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Over-sensitive BBC gets cold feet, withdraws funding for ‘Infidel’ comedy

LAST week a comedy called The Infidel opened in UK cinemas. It tells the story of Muslim family man Mahmud Nasir, played by comedian Omid Djalili, who discovers he was in fact born a Jew called Solly Shimsillewitz.

A still from The Infidel, with Omid Djalili in the lead role

In a light-hearted, low-budget movie written by David Baddiel, Mahmud strives to learn more about his real roots from an alcoholic Jewish cabbie called Lenny while at the same time trying to impress his son’s prospective father-in-law who is a firebrand Muslim preacher.

The BBC, according to this report, had originally been a co-producer of The Infidel, but, says Baddiel, then got cold feet.

The BBC changed character. The BBC became much more wary about doing anything that might be considered to be offensive, trouble making or whatever.

The inspiration for the story came partly from his own experience growing up in a society where his appearance meant many people assumed he was a Muslim. In fact he is from a Jewish background, although he describes himself as an atheist.

Baddiel said he seeks to expose prejudices in both communities by making fun of them, and argues that by focusing on a normal protagonist – a “relaxed” Muslim who swears and enjoys the odd drink – his film is more radical by not setting out to shock or offend.

I am interested in trying to talk about subjects in a comic way that I feel people are too frightened to talk about, but I’m not interested in what I feel is a slightly more adolescent project which is desperately trying to offend.

David Baddiel

Another comedy that opened in the UK at the same time is Four Lions, which satirises a group of hapless Muslims who decide to blow themselves, and others up during the London Marathon. It received mixed reviews when it premiered at the Sundance film festival earlier this year.

Chris Morris, who wrote and directed Four Lions, has generally shied away from interviews, but he said recently that his new film, and much of his previous work, is only considered controversial because the media decides to call it that.

He embarked on Four Lions:

As a reaction to the war of words around the whole issue of terrorism and conflicting ideologies.

16 responses to “Over-sensitive BBC gets cold feet, withdraws funding for ‘Infidel’ comedy”

  1. Broga says:

    The BBC, particularly Radio 4, has many virtues. But when it is under pressure its vices become all the more prominent. And, I suggest, that it has a cowardly attitude to pressure from religious bigots and an enthusiasm for censorship i.e. no secular opinions on Thought for the Day which is contemptible.

    They ought to be pushing the boundaries of free speech; not running scared.

  2. Har Davids says:

    I spoke to some Muslims, who will surely go and see these movies, and I intend to do likewise as soon as they’re released in Holland. Anyone who feels offended by this kind of movie should have his or her head examined.

  3. Jen says:

    The BBC is in fact doing a huge disservice to the cause of peace and understanding by shying away from these projects. Any BBC exec who considers himself an admirer of Sir Hugh Greene would do well to think hard about this current cowardice.

    “Chris Morris…said recently that his new film, and much of his previous work, is only considered controversial because the media decides to call it that.”

    Precisely so.

  4. Angela_K says:

    I have previously suggested to the BBC that they rename to the Bible Broadcasting Corporation due to their deference to religion. Our state broadcaster, the BBC is unashamed in its bias on many matters.

    Next week issue of the Radio Times [prop. the BBC] has a letter from a viewer asking for religious services to be shown on Sunday morning, the BBC have invited comment. I trust we can rise to the challenge and voice our objection to such a proposal. http://www.radiotimes.com/

  5. Michael says:

    “BBC withdraws funding”—A great bit of free PR for a low budget film

  6. Broga says:

    @Jen. I agree. The BBC itself stirs up fear and anxiety and then attempts with extraordinary and cowardly ineptitude to deal with the very problems they have created in the first place. Couldn’t they just “stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood” for once and opt for free thought and free speech with determination and perserverance and see what happens. They might well have a pleasant surprise.

    Much of the fear is caused by hordes of religiosies geared up to write and protest when the button is pressed. Most of them have zilch culture, judgement and learning. What they do have is an ignorant and smug conviction that they are right and their Fantasy Bully Boy god is the one to follow. Trouble is that not knowing what FBBg wants they have to be told by their preachers.

  7. andrea says:

    a friend of mine went to the premier of four lions and said it was very funny. He also said there were a lot of muslims there who clearly enjoyed the film too.

