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May 08

Surely he mocks the mockers

'Ben Elton says the BBC is "too scared" to poke fun at Islam' said a headline in the Daily Mail in April - as it did, more or less, in more than 60 other newspapers, some as local to Third Way as the Evening Standard and others as far away as the Daily India. After featuring on a Radio 4 news programme it was the most-viewed story on the BBC News website.

According to a London free paper, the comedian had 'launched an attack' on the BBC because of its unwillingness to make gags about Islam. If that had been his intention, to have done it by talking to us in a caff in Shepherd's Bush seems an odd way to have gone about it.

We should perhaps have predicted the response, since the common interpretation of the story ticks some important media boxes: celebrity, criticism of the BBC and the implication of Muslim intolerance all go down well in certain quarters. As James Cary, the interviewer, explained to Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, Elton had been making a point about how 'people of faith' should not be given special treatment or deference. He did claim that BBC bosses were scared of upsetting Muslims - a claim that was rebutted in the most timid of ways - but he also made clear that he didn't believe that Muslims wanted special treatment.

Our biggest fear was that, as the initial carrier of the claim that the BBC mocks vicars more than imams, Third Way would be dismissed as defensive and small-minded, preciously complaining about the persecution of Christians. This worried us not because we disagree that our community is often mocked, but because we believe it often deserves to be.

Christians in the UK have a state church whose representatives have an automatic right to represent them at Westminster. They have considerable influence over the nation's children by running their own schools. Religious broadcasting is mandated by law. This is institutional earthly power, held by people whose scriptures teach powerlessness. We may argue that our established forebears are to blame for these errors of status, but until such a time as Christianity renounces the influence granted it by a historical desire to obtain authority, it must be mocked. Only when scoffed at shall we be forced to embrace what should be the immediate value of practising our faith - its commitment to people other than ourselves.