Downing Street has dismissed its Islamophobia adviser over his stance regarding the removal, of what some critics have called, a “blasphemous film”.
Crowds gathered in Bradford, Bolton, Birmingham, Sheffield and Stratford, east London, over the last week following the release of ‘The Lady of Heaven’, which both Cineworld and Showcase have since decided to pull from their theatres.
In a letter from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities on Saturday, Imam Qari Asim was informed that he has been removed from his role as deputy chair of the Government’s anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group with immediate effect.
Explaining the Government’s decision, the letter read: “Your recent support for a campaign to limit free expression - a campaign which has itself encouraged communal tensions - means it is no longer appropriate for you to continue your work with Government in roles designed to promote community harmony.
“You have encouraged an ongoing campaign to prevent cinemas screening the film ‘Lady of Heaven’, a clear effort to restrict artistic expression, and the campaign you have supported has led to street protests which have fomented religious hatred.”
The letter then goes on to quote comments made by Mr Asim on Facebook. In one post, dated June 6, he said Imams across the UK have been liasing with cinemas, and that “in some places we have been successful and those cinemas will no longer be showing the movie”.
Although he did claim the film in question is “derogatory” towards the faith, he did add that freedom of speech is important and all citizens should be able to exercise their freedoms within the law.
“Resolving the situation, as you made clear, meant cancelling screenings.
“You wrote that ‘in some places we have been successful and those cinemas will no longer be showing the movie’. Your support for further action was made clear. You advertised ‘a protest that has been organised in Leeds’ and provided details of its timing and location.
“This clear involvement in a campaign to limit free expression is incompatible with the role of a government adviser,” the letter from the Government concludes.
“Your actions are incompatible with the role of a government adviser on anti-Muslim hatred.”
The film tells the story of Lady Fatima, a daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Critics have accused the movie of depicting religious history inaccurately and negatively portraying Islamic characters, while some teachings believe visual depictions of certain Islamic figures should be prohibited.
In one video of the protests outside Stratford’s Vue cinema, one person is heard saying: “Those who are wondering what is wrong with this film, it is a blasphemous film and it has also insulted black people. How have they insulted the BAME community?
“They have shown portrayed black people as filthy criminals and this film will be shown in Vue cinema. We want this film to be taken down immediately. Vue cinema have ignored.”