Jesus & Mo comic: Why is CafePress imposing Pakistani blasphemy law on creators in the UK?

I’ve always been a great believer in the utility of satire in the war against bad ideas. There is something so uniquely powerful about eviscerating dogmas with a chuckle. This is far mightier than any knife, gun or bomb.

Whilst many satirists and activists in recent years have enjoyed the relatively risk-free act of mocking Donald Trump or sticking it to the ‘Nazis’, there are very few people brave enough to poke the hornets nest of Islamic fanaticism. In reality, the front line in today’s resistance to real and present fascism is comprised of Muslim dissidents, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims willing to vocalise their concerns with fundamentalist Islam.

The ‘Jesus & Mo’ online comic strip is very much a piece of that larger picture of tackling bad ideas. The recurring format of the comic features the characters of ‘Jesus & Mo’ waxing philosophical about religion, human rights and topical issues.

The content is rarely anything other than biting, funny and well-considered—distinguishing itself from any base attempts to merely hate, shock or provoke.

Below is a typical example of what you can expect from the ‘Jesus & Mo’ comic strip:

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But as we should all know by now, we have a very real problem when it comes to depictions of one specific historical figure and the founder of a particular monotheism. Images of Islam’s prophet Muhammad are forbidden within a conservative and common understanding of Islam, and as a result of this esoteric dogma, much blood has been spilled and many lives have been taken. Put bluntly, there is no greater summoning device for murderous fascism than a cartoon image of Muhammad.

This not only makes the ‘Jesus & Mo’ cartoon especially brave, but above all, utterly necessary.

The creator of the comic strip had also created a CafePress shop to sell ‘Jesus & Mo’ related merchandise (mugs, shirts etc). However, upon noticing that the shop had been closed, they reached out to CafePress for an explanation. They received the following words:

I’m sorry, however your content was removed in 2019 in response to a notice we received from the government of Pakistan. Your images will remain blocked

It appears CafePress is upholding complaints of blasphemy from the Pakistani government in the direction of creators based in the UK.

Why is an online shop whose headquarters can be found in Louisville, Kentucky doing the bidding of Islamic theocracy on behalf of Pakistan? To shut down creators in the UK?

A quick search of CafePress will reveal humorous depictions of Jesus, Moses as well as items celebrating the hit comedy ‘The Book Of Mormon’—which is a blistering send-up of the Mormon faith. How seriously do you think CafePress would take complaints from the Vatican or The church of Latter-Day Saints over these items? Not very, I imagine.

We will no doubt be told of the desire not to cause ‘offense’ or promote ‘hateful’ imagery. But the truth is, the real concern is the likelihood of genuine acts of hate that will be carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in response to these perceived slights. Well, fair enough. But please let’s just be honest about that fact.

Evolutionary biologist and author Jerry Coyne is a smart man, so is therefore a big fan of Jesus & Mo—describing it as “…a philosophical confrère”. Jerry has made a routine of reposting the daily cartoons to his website. At some point he was notified that WordPress, his website provider, would be blocking such posts in Pakistan for “hurting the sentiments of many Muslims,”.

A while back, I also blogged about critics of Islam receiving legal warnings from Twitter on behalf of Pakistan. I have since received a few myself, proudly.

Pakistan has one of the worst records when it comes to human rights abuses where women, gay people and religious minorities are concerned–and to add insult to injury, Western corporations are now upholding their demands.

The latest ‘Jesus & Mo’ cartoon lampoons the situation in typically sardonic fashion:

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The accompanying text reads:

As Jesus reports, after 15 years of selling J&M merchandise, CafePress got a notice from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority telling them to take down all store items featuring images of Mo. We never made a lot of money from the CafePress store (a 2-figure sum paid out every year or two), but it was nice to offer t-shirts, mugs etc to people who wanted them. Will let you know if we find an suitable alternative outlet who won’t buckle at the first hint of protest from a censorious government.

In the meantime, if you’d like to support the comic by other means, please consider becoming a Patron. If you can spare a dollar or two a month, it really helps to keep us going

Of course “they are a private company and can do what they want” is the mantra trotted out by those incapable of having a thought more interesting than a standard terms of service. Well, yes. But we as consumers can vocalise our repulsion at corporate entities upholding the irrational sensitivities of one of the world’s chief human rights abusers.

You can become a Patreon supporter of Jesus and Mo here.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.

5 comments

  • My experience of your views on satire were that you only believe it’s ok to satirise people or ideas you personally dislike. Remember Maryam Namazie? You were very upset, quite vocally in fact, when I caricatured her for Vive Charlie!

    • I’d love you to point to something demonstrating this ‘very upset’ episode of mine. But you won’t. I think it’s “ok” to satarise whatever you want. Knock yourself out. You seem to have confused thinking something is “ok” to satarise with not thinking it’s any good.

  • I’m surprised they’re still permitted to use Patreon.

  • Bikinis not Burkas

    The best way to satirize Islam is to publish their stupid thoughts that are published in their own documents, eg:-

    https://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Science/index.htm

  • There are many example of the use of Muhammed’s image in artwork from the Muslim world historically. Many of the images are very beautiful, and can be found with an online search. This has only become a problem since the Wahhabi extremists made their pact with the Saudi Arabian monarchy (1912) to enable the Saud king to hold on to power. Then the Sunni extremists exported that extremism to other parts of the Muslim world via madrasas (schools). They were particularly successful in setting up their madrassas in Pakistan, and therefore those they educated have become a strong voice in government there.

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