Those cartoons: hypocrisy and inconsistency

by Chris Bertram on February 2, 2006

I’m puzzled by some of the reaction to the Jyllands-Posten affair. In free speech debates over the last few years I’ve often encountered so-called libertarians who argue that speech ought to be absolutely protected from state interference but that private individuals may legitimately do what they like when it comes to sacking people whose views they disagree with or boycotting products. That isn’t the way I see things, but it is hard to see how someone running that line can object to a private company sacking an editor for reprinting the cartoons or to Muslims boycotting Danish goods in protest. Of course, not everyone takes the view that the state should keep out of speech. Norman Geras, for example, recently linked (I can only assume approvingly) to a report of a court decision in France which condemned the publisher of Le Monde for “racist defamation” against the Jewish people, an article that goes on to condemn the Western media quite generally for anti-semitic representations of Israel, including in cartoons depicting Ariel Sharon and described the court decision as “a major landmark”. Yesterday Geras linked to a piece approving of France Soir’s action, his blog headine being France Soir takes a stand . I take it, then, that Geras would disapprove of any similar court decision against France Soir. No doubt those wishing to distinguish the cases would claim that cartoons of Sharon eating babies are racist but those depicting Muslims as ignorant towel-heads and suicide bombers are merely engaged in the legitimate criticism of ideas: the images may looke like they come from Julius Streicher but the motive comes from Voltaire … or something like that.

So what does Chris think, you ask? Well I was mildly heartened by the recent defeat of the UK government’s proposed law on religious hatred. Only mildly though, because it is obvious that racists in the West (such as the BNP in Britain) are using “Muslim” as a code under which to attack minorities in ways that don’t fall foul of laws against the promotion of racial hatred. When the assorted pundits and TV comedians who complained about government plans to outlaw satire begin to take that seriously, I’ll start to take them seriously. But I’d certainly support a law that could reliably catch the racists but spare the satirists, The Satanic Verses, Jerry Springer the Opera &c. That is, I think I’m in pretty much the same space as Daniel in comments to a post over at the excellent Blood and Treasure .

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1

abb1 02.02.06 at 5:45 am

I’m curious of what the so-called libertarians have to say about Ms. Sheehan being kicked out of the US Capitol building and arrested for wearing a wrong t-shirt.

2

Natalie Solent 02.02.06 at 5:49 am

There are two senses of the word “objection” here. One can object to the sacking of the editor of France-Soir on the grounds that it was a cowardly climbdown after what had been an admirable stand for free speech, while still conceding the right of the owner to sack him.

Likewise Muslims have the right to boycott Danish goods, and we have the right to pile the supermarket trolley high with Danish bacon in support.

All these things are only permutations of the familiar “I don’t like what you say (or do) but I support your right to say (or do) it.”

The other distinction that has to be borne in mind is that the risk that a newspaper or magazine that publishes these cartoons will be subject to violent attack by a Muslim is far higher than the risk that someone will carry out a violent attack in support of the Danish side in this controversy are low.

As Bernard Levin pointed out, it is those whose free speech is actually being attacked whose free speech rights must be defended.

3

Brendan 02.02.06 at 5:56 am

Context-free discussion of these matters just confuses everyone and makes everything more complex and opaque. For example. The current furore about the (allegedly) anti-Muslim ‘cartoons’ has to be considered in a context in which Muslims (and let’s be honest here, by Muslims we tend to mean dark skinned Muslims. When the BNP rant about Muslims they ain’t talking about Richard Thompson) are a minority, in which they have often been racially abused, in which there are higher than average levels of unemployment and other social problems.

I’m not a Christian, and I suspect few of the readers here are, but try to imagine a situation in which scurrilous anti-Christian cartoons were being published throughout the Arabic world, cartoons in which Jesus, the Pope and other Christian figures were being mocked…..would the likes of Geras rush to defend this publication on the grounds of freedom of speech quite so quickly, do we think?

And how do we think that the Christian minorities in these countries would feel about these things?

4

Backword Dave 02.02.06 at 5:58 am

Hmmm. On “using … as a code under which to attack minorities in ways that don’t fall foul of laws against the promotion of racial hatred.” Ian Paisley was one of the protestors against the Bill, as he is (in my definition and understanding of the term anyway) a racist and has been doing just that for years. I don’t think there’s any way to stop him either that’s compatible with a free society — one that I’d like to live in, anyway.

Anyway, we’re talking about *cartoons*, FFS (or “caricatures” if you’re searching google.fr for the images). Cartoonists can draw silly things or have off days or blind spots or prejudices like the rest of us. And here’s my blind spot: it’s a great shame that “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” isn’t in the holy book of either the flag-burners or the good Professor. Not that it’s being in the Rev Paisley’s seems to help at all.

5

Chris Bertram 02.02.06 at 6:00 am

try to imagine a situation in which scurrilous anti-Christian cartoons were being published throughout the Arabic world, cartoons in which Jesus, the Pope and other Christian figures were being mocked…

For all I know there are such cartoons. In any case there _are_ many disgustingly anti-semitic cartoons in the Arab press and these are rightly deplored.

6

Natalie Solent 02.02.06 at 6:02 am

On Cindy Sheehan, f they’d asked me, I’d have said, “It’s only a T-shirt. But any yelling, and you’re out.”

7

Backword Dave 02.02.06 at 6:08 am

Brendan: there are lots of examples where “Jesus, the Pope and other Christian figures” are mocked. Jerry Springer: the Opera is one — in the minds of many Christians. (It doesn’t look like mockery to me; but we seem to have to agree there’s an eye-of-the-beholder criterion at work.) Ian Paisley, whom I mentioned earlier, frequently says offensive things about the Pope. The sum total of my reaction is: “Big deal. He’s a bigot.”

I don’t understand the fuss — foreigners say nasty things about us. So what? That’s what foreigners are *for*.

8

Ray 02.02.06 at 6:09 am

The risks that someone will carry out an attack on Muslims in defence of the Danish side is not actually that low. There are attacks motivated by race and religion going on all the time.

9

abb1 02.02.06 at 6:11 am

As Bernard Levin pointed out, it is those whose free speech is actually being attacked whose free speech rights must be defended.

From the two examples given it seems that it’s the anti-Sharon speech that’s being attacked – in the conventional sense, that is; being under attack by the government, being censored. So, I’m afraid you got it backwards there, Natalie.

10

Natalie Solent 02.02.06 at 6:19 am

Brendan: I can’t speak for Norman Geras, but I can for myself. I, unlike him, am a Christian. Scurrilous anti-Christian art and theatre is being published throughout the Western world. My attitude is that the people who do this are generally stunted little poseurs who flaunt their “transgressiveness” but are first under the table when there is the slightest risk of unpopularity among those whose opinion they value, let alone actual risk to life and limb –
and of course they have the right to be this way. The God-given right.

BTW, general apologies for the the typos / redundant duplications in both my earlier posts. Preview is not my friend today.

11

Fergal 02.02.06 at 6:27 am

In any case there are many disgustingly anti-semitic cartoons in the Arab press

A small sample:

http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/ArabCartoons.htm

12

Ginger Yellow 02.02.06 at 6:28 am

I can understand concern about religion being used as a proxy for racism, but a religious hatred bill makes no sense to me. Surely if you’re going to legislate for that the way to do it is to amend the racial hatred bill to incorporate proxy racism. Yes there will be grey areas, but certainly fewer than in a dedicated bill, and you don’t run the risk of criminalising criticism of ideas.

13

Natalie Solent 02.02.06 at 6:29 am

Abb1, …and French newspapers should not only have the right to publish legitimate attacks on Israeli politicians without being censored but also the right to publish disgusting anti-Semitic hate-propaganda, of course.

I’m here as token libertarian, not on behalf of Mr Geras.

14

Tuff Ghost 02.02.06 at 6:29 am

I don’t think any libertarians object to an economic boycott of Denmark (hence the various “Buy Danish” campaigns), nonsensical as it is, given that it doesn’t actually target the offender (the newspaper).

However, support for the boycott was bolstered by blatant falsehoods: Extra cartoons were shown in the Islamic world, one showing Muhammed as a pig. These cartoons were never published by Jyllands-Posten. Both the BBC and SBS (Australian broadcaster) ran reports on the story which included the other cartoons.

Brendan suggests that Geras et al wouldn’t be as quick to defend free speech in the Arab world, with regards to anti-Christian and Anti-semitic cartoons. Yes, and? Doubtless much of the support for the cartoons is coming from certain factions who just plain don’t like Islam (the usual suspects: Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin) but that doesn’t mean they’re not right in this particular instance.

I don’t think that any demarcation between “free speech” and “free speech used against minorities with an implied racist subtext” is at all viable. The principle is far more important than the example in question.

15

abb1 02.02.06 at 6:34 am

French newspapers should not only have the right to publish legitimate attacks on Israeli politicians without being censored but also the right to publish disgusting anti-Semitic hate-propaganda, of course.

Is there no line to cross at all – can they openly advocate violence against minorities or women, for example?

16

Chris Bertram 02.02.06 at 6:38 am

I don’t think that any demarcation between “free speech” and “free speech used against minorities with an implied racist subtext” is at all viable. The principle is far more important than the example in question.

The trouble with this comment is that it isn’t at all clear what “the principle” is. So, for example, if “the principle” is whatever is captured by the First Amendment to the US Constitution it fails entirely to deal with threats to expression from private power or public opinion (cf. J.S. Mill). If “the principle” is understood in a way that attaches importance to the equal right of all citizens to have voice, it may support limitations on political campaign funding and on concentrated media ownership. If it is taken in the American way, it won’t. etc etc etc.

17

bad Jim 02.02.06 at 6:41 am

The American press is so far conspicuous by its absence in this affair. The Washington Post has the story online, but it’s unclear that it appeared in the paper.

The cartoons, at least judging by the Wikipedia account, don’t strike me as overtly racist (whatever that might mean in this context). The one with the fuse in the turban seems the most offensive, but, given the response it’s gotten, it’s nearly prophetic.

Many emphasize the artists’ fear of the reaction to be expected to the blasphemy inherent in any depiction of the Messenger. That the reaction would be intemperate, and at least nominally violent, was to be expected from Salman Rushdie’s experience.

