Reflections on the Mohammed Cartoons

3 Feb

The current cartoon-induced tempest that is fracturing – already fragile – relations between the West and the Islamic world, has given me much to ponder. My initial outrage was at some sections of the quasi-Christian right, many of whom have hijacked the Church as a surrogate for a supposed British identity, who claimed this incident proves that Islam is irreconcilable with Western society. The millions of peaceful Muslims who live and work in Europe and America show this belief to be nonsense.

Springer opera

Stuart Lee – a noted humanist – who wrote the controversial opera Jerry Springer: The Opera, said this morning that he would never have satirised Islam. Christianity, argues Lee, – being the subject of his Springer opera – has prostituted itself through its commercialisation of Jesus, citing the sale of iconography in and around churches and religious sites. Lee states that images of the Mohammed are rarely reproduced in mosques or elsewhere. Rather more convincingly Lee protests that it wouldn’t be right for a westerner to ridicule Islam, and that real satire is informed and it is the role of Muslims to lampoon their own faith.

I think Lee is right – it is not the role of the West to ridicule Islam, but that does not mean that it can’t. Criticism of Islam is often little more than poorly concealed racism, using the religion as a proxy for moronic prejudice. The offending cartoons however cannot be disregarded as closet racism, as they rightly call into question the perversion of Islam by those who seek to justify terrorism – they have a real socio-political message. As many have pointed out, the cartoons are hardly works that demand to be recognised alongside great C18th political satire, but genuine social commentary they are. Religion is an ‘idea’, and is therefore a justified subject for debate, criticism, and derision. The fact that the cartoons offend the sensibilities of millions is no reason to curb freedom of expression – however it may be a reason for editors to avoid their publication.

This issue also brings into the question the recent Incitement to Religious Hatred bill, which thankfully suffered a setback on Wednesday. Religion, I repeat, is an ‘idea’; one does not have to be Jewish to convert to Judaism, one merely has to accept its tenet – its theory of the world. Legislation that outlaws criticism of an ‘idea’ has its own name: totalitarianism. The religious hatred bill is nothing more than a dictatorial attempt to curtail our freedom to challenge and satirise religion, to address the wider social problem of inter-racial malcontent. As comedian Rowan Atkinson contended, the government are using a “sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

So with the ‘thought-police’ not yet empowered to prohibit the publication of the pictures, the authorities are pleading with media outlets to show some decorum and not reprint the images. Editors are faced with some difficult decisions.

*****

Violence

Also open for criticism is the reaction by thousands in the Middle East, and wider Islamic Diaspora, to the cartoons that has exposed the regressive fanaticism and increasing radicalisation of Islam. Groups have demanded that unless formal national apologies are made they will retaliate against Danish interests and nationals.

The reaction in the Islamic world is predictable and lamentable. Muslims have a right to be offended, a right to boycott Western products, and a right to protest. However the threat of violence and the acts of gunmen, who took over an EU office in Gaza City, is outrageous and western governments have exposed their spinelessness in not condemning this irrational response. So powerful is political correctness within Europe, that our leaders would rather condemn the media, than genuine aggression.

Danish goods

Again Muslims are venting their frustration outwardly and aggressively towards the West, never tolerating inward retrospection or contemplation. What radical Islam is achieving is proving the extremists in the west, who argue Islam is irreconcilable with western civilisation, right. Protests today in London outside the Danish Embassy are justified as a legitimate response to the cartoons, but again they descend into counterproductive hostility when protesters hoist placards decreeing: “behead the one who insults the prophet” and “free speech go to hell.” These statements are inciting violence and pour flames on tense inter-racial relations. Free speech is a valuable freedom that is intrinsic to European identity and culture; outbursts such as this will cause nothing but resentment.

