BURNLEY MP Gordon Birtwistle has called for a fellow Lib Dem parliamentary candidate to be de-selected and his membership cancelled after he posted a controversial cartoon of Jesus and the Muslim prophet Muhammad on Twitter.
Maajid Nawaz, who has been selected to fight the London seat of Hampstead and Kilburn at the next General Election, is also the chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank.
The cartoon has been blasted as blasphemous by the Islamic community and Mr Nawaz has reportedly also received death threats since he posted the image.
It is believed to have originated on a website featuring a comic strip dealing in religious satire.
In a statement, Mr Nawaz said he posted the image as he supported the principle of freedom of speech and he wasn't offended by it. But Mr Birtwistle has called for him to be kicked out of the party after he was approached by several of his constituents, who had concerns about the cartoon.
He said: "I’m in favour of people having free speech, but if they decide that free speech allows them to abuse other people and other communities when they’re a Lib Dem candidate, it then puts me in the same team as them, and I don’t want that person in my team. To me, that’s not acceptable from a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has stood by Mr Nawaz, and refused to drop him as a candidate. In a statement issued by Mr Nawaz and fellow Liberal Democrat Mohammed Shafiq, who had backed a petition for Mr Nawaz to be removed, it said: “We recognise that, when it comes to this question, some Muslims of various persuasions may take different views.
“However, we also recognise that there are many Muslims who have taken offence, and we assert that images of the spiritual leaders of all religions should be deemed to be respectful.
“We also respect the freedom of every member of the Liberal Democrats on either side of this debate who feels offended by tone or language to make representations to the Liberal Democrats as is their democratic right.”
"We are both Liberals and support the principle of freedom of speech. But we also understand the importance of respect for others’ views and of moderation of language."