We need to stand up for blasphemy. It’s a part of our heritage of which almost all of us can be proud. If you can’t laugh at your religion, you haven’t reached the Enlightenment threshold of the modern world, and you are not entitled to visit beaches where the girls go topless or operate machines whose workings are at some level of detail fundamentally uncertain.

We should act as though we live in the world we’d like to inhabit, and we can’t bring it into existence if we don’t.

18

Ray 02.02.06 at 6:44 am

Just to be clear, bad jim, you’re saying that a substantial number of Christians in England and the US have not reached the Enlightenment, right?

19

dp 02.02.06 at 6:52 am

The correlation of states with a controlled press and states objecting to the cartoons is interesting. Partly because I wonder if the reaction of the West would be different if the state happened to be, for example, China.

20

abb1 02.02.06 at 6:56 am

BTW, most of the cartoons from Fergal’s link don’t look racist either:

Above, Ariel Sharon is shown sitting in a large cup overflowing with blood. This cartoon, also by Omayya Joha, appeared in Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, the Palestinian Authority’s official daily newspaper, on April 22, 2003.

Yeah, so? What’s your problem here, Fergal?

A few of them are objectionable indeed, but if these are the worst found in the Muslim press – I’m pleasantly surprised.

21

bad Jim 02.02.06 at 6:56 am

I think I just walked into a knife fight with my carefully baked eclair.

The point, I think, is that we should defend blasphemy as fearlessly as we cherish humor and relish pornography.

22

Brendan 02.02.06 at 6:57 am

‘Brendan: I can’t speak for Norman Geras, but I can for myself. I, unlike him, am a Christian. Scurrilous anti-Christian art and theatre is being published throughout the Western world. ‘

‘Brendan: there are lots of examples where “Jesus, the Pope and other Christian figures” are mocked. Jerry Springer: the Opera is one.’

NO THAT WASN’T MY POINT!! I know perfectly well that there is lots of anti-Christian stuff published IN THE WEST. What I was asking is: would Geras et al (or for that matter the readers of this blog) be quite so keen to defend Arabic newspaper editors who published anti-Christian cartoons in Arabic, on the front page of an Arabic/Muslim newspaper?

If not, why not?

(Incidentally, Chris, you know perfectly well there are no such cartoons, because if there were, you can bet that LGF and others would be bringing it to our attention, sharpish, and not in a ‘let’s defend freedom of speech in the Arabic World’ context).

23

Daniel 02.02.06 at 7:02 am

Ian Paisley was one of the protestors against the Bill, as he is (in my definition and understanding of the term anyway) a racist and has been doing just that for years. I don’t think there’s any way to stop him either that’s compatible with a free society—one that I’d like to live in, anyway.

Minor factual: the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act (Northern Ireland) has been around since 1970 and its text is AFAICS identical with the unamended version of the Bill. As far as I am aware Dr Paisley has never been arrested under it, still less convicted, so whatever he has said, hasn’t been regarded by the DPP (or the NI equivalent if there is one) as actionable. Since he believes that the Pope is literally the Whore of Babylon and the Antichrist and has published a book saying so, there is quite a choice of material to form a body of precedent for anyone defending a prosecution under the new Act if they are making good faith criticisms of Islam or any other such.

24

chris y 02.02.06 at 7:10 am

Just to be clear, bad jim, you’re saying that a substantial number of Christians in England and the US have not reached the Enlightenment, right?

No, they’ve regressed from it (my opinion, not necessarily Jim’s).

25

bad Jim 02.02.06 at 7:18 am

I don’t think Muslims are nearly as fascinated with Christianity as Christians, and it would be purely superfluous for the mullahs to wax wroth over affronts to which all sorts of Baptist ministers might go ballistic.

Many of the arguments advanced for consideration of Muslim sensibilities are also deployed against the rights of women and the tolerance of gays. Should we truckle to a minister in Mississippi, a rabbi in Jerusalem, an imam or a guru, and agree that only some of us may enjoy certain liberties in this dangerous time?

26

Chris Bertram 02.02.06 at 7:18 am

Is that right Daniel? The legal point, I mean?

If the DPP/CPS/whatever hasn’t actually tested Paisley’s statements in court then surely they can’t be part of a body of legal precedent that we can rely on. The DPP/CPS/whatever will need to satisfy a public interest criterion to bring a prosecution and my guess is that they judged it not in the PI do so. It is that, rather than a judgement the it is legal to call the Pope the Whore of Babylon that explains the inaction of the NI prosecutors.

27

Daniel 02.02.06 at 7:23 am

I am pretty sure that “precedent” was the wrong word to use now I think about it; that’s amateur-hour lawyering for you. But according to Marc Mulholland’s old blog there has been precisely one prosecution under the NI law in the last 35 years, which itself resulted in an acquittal. Surely this has to have some evidentiary weight in establishing that the standard of proof in the UK is very high indeed.

28

Daniel 02.02.06 at 7:25 am

btw it took me about five minutes with Google to come up with this, although disappointingly the only people I could definitively pin down as hypocrites and Islamophobes as a result were commenters at Little Green Footballs, which is not exactly a big revenue yield.

29

soru 02.02.06 at 7:30 am

Well I was mildly heartened by the recent defeat of the UK government’s proposed law on religious hatred.

I am curious on what grounds you were heartened by this?

It seemed like a pretty sensible measure to me, and the opposition to it (Atkinson et al) came over as fundamentalists pursuing an abstract principle at the expense of common sense or reason.

It is clearly wrong that under UK law, Jews are a race, but Muslims are not, making ‘Jews eat babies’ a legally different statement from ‘Muslims are terrorists’.

soru

30

Backword Dave 02.02.06 at 8:29 am

I hope this isn’t going off-topic, but what is the point of a law under which, Daniel says, “there has been precisely one prosecution … in the last 35 years”? Its deterrence value seems rather low, as we’re agreed that Dr Paisley hasn’t been prosecuted. — Would I be right in supposing that there would be riots if he were? — I haven’t read his book, and I’m not of course a legal expert, but I have some doubts that his allegations regarding the Pope could be substantiated.

If the defeated parts of the Bill would have led to no prosecutions, would they have counted as vanity-lawmaking? If such legistlation really is toothless and mostly a PR stunt and a sop to a minority, isn’t it an incredible misuse of Parliamentary time?

31

yabonn 02.02.06 at 8:36 am

France Soir is, from the sales point of view in a real bad shape. It explains the move to publish the cartoons, and, i think, the opportunistic move to change direction by the owner.

Too, it’s not unusual in france (Charlie Hebdo, as an example published a few already) : cartoons about gods are not unheard of in this (staunchly! ferociously!) secular place.

The rightwingers’ emerging narrative “yay islamophobia! Good for Israel!” is more wrong than right.

It’s a bit depressing, though, to know that the intent of the danish paper (stir shit, im pretty sure) succeded so completely.

32

chris y 02.02.06 at 8:47 am

I hope this isn’t going off-topic, but what is the point of a law under which, Daniel says, “there has been precisely one prosecution … in the last 35 years”?

Dave, that would imply that this man’s parliament had time to get round to repealing it. After all, the “statute book” is full of obsolete, badly drafted and ineffectual legislation – the Bills Office is only human and many ministers are arguably less. It’s often a better use of time to ignore them than repeal them.

The Law Commission and Commission for Scotland do their best, but it’s a bit like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. No doubt they’ll get round to this one eventually.

33

Z 02.02.06 at 8:52 am

Is there no line to cross at all – can they openly advocate violence against minorities or women, for example?

Am I the only one to find this a difficult question? Is there or not a line? Should one have the right to express doubts about the reality of the Holocaust or the genocide of Armenians? I would say yes, though it is illegal in my state (France). Should one be able to criticize harshly Jews, or French, or Buddhists, or heterosexuals (again illegal in my country, I am not sure of my opinion)? Should one be able to openly advocate violence, à la Ann Coulter (interstingly enough, I am not sure what are the relevant laws in France)?
I tend to believe in an expensive right to free speech, but I am not sure where to stop.

34

otto 02.02.06 at 9:06 am

Blimey, apologism for the unaccountable and self-satisfied insiders of the Law Commission at the CT comments board!

More to the point:

“it is obvious that racists in the West (such as the BNP in Britain) are using “Muslim” as a code under which to attack minorities in ways that don’t fall foul of laws against the promotion of racial hatred.”

Okay. But if “Muslim” is banned then they will use “immigrant” or “inner-city inhabitants” or some other reference. Should Republican references to “San Francisco Democrats” (=those pesky gays) be legally restricted? Even leaving aside the view that historical political changes can in fact plausibly be ascribed to changes in religious doctrine and practice (yes, a religious interpretation of many European historical events is indeed often as plausible as a class-based one, and certainly wildly more than a race-based one), even leaving that aside, the argument that bad people are using a unobjectional term to make an objectionable argument covers far too much ground.

35

Chris Bertram 02.02.06 at 9:07 am

I am curious on what grounds you were heartened by this?

1. It was a poorly draft law.
2. It is just one of a range of measures that are more-or-less authoritarian, ID cards being another. Good to see this government/the Home Office getting a bloody nose, it may make them think twice in future.

36

Backword Dave 02.02.06 at 9:10 am

Yabonn, if I ever write a dictionary, one of the definitions of “newspaper journalism” will be “shit stirring.”

Maybe the reverse could be true as well. Both would be good things, IMO.

37

Ms. Cornelius 02.02.06 at 9:12 am

Should one be able to wear a T-shirt into the House of Representatives, or should one be arrested, taken out in handcuffs, charged with a misdemeanor? How mysterious that this dangerous criminal is then released on her own recognizance once she’s been removed from the place. And now there is an “apology” for the “unclear procedures”– but the desired end of stifling free expression was obtained, and saying, “My bad,” is just too cosmetic.

This tactic (arrest people speaking or expressing their opinions, haul them away from the place where they were HARMING no one, and then later apologize for arresting them so we can use this tactic again another day) is not a mistake– it is an extra-legal end run around our civil liberties to which no one seems to be paying attention.

