THE UK government dismissed a Muslim cleric from his role as an official adviser, accusing him of fomenting protests against a new film about the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.
Alleging The Lady of Heaven is blasphemous, Muslim groups protested outside UK movie houses this week, forcing the world’s second-largest cinema chain to cancel all screenings.
Cineworld’s announcement came after Qari Asim, an imam and lawyer in the northern English city of Leeds, posted on Facebook Monday (6) that the film had “caused much pain and hurt to Muslims”.
While noting that his own group had not taken part in protests, and expressing support for freedom of speech, Asim publicised details of one protest in Leeds coming up that evening.
In a letter to Asim, the government on Saturday (11) said the Facebook post was incompatible with his status as deputy chair of an official working group on anti-Muslim hatred.
Terminating the appointment “with immediate effect”, the government said the campaign against the film “has led to street protests which have fomented religious hatred.
“This clear involvement in a campaign to limit free expression is incompatible with the role of a government adviser,” it added, alleging the campaign had incited anti-Shiite hatred by Sunnis.
However, Asim described as “ inaccurate” the contention that his actions undermined democratic values or spread community tension.
”I did not personally attend or organise any protests outside any cinemas regarding the ‘Lady of Heaven’ film, as my strong preference is always dialogue and not protests. I did, however, support people’s democratic right to protest in the spirit of free speech”, he said in a statement.
“I fully understand and support the values of free speech, but as we are all aware, there is also a nuanced and complex debate around when free speech has boundaries and limits. Where there is a risk of fuelling extremism and tension being caused in communities, free speech has to be exercised responsibly in the public interest.
“I am of the firm opinion that the challenge to and critique of the ‘Lady of Heaven’ film is part of free speech, though violence and intimidation can never be. My concern has always been that due to the way in which this film was made, it risked fuelling extremism and tension in communities that would undermine cohesion in British society”.