Cartoon Capers

I’ve drawn a few comments on my posts on the general air of hysteria and hypocrisy surrounding the “Muhammed Cartoons” which, for no better reason that I feel like it, I’ve decided to address openly in a post rather than in the comments.

On Sunday, I made some general observations about the artificiality of this whole issue. My instincts then, and certainly my belief now, is that this is only superfically about freedom of expression and that the real issues lay is asking who benefits from all this and what do they get out of it? who is manipulating this situation for their own ends, or jumping on the bandwagon to make a bit of political capital out of bad situation.

And, for my troubles I was told that I was completely wrong. Well if I am wrong, then how do people account for this:

The British National Party’s newspaper, Freedom, has now launched its ‘May 4th is Referendum Day’ campaign in preparation for this year’s local council elections.

The purpose of the campaign is to give the public a chance to voice their concern over the growth of Islam in Britain. Freedom editor, Martin Wingfield explains:

“We have had suicide bombers in London and we are seeing riots across the Channel.

“However the media and our Government try to cloud the issue by blaming British and French society and not the terrorists and rioters. They deliberately avoid pinpointing the driving force behind these attacks, which is a religion that is alien to these shores and in its latest fundamental form threatens our very way of life.”

I’m sure I’ve no need to point out the source of that and I’m fucked if I’m linking to it.

Or how about this post from the Daily Kos, which is also right on the money…

While it was a minor side story in the western press, the most important of Muslim religious festivals recently took place in Saudi Arabia – called the Hajj. Every able-bodied Muslim is obligated to make a pilgrimage once in their lifetime to Mecca, which is in modern-day Saudi Arabia. This pilgrimage can be done at any time of the year but most pilgrims arrive during the Muslim month known as Dhu al-Hijjah, which follows a lunar calendar that does not exactly match the western Gregorian calendar.

The most recent Hajj occurred during the first half of January 2006, precisely when the “outrage” over the Danish cartoons began in earnest. There were a number of stampedes, called “tragedies” in the press, during the Hajj which killed several hundred pilgrims. I say “tragedies” in quotation marks because there have been similar “tragedies” during the Hajj and each time, the Saudi government promises to improve security and facilitation of movement to avoid these. Over 251 pilgrims were killed during the 2004 Hajj alone in the same area as the one that killed 350 pilgrims in 2006. These were not unavoidable accidents, they were the results of poor planning by the Saudi government.

And while the deaths of these pilgrims was a mere blip on the traditional western media’s radar, it was a huge story in the Muslim world. Most of the pilgrims who were killed came from poorer countries such as Pakistan, where the Hajj is a very big story. Even the most objective news stories were suddenly casting Saudi Arabia in a very bad light and they decided to do something about it.

Their plan was to go on a major offensive against the Danish cartoons. The 350 pilgrims were killed on January 12 and soon after, Saudi newspapers (which are all controlled by the state) began running up to 4 articles per day condemning the Danish cartoons. The Saudi government asked for a formal apology from Denmark. When that was not forthcoming, they began calling for world-wide protests. After two weeks of this, the Libyans decided to close their embassy in Denmark. Then there was an attack on the Danish embassy in Indonesia. And that was followed by attacks on the embassies in Syria and then Lebanon.

Actually, I take a pause for thought there, before moving on, and ask is anyone surprised that the Syrian’s failed to prevent protestors from torching a Western embassy, or that it wasn’t long before a similar incident took place in the Lebanon?

Of course this incident prompted a response from the White House:

The Government of Syria’s failure to provide protection to diplomatic premises, in the face of warnings that violence was planned, is inexcusable.

Which is certainly true – it was inexcusable but also entirely understandable given the pressure that the Syrian regime has been under since being implicated and near enough held responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. What better way for Bashar al-Assad to deflect attention away from his own weakening position and stir up a bit of quasi-patriotic fervour amongst the masses – and frighten the crap out of his opponents, of course – that a bit of nicely co-ordinated embassy burning in response to an ‘insult’ from the West.

And what of the Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper which kicked off this whole charade in the first place and is now being lauded in some quarters as a fearless defended of enlightenment values and the freedom of the press?

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.

The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.

In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten.

Zieler received an email back from the paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.”

I think Jamie K nicely sums it up, first by reminding us of this newspaper’s original editoral:

The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule.