It would be both condescending, and wrong, for me to call for an Islamic enlightenment. But the rampant march of Radical Islam is threatening to pull the fragile fabric of our relative peace apart. Much like the regressive evangelical Christianity that is poisoning American society, and the rabid ideology of Orthodox Judaism, fanatic religion is plunging humanity back into an Age of Darkness, where free thought and expression are prohibited under threat of social exclusion and/or violence.

If people in Islamic states seek to give up freedoms for dogma, then that is their prerogative, but this is contrary to modern post-enlightenment European civilisation; and Islamic communities within Europe must respect this. This clash of civilisations must not be manifested by violence. The cartoons are just that: ‘cartoons’. They do not physically hurt anyone, but call into question an ‘idea’, a worldview.

It has been pointed out that terrorism somehow justified by Islam, is causing far more damage than these cartoons ever could, and that the Islamic world regularly refuses to condemn such violence, always seeking to justify it against Western Imperialism. There are huge swathes of western society that call into question Israeli territorial occupations, and millions who oppose the Iraq War, but the Islamic World must also condemn it’s own internal problems and communities must work to root out extremists. Religion can never justify violence.

*****

What this debate comes down to is freedom of expression, and the question of whether Europe, and its leaders, will stand by its principles and not cave into irrational outrage and violence. Relations between indigenous Europeans, their Muslim communities, and the Islamic world, will not be repaired by European acquiescence to demands, they will be enflamed. Xenophobic extremists in Europe will seize on any compromise in western values as proof that our existence is under threat, and to a point they will be right. Our belief in an Open Society is who we are and must never be negotiated.

The cartoons were in poor taste, and the editorial of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has revealed incredible editorial inanity, but the violent and aggressive response has been far far more reprehensible.

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20 Responses to “Reflections on the Mohammed Cartoons”

  1. Tovya February 3, 2006 at 11:55 pm #

    So you think that throwing hand grenades and kidnapping people is an appropriate response? This the free world, we say what we want, and if a Muslim doesn’t like it, they can have a peace protest or boycott like we do.

    People are only printing it because Islam is using scare tactics to try and make people appease them. Forget about it.

  2. tyger February 4, 2006 at 12:27 am #

    So you think that throwing hand grenades and kidnapping people is an appropriate response?

    Where did I say throwing grenades is an appropriate response? Protest – if peaceful – is appropriate, that’s all I said.

  3. John February 4, 2006 at 3:37 am #

    I think the reasons for publishing these pictures was understandable. There is a big divide between our cultures and in Europe many people see the surge in immigration as a real threat to their traditions.

    It almost seems that our governments tip toe around these new citizens in fear of upsetting them, so much so that it’s political correctness gone mad.

    In Britain we enjoy a very diverse culture and whether you’re white, black, asian, muslim or jewish you’re welcome. We openly accept and encourage other religions, gay rights and freedom of speech all help to make this country one of the most liberal minded in the world.

    Whether it’s true or not a lot of people here feel that this new element of our society want us to be accepting of them but show little or no tolerance for our traditions.

    Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this of everyone and I’m not even saying it’s true but it is the perception.

    Certainly the images of Muslims today in London only helped the far right to paint an ugly picture of Muslims who have no loyalty to the country they now reside in, and all it took was a series of cartoons.

    Banners included slogans like “democracy go to hell”, “remember 9/11” and “kill those who insult Islam” and a Muslim leader shouting “Mohammed said whoever insults the prophets kill him”.

    No doubt this is the far right of Islam and not reflective of the majority, but this is the common image we see. Lets see more anger in Islam for terrorist rhetoric, lets see an outcry from the Muslim community over this backlash of violence.

    The cartoons where meant to show the worries some people have about immigrants flocking to their country be appearing to have no respect for their ways and traditions, so lets discuss this and move on.

  4. wondering February 4, 2006 at 5:17 am #

    When overreacting like this I hope the muslims will not inflict too much damage to themselves. It’s hypocritical to call for boykott of european products, call for holy wars and at the same time to expect massive relief efforts and financia help. The money will not be there anymore and probably europeans would be a bit reluctant in their good will. Also I doubt that any serious investor would in future risk any involvement with a culture that goes crazy over a couple of cartoons.

