student trying to put themselves in the theory of someone else’s mind isn’t one you’d probably like to imagine, but I’d just started thinking of how I’d feel about a cartoon that degrades my mother and/or father (I’d probably proceed as follows: a faintly disgusted wrinkling of the nose, a frown, then a shrug, and finally a general getting-the-fuck-on with my life) when Dermot al-Morgan continued:
“… times a million!”
Wait, I thought. Hang on. I’m still drawing that cartoon. Did he mean that the cartoon (incidentally, I’ve tried really hard to make up something filthy and disgusting, but it still vaguely flatters my dad—I think I’ve not made his arse big enough) just needs to be published a million times, like the way publication defines libel? Or something more than that?
K. came to my rescue at this point. “I’ve trained in logic,” she said, “so I can do the math.” She reckoned that I should picture my mother and myself living for three thousand years, because three years is about a thousand days, and every day a clown on a unicycle comes by and throws a custard pie in her face. I thought about this. I even overlaid on the reverie a calendar, with the days falling off it like autumn leaves. Eventually I decided that, after the first few years, it’d feel like a tradition, or even a beauty treatment: a daily egg peel. I finally gave up empathizing, and did some programming, bicycle maintenance and wood-chopping instead.
Sometimes I get the feeling of wanting to take the heads of all parties in a dispute and smack them together like boules. But, this time, mostly those of the whiny, blaring, uncompromising plantiffs. If you think that Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban besmirches your faith, you should see what placards saying “BUTCHER THOSE WHO MOCK ISLAM” in shaky capitals do to other people’s opinion of numerous aspects of your religion, your moral code and your sanity. Trust me, nobody’s going to go near your prayer mat after that, just in case you’ve sharpened the edges or hidden razorblades in its folds.
Christianity has had two thousand years of this sort of thing. Judaism has had similar, although most people have kept their distance this past half a century for understandable historical reasons. Much of the cartoon-based hate-spewing at Christians and Jews has come from the Muslim press, now busy whipping itself up into a foamy, frothy drool of righteous anger at the temerity of a boot daring to be on the other foot. But nowadays, apart from the shrill religious right, the practitioners of other major religions just ignore it. They get on with their lives. Ted, the moral argument went thataway, and whatever you’re pursuing instead, it’s frankly beneath you. Or at least it was.
Are people really complaining about some aspect of their lives being satirized? If so, them I’m offended by such complaints. I find such a lack of perspective tremendously offensive, which is why I never listen to You and Yours. So, where do I sign up? Why’s my photograph not in the papers? How do I get Jack Straw to speak in my name? Is there some sort of donation I can make…? Or are they just complaning about bad satire, hasty and mediocre as these cartoons are? If so, haven’t they seen The Vicar of Dibley recently? Now, if we’re talking about butchering….