And then sharply observing that:

A secular society apparently requires the holders of one superstition to be mocked, but allows the holders of another to enjoy “special consideration of their religious feelings

  • I should just clarify that my comment was directed solely at the previous commenter and not the post as a whole.
    I will mull over your point about anti-Muslim feelings on the left, but I wouldn’t want to give the impression that my view is that the left is entirely free of racism, or indeed anything in particular – that would be an arrogant and foolhardy position to adopt.
    Anyway, maybe more to follow as time permits.

  • sorry, can’t type much – hurt hand.
    The things going on in the background, like you mention & these URLS

    http://www.signandsight.com/features/590.html
    http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,398853,00.html
    http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=5&article_id=21654
    http://www.civitas.org.uk/blog/archives/2006/02/if_theres_hell_below_is_this_where_we_shall_all_be_spending_xmas_.html

    ARE what I meant and thought you were ignoring. You obviously weren’t so it was me wrong not you. Appologies.

  • How about:

    You’re in a pub with a group of friends and make an intentionally sick joke about rape. Pretty much everyone laughs, except your mate’s girlfriend, who turns white, sits silently for a bit, then gets up and leaves, because she – unknown to you – had been raped in the past.

    If you have any ounce of decency, you’d feel shit. You’d apologise profusely. She’d know you didn’t make the joke to upset her, and may forgive you, but would still be offended and likely think you’re a bit of a dick from then on. Decency states that you act nicely towards her from then on.

    If, the next week, you make another rape joke – checking first to make sure she’s not around – you may still be a bit of a dick, but are at least showing some consideration. If, however, you see that she’s there and still say it, then you categorically ARE a dick.

    And anyone who says “ah, but that’s rape – that’s more serious than pictures of some guy who died 1400 years ago (or whenever it was), so it’s not a fair comparison” entirely misses the point.

  • Firstly, there are plenty of racists in the Labour party. I’ll actually go further than this and say that virtually everyone of all ethnicities has been racist either purposely or unintentionally at some point in their life (including me). Growing up in the seventies, I rarely met anyone who wasn’t overtly racist, and still know a few people like that today.

    There are degrees of racism, lets not make the mistake of thinking ‘racists’ are some separate ‘evil’ breed, it is inherent in most cultures. Not until ethnicity is as irrelevant as hair colour will this disappear.

    I also accept your point about not exarcabating a fight, some of the motives of the papers who printed these cartoons are not pure.

    However this is besides the point; to use your fight analogy:

    A group of mates go down the pub, one of them hates this other guy and knows he has a particular hatred of Stalinism, so he turns up in a T shirt of Stalin (bad taste I know). The guy says unless you take that T-shirt off I’m going to glass you.

    The rest of them tell him to calm down but he grabs a glass, smashes it on the table and stabs the T shirt guy in the neck.

    Who is in the wrong here?

    Should his mates ban Stalin T-shirts, or should he be sent for therapy?

  • I don’t think either of the two analogies presented here are quite fair. What we had was caricatures that were published in the knowledge that they were likely to cause offence, and private anger, one or two of which perhaps overstep a line that groups them together with the state-sponsored anti-semitic cartoons that we’re all familiar with. No doubt there was offence and private anger as a result, but there were also immediate calls for censorship, and – I can’t recall the sequence of events exactly – death threats. Neither of these can be tolerated and, perhaps that’s where the story should have ended, having demonstrated the intolerance of some religious and governmental leaders in the Islamic world, and of individual extremists. Plenty of other religious leaders and governments around the world would also be tempted to go down this route, and perhaps shadowy forces were at work to ensure a certain result occurred – nonetheless the response was unjustifiable. It might be ridiculously far-fetched not to expect “hornet’s nests” in the world, and people in the pub on hair-triggers, but it’s hard to speak of universal human rights if there exist people who react in that way, and against which you have no legal recourse. Furthermore, if it’s impossible for A and B to live side by side because A seeks to exercise his freedom of speech, while B’s threshold of tolerance is so low as to make that highly dangerous for A, rendering the right useless, then the issue is neither with the right nor how with civil a chap A is, but with whatever has caused B to be so unyielding.

