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To Take Offence Is to Attribute Meaning and Merit

31/01/2014 11:03 GMT | Updated 01/04/2014 10:59 BST

The Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz and Director of Quilliam, the world's first counter-extremism think tank triggered a progeny of controversy on the social media giant, Twitter, after sharing a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad alongside the caption, "This is not offensive and I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it." On the road of discourse we have somewhat forgotten about the principle of autonomy and the concept of freedom of speech. Yet, the depictions of the religious leaders illustrated on the T-Shirts have stimulated a debate about what is and is not conventional to Muslims and non - Muslims throughout the public sphere.

The profound Dante Alighieri once said, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis". Indeed, Maajid Nawaz's expression of a non-neutral and resilient view should be respected if the maxim of autonomy is to be upheld within our societies. Nevertheless in a political climate as such, it is assumed that we ought not to have our religious sensibilities offended. Broadly speaking, as rational agents we simply cannot have the platform for individuals or political bodies to intimidate one into refraining from expressing his views on a conspicuous topic.

It is fair to say that the tweet was taken out of its intended context. Nawaz merely argued that the image was not wholly offensive, unless any representation of the prophets by an opposing body is considered to be offensive. Nawaz maintained in some of his tweets that "This is not offensive & I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it." Any judicious religious follower is able to observe things he/she does not like, yet will significantly remain tranquil and adhere to social and political pluralism. This then expounds one to draw attention to other imperatives concerning society at large; such as the struggles faced by those who are struggling with poverty and war than being offended by two students wearing an illustrated T-shirt for the sake of broadcasted attention.

Of course, the illustrations were perceived to be provocative and socially demeaning in respect to the prophets by some. Nonetheless, Nick Clegg's response to the turbulence certainly acknowledged the tweet's offensive nature for many religious believers, though continuing the maintenance of Nawaz's freedom of expression in congruence with the fundamental maxims of the Liberal Democrat party. "I very much recognise and respect that the visual depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is regarded as deeply offensive and distressing to you and many other Muslims in the UK and beyond," Clegg wrote. "But I recognise too that there are also Muslims, including devout ones, who take a different view."

However, with due respect some Muslims and Christians strictly uphold the third commandment (Exodus 20:4-6). Almost all Muslims avoid coining representations of God or of any other prophets. Amongst both divides the nature of the offence is far from resolved. It must be supplemented, however, that the illustrations are not humorous at all; neither does it infer anything which is deemed to be intellectual or insightful. In its place, it can be argued that it salvages common misconceptions, clichéd stereotypes and unfortunately, obsolete prejudices; elucidating nothing but a doodle. We should not pay our tributes by taking offence to a meaningless piece of unmerited art. Thus by taking offence, one has clearly attributed merit to the contentious illustration, giving it unwarranted meaning.