Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some news items

Here's a brief roundup to help catch up on recent developments in various areas:

Anyway that's all for now.

New look

I've chosen a new look for the blog, in order to take advantage of some new features in Blogger. Unfortunately choosing a new template has meant losing some of the things from the old template, although only until I get round to pasting them in from my backup copy of that template.

However, one of the things I'd like to do is switch to using Blogger's own commenting system rather than the Haloscan provided comments I used to use, which predated Blogger's comments and were the only means of providing for comments that I originally had. I think this will probably mean losing the Haloscan comments however, but then there were only a few comments contained there. If anyone reading this can indicate a way of getting Blogger to display the old comments only in old articles and new comments only in new articles, I'd be most interested.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Islamophobia Awards -- my alternative nominations

The Islamic Human Rights Commission organises the annual Islamphobia Awards, and have revealed the nominations for this year's awards. It seems to me though that the following people have done more to stoke up Islamophobia than many of the nominations listed there:

Surely, by conforming to the stereotype of the angry intolerant Muslim, who will threaten, if not carry out, acts of violence over any perceived insult to their religion, these people have been stoking up Islamophobia far more effectively than e.g. Jack Straw asking Muslim women to remove their veils or the Pope using an ancient quotation during a speech?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Renew for Freedom

renew for freedom - MAY 2006 - renew your passport

With the passing of the Identity Cards Act 2006, the law enabling the creation of the national identity register (NIR) and accompanying ID card in Britain, No2ID has launched its Renew for Freedom campaign.

The idea is to get as many people as possible to renew their passports during the month of May (i.e. this month!). Those that do so will end up with a passport valid for 10 years and will do so before the point at which renewing passports will entail registering on the NIR.

The government has so far indicated that, from 2008 onwards, passport renewals will entail registering on the NIR and getting a card (though the card, but only the card, can be opted out of until 2010). They are keen to get as many people onto the system as possible. Clearly if the scheme is to be scrapped, it will help to ensure that as many people as possible refuse to register. If the numbers are large enough it will make compelling people to get a card unviable.

Renewing your passport now will therefore enable you to hold out against having to register on the NIR for longer than it would otherwise. Also, renewing now minimises the risk of being compelled to register on the NIR should the government move the timetable forward.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tory peers cave in and let the Identity Cards Bill become an Act

Tory peers have accepted an amendment to the Identity Cards Bill allowing people renewing passports to opt out of getting an ID card until 2010. However they still have to register on the system, which means this "compromise" is nothing of the sort. So much for the Tory party defending civil liberties.

More details here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Why the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is worse than the Civil Contingencies Act

I've posted this article on Magna Carta Plus as well as here. It follows up on my earlier article on the government's new enabling bill.

In my earlier coverage of the Abolition of Parliament Legislative and Regulatory Reform(LRR) Bill, I think I have underestimated how much power it gives to government ministers. I now think this bill actually gives more power to government ministers, in practical terms, than the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA).

The CCA explicitly gives Ministers both the powers of legislating via an Act of Parliament and the powers of the Royal Prerogative. However those powers are supposed to be invoked only in an emergency, are time limited to 7 days, albeit renewable, and have various other constraints such as not modifying the CCA itself or the Human Rights Act. There are protections for the courts and criminal offences created under CCA regulations can carry only 3 months imprisonment.

The possibility that the LRR is worse than the CCA was pointed out to me when discussing the bill in this thread on the usenet group, uk.politics.misc. One poster makes the following points:

  • The LRR is designed ostensibly to be used in the normal course of governing, where the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) is supposed to be used only in emergencies.
  • The LRR can amend any legislation, where the CCA cannot be used to alter the CCA itself or the Human Rights Act.
  • The LRR can be used to delegate legislative power, without apparent limit, to anybody the specified in an appropriate order.
  • The LRR can be used to alter or abolish any rule of law.

The key matter I hadn’t considered fully before is this. The orders under the LRR can be used to confer legislative power on Ministers, such that they would then be able to legislate without any reference to Parliament at all. Given the government’s ability to control Parliamentary procedure (e.g. to ensure the negative resolution procedure is used), it would be possible for such a transfer of power in the favour of Ministers to occur without any vote in Parliament occurring!

This transfer could be achieved by sneaking the measure into a suitably large and convoluted order that implements a policy strongly backed by the governing party, and hoping it will either not be noticed due to the lack of time for scrutinising the order (this lack of time being arranged by the government) or if it is noticed it will be allowed through because the governing party’s MPs and Peers do not wish to abandon a key policy.

Remember there is no possibility for making amendments that would allow MPs or Peers to selectively modify problematic areas of the parliamentary orders. At best a request to revise the order can be made to the government which the government can consider and reject, or for that matter implement in any way it pleases. The Ministers will be in control at every step unless MPs or Peers vote the order down in its entirety.