    What we have at the moment is some people in the West deliberately trying to cause offence under the guise of pushing their right to freedom of speech “to extremes” – but also an obstinate response to the threats of violence – and attempts on the other side to trump them with articles that raise the bar in the crudity stakes. Egos are flaring on all sides, and it’s not a good time for people of a sensitive disposition. The case is also weakened by the involvement of the tabloid press. Their line is entirely as expected (and hopefully doesn’t end in tears), but their involvement is surely a reaction to the street protests than the original publications. Similarly the Government sense an opportunity, waving new legislation under people’s noses. But these are all distractions. Sure, they have the ability to take control of the argument, but their assistance was neither requested nor required by those for whom the argument is merely about freedom of speech and acceptable responses to it. Does it mean that all those people have been duped, or that they were wrong to bring the issue up in the first place, just because it could be exploited? I

    Going back to the point about racists, what annoyed me was the idea that backing publication/opposing retaliation represented a racist position. Whatever the original reasons for publication, and not to deny that there are some very dodgy people who have backed this, to make a claim that lumps in so many obviously decent and respectable people (and it just so happens that these are of the left), just seems wilfully ignorant.

  • JM

    And anyone who says “ah, but that’s rape – that’s more serious than pictures of some guy who died 1400 years ago (or whenever it was), so it’s not a fair comparison” entirely misses the point.

    Au contraire.

    Your rape victim is just that a victim. Islam is a complex entity. Whilst it may be true that Muslims suffer descrimination, you are choosing to ignore all the other facets of Islam. Your one dimensional victim serves no purpose except to be victimised by the joke teller. Are you claiming that Islam or Mohammed CANNOT be criticised? No Imperialism there!

    Your example serves to deny the possibility of all other narratives except your own. It is designed purely to eliminate rational discussion and to pillory anyone who disagrees as insensitive at best, racist at worst.

    It is perfectly possible to simultaneously support Christian victims in Darfur or Egypt and criticise Fundamentalist Christians. Ditto Islam.

  • As predicted, you missed the point. Actually, even more than I thought it was possible for someone to miss it…

    To underline – the point was that accidentally offending someone with something that is offensive peculiarly to them is unfortunate but excusable. To accidentally offend someone and then deliberately repeat and increase the offence is merely unpleasant. To then get all surprised that they’re even more upset is idiotic.

  • JM

    I got the point – you drew a false analogy and expected no one to call you on it.

    Your rape victim is merely a one dimensional character designed to solicit sympathy. There is no conceivable point to be made about the target of the joke that would excuse the hurt she felt.

    In contrast, Islam is not one dimensional. Noble things have been done in the name of Islam and also terrible things. Mohammed did good and bad.

    The bad can and should be criticised. In the West this includes being lampooned.

  • Sorry, you’ve lost me. Because I didn’t write a 60,000 word novella providing backstory and characterisation the whole anaology falls down?

    I’ll make it more simple:

    Accidental offence = excusable
    Deliberate offence = not
    Deliberate offence deliberately repeated = definitely not

    This appears to be the latter. The precise source /nature of the offence doesn’t matter for hell. If you deliberately offend someone by doing/saying something which you don’t find offensive but they do, you’re being a dick – especially if you carry on even after they complain.

  • Lurker

    Well this is most enlightening. I await with interest your take on the next “Jerry Springer the Opera” type incident.

  • Unity

    JS:TO is a somewhat different situation as what is being satirised is not Jesus, himself, but the edifice of the Church, which is fair game.

  • JM

    Nosemonkey

    You have now dropped the rape analogy to bring it down to the bare bones. Your argument is that deliberate offensiveness is not excusable.

    Well that depends doesn’t it?

    A Zionist who thinks Nazi or apartheid comparisons are offensive seems to get offended by the left pretty frequently without comment.

    A republican who thinks that Bush Hitler comparisons are offensive gets little respite either.

    Personally I would not seek to deny people the right to make these comparisons.

    Nor should someone be denied the right to suggest that Islam expanded through imperialism. That Mohammad (a mortal man) was less than perfect. That terrible deeds are performed in the name of Islam or Mohammad.

    To reverse your analogy – if the rapist is offended by the joke (which he might be) and you repeat it, then you are very definitely excusable.

    Unity makes an attempt to differentiate JS:TO from the cartoons by making a distinction between offending the edifice of the church and offending Jesus. I doubt that’s tenable even in the case of JS:TO let alone Piss Christ et al but I’ll let that pass, because no one who has actually seen the cartoons would pretend that any, save perhaps the turban bomb, could be construed as being directed as Mohammad rather than the followers.

    “No more virgins in heaven” – only the rapist and his defenders are offended by this joke.

  • JBlogger

    If you are interested, here are two interesting articles related to the cartoons that I found on the site http://www.jcpa.org :

    http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas- 04…gerstenfeld.htm

    and

    http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-21.htm