Key political figures have waded in to support freedom of expression after a British cinema chain dropped the showing of a film nationwide after its subject matter prompted protests from members of the Muslim community.
Dame Sara Khan, independent adviser to the government on social cohesion and resilience, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, and Baroness Fox of Buckley have all warned about the consequences of the cinema chain Cineworld pulling “The Lady of Heaven” from their sites.
Bolton Cineworld was the first outlet to say it would no longer be taking bookings for “The Lady of Heaven” following an outcry from some Muslims in the northwest England town.
On Saturday, a crowd of Muslim men protested outside against the screening of the film, complaining that the film “negatively depicts” Islamic religious figures. Protests have also been filmed outside Vue cinemas in Croydon and Birmingham.
The $15 million film, which was written by the Muslim Sheikh Yasser al-Habib, is a tale about the “heart-wrenching journey of Lady Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad. Separated by 1400 years, an Iraqi child, in the midst of a war-torn country, learns the importance and power of patience,” according to the film’s website.
A spokesperson from Cineworld, which owns Vue Cinemas, told The Epoch Times on Tuesday that: “Due to recent incidents related to screenings of ‘The Lady of Heaven,’ we have made the decision to cancel upcoming screenings of the film nationwide to ensure the safety of our staff and customers.”
Writing for The Telegraph on Thursday in an article called “Religious mobs are a threat to British democracy,” Khan criticised politicians’ failure to stand up to protests.
Khan was appointed by the Home Secretary to lead the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) in January 2018. In March this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed Khan as the government’s independent adviser for social cohesion and resilience as part of a government action to tackle extremism in the community.
“Thirty-four years on from the Salman Rushdie affair, when Muslim authorities decried his novel, The Satanic Verses, as blasphemous, it is clear that religious sensibility can still provoke fear, paralysis, and too often an unwillingness to defend artistic liberty and wider freedom of expression,” said Khan, who is currently conducting a review and recently launched a call for evidence on the subject.
“It’s easy to criticise Cineworld for its limp response, but questions must be asked over what support it received from local and central government, MPs, and even the police. Despite claims that the protests were peaceful, video evidence appears to show a hate-speech mob made up of dozens of Muslim men chanting sectarian anti-Shia slurs through megaphones,” she added.
On Wednesday, Javid told Talk TV that he was “very concerned about the growing cancel culture” in the UK. “There’s people out there who think they have a right not to be offended and of course, no one has that right,” he said.
“We don’t have blasphemy laws. That would be a dangerous road to go down,” he added.
Claire Fox, who sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Fox of Buckley, also took to Twitter to denounce the Cineworld’s decision to pull the film.
“Creep of extra-parliamentary blasphemy law censoring film. Same ‘I Find that Offensive’ cancel culture arguments now being used far beyond campus activism. Disastrous for the arts, dangerous for free speech, a lesson to those who argue identity politics are no threat to democracy,” she wrote.