  5. Jose February 4, 2006 at 7:42 am #

    I see the main reason for all this has been forgotten. Those who thought of publishing these caricatures KNEW what they were doing. They knew how much outraged Muslims are if their symbols are dealt with disrespectfully, but anyway they did publish the caricatures. It is like saying : see? didn’t I tell you they were going to do this and that?

    It has been clear – to me at least – that the caricatures were published for the mere reason the media works : to create the news, to create the news that they – media moguls – anticipated was going to be : upsurge of Muslim violence.

    To fully understand this one must regress to the times when Arab countries were colonies of Europe. Britain, France, Spain, Italy wanted those colonies to be uneducated. They used corruption to keep them so. They used the same methods multinationals are using now in countries which are exploited by them.

    And the consequences are we all pay for it now.

  6. tyger February 4, 2006 at 9:33 am #

    Some very good points.

    I certainly agree with a great deal of what John has written.

    Jose, where do you stand on so-called ‘heretical’ works such as The Life of Brian, The Da Vinci Code, and The Origin of Species? The first is lampooning far in excess of these cartoons, the second undermines the absolute central tenet of Christianity – that Jesus was mortal, and the last has led to the ruination of Genesis as the definitive creation story.

    These were all introspective works agreed, but Islamism refuses to tolerate any internal challenges to its orthodoxy – mainly because so many Islamic States are totalitarian or theocratic. Shouldn’t we in the west challenge this dogma, or shall we allow myopic fanaticism to ferment is our usually open societies? I have criticised the editorial for their publication, but I condemn the response far more. The protest outside an embassy threatening fatal retribution is utterly unacceptable, and Muslim groups must realise this.

    Had it been peaceful protest and a democratic boycott of Danish products, without this aggression, I would call for an absolute apology from the newspaper for incredible insensitivity and poor taste. That is no longer the sole issue; this has become a manifestation of a clash of civilisations; and we are playing into the hands of extremists, on both sides, who want nothing more than to descend into violence.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  7. Jose February 4, 2006 at 7:36 pm #

    Who holds the truth, Tyger? Why can you justify what you call freedom of expression when this very freedom of expression hurts the feelings of your neighbour? Is there not a limit to freedom? Or do you think freedom is just something to let you do what you think suitable to you irrespective of any damage doing to anybody else?

    No, my friend. That is not in my opinion how people must observe freedom. Your freedom ends at the very door of your neighbour’s rights. You, knowing that something may hurt your neighbour’s feelings, abstain from doing that something. And that is just what the newspapers under discussion have not done.

    They have sought the controversy. They have sought to hurt Muslims’ feelings just for an aim to sell more newspapers.

    I do not think we must blame Muslims for the logical reaction to something that has hurt their religious sentiments.

    In olden times, Catholics massacred Lutherans or viceversa, just for the mere fact they were different.

    To blame Muslims because they are different is a kind of racism covered by the logical reaction against a violent reaction.

    But you must tell me where is the origin of the whole issue.

    If there had not been any caricatures, I am sure there would not have been the reactions your friends here are criticising.

    Why not criticise the origin of it all?

  8. earthpal February 4, 2006 at 10:00 pm #

    I can’t understand why people of religion get so worked up about such things, so much so that they would contradict their own claims of being a “religion of peace” by stirring up hatred themselves and inciting such barbaric acts of violence. If their faith is strong and they have a good personal relationship with their god, then why should they worry about a few cartoons. They must know that their god isn’t blaming them for such sacrilege…that he isn’t holding them accountable. It’s perfectly understandable that some may feel they should defend Gods name by peacefully protesting but these threats of violence are far more offensive than a few grossly distasteful cartoons. I am totally against these displays of aggression and I feel that the Muslim community should not, in any way, support or defend the aggressive and inciteful elements of these protests.

