Follow us:

5m Price of filling typical family car with petrol hits £100
2h Zelensky: Fate of Donbas being decided in battle for Severodonetsk
2h Driver who crashed into crowds in Berlin ‘may have been mentally ill’
44m Transfer news LIVE: Tottenham identify Bastoni alternative
1h FTSE 100 Live: Brent crude at post-invasion peak, ECB rates in focus
3h Harry’s libel claim against publisher over Home Office case in court

These film protests are worryingly effective censorship

Daniel Hambury
08 June 2022

he subtitle to the controversial film The Lady of Heaven is “the untold story” and it looks as though it’s going to remain untold, at least in Britain, now that Cineworld has pulled the film out of concern for the safety of its staff.

So here we go again. Shades of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, which I still haven’t got round to reading, and the French cartoons of Muhammad.

Both occasioned deaths on the part of those involved; Rushdie spent years in hiding, translators of the book were murdered. Same with the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who depicted Muhammad offensively.

The stakes aren’t so high now. The protesters in Bradford — the new City of Culture — are merely declaring “we have a right not to be insulted”. But it was fears for the safety of staff that led the cinema chain to pull the film. The thing is, the film, by all accounts, is rubbish.

It featured at Cannes, where they are more robust about these things, and got two stars from The Guardian, whose review notes its “suffocating sense of orthodoxy”. The New York Times review notes the “shoddy script and an overwhelming reliance on cliché”.

It depicts the daughter of Muhammad veiled, focusing on her husband, Ali. It was written very much from a Muslim perspective. A sane response to the film would be to let it sink without trace.

There are two obvious points here. One is that we should be sensitive to the religious feelings of others. I am a Catholic and I have yet to bring myself to watch that undoubted comic masterpiece The Life of Brian, though I can quote from it with the best.

But where we should be troubled is in the effective censorship of even bad films because of the threat of violence. It’s not just bad art that is affected; as the historian Tom Holland makes clear, even rational academic investigation into the origin stories of Islam are circumscribed at every turn.

It is dangerous to make truthful observations about the life of Muhammad. The Lady of Heaven is a bad film but it raises important questions of principle about our ability in a free society to discuss Islam.

The film will probably do terrifically well on streaming. The irony.

Register for free to continue reading

Sign up for exclusive newsletters, comment on stories, enter competitions and attend events.

Please enter a valid emailPlease enter a valid email
You must be at least 18 years old to create an account
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Opt-out policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking Sign up you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our and .

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.