  8. Broga says:

    @andrea. You really do have to wonder how much of the religious outrage reflects the views of those who are supposed to be outraged. Or how much is the representation of so called religious and community leaders who see “We speak for our community and you must consult with us” as a con trick to preserve their power.

  9. William Harwood says:

    Since every Brit, whether godphuqt or sane, who owns a TV, has to pay a licence fee to support the BBC, that surely gives nontheist licence holders the standing to launch a class-action suit against the BBC for its blatant discrimination in denying one-third of the population the right to have their worldview given equal treatment on “Thought for the Day”, and treating a notorious protector of child-rapists as a sacred cow who cannot be criticized. If the BBC’s popephuqt CEO had practised his imposition on Brits of the laws and practices of a foreign nation in Queen Elizabeth the First’s time, he would have been hanged for treason. At the very least he and his pope-manipulated organization should be made to refund the millions of pounds they have received from nontheists under the false pretence of treating all viewers equally.
    NSS, are you reading this?

  10. Non Euclidean says:

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least. The BBC have become one of the biggest bunch of dhimmis in this country IMO.

    I’ve done away with my TV precisely because the ridiculous tv tax, (licence fee) wasn’t worth the very few programmes I actually wanted to watch.

    I’ve seen a few clips of four lions and it does look very funny.

    As an aside, surely all those BBC productions now available to buy on DVD should be free to licence payers, as it is their money that has paid for them to be made. Just a thought.

  11. Broga says:

    I still remember the dictat, with no reason given and despite the detailed evidence from the NSS to admit secular views to Thought for the Day, from that Roman Catholic BBC CEO git: “There will be no change.” Later we hear he has been arse licking Ratzi to honour us with an appearance on the dimwit programme. And I notice that they have plenty of RCs appearing.

    Blatant, in your face, censorship of a rational section of the audience who are forced to pay the licence fee on pain of imprisonment. As for the BBC Trust: waste of time; gutless, useless; hopeless. Free speech – don’t be silly. Only if you say what they decide you should say.

  12. Jen says:

    Broga-

    One very important question to ask the religious and community “leaders” is: Did you actually even watch the program/film? Many times they haven’t. When Scientology went bananas over the German film “Until Nothing Remains,” they hadn’t even seen it.

    (BTW, Anonymous Hamburg was good enough to provide it, with subtitles, so in the interest of the Streisand Effect, here it is:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HlG2zZ-B2E)

  13. NeoWolfe says:

    I am reminded of when Janet Jackson flashed a booby during the superbowl. The FCC went nuts handing out fines trying to defend the vulnerable minds of the children. I am left wondering at which age a child should be reminded what a boob looks like. After all, daddy was the only one who saw it before they did (excluding the party-girl factor). Even if a prepubescent boy is excited by the flash of a less than spectacular breast, is his psyche damaged forever??? Will he fall into the abyss of the catholic clergy, and lick alter boy frankfurters for the rest of his life???? I don’t think so.

    NeoWolfe

  14. Noodlemaz says:

    Depressing.
    Surprising? It probably shouldn’t be.
    Great comments too, folks. Still reeling from this idea that using iPlayer apparently means you should have a licence, too.
    Combined with the DE Act and so on, am starting to feel less removed from, say, Chinese culture of late.

    Look forward to seeing the film.

  15. Broga says:

    @Jen. Thanks.

    These bigots do not need to read, view or listen to condemn. They already know. Most of the fundies who wanted Salman Rushie killed had not read the book. One reason being they couldn’t because being illiterate is a characteristic of fundamentalism.

    Old story but plus ca change etc….. When I was an adolescent and obliged once a week to listen to a local vicar – Divinity lesson – a friend brought in “Why I am not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell. (Tame stuff by standards of today.) He asked the vicar if he had read it. The vicar went ape. “That is a wicked book. I urge you to destroy it.”

    “But have you read it, sir?” asked the boy – this was grammar school and we were courteous.

    “No, I have not read it and with I title like that I do not need to read it.”

    Guess what happened? Every boy in the class couldn’t get their hands on it soon enough.

  16. C.J. Wilton says:

    Should we have expected any less from the Bible Broadcasting Company, a whiff of religious controversy and they run for the hills, I’m surprised it has the nerve to maintain a news service with the amount of jelly that constitutes its spine.