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  • Religious sectarianism and censorship

    by Sunny
    23rd April, 2008 at 1:20 am    

    There’s an interesting blog by Roy Greenslade on a recent episode in Scotland, with Catholics getting furious over how they were characterised as “bead rattlers”, and resulting censorship in the Sunday Herald.

    A classic example of the old divide has just led to a massive climbdown by the Sunday Herald after one of its sports columnists used the phrase “bead-rattling” in a piece about Celtic. [For those who don't know about Scottish football, that's a Glasgow football club supported largely by Catholics. For those who don't know about religion, the reference is to prayer beads used in Roman Catholic devotions, aka rosary beads].

    That provoked uproar. A statement soon appeared on Celtic’s website about the “disparaging characterisation of Celtic supporters” being “extremely disappointing and offensive” and
    “completely inappropriate”. Letters also poured into the Herald’s office.

    A climbdown soon followed and the paper has not only apologised but taken the writer off that piece.

    Censorship? Giving into people’s fury? Hell yes. And if Muslims were involved no doubt certain bloggers would be running wild reprinting those words and claiming how western civilisation was going down the pan.

    Roy Greenslade adds:

    This episode may seem extraordinary to people in England, but I have a sister-in-law who lives in Glasgow and she once told me how, when she was opening a restaurant, she was advised not to use green ink on the menu “in case it gave the wrong signals.” In other words, green means Catholic and it might scare off Protestants. Similarly, she was counselled against using blue ink for the reverse reason.

    I’m quite against censorship and pro-free speech as many regular readers know. But this episode highlights where and when it matters and should be applied.

    Is gratuitous abuse for its own sake worthwhile defending? Maybe not in all cases. I wasn’t too bothered (initially) during the infamous Danish cartoons precisely because I saw it as an attempt to degrade and piss Muslims off and then cry censorship if they protested. Though obviously the violence in the Middle East was deplorable (but didn’t happen in the UK remember). If Salman Rushdie happened here again I’d absolutely defend his right to his writings, as I did with Behzti (the Sikh play, Dec 2005).

    Who’s going to write angry letters in this case demanding that the Sunday Herald be free to call Celtic players bead-rattlers?? Go on, I dare you. Add your address to the letter too please and let us know if any Celtic supporters knock on the door for a friendly chat.

    In a few decades time, I would imagine that, as the terrorism threat passes and British Muslims become more active in political/media/daily life, the faux-controversies over free speech will largely go away. Sometimes the newspaper will apologise for causing offence, sometimes it will flare up into something bigger and Muslim groups will warn fellow believers that violent action is never right. Self-censorship in some cases will come back into play as it does with all religious groups in this country.

    The future will come. But we’ll have to go through plenty of pain, hilarity and silly arguments (e.g. Fitna) before we get there.

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    Filed in: Media

    6 Comments below   |  

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    1. billericaydicky — on 23rd April, 2008 at 8:18 am  


      When Muslims are fully assimilated into our society, or enough of them so that the nutters are isolated, anti Catholic bigotry will still exist. It’s the oldest prejudice in these islands and is deeply engrained into a sizable section of the population. It’s particularly bad in Glasgow and until the 1950s in Liverpool there was an Anti Catholic party that had councillors.

      Catholics were seen as loyal to a foreign ruler, the Pope, and until the mid nineteenth century could not vote,be an officer in the armed forces or an MP. The nearly fifty year conflict in Northern Ireland was because of anti Catholic discrimination. You will see a Muslim Prime Minister before you will an end to references to bead rattling.

    2. sonia — on 23rd April, 2008 at 9:55 am  

      The Archbishop is coming to LSE to talk about religious faith and human rights.

      should be very interesting!

    3. Cover Drive — on 23rd April, 2008 at 11:34 am  

      Letters seem a sensible way of lodging your complaint rather than harassing people, issuing death threats, picketing outside the offices of the newspaper and smashing the windows. Hence the lack of publicity.

    4. Roger — on 23rd April, 2008 at 12:43 pm  

      What’s wrong with calling left-footers bead-rattlers because they rattle beads? Is the fact that some muslims rattle beads too involved?

    5. the ill man — on 23rd April, 2008 at 1:35 pm  

      It’s a strange one. I know a few Catholics who see the funny side of the term, but then that’s due to the fact that they don’t take themselves, or much else, too seriously. I also know Catholics who would never talk to you again if you called them a ‘rattler’.

      Using the term in a newspaper article though……….Not very bright.

      It generally pays to tread carefully when it comes to what people believe in, take nothing as read.

    6. Cover Drive — on 23rd April, 2008 at 2:35 pm  

      The problem here seems entirely local to Glasgow where you have two football teams representing fans belonging to two sectarian groups. Unfortunately that is the reality. So when fans of one team think they are being made fun of in the press some of them take offence. Personally I think they are better off ignoring it, but as I said writing letters of complaint is better than damaging property or attacking people.

      However, to think that Catholics per se oppose free speech is ridiculous. The media attacks Muslims more on free speech as result of the Rushdie controversy and other controversies since that.

      There’s plenty of shit written about Christians and their faith nowadays but we’ve become more tolerant about it.

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