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The Christian fundamentalist lynch mob is at it again

Having tasted victory against Tim du Plessis and Rapport, Christian fundamentalists have set their sights on a fresh target. According to Jacques Liebenberg in Beeld, a campaign is under way to organise a boycott of the film The Golden Compass, due to be released in South Africa on Friday.

According to an anonymous message distributed via email and SMS, the film is about “two children who kill God so that they can do what they want”. Sinisterly, the message goes on to state: “Rapport het geluister. As ons saam staan [sic], sal sterkinekor [sic] ook moet luister.” [Rapport listened. If we work together, Ster-Kinekor will also have to listen].

Whoever originated the campaign has got it wrong, according to Beeld. The Golden Compass is based on the first book in Philip Pullman’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, and is being released by Nu Metro, not Ster-Kinekor. The story is too complicated to narrate here, but it doesn’t include two children who kill God. In fact, as Beeld points out, it doesn’t even deal with organised religion.

Nu Metro spokesperson Heather Vorster, quoted by Beeld, pointed out that the book has won a number of awards, including the Whitbread prize, and it has been praised by the Archbishop of Canterbury for its spirituality and exploration of religious concepts. It is a prescribed work for South African grade eights. But a conservative American religious movement, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has campaigned against the book on the basis that its author is a self-proclaimed atheist. Presumably, the South African campaign took its cue from there.

When Du Plessis gave in to a similar boycott threat last month and fired columnist Deon Maas, critics argued that he had set a precedent that bode ill for freedom of expression. The chickens are now coming home to roost. Intoxicated with success, the same fundamentalist minority that mob-lynched Maas is trying to prevent South Africans from seeing a film they do not like. Judging from Nu Metro’s immediate reaction, it seems unlikely that they will succeed. But what if they step up their campaign, as they did in the case of Rapport, and become a real threat to Nu Metro’s commercial interests? And what’s next — burning books, or assassinating authors and filmmakers?

It is important to bear in mind that Rapport, which has about 1,6-million readers (according to the latest Amps data), succumbed to a campaign that consisted of 540 duplicated emails and 629 SMSs. In other words, a tiny minority dictated what the rest could read. I have never read anything by Pullman, and I don’t care if he advocates atheism or writes about children beheading God. I care about freedom of expression. Let’s hope Nu Metro doesn’t become another Rapport.