Follow the White Rabbit

Well there’s no doubt what the story of the week has been – the Danish ‘Muhammed’ cartoons and the furore they’ve stirred up all over the place.

I’m not going to dwell overmuch on what’s been said, and is still being said, either in the dead tree press or across large sections of the blogosphere, nor am I going to be running a shed of links to other commentaries – if you need to catch up on things – in which case you’ve been asleep all week – then start with Tim’s linkdump over at Bloggerheads and work from there.

Why? Because I’m simply not stupid enough to suckered into this whole game.

Let’s take step back and look what’s really happened here.

This all started with a Danish newspaper that no one’s ever heard of outside Denmark commissioning a bunch of fairly crappy and unfunny cartoons using Muhammed as their central character.

Why? To stir up a bit of controversy, get a bit of free publicity and flog a few more newspapers.

What happens next is entirely predictable.

The Islamic world gets pissed off with a bunch of Westerners taking the piss out of their prophet (for profit) and deliberately breaking a major taboo in their religion – so they start complaining, protesting and calling for everything from boycotts of Danish goods (which as Dave Weeden wonderfully noted, is a fat lot of good when Denmark’s two main exports are lager and bacon) to the odd beheading or two…

…which is exactly what happens every time someone takes the piss out of their religion and something the newspaper in question knows perfectly well – which is precisely why they commissioned the bloody cartoons in the first place.

About the only thing the newspaper hasn’t got out of this gig is the piece d’resistance of pissing off the Islamic world, an honest-to-goodness fatwa – something that can’t be too long in coming as it only takes one suitably qualified foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalist cleric to kick that particular game off.

Fair enough, file this one under ‘if you put your dick in a hornet’s nest, you’re bound to get stung’.

But it continues, still in full predicability mode, as the bandwagon jumping starts in earnest on the pretext that this is all a matter of the right to free expression – no it isn’t, its about flogging newspapers and cheap publicity. None of that matters, of course, because by now a few newspapers in other countries have decided that there’s plenty of room in the hornet’s nest to fit their dicks in as well, enough cheap ‘heat’* to go around and enough punters dumb enough to buy their rags just to see what all the fuss is about to make reprinting these cartoons worth their while.

* ‘Cheap Heat’ – a term used in professional wresting for a situation where the ‘heel’ (bad guy) deliberately insults the audience, the town/city in whcih they’re working or (commonly) a local sports team, to get the audience to boo him and take the side the ‘babyface’ (good guy) in the bout.

And of course, like Bagpuss, when the dead tree press wake up and start banging on about how reprinting these cartoons is really only defending the right to free speech, so a section of the blogosphere do the same thing because they too are defending freedom of expression – as well as those other great freedoms of capitalist liberal democracies, the freedom to funnel money into the pocket’s of newspaper proprietors and the freedom to be too stupid to understand what’s really going on here.

And so things continue to escalate until, inevitably, we end up with Syrians going out and setting light to the odd embassy or two and our very own bunch of rent-a-wingnut fundies wandering the streets of London carrying placards demanding the summary execution of all blaspheming infidel cartoonists.

Meanwhile…

Over in the politicosphere things are also happening…

Nick Griffin of the BNP, having just been acquitted of inciting racial hatred by spouting off about the evils of Islam is busy beavering away at his next ‘I told you so’ round of speeches and public engagements.

The Government’s tame Muslims in the Muslim Council of Britain and MPACUK suddenly come over all moderate and tolerant because it suits their interest to play the game and particularly to have anyone who might rock the boat and challenge their position as the self-appointed leaders of the Muslim community in the UK tarred as potential ‘extremists’, whether they’re extremists or not. Equating youth with extremism is a very effective means of keeping young progressive Muslims in ‘their place’ as some self-style ‘leaders’ know all too well.

And of course, dear old Jack Straw is pushed out front and centre to make just the right kind of placatory noises to suit the occasion, while, behind the scenes, the spin doctors are already working overtime to figure out just how much political capital they can make out of TV news footage of brown-faced people with placards demanding that those who mock Islam should be ‘butchered’ and chanting about ‘Bin Laden coming’ for the government’s next run at forcing through some more crappy, illiberal, authoritarian anti-terrorist legislation – let’s face it, you can bet your arse that all this is going to come up when the government have to try to get last year’s anti-terrorist legislation, with its appalling ‘control orders’ renewed.

But hey, who gives a shit about that when you’re sat there in your jim-jams and playing at being a fearless defen-duh of free speech and a fully paid up member of the 101st Fighting Keyboards (Dumbass Platoon).

Never mind that the Spectacle has you and you’re just too self-absorbed to see it…

Cue Keanu Reaves, looking cool and flying up into the stratosphere in full Superman mode…

Cue End Titles…

Cue Monster riff from Rage Against the Machine…

WAKE UP!!!!

UPDATE – Jamie K of Blood & Treasure absolutely nails it…

Principles are one thing, sympathies another. In principle I support the right of any newspaper to print cartoons of Mohammed and the right of anyone else to reproduce them. As far as sympathies go, can I just say that if you side with a group of effete right wing pseudo intellectuals in making sport of a decent, inoffensive and hardworking group of people like my Muslim neighbours, then you ought to be fucking well ashamed of yourself.