I thus fear that if this bill passes we will not only see increasing amounts of legislation passed via parliamentary order with little or no scrutiny, but we will see Ministers being given increasing powers to legislate directly without reference to Parliament. The bill really should be entitled the Abolition of Parliament bill. The Abolition of Parliamentary Scrutiny Bill moniker I’ve been using in some posts is thus too mild a description of the threat this bill makes to Parliament’s role.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The March for Free Expression needs funds

The organisers of the March for Free Expression, scheduled for the 25th March need to raise £2500 to cover insurance and are asking for donations for this purpose. Anyone interested in donating can do so via Paypal on their website.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another enabling bill...

Back in 2004, I got rather concerned about the Civil Contingencies Bill (now the Civil Contingencies Act[CCA] 2004) which allows government ministers to obtain absolute power by claiming there's an emergency, albeit on a temporary but renewable basis. There is very little a Minister could not do under the regulations the CCA allows, though the Human Rights Act and the CCA itself are protected from alteration.

Whilst I maintain that the legal situation regarding the CCA is as I describe above, and that the CCA is a dangerous law that in the hands of a ruthless government could be used to institute a dictatorship, it does seem to me that it is somewhat unlikely to be used this way in practice. It would be a blatantly dictatorial act and would be seen as such by both the British population and the world at large, and thus it would require a government that does not care about the image it gives to the world.

More likely abuses of the powers in the CCA might occur in the event of a genuine emergency -- for example using the CCA to enhance the power of the state with laws that then get backing from a manipulated Parliament, using the emergency as cover. Instituting permanent outright rule by decree using the CCA however is unlikely unless we really do get a would be Hitler residing in Downing Street.

Now, however, the government has a bill going through Parliament which would give Ministers the power to amend, modify or repeal any legislation whatsoever via parliamentary order. This bill is the anodyne sounding Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, and I've covered it in detail over at the Magna Carta Plus blog.

The crux of the matter here is that the bill provides a fast track procedure, lasting a maximum of 2 months, with which the government can push through legislation, at best subject to a single vote in each of the Houses of Parliament. The orders cannot be amended and there is very little opportunity for MPs or Peers to scrutinise the orders concerned. And if the negative resolution procedure is used to pass these orders, a vote would be required to stop the legislation, instead of being required to approve it. Note that, typically, MPs and Peers will get just 90 minutes to debate parliamentary orders before voting them and then will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" -- no chance of amendment is offered though the government can revise the orders under the so-called "super affirmative" procedure.

Various Acts already give Ministers powers to issue such orders in variously limited circumstances, e.g. to make regulations or relatively small legislative changes, as secondary legislation. This bill would enable them to make primary legislation via these orders. Not one Act of Parliament is protected from being rewritten this way, where the Civil Contingencies Act is protected from itself and cannot be used to alter the Human Rights Act 1998. The orders could thus be used to remove what flimsy safeguards there are in the Bill as it currently stands and could be used to change any legislation from the "anti-terror" laws to the Scotland Act (which set up the devolved parliament).

The likely result if this legislation is passed seems clear to me. A government seeking to ensure it gets its policies implemented will tie MPs and Peers up dealing with relatively unimportant Acts of Parliament and push their favoured policies through via parliamentary order, using their control of the committees to ensure minimal scrutiny and that their favoured procedure is used (e.g. the negative resolution procedure which requires a vote to stop an order being passed rather than to approve it).

See Spy.org.uk for an example of a Parliamentary order being passed without a vote (it renewed the Control Orders legislation) after a short debate. This bill would allow all legislation to be passed under the same procedures!

Whilst the Bill's powers are not technically as severe as the powers granted under the CCA, they are an affront to parliamentary democracy and would be a major step towards rule by decree. And because there would still be a Parliamentary facade to the legislative process used, the exercise of the bill's powers would not look so blatantly dictatorial as the CCA, even though the effect might well be the same.

Given the bill's powers would be permanent powers, not emergency powers, it could be used to gradually and subtly relegate Parliament to little more than a talking shop. For this reason, it may actually be more dangerous than the CCA in practice.

It is also worth noting that the government has further plans for diminishing the ability of MPs to scrutinise the governments actions and hold the government to account.

Other sites covering this bill include:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Cartoon wars mini-roundup

A couple of stories I forgot to put in my previous article:

  • Michelle Malkin highlights a BBC report that the Yemeni newspaper editor who allowed cartoons to be published in the Yemen Observer in order to condemn them is not only languishing in jail, as Harry's Place reported before, but might face the death penalty if the prosecution get their way!
  • Malkin also reports on a pro-Denmark rally, supporting freedom of speech, that was held on Friday in San Francisco.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cartoon wars roundup (4)

The Danish cartoons affair continues to rumble on, even if it's not making as much headline news as it was:

