UK Theaters Pull a Shiite Film because Sunnis Deem It Heretical

June 14, 2022 | Stephen Daisley
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Last week, the British company Cineworld announced that it would cease screening The Lady of Heaven, a movie written by a Kuwaiti Shiite cleric that tells the story of Mohammad’s daughter. The film sparked protests from Sunni Muslims, in whose eyes its plot is heretical. Stephen Daisley examines the implications of such successful sectarian censorship for the UK, and for the West more generally:

The mobs succeeded by deploying this heckler’s veto and appropriating the language of equality and human rights. [The British Muslim website] 5Pillars describes The Lady of Heaven as a “sectarian hate film.” A Bradford imam warned of its “creating hate towards our faith.” Protestors could be seen holding placards that read: “Cineworld promotes hate.” When the frame is religious censorship, liberals instinctively take the side of the artist over the enforcer of orthodoxy, but when the frame is “hate,” liberals go wobbly and wonder if the censors are the victims and the targets of their censorship the real bigots. Islamic reactionaries have become adept at turning our liberalism against us.

Liberals of stauncher stomach will brusquely dismiss the framing of “hate.” This is an assault on free speech and artistic expression, they will say. No one has the right not to be offended. Britain is a liberal country, and Muslims who object to artistic interpretations of Islamic history and teaching will just have to practice tolerance and respect pluralism. If you don’t like a film’s content, don’t go see it.

[But] progressives who are content for trans activists to get . . . speakers and books cancelled can hardly cavil when Sunni Muslims get a Sunni-critical film cancelled. Conservatives aren’t well-placed to dissent either. British mosques are 96-percent Sunni, and the interpretation of Islam contained in The Lady of Heaven is gravely immoral in Sunni orthodoxy. Didn’t the protesters do exactly what the post-liberal right counsels: prize cohesion over autonomy by discouraging vice? After all, what is the Islamic principle of hisbah—“enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong”—but a Quranic spin on common-good conservatism?

Liberalism may fit awkwardly with a multicultural society, but post-liberalism is incompatible. . . . At best, [the combination is] a recipe for resentment and sectarianism and, at worst, for a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes. Imperfect liberalism stands a better chance of regulating multiculturalism because it has been doing so for some time.

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