Animated self censorship

Based on the graphic novel by Claus Deleuran, Rejsen Til Saturn (Journey to Saturn) tells the tale of what happens when a Danish crew of misfits travel in space to find natural gas. The film is due to be released on Friday and promises a fart and belch fuelled lampoon of a whole host of political and religious beliefs. Except one (via).

The one Muslim character in the film has been exempted from any religious satire because the director was concerned about his own, and his familys, safety.

Its unfortunately been impossible to make fun of the Muslims religion. I think we make many jabs at the person Jamil in the film, but its correct that were not touching his belief.  Its simply too sensitive an area, that I cant take the responsibility to get involved.  I certainly need to think of both my family and my workplace.  Im not a fighter, and I dont like to have raging Muslims knocking on my door, says Thorbjørn Christoffersen.

I 100% support that people should be able to make fun of everything.  but this is not about special consideration for Muslims, its about consideration for myself and my family, says the director.

Brian Mikkelsen, Denmarks Justice Minister – and former Culture Minister – has expressed sadness at this:

Its sad it its become so that individual artists censure themselves out of fear of religious fanatics.  We have in Dnemark a strong and good tradition of satire, also in connection with religious subjects.  And we should hold fast to it.”

From the trailer, the film does look like it could be a lot of fun. It is a shame, though – to put it mildly – that the people behind the film should feel threathened into holding back.

Guzzanti avoids Pope joke prosecution

The Italian Minister of Justice said on Thursday that he had refused a request by the public prosecutor in Rome for permission to charge the comedienne and satirist Sabina Guzzanti with insulting the Pope.

The joke was cracked, in July, during a rally that was called to protest against alleged interference by the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italian affairs. Guzzanti said that while in 20 years all teachers in Italy will be vetted by the Vatican, “In 20 years Ratzinger will be dead and will end up in hell, tormented by queer demons - not passive ones, but very active ones.”

Under the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, an offence to the pontiff carries the same weight as an offence to the Italian head of state, with a penalty of up to five years in prison. However prosecution requires the go ahead from the Justice Ministry.

Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano, said he had decided not to proceed with a prosecution as Guzzanti had accepted full responsibility for her remarks, and he saw no point in adding further fire to the flames.

Fatwa Envy

Protestant pastor, Clemens Bittlinger is a gentle-voiced singing clergyman who wrote and performed a song mildly critical of the Pope.

The songs title is Oh man, Benedikt, a walk with the Pope, and asks two or three questions because theres a lot I dont understand.

Why do you revile other Christians? its lyrics ask. Why are you openly looking for a fight, saying: Yours is not a church. You ban condoms, even for the poor of this world. So you encourage the spread of AIDS even if you do not like it. Meanwhile you abandon limbo for babies who havent been baptised. Did you seriously believe that the Lord had something like that in the first place?

And the inevitable hate mail and threats have poured in (via), causing enough concern that Bittlinger is now receiving police protection.

“You dirty protestant pig, I shit on you and your dirty songs,” read one note.

“When a newspaper prints a Mohammed cartoon, entire cities burn, read another. But when the Holy Father is ridiculed in blasphemy, we are supposed to just accept that? No, not like that Mr. Bittlinger – you will surely receive the justice you deserve.”

Its was inevitable that the insane overreaction to the Muhammed cartoons would encourage other religious groups to adopt an equally aggressive stance towards perceived slights.

Matthias Rath fails to censor Bad Science

Ben Goldacre of the Bad Science blog has, for the past year, been fighting a libel case brought by “alternative medicine” quack Matthias Rath who made a fortune by lying to AIDS sufferers in order to sell his pointless vitamin supplements. The case has now been settled in Goldacres favour.

This is great news for Goldacre, of course, but its also an important victory for medical journalism, as this article from The Quackometer points out:

Ben Goldacre had been documenting the horrors in South Africa in the Guardian. Rath decided to sue. The result has been that the Guardian has been unable to discuss the calamities in South Africa for about a year now. Rath had managed to effectively silence one of his chief critics. One can speculate that Rath thought that the Guardian would not defend one of their non-staff minor columnists, but to their credit, they did. Rath has failed and he now faces a mammoth legal bill. The Guardians bill was £500,000. His own must have been similar.

