Friday, February 03, 2006

More Danish cartoons

Since I posted this morning, acres of newsprint and bandwidth have been turned over to these Danish cartoons.

The European newspapers were entirely within their rights to publish and should not have been prevented from doing so. There is no point in free speech if only popular, unthreatening things can be published or said. Which is why Karen Armstrong is kinda missing the point when she writes:

On the other hand, in a secular Europe, freedom of speech has developed as one of our sacred values. We fought hard for it, but we have to remember it carries responsibilities. For example, do we have a right to say whatever we want even if it is false and dangerous?

But just because they should have been able to publish it doesn't make it any less rude and disrespectful to Muslims. Jyllands-Posten broke a religious taboo and also implied that all Muslims are potential terrorists. It's rather like conflating Christian Voice and US Creationists with people down your local church. In the same way, just because Nick Griffin should have the right to mouth off to a group of BNP members in a pub doesn't make what he's saying acceptable.

Muslims have a right to peacefully protest. But they shouldn't expect the Danish government to neuter its press and it's not entirely clear what the Danish government should be apologising for. It's not clear either what boycotting Danish food is supposed to achieve beyond awareness-raising - it is not the fault of Walls ice cream if Rupert Murdoch goes AWOL in The Times. But unlike UK student unions (the chiefdoms of the random boycott), Muslims in countries without free press (like Saudi) have an excuse - it appears some conflate newspapers with 'the West' generally and European governments. This much is obvious here where Afreen writes:

It just goes to show that Europe and the West don't properly understand the Muslim way... It's nothing to do with Danish companies but until the Danish government apologises the boycott should continue....I used to see Denmark as a peaceful country. But now this has changed.

In a democracy, no government should be responsible for what appears in the press.

The violence in some parts of the world is a disproportionate response but it's mostly the usual suspects such as Palestinian extremist groups. And/or it's occurring in parts of the world in which political and religious violence is a regular occurrence (look up Indonesia on the BBC website). Seen in that context, it's business as usual. There is no direct relationship between unreformed Islam and this violence (was that what you were suggesting, Hot Ginger and Dynamite?) in the same way as there was no direct relationship between Catholicism and The Troubles in Ireland - all these areas have a complex muddle of political, historical and religious problems. It is for this reason that we should make the distinction between problem states who do not respect our values and Muslims who can.

The final word goes to the Grauniad, who do not disappoint by blaming the whole furore on middle-class racists demanding free speech due to their delicate, ignorant disgust at the sight of Muslims marginalised by poverty:

"I sense a similar undercurrent today, in the cathartic excitement with which some have rallied to the Free Speech banner, a sense of fear and loathing of the troublesome, brown hordes we see jumping up and down brandishing guns on our TV screens... The rage expressed by demonstrators in Gaza against Scandinavian aid workers was, at a deeper level, the rage of the disenfranchised, the displaced. In the UK and across Europe, Muslims are, socially and economically disadvantaged, among those at the bottom of the pile. Cultural gestures such as the Danish cartoon may please well-to-do secular liberals in helping push back the envelope of free speech and cock a snook at religious dogma. To Muslims, however, they merely add to a sense of disaffection"


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