    However, I equally can’t understand why the press would knowingly inflame a group of citizens like this; that they would deliberately choose to pick on such a marginalised community that is already struggling against the hatred of Islamophobia and at a time when relations between our two communities are already fragile. What did they gain by publishing these gratuitously provocative cartoons? As tyger implied – give the Islamophobics an inch……

    Sensationalism sells. The press are loving this. Of course the press have the freedom to print such images which I fully support but that doesn’t meant they should print them. Yes, they are quite within their rights and I would absolutely not support any attempts to silence them but I can’t help feeling that in view of the current levels of tension, I think their decision to print was socially irresponsible and insensitive.

  9. earthpal February 4, 2006 at 10:01 pm #

    tyger, brilliant blog by the way. I love reading your work.

  10. Jose February 5, 2006 at 9:31 am #

    I am for freedom of expression, or I’d better say freedom of information?

    What the press have done is go over the limit in that freedom of information, the limit that marks your rights, your beliefs. The press can say that Muslims are so and so – as they have already done – what they cannot do is insult their beliefs. And this for the mere aim of earning more money.

    Are we interested in hurting somebody? Why do we not reject this attitude? Or are we really “for” the offence in the freedom of expression?

    In sum are we for coexistence or are we not?

  11. tyger February 5, 2006 at 9:53 am #

    Jose,

    I will fall back on the line, oft misattributed to Voltaire, but no less worthy: I do not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it. Although this is not to say that freedoms are unqualified. As you suggest, my freedom to spin around, arms out like an enormous out-of-control sycamore seed, ends when my clenched fists meet another’s nose.

    But, as you also say: In olden times, Catholics massacred Lutherans or viceversa, just for the mere fact they were different. Exactly, such authoritarian intolerance has been vanquished here in Europe, we have used the pamphlet, the cartoon, the satire, and the sword, to fight for our right to challenge the primacy of the church. We entered enlightenment.

    And I don’t accept that the Muslim response has been logical. There is no logic in threatening Europe their 9/11 (as some banners have called for), of the beheading of these culpable cartoonists. Certainly Asian communities within European societies need to understand such extremism is unacceptable.

    I agree the editors of the newspaper are hiding behind free speech, when indeed they knew exactly what they were doing. But the world is stuffed full of morons, fools, and taxmen – but we just have to deal with it, not resort to barbarism.

    I’m all for addressing the root cause of any conflict, but that’s just it; the root cause of this tempestuous china teacup, a few unfunny, poorly illustrated cartoons – let’s show some reason.

  12. Jose February 5, 2006 at 10:56 am #

    If the governments of those countries where these cartoons were published had reacted in a different way. If they had condemned those publications, then perhaps the reaction from the Islam world would have not been as it was. But those governments have misused your Voltaire’s expression. In politics tact is something that should never be forgotten, the more so when they, the governments, knew as you and I did, that there was certainly going to be an uproar afterwards.

  13. MrZhisou February 6, 2006 at 1:58 pm #

    Hiding behind freedom of speech is no excuse, they were reprinted in an irresponsible manner to create news and reaction was to be expected – that reaction has now, inevitably, turned tragic with the deaths in Afghanistan.

    It is to the credit of the Denmark that the government didn´t – and couldn´t – stop this. There is no simple answer, the kind of gagging order that Blair is attempting to promote reeks of anti-liberalism. These incidents need to be dealt with on a case by case basis and not by government legislation. The newspapers concerned will stand or fall by what they choose to print. Moslems shouldn´t react in the way they have, but that´s not the world we live in. Sensible and respectful criticism is to be applauded, outright inflammatory goading is not.

  14. Angry Dane February 8, 2006 at 8:52 pm #

    tyger concluded:

    “The cartoons were in poor taste, and the editorial of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has revealed incredible editorial inanity…”

    Jyllands-Posten has had a long history of anti-Islamic sentiment. It cannot be excused as mere stupidity on their behalf.

