Thursday, February 02, 2006


The "Right" to Spit on Those Below You

In a display of anti-Muslim sentiment couched in terms of "free speech," newspapers across Europe reprinted a series of cartoons that originally appeared in the Danish press, that depicted the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist (doubly offensive to Muslims, as Islam considers any depiction of the prophet Muhammad blasphemous).
[France Soir]'s front-page headline declared: "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God"...
Now here's the question: who was trying to take away that right? The Danish government did not censor the original cartoons (which were published in September). So where exactly is this "threat" to free speech coming from? Where in Europe has it become impossible to ridicule Muslims? This concept that somehow it is the duty of other European newspapers to reprint this absolutely offensive crap out of a show of solidarity is ridiculous. What if a Danish newspaper had printed an anti-Semitic cartoon? Would it then be the responsibility of other newspapers around the world to reprint it? If they didn't, would free speech be in peril? It's just such a bogus pretense.

Really, I think, it is simply evidence of the commonplace anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. It wasn't that there were governments trying to quash free speech. Rather, it seemed that the Muslims were getting a bit too "uppity." What, they think that we shouldn't print cartoons that mock their religious beliefs? Well, we'll show them! And I guess some did... and gave free speech a bad name in the process.

Sorry to say I disagree on this point.

First off, I'm soundly on the left side of the spectrum, and I am disgusted by what the likes of Coulter, Falwell and Pat Robertson say about Islam.

But what disgusts me is not that they are allowed to say it, but that their attack is a racist attack on *one* religion in relation to another: Coulter called for Muslims to be killed or "converted to Christianity". Falwell wanted to "blow them away in the name of the Lord".

The issue with the cartoons is an entirely different one.

France Soir, with its "ecumenic caricature" (three religious figures sitting on a cloud telling Mohammed to "calm down, we've all been caricatured here") made the point: It is not about satirizing Islam, it is about satirizing any religion - and the right to do so.

As an agnostic, I certainly think we have that right - and that goes for all religions. At worst, the Jyllands-Posten editors should have reconsidered the consequences of their action a bit more, and the cartoons lacked taste. To call them an attack on Islam is out of proportion.

(Sorry, this might the first time I've commented in disagreement on any "left" blog - especially one I generally enjoy reading as much as yours - but then dissent furthers discussion. :) )
Absolutely, feel free to criticize and disagree (especially from a fellow "lefty"). And I do take your point.

I wouldn't say I'm in favor of disallowing any of the newspapers from publishing the offensive comic. I wouldn't want to take away the right of people or newspapers to satirize anything they please, including religion.

But in this case I just don't see this as a response to those with authority trying to clamp down on freedom of speech -- the Danish government didn't ban the newspaper. The editor wasn't arrested. Newspapers in other European countries weren't threatened that if they printed anything offensive to Muslims that they'd be closed down. So why the need for this "defense" of freedom of speech?

Secondly, a comic depicting Muhammad as a terrorist isn't exactly subtle social commentary or satire. It's quite crude and, in my opinion, only serves to stir the already substantial anti-Muslim, anti-Arab sentiment in Europe (not to say that it's at crisis levels, but it exists to a degree that I'm sure we both would agree is disappointing).

So just because something draws controversy does not mean that it must be reprinted to serve freedom of speech. And if a community (such as the Muslim community in Europe, and also in the Muslim world) has decided to take an action, well that doesn't mean it's acting out of a desire to repress free speech. Rather, it's simply a means of expressing its own (collective) freedom of speech.

In closing, it just seems disingenuous of the European press to act as though the situation in Europe is that the press is under greater attack from the Muslim community than the Muslim community is from the press. Because I would argue the opposite to be true.
You're back! :)
I have to disagree with Alex on this. The caricuture is offensive, deeply so, to a large portion of the world's Muslims. That doesn't change that those in Europe have the "right" to print that cartoon as they see fit, but that they should exercise more responsibility and not reprint a deliberately inflammatory comic. It seems like more of a thumb in the eye than a statement of "free speech"; as Alex says, no one's really stopping them from printing it as many times as they want, so is it really a question of "free speech?" After all, those opposed to what others say can also exercise their "free speech" to protest it (though that does not include burning embassies down.)
absolutely, let me not suggest that i propose arson as the solution. i was listening to as`ad abukhalil on democracy now this morning, and he indicated that this was probably a way for the arab governments to allow the public to blow off steam and take out their frustrations on the danish consulate rather than the president's palace.
Good thought thanks for sharing.....

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