It’s called having moral and ethical standards and I fully support this view – no self censorship here.

  • How come radicals manage to take over in a certain religion more than others ?

  • “How come radicals manage to take over in a certain religion more than others ?”

    The more interesting question is why do people feel compelled to ask?

  • You know I’ve been reading your stuff for a while now, even nominated it for that nice Mr Worstall’s Roundup at least once, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen you completely wrong about something.

    Well, I suppose there IS always a first time for everything. Shame it had to be about this though.

  • Unity

    Completely wrong?

    Try this from the BNP:

    “A large section of British people feel threatened by the rapid growth of the Muslim population in Britain but at present have no way of voicing this concern. Our ‘May 4th is Referendum Day’ campaign will give people that voice. Every vote for the British National Party tells Tony Blair of this groundswell of disquiet.”

    No, of course Griffin et al isn’t going to make any effort to engineer a little political capital out of all this.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a serious debate to be had here. What I am saying is there are a lot of people who’re failing to consider the full implications of everything that’s been happening of late and especially how easily this issue can be manipulated on all sides to serve a wide range of completely illiberal ends.

    But no, I’m completely wrong, of course, so..

    Newspapers never spark off moral panics to boost circulation.

    Muslims never, ever react violently when they feel their religion has been insulted.

    Bloggers never jump on bandwagons without thinking through the full implications of their actions, and

    Politicians and self-styled community leaders never, ever, twist incidents such as these to suit their own ends, especially not when they’ve got contentious policies to try and sell to the electorate.

  • I don’t read any newspapers, so can’t say whether a traditional moral panic is being whipped up, but if you have a group within society which is prepared – in public – to incite murder with their banners, that’s a problem. And if they’re tolerated, that’s also a problem, as well as double standards. Whether we see it in the daily news or not, that’s the kind of thing the BNP feeds upon in their campaigns The explanation is always “exploitation of isolated events, media hysteria”, etc., but all the indications are that we’re getting less and less good at combatting them.

    “Effete right wing pseudo intellectuals” sounds like the kind of guff I’d put in my 1st year Politics essays – either way, I don’t see people being led by the nose, or and I don’t see liberals being led to back illiberal measures. It’s all textbook JS Mill at the moment.

  • Unity

    B4L:

    My point here is that reaction across the Islamic world is:

    a) entirely predictable, and

    b) being fed by the media out there in much the same way that it’s being fed by the media over here and all to pretty much the same ends.

    Jamie’s comment about ‘effete right-wing pseudo-intellectuals’ is a direct pop at the Danish newspaper that triggered all this off in the first place – remember this isn’t a case of cartoonist churning out satirical comment on the days/weeks news a la Steve Bell, but a situation in which the newspaper specifically commissioned these cartoons having set the editorial theme itself.

    As for liberals being led to illiberal measures, we’ll see shall we – there’s the Lord’s amendements removing the offence of glorifying terrorism to go back to the Commons in the near future and the renewal of control orders to come not too far down the line – let’s just key an eye on Hansard and see exactly who brings all this up when those debates take place.

  • be

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

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

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

  • Yes massive over reaction was entirely predictable, five deaths so far, but why should it be acceptable? Everytime anybody critises fundimentalist Islam they get forced into hiding (Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the cartoonists) or killed (Theo van Gogh and Hitoshi Igarashi). That does not mean that we must always cave into this kind of bullying. Whether it be from Muslim nutters, Christian nutters, Sihk nutters, or the rabid nuts of the BNP.

  • The whole object of political cartooning is to confront readers with unpalatable details and observations. They are by their very nature excessive. An excess of caricature is preferable to an excess of censorship or the bland, timid pronouncements of those yielding ground to latter-day book burners who are only using a contrived issue as yet another proxy for anti-western hysteria.

    Who decides what is offensive to Christians, Jews or Muslims? Which ones are to be considered protected species?

    The cartoons are not gratuitously offensive, bland and not very funny, yes, but not offensive. The depiction of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban is a fairly neat encapsulation of what radical Islam is coming to mean for more and more people appalled by the violence committed in its name, and subsequent reactions only vindicate this perception. It was provocative, of that there is no doubt, but political cartoons are provocative. It simply comes back to who decides what is ‘gratuitously insulting’. When you have a group that places itself above all others while at the same time practising an absurdly transparent hypocrisy, then they are the most visible target for parody.

    Can any objective person satisfy themselves that public beheadings and other such barbaric, bloodcurdling invocations by radical Muslims are not, by contrast, far more offensive to the senses than a few cartoons in a newspaper? How about the officially sanctioned contest in Iran to produce the most offensive holocaust cartoon? There is certainly no moral high ground to be had there.

    The greater part of the debate has been whether the newspapers were ‘responsible’ in printing the cartoons. The only sense in which they might not have been was the concern that they might result in just such an uprising as we are witnessing. Once you start bowing and legislating for that you empower that sort of behaviour.

    As we said, this is just an excuse, another proxy by which they can express their hatred and fear of democracy. They’ll find another before long, watch this space.