THE BLOG

Jesus and Mo Go to Westminster

22/01/2014 10:29 GMT | Updated 23/03/2014 09:59 GMT

There's a bit of a flap taking place on Twitter today over a tweet and the resulting petition by the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, Maajid Nawaz -- who also happens to be the Chairman of the anti-extremism organisation, the Quilliam Foundation.

What did he tweet? Prepare your outrage...

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...Oh, is that it?

Nawaz tweeted an image of the fantastic webcomic Jesus & Mo, which "controversially" illustrates the Prophet Muhammed and Jesus as though they were an old married couple -- with scenes set in a pub, and with them both in bed, a la Morecambe and Wise.

The same comic has previously caused a lot of controversy, if "a lot" is judged by how many broadsheet columnists and Comment is Free writers got another week of material out of it. Long story short, the cartoons caused a fuss at UCL and LSE when they were posted on the university atheist society's facebook pages, and then there was a related controversy when the LSE society wore Jesus & Mo t-shirts at their fresher's fair.

The comic, which itself was created as a reaction to the ridiculous "Danish cartoons" controversy has become something of a cause célèbre for secular and free speech activists, wanting to illustrate how militant religion can impact on our freedom of expression, and publishing the cartoons has become a symbol of defiance of religious oppression... and no doubt the reason the BBC One weekly 60 minute hate The Big Questions chose to discuss them, causing Nawaz's tweet.

Since he tweeted it out, he's been bombarded with responses attacking him, and a petition has been setup calling for the LibDems to remove him as the Hampstead and Kilburn PPC. Remarkably at the time of writing, it has garnered over 8000 virtual signatures.

Now this is where it gets interesting -- I wonder if everyone will do The Right Thing. Here we have an inexplicably, but undeniable dicey issue threatening to cause the LibDems yet more days of awkward headlines. A bit more pushing and the issue could blow up into the mainstream press and start the whole game in which regardless of facts or reality, the fact it is being discussed at all pushes Nawaz further towards resignation -- whilst the press also have another excuse to bash the LibDems for supporting hate-speech or not standing up to the Islamists (depending on the author's persuasion). It's probably a pretty safe bet that the only LibDem who would see the story blowing up as desirable is Lord Rennard.

What's even more unusual is the seat in which Nawaz is a candidate -- Hampstead and Kilburn. Unlike almost every other constituency in the country, the North West London seat is a three-way marginal. Here's the results from the last election:

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All of the major parties are roughly neck and neck -- with only 841 votes between the LibDems in third and Labour in first. Which means that unlike a normal constituency when tactical considerations would have to be made, any damage the parties can put on opposing candidates is useful. Which means that on paper at least, the goals of both the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives are aligned with the people calling for Nawaz to resign his candidacy. In other words: it is politically expedient for Nawaz to be the target of an angry mob.... but this certainly isn't noble, or The Right Thing To Do.

So will Labour and the Tories do the right thing and align themselves with Nawaz? Or will they cynically hope the pressure builds and unfairly forces Nawaz out of the race for daring to stand up for free speech and secularism?