Why shouldn’t Louis Smith take the piss out of Islam?

Topknotted pommel-horse enthusiast Louis Smith has irked the Twitterati and the governing body of British gymnastics. No, not with his atrocious haircut; the Rio 2016 silver medallist filmed himself and fellow gymnast Luke Carson ‘mocking Islam’ at a friend’s wedding. The video was subsequently obtained by the Sun and now the internet has gone wild, calling for Louis to be stripped of his MBE.

In the footage, a clearly inebriated Smith can be seen filming himself and his even more whammed mate yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ while performing a mock Islamic prayer. He then makes some reference to 60 virgins – it’s actually 72 maids that jihadi maniacs are promised when they get to Jannah, but that’s beside the point. Moments later in the video, a female wedding guest admonishes the pair, telling them they’re taking the piss.

Well, obviously they are! And when did taking the piss become a crime? In a free society people should be allowed to ridicule ideas; in fact, that is arguably the most important aspect of a free society. Dictators fear the sound of laughter because it means someone somewhere is going off script.

Islam is a religion, a belief system – one that people have every right to believe in and practice, but also every right to criticise and ridicule. The same is true of Christianity, which has been roundly mocked in the West for years. That mocking, incidentally, frequently wins praise from the same sections of society now condemning Smith for his drunken ‘Islamophobic’ antics.

This inebriated escapade is by no means satire at its finest. It’s a couple of drunken mates having a laugh after a wedding. But I ask you: would Smith have had to issue a grovelling apology if he had been to a tarts and vicars party? Or if, using his considerable strength as a gymnast, he had clambered on to a cross and done an impression of Jesus? And would two Muslims filming themselves in fits of hysterics while saying the Lord’s Prayer receive such opprobrium?

The most concerning part of this story is not the video but the quote from a security expert, who said: ‘Mocking religion is pretty foolish anyway. In the case of Islam, it can also be quite a risky thing to do.’ That was followed up by Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadan Foundation, who said: ‘Our faith is not to be mocked, it is to be celebrated.’ Sorry, Mr Shafiq – you are free to celebrate your faith to your heart’s content, and drunken Olympians are free to take the piss out of it. Or they should be.

That security expert is right, actually: mocking Islam is a risky thing to do these days. And that’s a dire indictment of the censorious situation we’ve allowed ourselves to get into. I even thought twice before submitting this piece defending Smith, such is the climate of fear around offending the religion of peace.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in London.

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