Meanwhile, Topeka’s Fred Phelps pickets funerals of dead soldiers and screams to their loved ones that God deliberately caused their loved ones’ deaths, and NO ONE except a group of motorcyclists seems to intervene, much less drag them off to the pokey for even five minutes– during which blessed respite, the funeral could be concluded.

Perhaps we need to send the Capitol police and the Secret Service out to every soldier’s funeral in the Midwest. Maybe if the president attended the funeral, THAT would work….

38

Ray 02.02.06 at 9:14 am

“immigrants” doesn’t work as a code-word, because most Muslims aren’t, and “inner-city inhabitants” won’t work, because they’re the BNP’s audience. The point of the law is not to ban the use of a term, but to ban attacks on people identified by their religion.

39

otto 02.02.06 at 9:19 am

Those examples – or others – will work as code-words because both the speakers and the audience will know who is being referred to.

There’s no clear distinction between criticism of religious groups and “attacks on people identified by their religion”, short of restrictions on direct public advocacy of violence (which already exist). That’s the problem.

40

eric 02.02.06 at 9:23 am

I wonder if your book on the Social Contract is full of “Voltaire…or something like that” types of references.

[It is fully searchable on books.google.com so you can go and look for yourself. CB]

41

yabonn 02.02.06 at 9:33 am

Yabonn, if I ever write a dictionary, one of the definitions of “newspaper journalism” will be “shit stirring.”

Shit stirring can be a good thing, i’m sure.

But in this case? Now i know that muslims are offended by something they perceive as an attack against them, that muslim fundamentalists are intolerant, and that the hamas is intolerant and violent.

Groundbreaking, or what?

42

Daniel 02.02.06 at 9:39 am

I hope this isn’t going off-topic, but what is the point of a law under which, Daniel says, “there has been precisely one prosecution … in the last 35 years”?

well yeah but there have been quite a few prosecutions under the mainland version of the Incitement to Hatred Act which doesn’t have the “religion” bit in it. I am not sure about the one prosecution factoid btw; I hastily read it on a blog and might have got the wrong end of the stick.

43

Marc Mulholland 02.02.06 at 9:40 am

I’ve just spent an hour and a half obsessively searching my books for an example of the rhetoric that failed to get John McKeague (and two others) convicted under the Northern Ireland Incitement to Religious Hatred Act in 1970. Argh! Anyway, joy at last.

The scurrilous texts in question were drawn from the ‘Loyalist Song Book’. An example (sing along):

“I was born under the Union Jack,
I was born under the Union Jack,
If guns are made for shooting,
Then skulls were made to crack,
You’ve never seen a better Taig than with a bullet in his back”

(Source: ‘Violence in Ulster’, W. H. Van Voris, 1975).

The act was not oppressive, and nor would its British equivalent be I’d imagine. On the other hand, was is it effective, except (and this is a big exception) in its chilling effect on expressions of bigotry in ‘polite’ society.

44

Marc Mulholland 02.02.06 at 9:42 am

Oh, and Daniel, you got the right end of the stick.

45

Ray 02.02.06 at 9:43 am

No, they really don’t work as well. You can’t make a speech to a load of inner-city inhabitants that complains about all those inner-city inhabants taking your jobs. And it’s not just the word ‘Muslim’ that is covered by the law, so talking about ‘Mecca-kneelers’ or ‘Hajjists’ would leave you open to prosecution.

There is such a distinction between criticism and attacks, in the bill as amended. The prosecution has to prove that the speaker intends to stir up hatred and that the speech is threatening, not just insulting.

46

Ray 02.02.06 at 9:46 am

(that was a reply to otto)

47

abb1 02.02.06 at 9:47 am

Yeah, I think I agree with Otto that expanding from usual ban on advacacy of violence to a ban on speech with “intent to stir up hatred against, or arouse fear of, any section of the public” would be extremely tricky.

The argument that this kind of law won’t be misused because of the wisdom of judges and lawyers – it doesn’t really sound all that convincing.

48

Doug 02.02.06 at 9:51 am

Apart from the Tamil Tigers (who pioneered the tactic), the largest number of suicide bombers are in fact Muslims and often commit their murders in the name of Islamically-identified causes. Discuss.

49

otto 02.02.06 at 9:51 am

You can certainly make just such a speech, it will work fine. And so will one aimed at “immigrants”, which will include many people who aren’t.

But how is a speech “threatening” if it does not directly advocate violence? The point is that most people say “I’m all for legitimate criticism, but you go too far”, even when their addressee is not going too far at all, and there’s no reliable criterion to distinguish between the two.

50

Marc Mulholland 02.02.06 at 9:57 am

By the way, on Norman Geras, did anyone else wonder whether the following mysterious post is a coded admission that the decent left may have been led up the garden path? Or am I reading too much in?

http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2006/01/asides_1.html

51

Ray 02.02.06 at 10:05 am

abb1 and otto – how do you think the amended Bill is different from the similar laws on race relations? Why is it harder to define ‘threatening’ for religious groups than racial groups?

Otto, for a code word to work, it has to pick out a feature that distinguishes the group you dislike from your audience. ‘International bankers’ and ‘cosmopolitans’ work just fine if you’re talking to rednecks, but aren’t much good if you’re addressing bank staff in New York.

52

stostosto 02.02.06 at 10:12 am

yabonn:

It’s a bit depressing, though, to know that the intent of the danish paper (stir shit, im pretty sure) succeded so completely.

As a Dane who have been following this matter rather closely for four months, I would like to offer a little background as well as some of my own pedestrian and subjective perspective.

Jyllands-Posten may have wanted (or at least been willing to risk) to “stir shit”, but it didn’t just publish the drawings out of the blue.

The background: A publisher of a children’s book about Muhammad had trouble finding an illustrator. A number of illustrators declined the offer from fear of being intimidated, or worse, “van Goghe’d”, by militant Muslims. Their solution was to let the illustrator be anonymous.

Jyllands-Posten professes to be provoked by this. And frankly, so was I, and still am. I find it unacceptable that fear of intimidation and violence should dictate what we can and cannot do and say. Here, in our very own country, at that.

Hence, the newspaper’s primary aim was to test whether Danish illustrators had really been cowed into refraining from drawing Muhammad. Whether, I would say, people like Mohammed Bouyeri, Theo Van Gogh’s murderer, actually had succeeded in their obvious aim to put the fear of Allah into the hearts of western media workers.

So, for the newspaper to call for the drawings as well as for the illustrators responding to them, this was an act of spite as much as anything. Which, once you know this, is quite apparent in some of them, for instance the one depicting an illustrator who is looking nervously over his shoulder while drawing the Prophet.

I was astonished at their insouciance, though. It has been clear to everyone, at least since the fatwa against Rushdie in 1989, that Muslims are completely hysterical about such things, and that many of them seem to positively revel in exercising righteous anger against infidels, what with their frenzied burning of flags and brandishing of AK-47s.

By the same token, I would like to note that this was also an opportunity for religious Muslims to exercise restraint, to show moderation and to thus refute claims that it is physically dangerous to express opinions about Islam.

Sadly, they did not take that opportunity.

I personally didn’t expect them to either. In fact, what has surprised me most about this sorry course of events, was how long it took before this really got off. (If you don’t count the small fact that two of the illustrators have had to go underground with police protection).

Mind you, I am not saying Muslims should accept the drawings. In fact, I would encourage them to speak out against them and use all legal and democratic channels to state their case. They do have a case, and I am sure most people would be sympathetic to it. Maybe they could even effect a tightening of our laws against blasphemy.

It’s the underlying current of militancy and threats of violence that really gets me.

53

Ray 02.02.06 at 10:19 am

Jyllands-Posten didn’t just publish pictures of Mohammed though. The published pictures saying Mohammed = suicide bomber. You can hardly blame Muslims for bringing violence into it, when violence was the whole point of the cartoons.

Surely if they were annoyed that people were afraid to draw Mohammed at all, their point would have been better served by simply publishing a picture of Mohammed?

54

stostosto 02.02.06 at 10:24 am

Surely if they were annoyed that people were afraid to draw Mohammed at all, their point would have been better served by simply publishing a picture of Mohammed?

Like I said, I was astonished at their insouciance.

At the same time, it was hardly these illustrators that launched the idea of associating suicide bombing with Muhammad. It seems to me bin Laden, to name one, was there earlier.

55

Ray 02.02.06 at 10:29 am

I don’t think ‘insouciance’ is the right word here.

56

otto 02.02.06 at 10:30 am

All the code word needs is to be understood by the audience. That’s all. The very fact that it’s code means a certain indirectness and inaccuracy is welcomed by both sides. “Immigrants” will do fine for many purposes. Even many immigrants may find that sort of talk appealing.

“how do you think the amended Bill is different from the similar laws on race relations? Why is it harder to define ‘threatening’ for religious groups than racial groups?”

You seem to be starting from some sort of if-you-accept-some-regulation, you-must-accept-all perspective. But I’m not rooted in your British status quo based argument. Maybe the race relations laws make pigs ears of defining threatening too. I would be happy to have a law banning direct public incitements to violence in all cases. I am certainly not in favour of generally banning occasions where “the speaker intends to stir up hatred and that the speech is threatening” [without direct incitement to violence]. That would ban most public discourse of union offials and the industrialists who oppose them, to name only one example. If the ban on non-direct-incitement-to-violence racist speech is encouraging others to get on the bandwagon in to enjoy similar protections, I am coming around to getting rid of that ban, or at least the complete rejection of it as an argument for its extension to new issue-areas.

57

yabonn 02.02.06 at 10:30 am

Jyllands-Posten professes to be provoked by this.

It is disturbing. Did Jyllands-Posten act on the publisher behalf? Did the publisher actually encourage the process?

Hence, the newspaper’s primary aim was to test whether Danish illustrators had really been cowed into refraining from drawing Muhammad.

oO ? … Test? Wether they were cowed…? Because of the children book?

Thanks for the background, i can’t say i changed my mind.

Sadly, they did not take that opportunity.

Course the radicals haven’t. Course Saudi Arabia hasn’t, and of course the Hamas hasn’t.

