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.

National Identity

Our Chancellor of the Exchequer has been trying to convince us all of our Britishness recently:

I think that we can do a little better than vague aspirations to principles that can hardly be claimed as our own. Liberty, fairness and responsibility are universal ideals. My opinion is that we can draw upon an older tradition to find another ideal for Britain. Shakespeare offers the following (ignore references to Englishness, he is clearly referring to the entire island nation):

"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their earth"

This is similar in nature to the image of the Shire presented by Tolkein. While the Shire is not an island it functions like one; as a home secure from the troubles and travails of the wider world and a base from which adventures are launched. This implies a role for the UK as a sanctuary. That the greatest writer in English and the author of the UK's favourite novel have created such similar images founded upon the geographical reality of the UK suggests that this view is present in the national consciousness and need not be created from the top down. This is also an inclusive identity as it suggests that accepting those requiring the protection of the island nation should be welcomed as part of our historical purpose.

As to whether we need a national identity. Identity and a feeling of common purpose are the main means for societies to overcome group sensitivities and encourage the small sacrifices which allow for common goods such as free speech and transfer payments.

A New Blog...

This blog is named for the Beaver (LSE student newspaper) column I ran in my first and second years but won't have the comic air of that particular wonder of journalism. It will be used as a space for my rantings in the hope that they will no longer solely be the lot of my long suffering friends. Hopefully others may find them of value.