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Thursday, 3 April 2008

Big Ben: comedian stands up to Beeb over Islam

The UK comedian and writer Ben Elton has told the BBC it's stifling jokes about Islam. The corporation was too "scared", he said.

According to the Press Association and other outlets, he's told a Christian magazine called Third Way, "I think it all starts with people nodding whenever anyone says, 'As a person of faith . . .' And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the community have about provoking the radical elements of Islam.

"There's no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass. They might pretend that it's, you know, something to do with their moral sensibilities, but it isn't. It's because they're scared."

He says he wanted to use the phrase "Mohammed came to the mountain" but people told him, "Oh, don't! Just don't go there!" Yet he was not even referring directly to Islam so much as to an old proverb: "If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain."

The 48-year-old comedian tells the magazine, "I'm quite certain that the average Muslim does not want everybody going around thinking, 'We can't mention you. We've just got to pretend you don't exist because we're scared that somebody who claims to represent you will threaten to kill us.' "

Predictably, the BBC denies Elton's claims. No subject is off limits for BBC comedy, a spokesman says, adding, "The treatment should not cause harm or offence as defined by the BBC's editorial guidelines or breach other BBC guidelines. There is no evidence that the BBC is afraid to tackle difficult subjects."

But how is "offence" defined? As we've seen so often with the Motoons affair, the drawing of a cartoon has "offended" Muslims the world over, when the passive voice is more appropriate: Muslims have been offended by. Or, more accurately, chosen to take offence at.

If you fancy a bit of satire about this story, try this one in The Spoof!.

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