    It must be remembered that it was the Danish Imam, Ahmed Akkiri, who made a dossier on Jyllands-Posten and held meetings with influential religious figures in the Middle-east.

    This only after all other domestic channels for infuence had been closed. The Danish Imams followed every democratic rule in the book. Peaceful demonstrations. Request for a criminal investigation into if Jyllands-Posten had violated the criminal code on dissiminating hate-speech – which was refused by the State prosecutor. Then the Mideast ambassadors got involved and requested a clarifying meeting with the Prime-Minister which he refused.

    The Danish Government, the Judicial authorities and the Newspaper had every chance to diffuse the issue, but for unknown reasons chose not to.

    There is, as in all other Western Democracies, a confusion as to final responsibility – because it is not known who the real holders of power are.

    The issue then must to find out – who in our so-called ‘civil-society’ had an interest in that the issue was not solved in time – domestically and in a peaceful manner.

    Now one etnic Dane has charged the Newspaper with “enterprize to damage the interests of the nation”. A law last used against Danish companies who worked for the Nazi occupation.

    Another Dane, whose father fled Nazi persecution in Nazi Germnay, has also charged the Newspaper.

    I hope they succed in this endevour.

  15. tyger February 8, 2006 at 9:22 pm #

    Angry Dane,

    Thanks for your contribution.

    Certainly more information has surfaced – or at least become apparent to me – since I wrote the article. Hence why I have launched another discussion thread on the main page. And this new info certainly suggested that JP’s intentions were more deliberate.

    It’s hard to see through the disinformation: other reports suggest that Danish Imams have propagated even more incendiary cartoons (that did not appear in JP) across the Middle East giving the impression they were printed. It is argued these ‘other’ unpublished cartoons were the real source of the anger and violence that has ensued.

    You would think that the Internet and 24hr rolling news would illuminate us in such times of confusion, but New Media content providers have become as much a part of the machine of disinformation, as any more overtly partisan traditional medium.

  16. tygerland.net » More loc April 25, 2006 at 10:27 am #

    […] As I have already outlined in previous posts, it wouldn’t surprise me if swathes of the working classes, do align themselves with the BNP. Since the last elections we have seen the July 7th London Bombings, various terror attacks across the Middle East, the Lozzles Road riots, a deterioration of the situation in Iraq, and the Mohammed Cartoon fiasco. […]

  17. tygerland.net » Pope Ben September 16, 2006 at 10:58 am #

    […] Hard to disagree to be honest, however it rather ignores the centuries of Christian missionaries who did exactly that in Africa, the Americas, and in Australasia. Expect another Jyllands-Posten Mohammed Cartoons crisis fuelled by Mad Mullahs on one side and the self-serving Western media on the other. […]

  18. bryan@doherty.com October 30, 2006 at 6:52 pm #

    Si eres cualquier cosa como mí, odias el pensamiento del gasto cuarenta horas a la semana en un trabajo del punto muerto. Las luces fluorescentes de zumbido, la gerencia idiota, el hecho de que necesitas despertar doloroso temprano – el único alto punto son que viene viernes cada semana. Dije tan a me, allí me consigo ser una manera mejor. ¡Una cierta manera de hacer el dinero que me deja fijar mis propias horas y hacer una cantidad cómoda del dinero!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. tygerland » Reactions to my Reflections - February 6, 2006

    […] I posted my Reflections on the Mohammed Cartoons post onto a UK politics forum and I have been widely pilloried for my supposed hatred of Christianity and my kowtowing to the ‘mad-mullahs’.* […]

  2. tygerland » Jyllands-Posten’s Flemming Rose speaks out - February 19, 2006

    […] Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which is at the heart of the Mohammed cartoons story, has written an opinion piece, published in today’s Washington Post. […]

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