But i heard from the more moderate one or two variation of the “offended but all violence is condemnable” already, more to come i think. “The muslims” are not a hommogenous, radical entity.

58

stostosto 02.02.06 at 10:31 am

Also, if part of their case was expressing their determination to spite a perceived climate of physical intimidation, I am not sure it would have been better served by simply doing neutral drawings. You will note, though, that some of the drawings are indeed quite neutral and inoffensive.

59

stostosto 02.02.06 at 10:41 am

“The muslims” are not a hommogenous, radical entity.

This point would be fair if the moderates weren’t consistently shouted down by the hardliners. I voted for a high profile moderate Muslim the last two-three parliamentary elections. A truly impressive, upstanding and democratic-minded guy with more integrity than most Danish politicians.

He is constantly harassed and threatened and condemned and despised by Muslim hardliners, and he has to have 24 hour a day protection.

Also, did you follow the debate after van Gogh’s murder? The common reaction from ordinary Muslims was knee-jerk condemnation of the murder followed by lengthy diatribes against van Gogh.

60

Ray 02.02.06 at 10:44 am

If Jyllands-Posten was motivated by the problems with tha children’s book you mention, then the kind of pictures you see in a children’s book would have made their point. Since they chose to publish other pictures, I think they had another point.

Otto, I was responding to abb1’s representation of your position, which he thought he shared. I think you’re seriously weakening your argument by claiming that the kind of speech the law is intended to catch is the same as the kind of speech used by union officials about industrialists. But anyway, not that British laws against racial hatred are not applied as widely as possible
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uklatest/story/0,,-5588698,00.html

61

Ray 02.02.06 at 10:44 am

If Jyllands-Posten was motivated by the problems with tha children’s book you mention, then the kind of pictures you see in a children’s book would have made their point. Since they chose to publish other pictures, I think they had another point.

Otto, I was responding to abb1’s representation of your position, which he thought he shared. I think you’re seriously weakening your argument by claiming that the kind of speech the law is intended to catch is the same as the kind of speech used by union officials about industrialists. But anyway, note that British laws against racial hatred are not applied as widely as possible
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uklatest/story/0,,-5588698,00.html

62

Brendan 02.02.06 at 10:47 am

Marc Mulholland

I doubt it. Norman is an old man, and I sincerely doubt he is going to change his political colours that much at this late stage. Instead I think this is an allusion to the ‘fact’ that there is an alliance between the ‘old left’ and ‘Islamo-fascists’, and that Norman can now see that this ‘alliance’ is coming to an end.

I think the ideological marriage between himself and George Bush, on the other hand, will indeed be ’till death do us part’.

63

yabonn 02.02.06 at 10:49 am

Would be faire even with that, but :

This point would be fair if the moderates

(majority)

weren’t consistently shouted down by the hardliners

(minority)

I think we must agree to disagree here, i really think that : ” “The muslims” are not a hommogenous, radical entity”.

64

abb1 02.02.06 at 10:50 am

Stostosto, normally it’s physically dangerous to insult anyone, Muslim or not. Try it on a random guy in your office and you’ll see. There’s nothing special here at all.

65

Daniel 02.02.06 at 10:52 am

The question of provocation is a second-order one; there is a right to provoke and provoking is not the same thing as incitement to hatred. However surely there can’t be any real debate over whether this was the intention or not; the most obvious test for “was someone aiming to cause offence?” is “did they offer a sincere apology when it became clear that they had in fact caused offence?”

66

stostosto 02.02.06 at 11:02 am

If Jyllands-Posten was motivated by the problems with tha children’s book you mention, then the kind of pictures you see in a children’s book would have made their point. Since they chose to publish other pictures, I think they had another point.

Yes, and I just explained what that point was: To actively spite a climate of intimidation and self-censorship. That is, articulate this spite, expressing their resistance.

And yes, I personally think they should have confined themselves to this type: http://www.juelsbo.dk/muhammed/M_billeder-store/muhamed01.jpg

67

Mr. Bill 02.02.06 at 11:02 am

Curiously, there is a kerfuffle just now over the Joint Chiefs of Staff (that is, the committee of the most senior US Military Officials) letter to the Editor of the Washington Post, execorating an editorial Cartoon by Tom Tolles, the portrays “US Army” as an armless, legless cripple, with a Dr. Rumsfeld saying “I’m Listing your condition as ‘Battle Hardened’.
a lind to the cartoon:
http://tinyurl.com/7ze8c
And the letter from the JCS:
A Reprehensible Cartoon

Thursday, February 2, 2006; A20

We were extremely disappointed to see the Jan. 29 editorial cartoon by Tom Toles.

Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon was beyond tasteless. Editorial cartoons are often designed to exaggerate issues, and The Post is obviously free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of the armed forces. However, The Post and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to readers and to The Post’s reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who volunteered to defend this nation and, as a result, suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds.

Those who visit wounded veterans in hospitals have found lives profoundly changed by pain and loss. They also have found brave men and women with a sense of purpose and selfless commitment that causes battle-hardened warriors to pause.

While The Post and some of its readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, these men and women and their families are owed the decency of not having a cartoon make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices.

As the joint chiefs, we rarely put

our hand to one letter, but we cannot let this reprehensible cartoon go unanswered.

PETER PACE
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

EDMUND P. GIAMBASTIANI JR.
Admiral, U.S. Navy
Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

MICHAEL W. HAGEE
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

PETER J. SCHOOMAKER
General, U.S. Army
Chief of Staff

MICHAEL G. MULLEN
Admiral, U.S. Navy
Chief of Naval Operations

T. MICHAEL MOSELEY
General, U.S. Air Force
Chief of Staff
Washington

Other than these generals missing the point of the cartoon, it’s appalling to thing the US military is ready to censor political speech, in the name of a truly malign form of ‘political correctness’.
My grandfather would say “A hit dog hollers”.
And you must remember that when Boss Tweed, of the
19th century ‘Tweed Ring’ of corrupt Tammany Hall politicians in New York came under fire, he blamed it on ‘them Dammned Cartoons’ of Thomas Nast..

68

abb1 02.02.06 at 11:03 am

Ray, I’m not saying that it’s harder to define ‘threatening’ for religious groups than racial groups; the Irish law is talking about “any section of the public” and “intent to stir up hatred against, or arouse fear of”. I think it would be equally difficult to protect any section of the public without this law being misused or used selectively.

69

stostosto 02.02.06 at 11:06 am

Stostosto, normally it’s physically dangerous to insult anyone, Muslim or not.

That’s just mindbogglingly silly.

70

stostosto 02.02.06 at 11:07 am

(ooops. No offence).

71

Ray 02.02.06 at 11:11 am

Ok, abb1, but the Irish law isn’t being changed.

72

otto 02.02.06 at 11:14 am

“Editorial cartoons are often designed to exaggerate issues, and The Post is obviously free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of the armed forces. However, The Post and Mr. Toles have done a disservice to readers and to The Post’s reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who volunteered to defend this nation and, as a result, suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds.”

= I am open to legitimate criticism, but your comments just go too far.

France-Soir should republish the Toles cartoon!

73

abb1 02.02.06 at 11:18 am

Stostosto, how is it silly? You want to publish something that you know a group of people find highly offensive. You don’t think they should but in fact they do find it highly offensive.

You then go ahead and publish it (and that’s fine) but then you start complaining about people you just insulted threatening you with violence – don’t you think you’re being a bit disingenuous here?

74

abb1 02.02.06 at 11:28 am

Ray, this was just a general observation on my part not related to any particular law. As I understood, the question was: where do you draw the line – Natalie apparently feels that anything can be published, Daniel feels that the N.Irish law banning hate-speech is fine and Otto said that anything beyond a call to violence will be too difficult to parse. I agreed with Otto.

75

stostosto 02.02.06 at 11:31 am

abb1,

You want to publish something that you know a group of people find highly offensive.

you’re implying that the illustrators were animated by this rather than their own offence at the notion that they should submit to self-censorship.

Also, you’re implying that there is a reasonable proportion between the offence and the response. Do you think there is? I am not asking you what you think the Muslims think there is, I am asking you what you think.

76

Steve 02.02.06 at 11:49 am

Perhaps its because you are all British, but as a conservative American, I don’t see what the fuss is about.

Conservative Americans have dealt with ‘piss Christ.’ So ‘Muslim with bomb on head’ is no big deal. Freedom of speech means everyone can be equally insulted. That should be the end of the discussion.

When I see 75 posts on whether cartoons mocking Muslims should be allowed, I see one of two things: 1) Europeans who don’t have a conception of freedom of speech, or 2) Liberals, who are trying to justify a double standard (let’s see: how can I create an argument that allows me to mock Jesus, but allows me to ban mocking Muhammed?).

You ban winnie the pooh, you ban cartoons, and simultaneously insult Christians. Either Britian’s elites are doomed, or the country is. (in America, its up in the air, though I’m cautiously optimistic. Elite institutions are losing ground).

Steve

77

Ray 02.02.06 at 11:58 am

Er, Steve, who here said that the cartoons should have been banned?

78

Fergal 02.02.06 at 12:00 pm

An Arab publication has republished some of the cartoons (and added an excellent comment)…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4673908.stm

Jordanian independent tabloid al-Shihan reprinted three of the cartoons on Thursday, saying people should know what they were protesting about, AFP news agency reports.

“Muslims of the world be reasonable,” wrote editor Jihad Momani.

“What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?”

79

stostosto 02.02.06 at 12:01 pm

A little more background: The drawings were published on September 30th. There were credible threats to a couple of the illustrators, there was a demonstration against Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen, and a legal complaint was brought before the justice system. The thing ran its course here, maybe rather a lengthy course, but (again barring the death threats) nothing too unreasonable.

At one point, our PM arguably committed an error of judgment by refusing to meet with ambassadors from 11 countries who demanded that the government take action on the grounds that there is freedom of the press here.

He was subjected to a rather unusual criticism, not only from the opposition, but also from 22 former Danish ambassadors as well as a former PM and a former foreign minister – both from his own political corner.

The drawings were also made an item at the agenda of something called OIC, the Organisation of Islamic Countries, which produced an angry statement and urged the UN to intervene. One UN spokesman duly did criticise Denmark.

