Saturday, February 04, 2006

Danish Cartoons

I think that a great portion of the liberal media has made serious mistakes in its coverage of the events surrounding the cartoon depictions of Muhammed. It seems to have come to a consensus that printing them was an ugly mistake and therefore limits its criticism of some of the responses we have seen around the Islamic world. Clinton forms a fine example of this trend at its worst.

The cartoons were offensive but were most certainly not offensive for their own sake or out of racism. The editors responsible had seen that artists were, in the wake of the murder of Theo van Gogh, an assault on a lecturer for merely reading the Qu'ran in public and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, too afraid to express themselves freely even in the most innocuous of manners, illustrating a children's book. If any artistic expression that might offend Muslims carries a heavy threat of violence then free speech ends through self-censorship. It was a calculated offence but when we see British extremists demonstrating with placards such as the one in the picture accompanying this Telegraph article it highlights views which must be confronted by a free society.

This blog from Thabet is a fine summary of the response of Muslim blogs to this issue. Although they do condemn the violent response their analysis is severely flawed.

First, the idea that this is not a debate about free speech because no one has called for government censorship is categorically wrong. A government does not have to censor anything for free speech to die if the threat of violence renders the costs to free speech unacceptably high. The threat of violence allows unpleasant minorities to prevent a majority freely expressing themselves; this is the "Muslim power" which rightly worries secular Westerners. Free expression is exactly what Europeans should be defending as the state is not the only threat to our ability to contest ideas and opinions freely.

Secondly, the conclusion that this is the media causing troubles for Muslims that it would not for more powerful groups. This doesn't stand up to twenty minutes with Family Guy, the Life of Brian, the Last Temptation of Christ, South Park, Richard Dawkins or countless others who ridicule Christianity. Equally, there are countless cartoons and written pieces mocking the royals published every year in the UK; granted they aren't as overtly sexual as one of these bloggers would like but they are strong nonetheless.


oliverjlse said...

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person said...

I really was upset about the cartoons. Why make such cartoons when they are infactual and false?

If people really read about the prophet peace be upon him they would realise he was a mercy to mankind.

Moreover, as Muslims we aren't allowed to draw pictures of Prophets, furthermore, we aren't meant to disrespect someone elses religion. We respect all prophets, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, so why not respect our dear Prophet?

Matthew Sinclair said...

The freedom to say things that are unpleasant and untrue protects our ability to say things that unpleasant to many ears but true. As the truth is often difficult to discern it is important that everyone feel free to put forward their opinion without fear of violence.

Chris Palmer said...

"I really was upset about the cartoons. Why make such cartoons when they are infactual and false?" - Muslim

So you're saying that no Muslims have ever used explosives to blow others up - as depicted in one cartoon. Deary me.

Anonymous said...

We have in Britain a right to free speech. That right is limited already by things like libel and hate laws. It doens't, however, mean that anyone has a right not to be offended, since almost everything offends someone, and a good deal of cartoons serve make their point by offending someone. Muslims, just like everbody else, do not have a right to censure any media simply because it offends them.

They do, however, like everybody else, have a right to be offended by content that offends them, to critise the choice of whoever publishes such content, and to protest lawfully however they choose (consumer boycott, lobbying their government etc.) when such things are published, the same way Catholics might criticise a newspaper's choice to publish an article advocating euthanasia. Surely the choice to publish such an article lies entirely with the publisher, since the content, though offensive to many people, is protected by free speech. But at the same time, the protests of those who disagree are also free speech, and they are right to protest things that offend them.

There should be no surprise that these cartoons offend all Muslims, not simply those who don't believe in free speech. By publishing pictures of Mohammad, Jyllends Posten chose to ignore their religious beliefs, and by depiction of Muhammad as a terrorist, the cartoon implies that all Muslims are followers of a terrorist.

Editors routinely choose not to publish cartoons on the grounds that they are distasteful, offensive, and/or racist,, regardless of their political content or merit. Since the cartoons in question serve no purpose other than to 'draw attention' to Salman Rushdie's troubles (Salman is the Indian-born British Essayist. Salmon is a type of fish.), which are a. well-known and b. the fault of a minority, at the expense of Muslims worwide, it is perfectly reasonable that Muslims would unite in critising the decision to publish those cartoons as a poor one. One whose benefits are nothing in comparison with the harm and hurt caused.

Moreover, even if the problem of extremists threatening reporters and writers was worthy of more international attention, doing so at the expense of Muslims worldwide, and in a manner that is likely to cause more extremism that it discourages, is irresponsible and immoral.

Ultimately, the biggest mistake is to use the outcry from peaceful muslims, in Britain and elsewhere, as evidence of a problem with the way Muslims in general respond to press criticism, since it is completely legitimate for them to be offended at the editorial choices of Jyllends Posten and to respond peacefully. The actions of the violent minority that were provoked by Jyllends Posten are equally reprehensible.

Also, the attidude of many commentators on the subject has contained the following reasoning : "Cartoon often offend all sorts of people, and are protected by free speech. Therefore Jyllends Posten are right and the Muslim's complaining should shut-up and learn the value of free-speech". This logic, as I have shown above, is fallacious, since it ignores the legitimate grievances of those who were offended, and their right to air such grievances. I am one such person.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Anonymous, whoever you are,

You are right in a way but have completely missed the point. Had Muslims protested peacefully at the printing of these cartoons arguing that they were offensive and should not be used no one would have a problem. It would still suggest that those protesting do not understand the sacrifices required in a free society but it would be a page 5 news story.

The problem is that Muslims haven't done this. They have done four things:

1) Burn embassies and riot (several have been killed).

2) Directly threaten death to editors and cartoonists.

3) Stage protests calling for violence in a much wider sense (take a look at the placards the London protestors are carrying).

4) Call for direct government censorship.

The first three of these actions are the most troubling because if violence, or the threat of violence, is used to attempt to shut down free speech then the fundamental values of a free society are under attack.

The fourth is less of a problem as Western Governments have stood firm but indicates a lack of appreciation for freedom and what it means.

The cartoons weren't published to draw attention to Salman Rushdie's plight (apologies for the typo). They were published to draw attention to self-censorship and challenge the threat to freedom.

Most of what you say would be correct were Muslims restricting themselves to legitimate protests. The problem is that a great many are either behaving violently or threatening violence.

Anonymous said...

The cartoons were very informative and refreshing and innovative. Muslims have no right to lecture anyone. We live in a free and liberal world where everyone has the right to express oneself. And what worng the cartoons have shown? Aren't you muslims blowing up the innocent people in India, Israel, Russia and elsewhere????
I praise the cartoonist and the newspaper. They have done a great job. Keep it up.