Using the law to silence critics is a typical cowardly quacks trick.

Freedom of speech matters, more so in medicine than many other areas, and when some peddler of pills is accused of not having the evidence to support their claims then they should either produce the evidence or admit that their claims are untrue. If said peddler reaches for a libel writ, it is generally safe to assume not only that their claims are untrue, but they are also fully aware that their claims are untrue.

Pope joke prosecution heralds “a return to the Middle Ages”

Italian comedienne, Sabina Guzzanti is facing up to five years in jail (via) for for cracking a joke about the Pope. Addressing a Rome rally in July – that was called to protest against alleged interference by the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italian affairs – Guzzanti said that while in 20 years all teachers in Italy will be vetted by the Vatican, In 20 years Ratzinger will be dead and will end up in hell, tormented by queer demons - not passive ones, but very active ones.

She is now facing prosecution under the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, which stipulates that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President.

Many people have been strongly critical of the move, including Paolo Guzzanti, Ms Guzzantis father and a centre Right MP who said the move was a return to the Middle Ages”.

Antonio Di Pietro, a senator and former anti-corruption magistrate, who organised the rally, said that Ms Guzzanti had only exercised her constitutional right to freedom of thought.

You can agree or not agree with what she said — and personally I didnt — but to put people in prison for what they think is reminiscent of a time when those who thought differently had castor oil poured down their throats — a reference to the Fascist era, when the Laterna Treaty was enacted.

Fear of fatwas

The Bookseller (via) is reporting that a feature-length documentary marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses and the fatwa on author Sir Salman Rushdie is struggling to persuade some of those involved in the original publication to take part.

The Guardian quotes a publishing source as saying: “Most of the core people involved feel very strongly even today that they should keep quiet on any matters relating to The Satanic Verses and that it was enough that the hardcover [of the book] was kept in print throughout.”

Yevloyev murder documentary pulled

A programme investigating the murder of founder Magomed Yevloyev was withdrawn from Russian TV station NTV’s schedule last Sunday. According to the website, the station claimed the programme was not broadcast for ‘technical reasons’.

Mr Hankey the Subversive Poo

Prosecutors in Moscow have started legal proceedings to try to ban South Park (via) claiming that the cartoon bore signs of extremist activity.

Prosecutors took action against the 22 television channel for broadcasting an episode of the animated comedy show that featured Christmas songs including a medley duet performed by Santa Claus and Jesus Christ.

The episode in question called Mr Hankey’s Christmas Classics was aired in Moscow in January. It shows a number of regular and guest characters including Satan, Adolf Hitler and an anthropomorphised human faeces called Mr Hankey performing in a Christmas variety show. An accompanying CD is available to buy.

The case was initiated by the Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, and South Park is not going to be then end of it if they get their way. According to Konstantin Bendas, a spokesman for the group South Park is just one of many cartoons that need to be banned from open broadcast as it insults the feelings of religious believers and incites religious and national hatred.”


Russia passed a law in 2006 widening the definition of extremism to include the abasement of national dignity and inciting religious and national hatred, which - its supporters claim - was needed to stem a wave of violence aimed at ethnic minorities.

The prosecutors office has sent the case to court and has also issued a warning to the 22 TV Channel that airs the show.

And heres a clip from the offending episode. Enjoy.

Richard Dawkins website blocked in Turkey

According to Turkish posters on the forum (via), the site has been blocked in Turkey. People trying to reach the site from the country are faced with a single line of text reading: Access to this site has been denied by court order.

Speculation on the site is that the ban relates to this post, from Reuters, noting that Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar had been sentenced to three years in prison for creating an illegal organization for personal gain. Oktar has a history of bringing legal action against his online critics, including forcing the closure of and convincing a Turkish court to block internet access to

Pulped poetry

Ever alert to the dangers of, erm, poetry, the AQA exam board is removing (via) a poem about a knife-carrying violent loner from its anthology for GCSE English and is advising schools to destroy the copies of the anthology.

The poem can be found online here. Read it at your own risk.