All this had the PM spend a significant part of his PM’s new years speech adressing the issue. His statement was well received by most relevant parties to the matter.

Thus, the issue was smoldering on the public agenda flaring up a couple of times, but at this point seemed to have eventually run its course.

And it would, but here comes another one:

A group of Danish imams claiming to represent Danish Muslims put together a dossier and travelled to the Middle East complaining about the matter and meeting with religious leaders and media.

They portrayed the matter as an expression of blanket hatred of Islam in the Danish people — and even added three insulting drawings that had not been published.

Some of them have been appearing on Arabic TV channels bad-mouthing Denmark and advocating a boycott. One of them has been exposed as saying one thing to Danish media and quite the opposite on Arabic media.

So, when the talk is of who makes a “stir” of things, I think this belongs in the picture.

80

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 12:02 pm

Personally, I think that we should only offend people who aren’t likely to blow us up.

The Amish, for example.

How many Amish does it take to screw in a light bulb? I don’t know and they don’t either!

What are you going to do, beardy? Hit me? YEAH YOU WALK AWAY! GET IN THAT HORSE AND BUGGY!!!!

You make fun of Muslims and you’ve got a bunch of masked gunmen doing a sit-in and no one likes that.

81

Mr. Bill 02.02.06 at 12:07 pm

Steve, the best (and most christian, in the good sense) that I heard about Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (which, according to his statement, this photographer who’s career was launched and guarnateed by manufactured conservative ‘outrage’) was from Sister Wendy, the ‘art nun’ on the NPR “Fresh Air” program: Terry Gross, the host, asked her about artwork that some people found blasphemous, using religious symbols in ways that might offend. The way the question was framed led Sister Wendy to say (and this if from memory, not a transcript) “Oh, you must mean Serrano. Well, if you lood at the ‘Piss Christ’, it’s really a rather pretty photograph. And you must remember that in a lot of christian mystical writing, each time we sin, we do worse to Jesus that submerging a crucifix in urine. But,”she went on”,I tend to think of this sort of work as ‘newspaper cartoon’ art: one you get the joke, so to speak, there isn’t really that much there to return to. On ist own merits, it doesn’t last..”
RAtional art criticiam, and real Christian charity in one nun-shaped package. There is little room for anger over images when so much real pain exists in the world..

82

otto 02.02.06 at 12:08 pm

Personally, I am in favour of insulting Muslims more and colonising them less. But the British and US governments seem to have these priorities reversed.

83

Mr. Bill 02.02.06 at 12:17 pm

Dang, many mispellings. I apologize, trying to post and keep an independent bookstore running…
And no spell check on this terminal…

84

Brandon Berg 02.02.06 at 12:20 pm

That isn’t the way I see things, but it is hard to see how someone running that line can object to a private company sacking an editor for reprinting the cartoons or to Muslims boycotting Danish goods in protest.

I’m puzzled by the fact that a so-called “liberal” doesn’t understand that one can disapprove of certain actions without wanting the state to intervene to prevent them.

Puzzled, but not the least bit surprised.

85

stostosto 02.02.06 at 12:27 pm

I overlooked this comment by yabonn:

I think we must agree to disagree here, i really think that : ” “The muslims” are not a hommogenous, radical entity”.

To the extent that it makes sense talking about any self-identifying group as a group rather than as a number of fully autonomous individuals, I think it’s safe to say that Muslims are more prone to hysterical reactions than most.

I also think it’s fair to criticise them for this, as a group, even though some individual members would take exception from the group hysteria.

I furthermore think the dissenting individuals should speak up. Precious few do.

86

abb1 02.02.06 at 12:36 pm

Stostosto, it’s absolutely irrelevant what I feel about these cartoons, they mean nothing to me.

I can probably find something that sounds fine to me but will cause you a heart attack. If not you, then my friend Fergal here for sure.

If I decide to say it – because I want to say it, for whatever reason – then I expect the reaction and I don’t complain about the reaction – I know my friend Fergal has been hurt (for no good reason as far as I am concerned) and he wants to hurt me now. If my friend Fergal finds out where I live, then I’ll take further precautions. Perhaps I’ll regret that I said what I said; perhaps I should’ve self-censored, but what’s done is done.

It’s as simple as that: you act – you take responsibility for your action.

87

stostosto 02.02.06 at 12:52 pm

It’s as simple as that: you act – you take responsibility for your action.

OK, so it’s OK to kill the illustrators, then?

Or would you say any killer should be prepared to take responsibility for his action as well? Or the travelling roadshow of inciting imams that will have egged them on?

Who said J-P or the illustrators shouldn’t take responsibility, btw? In fact, who says they haven’t been doing it? The illustrators have had their name to the drawings — indeed that was the point — and J-P has consistently defended their action. They have also now issued an apology.

88

roger 02.02.06 at 1:51 pm

Chris, for a Rousseauian, you’ve written an admirably Voltairian post. There should be no revival of the old blasphemy laws under Britain’s version of Tartuffe, Blair; and the hypocrisy of those celebrating the cartoon about Muhammed stinks. That a civil liberties stance can be taken by racists doesn’t, a, discredit the civil liberties stance, which is open to be taken by all comers by design, nor b., does it mitigate racism. Seems plain enough.

Now I’m wondering if you will admit that D’alembert was right about the theaters of Geneva.

89

Natalie Solent 02.02.06 at 1:58 pm

Abb1, no, I don’t think literally anything should be allowed. The reason I didn’t answer until now was that I had gone away.

My position is much the same as Otto’s, as expressed in the comment currently showing as No. 56. Perhaps I am a little more extreme than him – I would say that to be banned, the incitement to violence should not just be direct but credible i.e. conventional exhortations to make the gutters run red with the blood of the bourgeoisie should be ignored, unless the situation is such that one’s hearers are likely to do it.

For much of the last century, that more or less was the position. OK, that story was punctuated by many more oppressive episodes and some culpably lax ones, but broadly, we were had freer speech and greater tranquility – and I think that was partly cause and effect.

As for your “I don’t complain about the reaction”: it depends which reaction, the anger or the threats to murder.

90

abb1 02.02.06 at 2:27 pm

No it’s not OK to kill the illustrators, it’s just that ‘illustrator who makes fun of prophet Mohamed’ is a dangerous occupation, like, say, being an undercover DEA agent. Either you take the assigment and the consequences, or you choose to illustrate something else.

91

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.02.06 at 2:36 pm

“You then go ahead and publish it (and that’s fine) but then you start complaining about people you just insulted threatening you with violence – don’t you think you’re being a bit disingenuous here?”

No, I think it is perfect example of overreaction. Yes, people are insulted. No, that shouldn’t mean you can’t complain about death threats. A boycott of the whole country is an overreaction. Death threats are an overreaction.

92

abb1 02.02.06 at 2:48 pm

Natalie, death threats are very common. See this, for example: Adam’s rift. Parents of this guy Adam Shapiro “had to flee from their home in Brooklyn after receiving anonymous death threats”, just because their son is a pro-Palestinian activist. So what? Comes with the territory.

93

Doctor Slack 02.02.06 at 3:00 pm

stostoso: I think it’s safe to say that Muslims are more prone to hysterical reactions than most.

I think it’s fair to say that Muslims are more prone to defensiveness on the whole. Since large segments of Western societies are virulently and even violently Islamophobic, and large portions of the Muslim world have languished for decades under various forms of direct or indirect Western colonialism, this is comprehensible. Muslim minorities in the West, who have suffered directly from cock-eyed “anti-terror” laws in ways the rest of us probably don’t fully appreciate, are likely to be more sensitive to concerns about incitement than the average evangelical. And rightly so.

Having said that, I think the Jordanian editorial is right on the money: it’s important to challenge Islamophobia, but it’s just as important to challenge the sicknesses infesting modern Islam and to figure out that there are better things to do than complain about cartoons and piggy banks. Radicalism and censoriousness only serves the very Islamophobic radicals of whom Muslims have every reason to be wary.

On bragging up the supposed reticence of conservative Christians, however, I really have to call bullshit. Are these the same conservative Christians who recently declared the phrase “Happy Holidays” a vicious secularist assault on their faith and had allies in the media promising to “bring horror into the lives” of people who disagreed with them? When stuff like that stops happening, Christian conservatives will be in a position to lecture Muslims about “hysteria,” not before.

94

Iron Lungfish 02.02.06 at 3:06 pm

Natalie, death threats are very common. See this, for example: Adam’s rift. Parents of this guy Adam Shapiro “had to flee from their home in Brooklyn after receiving anonymous death threats”, just because their son is a pro-Palestinian activist. So what? Comes with the territory.

For that matter, rape is very common, and women who dress provocatively are bound to get raped, sexually assaulted, or nearly raped more often than, say, women in full-body coverings who live segregated from men. So what? Comes with the territory.

95

abb1 02.02.06 at 3:06 pm

Sensitive issues will always be with us and therefore hysteria will always be with us and extremists will always be with us too.

96

abb1 02.02.06 at 3:08 pm

Iron, exactly. What’s your point?

97

Iron Lungfish 02.02.06 at 3:28 pm

Iron, exactly. What’s your point?

So I guess we should shift the moral responsibility of rape onto rape victims, just as the newspaper and cartoonists are responsible for the death threats they receive.

98

Doctor Slack 02.02.06 at 3:30 pm

iron: For that matter, rape is very common, and women who dress provocatively are bound to get raped, sexually assaulted, or nearly raped more often than, say, women in full-body coverings who live segregated from men.

You know, I agree with you that abb1’s “so what” sangfroid seems misplaced; I don’t know that many people consider, or should consider, death threats to be a small thing or a mer occupational hazard.

But you know… can we not go using women and rape as little more than a convenient rhetorical device? After all, the evidence I’m aware of suggests that segregating women from men does not reduce their vulnerability to sexual assault, but rather increases their vulnerability to assault by people within the closer circle to which you’ve segregated them, ergo the frequency of rape and sexual assault can’t be predicated by attire. But there are disagreeably large numbers of people who think women do “deserve” to get assaulted if they’re not wearing enough yards of fabric, and using this as a “just so” story actually serves that viewpoint, intentionally or not. Right?

99

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 3:33 pm

If I was writing a short story and had a cartoonist make a cartoon of Mohammed and the response from “The Muslim Community” was threats of boycotts, demands that the newspapers that printed the cartoons fire the people responsible, and masked gunmen making demands while firing bullets in the air…

Well, I’m pretty sure that I’d be accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes.

Personally, I think we’d all be better off if we could get the Muslims to realize that dissent is patriotic.

100

abb1 02.02.06 at 3:33 pm

Well, that’s not what you said in #94. Yes, women who dress provocatively are responsible for increasing probability of them being raped.

101

roger 02.02.06 at 3:47 pm

You know, the outpouring of support for the Danish cartoonists has been heartening. But where were these people in 1999, when Chris Ofili’s Virgin Mary was defaced by a man throwing white paint on it while Christian groups protested outside the Brooklyn Museum and Mayor Giuliani condemned… the artist? Funny, that. I don’t remember a round of condemnation coming from responsible government officials. In fact, looking up the CNN story about it, you get this:

The furor made its way to Washington as well, where the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution sponsored by New Hampshire Senator Robert Smith that called for an end to federal funding for the museum. Trying not to alienate either camp, Hillary Clinton, Giuliani’s likely opponent for New York’s Senate seat, chided the mayor for threatening to shut down the museum but added, “There are parts of this exhibit that would be deeply offensive. I would not go to see this exhibit.”

Chris is right — much of the civil liberties outrage is simply b.s., and will certainly be forgotten when the next Ofili kind of artist shows the next offensive to Christian sensibilities at some publicly funded museum.

102

Iron Lungfish 02.02.06 at 3:48 pm

But you know… can we not go using women and rape as little more than a convenient rhetorical device?

Just because something is used as a rhetorical device doesn’t reduce it to “little more than” a rhetorical device, any more than comparisons to Hitler trivialize the Holocaust, or comparisons to Nixon trivialize Watergate, both of which are as common on the internet as fleas on a stray dog. For that matter, if I trivialized anything it was murder, which I happen to think is worse than rape, as one is survivable and the other is, by definition, not.

But there are disagreeably large numbers of people who think women do “deserve” to get assaulted if they’re not wearing enough yards of fabric, and using this as a “just so” story actually serves that viewpoint, intentionally or not.

No, it really doesn’t, unless you live in abb1’s bizarrely inverted moral universe, where a writer can be responsible for their own death by pissing off the wrong lunatic. Except for abb1, I didn’t see anyone else here who thought my comment was a hearty endorsement of the “she was asking for it” argument.

103

Doctor Slack 02.02.06 at 4:35 pm

abb1: Yes, women who dress provocatively are responsible for increasing probability of them being raped.

Actually, no, not really. Statistically, rape tends to be perpetrated by relatives or acquaintances of the victim and to be more frequent where alcohol abuse and negative stereotypes of women are present. Attire is negligible as a factor.

iron: No, it really doesn’t, unless you live in abb1’s bizarrely inverted moral universe,

So, you really don’t think that claiming, in passing, that women dressed a certain way are likely to be raped in fact helps to reinforce the contention that this is true… despite the fact that there’s no evidence for it being true, and that faulty assumption is a big part of what helps beget the pernicious “asking for it” argument in the first place?

(I’m not accusing you of heartily endorsing anything, of course. It just annoys me to see the this particular trope turn up in this way.)

104

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 4:35 pm

Roger, if the Muslims called for an end to federal funding of the newspaper, I’m pretty sure that this would be a non-issue.

Hell, the boycott thing? I think that part of it is great. I think it’s indicative of really, really thin skin (sort of like when the Christers tried to boycott Disney for “Gay Days” or whatever it was) but it’s cool.

What gets me about this whole thing is not the calls for boycotts or even the demands for apologies.

It’s the masked gunmen making demands while firing bullets in the air.

I, personally, could see why Guiliani would say that the museum should no longer get tax funds. I’m of the opinion that art that requires tax dollars is, by definition, art that no one but the government would buy in the first place.

The issue is whether there is a fundamental difference between whether a museum is entitled to tax dollars when it shows offensive art or whether a newspaper is entitled to keep its editorial board/reporters when the newspaper shows an offensive cartoon or opinion.

The calls for a boycott are, I think, 100% justified.

It’s the masked gunmen that make me knit my brow.

105

abb1 02.02.06 at 4:57 pm

Well, let’s say the relatives are all OK, no alcohol abuse or negative stereotypes. One sister dresses conservatively and spends her time in the library, the other dresses provocatively and parties. Don’t you think the second woman has a higher risk of being raped?

For that matter, don’t you think a volunteer soldier has higher risk of being killed than, say, an accountant and he, the soldier, is responsible for taking this risk?

Isn’t this all quite obvious, how is it “bizarrely inverted moral universe”?

106

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 5:37 pm

Gays who aren’t in the closet have a higher chance of being bashed.

Gays should know that if they don’t stay in the closet, they might get beaten up! I’m just saying!

If a gay guy gets bashed, you should first ask “was he closeted?”

Because, if he wasn’t, he should have known that he was risking exactly this sort of thing.

Back me up, abb1.

107

stostosto 02.02.06 at 5:48 pm

The calls for a boycott are, I think, 100% justified.

Actually I don’t think so, since they imply that this entire country is complicit in the offensive drawings. We’re not. And I don’t think the newly unemployed Danish dairy workers feel so either.

Now, if they boycotted the newspaper, that would be 100% justified.

108

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 6:03 pm

I thought that the “boycott France!” thing that happened after 9/11 was pretty stupid… but I’ve got no problem with people saying “I think I’m going to buy Australian from now on”.

Even if some winery people in France who had *NOTHING* to do with the government got laid off.

If a guy in Iran no longer wants to buy Danish cheese, that’s his perogative.

109

stostosto 02.02.06 at 6:12 pm

If a guy in Iran no longer wants to buy Danish cheese, that’s his perogative.

Sure.

And now that you mention it, I do think I switched away from French wine back in 1995 as a protest against Chirac’s nuclear tests in Tuamotu.

Drats. I feel morally obliged to make it up to the French wine peasants by henceforth increasing my consumption of their produce.

110

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 6:30 pm

You should totally try Black Opal. I totally dig on their Merlot/Cab blend. It’s a $7 bottle of wine but it tastes like a $9!

So, yeah, don’t serve it to company but if you’re looking to get trashed while watching wrestling, it’ll do.

111

Doctor Slack 02.02.06 at 6:57 pm

Don’t you think the second woman has a higher risk of being raped?

The better comparison would be between a woman who dresses conservatively at the club and one who doesn’t. Does the latter have a better chance of being raped than the former? No, because they have exactly the same chances of being in the presence of high or drunk male acquaintances who have negative views of women. They’re not “responsible” for those probabilities in any significant way — the responsibility lies with the men who are holding and acting on the negative views. And since a misogynist will always be able to find a way of accusing the woman of “tempting” him, no matter how much or little skin she shows, there’s little point in telling women not to dress in this or that way.

Now, of course, it’s perfectly easy for people to set themselves up in situations where they are far likelier to face violent crime, but that still doesn’t make the violent crime their fault. A woman walking alone at night is taking chances that a woman walking with her friends is not, but she’s not “responsible” for whatever crimes might be committed against her. A guy staggering alone down an alleyway, obviously drunk, is more than likely to get mugged — but the mugger can’t stand up in court and say “he provoked me by being such an easy target, my crime is really his fault.”

So I think you’re pretty much barking up the wrong tree on this one.

112

Roger 02.02.06 at 7:03 pm

Well, since government funding of some kind goes into every major museum in the country, just think — you can ban anti-Christian art and be against censorship too!

How wonderful. Now let’s get back to how nasty those Arab countries are for not understanding freedom of expression.

PS

And – uh, who said tax money is just paid by Christian fundies?

113

Jaybird 02.02.06 at 7:36 pm

Roger, I never said that taxes were only paid by Christian fundies.

But I do think that if there is a huge group of people who get together and go to their local government and say “We don’t want our tax dollars subsidizing X”, the government could well have a responsibility to listen to them.

This isn’t a case of “well, I’m against nuclear missiles and we’re still building those!” but that there was a huge group of organized people who were against the art being displayed (at taxpayer expense) and there really wasn’t much of an organization against it.

It’s not like the citizenry was saying “THIS ART CANNOT BE DISPLAYED ANYWHERE!” (which would fit my definition of censorship) but “We don’t want to pay for this crap (pun not intended) to be shown” which is a perfectly legitimate grievance that one could take to the government for redress… and if sufficient numbers go to the government saying that, it’s perfectly reasonable for the government to say to the museum “the people don’t want their tax dollars going to y’all”.

This is not censorship.

114

roger 02.02.06 at 9:19 pm

A. the government didn’t pay for the exhibit — they granted the museum money for its operations. That is what granting money is about. If granting money is so narrowly construed that it can be yanked at any time, that exerts a censorious effect.
B. The people who got together happened to include people who tried to destroy the painting. I’d call that, hmmm, censorship.
C. So, how much should I listen to people who decide to destroy the paintings that they don’t like? This does sound like government by lynch mob. Or — transposed to the Middle East — government led by mullahs.
D. In the U.S., contrary to Saudi Arabia, there is a high standard for preserving freedom of speech. Part of that is about provocations from the art world. I like to see that kind of thing spread to the Middle East. But I suspect massive bad faith on the part of those who are so hot to see Muhammed caricatured.

115

John Emerson 02.02.06 at 9:44 pm

Crooked Timber has the goddamnedest comment threads.

And except for DD, the CT people are nice to a fault, and really not like that at all.

116

Jim S 02.02.06 at 10:25 pm

I find it fascinating that the people who are defending Muslim reaction to these cartoons are apparently trying to minimize what that reaction has been. First, it’s not only Saudi Arabia, Hamas and similar types that are overreacting. I think the count is up to 11 majority Muslim nations that are taking official action against Denmark. There have been death threats, bomb threats, a general warning to Europeans in Muslim countries that they’d better not be seen in public too much for the sake of their health and maybe even their lives.

If they want Westerners to not think of them as terrorists then perhaps not acting like them and also not agreeing with them in terms of trying to enforce their ideas about blasphemy on Western medai would be a good start.

117

Doctor Slack 02.02.06 at 11:07 pm

jim s: First, it’s not only Saudi Arabia, Hamas and similar types that are overreacting.

I find it fascinating that some people are determined to overplay the Muslim “overreaction.” The cartoons have brought protests of various sizes in 11 countries, ranging in size (most sound small despite the attempts to hype them). Several countries and organizations — not all of them Muslim (the Orthodox Church in Russia is in there) — have issued official statements condemning the cartoons, and Syria and Saudi Arabia withdrew their envoys from Denmark. The most extreme reactions seem to come from places that are near or in occupied regions or warzones, and if that’s really a surprise to you, I really want some of what you’re taking; obviously people in conflict zones are going to have a different take on religious mockery. Bottom line is it’s not like a billion Muslims have been phoning in death threats to France-Soir or something.

118

a 02.03.06 at 1:18 am

“Obviously people in conflict zones are going to have a different take on religious mockery.”

What’s obvious about that?

119

radek 02.03.06 at 1:26 am

this is one of these posts/comment threads that just make me go ‘Jeebus Freakin’ Christ!!!!!’ (just felt like blasphemin’)

Seriously, at first I thought Christ and some other people on here were being ironic.

120

abb1 02.03.06 at 1:54 am

Doctor Slack, nobody got killed so far. All I’ve been saying here is that a cartoonist who makes fun of prophet Mohamed and then complains about getting death threats is being disingenuous. You’ve chosen to piss off some rough guys – don’t act surprised.

121

a 02.03.06 at 3:40 am

You’re right as usual abb1. Doctors who do abortions shouldn’t act surprised if they get killed by an anti-abortionist activist or, you know, have their homes vandalized. It goes with the territory. I mean, they should have become plastic surgeons or something.

122

Gary Farber 02.03.06 at 3:43 am

I’m afraid I was weak, and couldn’t resist pointing out that the odious Malkin posted one post strongly Standing Up For The Right To Print Offensive Cartoons (that offend Muslims) only a few posts away from a post strongly attacking the Washington Post for printing an Offensive Cartoon (that offended the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military).

Whaddya expect, it’s Malkin?

123

abb1 02.03.06 at 4:16 am

Yes, A, you got it.

Only it’s not correct that they “should have become plastic surgeons”.

Doctors who do abortions are perfectly entitled to become doctors who do abortions, and women are entitled to walk around dressed like hookers, young people are entitled to become soldiers or cops or firefighters, and cartoonists are perfectly entitled to mock Mohamed.

But they aren’t entitled to whine about perfectly natural and totally predictable consequences of the choices that they make.

124

a 02.03.06 at 4:33 am

abb1, that’s what people mean when they say you live in “bizarrely inverted moral universe.”

125

Backword Dave 02.03.06 at 4:50 am

Gary Farber — in a comments thread near you. Something at least is as it should be.

126

Backword Dave 02.03.06 at 5:00 am

Abb1, here’s an analogy (courtesy of Ian Blair) which seems apt to me. You live in a quiet village where’s the next to no crime at all. You let your 11-year-old daughter go out with her best friend in the afternoon. Who are you to act surprised when she’s sexually assaulted and murdered? Everyone knows there are psychokillers and kiddie fiddlers around. You knew the risks, etc etc. For all we know Ian Huntley’s delicate sensibilities may have been offended by the sight of two happy girls, and he reacted accordingly.

Oh I’m sorry, these flag-burners have difficult-to-meet needs, and we must sympathise.

127

abb1 02.03.06 at 5:06 am

Right. Kinda wonder what your universe looks like.

128

abb1 02.03.06 at 5:26 am

Oh, sorry Dave, didn’t see you comment; I have a proxy cache problem here.

No one here is saying that we need to sympathise with murderers, rapists or extremists or justify their crimes (or acts they commit by reason of insanity).

But we do know that they exist, we act accordingly and we take responsibilty.

Your analogy is totally off base, btw; to publish a Mohamed-mocking cartoon is more like sending your 11-year-old daughter to a village populated by known child molesters. Do we sympathise with a child molester? No, of course we don’t. Would we let our daughters go play with a puppy in known child molester’s house? Well, I wouldn’t – you?

129

bad Jim 02.03.06 at 6:17 am

We need a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammed as gay lovers. Bringing two sets of theocrats to a boil at the same time might prove as educational as it would be entertaining.

130

guthrie 02.03.06 at 7:01 am

I’m curious Abb1- would it be taking analogy too far to say that I shouldnt buy an expensive car because that means it will be more likely to get stolen, and I dont want it stolen?

131

a 02.03.06 at 7:10 am

abb1: So Muslims are like “known child molestors”? Yes, you do live in a bizarro world.

132

abb1 02.03.06 at 7:38 am

Yes, of course I do, but this particular cheap shot should be aimed, I believe, at Backword Dave, #127.

133

stostosto 02.03.06 at 7:53 am

Abb1 obviously don’t see Muslims as people with any capability for making conscious moral choices. They’re like Pavlovian dogs, mad bulls and lemmings, and we should deal with them on the basis of such an understanding.

134

Ray 02.03.06 at 7:57 am

If you walk up to someone on the street and call them a fucking asshole, they could make the moral choice to turn the other cheek, or the moral choice to punch you, but if they make the choice to hit you, you don’t get to act offended by it. And if I tell you that you were inviting that response by your behaviour, that doesn’t mean I think the person who punched you is a Pavlovian dog.

135

stostosto 02.03.06 at 9:08 am

Yes, and if you invite someone into your home, they eat your food and drink your beer, then vomit on the floor and if you then politely express your dismay and tell them that you wish they hadn’t… then you shouldn’t be surprised if they instantly crush your head with a sledgehammer.

Aaarghh!

This discussion is about to suffer death by a thousand analogies.

136

guthrie 02.03.06 at 9:23 am

So Abb1, what is your position on morals? Only exist in the individuals head, or are polite fictions, or what?

137

Ray 02.03.06 at 9:42 am

My analogy served it’s purpose – it demonstrated that ‘understandable response’ is not the same as ‘Pavlovian reaction’. I don’t know what the point of your analogy was.

138

Jaybird 02.03.06 at 9:58 am

As I understand it, Muslims are like people with Trisomy-21. They don’t have the same intellectual capabilities that you or I have. They are experiencing a lot of emotions that they don’t know how to verbalize and they don’t truly understand how powerful they are. Something like this Mohammed cartoon thing can make them explode with anger. Our response should not be “YOU’RE A BAD BAD RETARD!” but to ask ourselves “did we really take all the precautions we should have taken?”

And anyway, it’s not like Christians aren’t retarded too, right?

139

Benito Sharon 02.03.06 at 10:00 am

These people aren’t being hypocritical. If you ask them they will tell you. “Anything that helps me and mine is good. Anything that helps my enemy is bad.”

There’s nothing at all hypocritical about wanting one law for me and a different law for my enemies, unless I claim I want it to be fair.

Ask people this question: If you have a bad, bad enemy, and a dispute that might turn violent, which is a better result?

1. You and your enemy reach a peaceful compromise that gives both part of what you want, and the hostility is somewhat abated.

2. Your enemy is dead while you are unharmed, and you have all his stuff. Everyone forgets him and it’s as if he was never born.

Anybody who answers #1 has liberal tendencies.

This is a problem for liberals. Liberals think they’re playing a game that could be called “Reform Civilization”. But their enemies are playing a game that could be called “War”.

Liberals want to be fair to their enemies. The enemies of liberals would prefer to kill liberals and take all their stuff. And the liberal response is to try to persuade their enemies to play by liberal rules.

There’s nothing hypocritical about trying to keep the enemy from having any favorable exposure in the media, unless you claim you want to be fair.

There’s nothing hypocritical about keeping your enemy’s votes from being counted, unless you claim you want to be fair.

There’s nothing hypocritical about trying to get your enemies jailed for things that your friends wouldn’t be jailed for — unless you claim you want to be fair.

Look who supports the death penalty. Surprise! It’s people who want their enemies dead. And the argument that it’s racist, that blacks are far more likely to be killed, is an argument *for* the death penalty — except for people who don’t consider blacks to be enemies.

People who despise liberals for appeasing Hitler or wanting to appease Saddam or the iranians or arabs or muslims or whoever — the real issue is they despise liberals for failing to stand up for themselves. They despise liberals for appeasing *them*.

Look at the UN. Why should we give votes to nations we despise, when we have the power? We are the only superpower, why shouldn’t we do whatever we want to our enemies and potential enemies? They’d do the same to us if the tables were turned.

Similarly with Congress. Why should we allow liberals or moderates or independents to have any voice in government when they are a weak cowardly enemy and we can make it as if they had never existed?

Liberals traditionally claimed to believe that everybody was civilised. And that makes it easy to call people hypocritical when they are not. Before you call somebody hypocritical for the sorts of things you’re discussing, you need to ask them about that.

Do you want to be fair to muslims?
Do you want to be fair to artists who make blasphemous art?
Do you want to be fair to liberals?
Etc.

140

soru 02.03.06 at 10:02 am

to publish a Mohamed-mocking cartoon is more like sending your 11-year-old daughter to a village populated by known child molesters.?

Question: should openly racist comments like this be allowed on this blog?

Or does freedom of speech trump the risk of being seen as the new Little Green Footballs?

soru

141

J Thomas 02.03.06 at 10:11 am

If you walk up to someone on the street and call them a fucking asshole, they could make the moral choice to turn the other cheek, or the moral choice to punch you, but if they make the choice to hit you, you don’t get to act offended by it.

Actually, I disagree. I’m not talking about what the laws actually are in any particular place, but what they should be in the USA.

It should be, that if somebody says anything at all that leaves you so insulted you punch them, you should receive a court-ordered house-arrest until a government-certified therapist is willing to stake his continued employment that you won’t do it again if you’re allowed out in public.

Make an exception for pre-emtive attack, if you can make a case that his words showed he was about to attack you, and you had reason not to call for backup to prevent the violence.

It’s wrong for somebody to verbally provoke you to violence. But it’s insane for you to respond.

142

Ray 02.03.06 at 10:19 am

I’m not saying it’s okay for someone to punch you in response to an insult. Punching someone is a worse thing than insulting someone, and should be treated differently by the law, no question.
But I don’t think you get to act surprised, and it’s not really evidence for your moral superiority that you were punched by someone you deliberately insulted.
In the case of these cartoons, I think the paper had the right to publish them, but when they decided to include a picture of Mohammed wearing a bomb turban they lost the right to be shocked by the response.

143

stostosto 02.03.06 at 10:41 am

I don’t know what the point of your analogy was.

You constructed a scenario in which the reaction was evidently ‘understandable’. I constructed one in which the reaction was evidently
incomprehensible and over the top.

Next, all we have to do is determine which of these scenarios that most closely resemble the actual one, which is completely different from both on any number of dimensions.

Therein lies the rub.

144

ester 02.03.06 at 11:23 am

One of the things that’s been fascinating to me through this increasingly chaotic call-and-response between the Western world and the Muslim one is that while the Danish cartoons could be said to be equally offensive to all Muslims, the ones that have responded — that I’ve heard about at least — have been uniformly Middle Eastern.

Right? Have Muslims in America taken to the streets? Has Indonesia recalled its ambassador? Is Pakistan gesturing meaningfully to its nukes? No. This leads me to believe that there’s something in the air over there in the Gulf, or maybe in the (lack of) water, that makes its people in particular go batshit over this kind of admittedly provocative insult.

Anyone have another explanation?

145

J Thomas 02.03.06 at 11:28 am

Ray, I think an astute person shouldn’t be surprised if they get hit for saying unpopular things.

But if we had anything like a sane society, people *would* be surprised when that happened. Crazy people would not be running around loose, initiating violence.

146

Antti Nannimus 02.03.06 at 11:31 am

Hi,

All the peoples of the Abrahamic religions should simply get on with exterminating each other as quickly and completely as possible so the rest of us can then live in peace and quiet. These constant arguments about who has most offended whom are giving me a headache.

Have a nice day,
Antti

147

Donald Johnson 02.03.06 at 11:42 am

I think stostoto was right about this thread dying from too many analogies.

Sometimes the heated discussions that occur in threads at this blog are about real issues, and I disagree with the way Chris B cut off a discussion about the I/P conflict a few weeks ago simply because it was, um, being forcefully conducted, but this thread is begging for a pair of scissors.

148

mc 02.03.06 at 12:09 pm

30 says:
“what is the point of a law under which, Daniel says, “there has been precisely one prosecution … in the last 35 years”? Its deterrence value seems rather low…If the defeated parts of the Bill would have led to no prosecutions, would they have counted as vanity-lawmaking? If such legislation really is toothless and mostly a PR stunt and a sop to a minority, isn’t it an incredible misuse of Parliamentary time?”

First – I think ‘no’ should be replaced by ‘very few’.
Second, do the writer and others who share this view know how many prosecutions there are per year under the incitement-to-racial-hatred laws?

If not, they could try the following exercise: ask yourself (before checking the answer) how low the number would have to be for you to take the same view (vanity, stunt, sop, misuse of parliamentary time etc.) of that legislation.

For those genuinely interested, I see there is a short essay on this subject (the symbolic element of legislation) in the current (Feb) edition of Prospect (not free online).

149

Jaybird 02.03.06 at 12:40 pm

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/P/PROPHET_DRAWINGS?SITE=PAYOK&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Tens of thousands of angry Muslims marched through Palestinian cities, burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance Friday against European countries where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were published. In Washington, the State Department criticized the drawings, calling them “offensive to the beliefs of Muslims.”

While recognizing the importance of freedom of the press and expression, State Department press officer Janelle Hironimus said these rights must be coupled with press responsibility.

This makes it official. It was the right and proper thing to do to print those cartoons.

150

Fergal 02.03.06 at 1:32 pm

Seeing as Norman Geras is unlikely to reply to Chris’ post himself (and seeing where the thread has been heading in recent comments), here are words he wrote at a different time, but eminently applicable now:

“One thing seems to be the treatment of those who practise terror as though they were part of some natural environment we have to take as given – not themselves free and responsible agents, but like a vicious dog or a hive of bees. If we do anything that provokes them, that must make us morally responsible, for they can be expected to react as they do. If this isn’t a form of covert racism, then it’s a kind of diminishing culturalism and is equally insulting to the people transformed by it into amoral beings incapable of choice or judgement.”

151

a 02.03.06 at 1:43 pm

#145. Some Indonesians stormed the builiding where the Danish embassy in Djakarta is located.

152

Jim Harrison 02.03.06 at 3:20 pm

The old strategic doctrine of mutual assured destruction worked because each side had the power to destroy the other. Something similar accounts for the convention that religions are not to be made fun of, not because all the religions are so strong, but because they are all so weak. They can’t withstand even feeble criticism. Since all religions, at least in their traditional forms, are obviously false, it behooves their adherents not to throw stones.

153

Vincent Singleton 02.04.06 at 11:33 am

Yes, Muslims have a right to be mad but I draw the line at physical harm. Boycott, march it’s ok, but advocating killing is wrong!

154

Infidel With An Explanation 02.05.06 at 12:36 am

Certainly vincent singleton is a right wing extremist. The Islamists can kill those with whom they disagree, but they can’t be criticized for doing so.

155

Bro. Bartleby 02.05.06 at 5:44 am

Hmm, I was wondering when this was all going to peter out … (alas, peter out?! a reference to Peter the apostle???) Nevertheless, not one of you has mentioned the burning of Christian churches in America, the latest were still sending embers into the air as you all were busy parsing cartoons. I propose that academia take a stand, send civil rights marchers to Alabama to safeguard the civil rights of Christians there. Too radical? Or is burning churches in America just stories that will soon peter out?
Bro. Bartleby

156

abb1 02.05.06 at 2:24 pm

Lenin here is absolutely right, btw. This is just anothe one of these: we’ll be bombing and occupying your countries, killing you and your children, insulting you and your religion – and we’ll tell you what your reaction should be.

157

Bruce Baugh 02.05.06 at 3:14 pm

Doctor Slack touch on something above, as does Lenin in Abb1’s link: this is not a dispute occurring against a basically neutral, civil background.

The US is at war with whoever it wants to be at war with at the moment, and if it’s not trying to manufacture an Iranian front, then the unintended similarities of maneuvers before the opening of an Iraqi front are truly remarkable. The leader of the folks whose actions justify all this sits comfortably; so do the two nations who produce his patronage and followers. Everyone else who can be conveniently tagged as Other, islamofascist, and the like is pretty well screwed. Furthermore, this is a war being fought with active commitment to breaking legal and moral norms. Everything’s on the board – no treaty, no ethical guideline can ever stand in the way of what someone in the chain of command think useful or just plain fun at the moment.

Along with this, we know that the US administration treats the press as purely a tool of propaganda: planting stories and columnists, getting a gay pimp to ask easy questions at press conferences, all kinds of backroom wheeling and dealing.

Now here comes an effort specifically to provoke hostile reactions. Are we really that sure that there’s no US money or leverage here? There’s apparently some deliberate rabble-rousing based on lies and misdirection in the Muslim world, too? Are we so sure that the ghost of COINTELPRO is that calmly laid to rest?

I’m not sure I’m paranoid enough to answer either of those questions with a fully committed denial…but I think that there’s more than enough reason to ask them, and not to accept as given any clearing unless there’s a whole lot of evidence behind it.

Here’s a question – a genuine one, since I don’t know the answer and didn’t have much luck trying to research it – for those more up on the law than I am. What laws and other obligations govern the treatment of propaganda mills in wartime? There must be some spectrum from “openly manufactured at the home office” to “created independently in hopes of supporting the struggle without any direct patronage at all”, but I don’t know what the categories are or how they work. I do know that the US obviously regards sympathetic independent media in the Middle East as fair game, and it seems like it would be no great stretch or surprise for a lot of Muslims to regard such an effort as equally obviously part of the war effort aimed at them.

158

rollo 02.05.06 at 6:20 pm

Aside from the obvious prejudice of non-believers toward the tenets of the faithful, there’s the specious assumption here that this is happening in some kind of sociological vacuum, where any act can be weighed in the abstract according to universal principles.
Abb1’s drift is more pragmatic, and pragmatism is what the rationalist non-believers pride themselves on having.
Muslims feel attacked, reviled, opposed at every turn, and not just by other religions or nations, but by corrupt and demonic agencies of evil.
Because the smug rationalist sees this as absurd it has little weight in his assessment.
But fundamentalist Muslims view those cartoons the way most of you view child pornography – obscene, destructive, damaging to the innocent, and unrepentantly profane.
It isn’t just free speech, it’s a direct refutation of their beliefs, a denial of their right to believe. Publishing that cartoon says the Islamic belief that images of the Prophet are sacred are meaningless and inconsequential. The polite middle vanishes.
The photographs from Abu Ghraib may have been delivered to the world as evidence of grotesque crime, but their publication was also a compounding of the degradation they showed.
This cartoon exists in a line of degradations that looks to the Muslim world like a continuous act of war. Because it is.
Couching the debate in the abstract is a collegiate exercise, and playing it off against racism as though religious bigotry were less harmful is timid and weak.
Muslims believe images are powerful, and images of Mohammed are even more powerful – close to the core of their faith. That has to be recognized, and either honored or discounted.
Reducing this issue to the legalities of satire isn’t the unbiased egalitarianism it purports to be.
There isn’t any neutral ground left.

159

mitchell porter 02.05.06 at 7:23 pm

I predict that the majority liberalism of the future will be against imperialism in the West *and* against Islam in the East. People who don’t actually believe in Islam will grow tired of trying to figure out who the moderates are and who the radicals are, and will openly urge the Muslim world to abandon its superstitions.

160

J Thomas 02.07.06 at 11:25 am

Mitchell, that’s already happened here in the USA with fundamentalist christians. People who don’t actually believe in fundamentalism have given up trying to understand them and just urge them to give up their superstitions.

It’s sad that this approach doesn’t win elections.

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