  • Little Green Footballs (LGF) reports that the EU are considering demands from Arab countries to "fight defamation of the religion", apparently the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab league are demanding that the Mohammed affair is never repeated (i.e. no one publishes such cartoons again).
  • Also cited by LGF, is the (Australian) Daily Telegraph's report that Danish Muslim clerics are demanding an apology from the Danish government over the cartoons, and call for changes in Danish and European laws:
    We want the laws in Denmark and the European Union to be changed, either to have free speech for everyone including on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, or to change the law to respect religious figures like Mohammad,” Suweidan said.
  • Back in February, some students in Afghanistan threatened to join Al-Qaeda if further cartoons 'abusing' the Prophet Mohammed were published.
  • Harry's Place notes that publishing the cartoons in order to condemn them does not necessarily protect a newspaper from prosecution in Muslim countries:

    As I've said it's a deviation from the normal rule that a Defendant can't be guilty of something if he didn't intend to commit an offence. To give an example one can't be charged with murder if one accidentally shoots another person while cleaning a gun. The end result may be the same - a dead body, but the difference is in the intention of the person who held the gun. It's not fair to jail someone for the murder of another where he didn't intend to kill him.

    That sort of distinction doesn't seem to exist in Yemen where three newspaper journalists decided to publish the infamous MoToons in their newspapers in order more effectively to condemn them as blasphemous:

    Mr. Assadi, who once worked as a part-time correspondent for The New York Times, is one of three Yemeni journalists facing criminal charges for republishing the cartoons. The other two are Abdulkarim Sabra, the managing editor of the weekly Al Hurriya, and Yehiya al-Abed, a reporter for that paper. The men were jailed for two weeks last month, before being released on bail. The three stand accused of insulting their faith by publishing the images, a crime approaching heresy. In each case, the editors' stated intention was to condemn the drawings. In the case of The Observer, the images were obscured by a black X.

    The Yemeni journalists aren't the only ones in the Muslim world in trouble for dabbling with the cartoons:

    Eight other journalists in five countries are facing prosecution for reprinting the cartoons

    Muslim journalists beware: you may consider the images blasphemous, provocative or outrageous, you may deface, cover up or partially obscure the images, but publishing them is still likely to get you into big trouble as this snippet from the Yemeni court demonstrates:

    The lawyers also reminded the court of a story from the days of the prophet in which a woman was executed for insulting him, and he praised her killer, a citation The Observer took as a threat to demand that the editor be sentenced to death. He currently faces a year in jail or a fine.

  • A rally in support of Denmark was organised for the 11th March, in Toronto, Canada. This article reports on how it went, apparently they estimate 100 to 150 people turned out. Note that a march for freedom of speech is planned for the 25th March in Trafalgar square.
  • A rally criticising the cartoons, and praising Mohammed as a peaceful man took place in Houston, Texas on Friday, though fortunately without the violence that has marred other anti-cartoons protests.
  • In Russia, a website that had printed the cartoons received an official warning stating that the website had "committed an action aimed at arousing religious and social hatred and set up a real threat of causing damage to the social security". The website was told to remove the violation immediately.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Some freedom of speech related stories

Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I didn't have as much time to post over the last week or two.

Anyway, the furore over the Danish cartoons has finally subsided, at least in terms of riots and embassy torchings. However the issue hasn't died, and other events are also highlighting the issues related to freedom of speech:

Clearly the issue of freedom of speech, and where any limits should be drawn, has become a live topic since the publication of the cartoons and the subsequent furore, spurred on by other contemporary events such as the jailing of Irving, the acquittal of Nick Griffin of the BNP on charges of inciting racial hatred, the ongoing clash between anti-vivisectionists and those who support animal experimentation, and the watering down of the British governments Incitement to Religious Hatred bill. This is against a backdrop of continual erosion of civil rights by the British government, including the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech itself.

Freedom of speech is clearly a value that is under assault. Nevertheless, it has its defenders.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cartoon wars roundup(3)

The Danish cartoons controversy continues to generate stories around the world:

No wonder the cartoonsts are in hiding.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Flemming Rose in his own words.

In the Washington Post, Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, who solicited the cartoons that much of the Muslim world is in uproar over, has defended his decision to solicit and publish the cartoons. His article is well worth reading in full.

Rose makes clear he was worried about the self-censorship people were exercising due to intimidation and fear of reprisals should they be perceived to have insulted or criticise Islam. Here are some passages which I found interesting:

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity,Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.


One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent characteristic of the prophet.


Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.


As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak.

The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labeling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.


But tragic demonstrations throughout the Middle East and Asia were not what we anticipated, much less desired. Moreover, the newspaper has received 104 registered threats, 10 people have been arrested, cartoonists have been forced into hiding because of threats against their lives and Jyllands-Posten's headquarters have been evacuated several times due to bomb threats. This is hardly a climate for easing self-censorship.
Clearly the fear of reprisals mentioned above has proven to be well founded, and it seems to me that publication of the cartoons by other papers is both an act of solidarity with Rose and defiance against this intimidation, despite the Jack Straws and Bill Clintons of this world condemning the cartoons.

I think the cartoons themselves are mostly innocuous and unfunny but also open to different interpretations as Rose points out.

One cartoon, which shows Mohammed at the gates of heaven and some suicide bombers outside with Mohammed saying "Stop! Stop! We've run out of virgins" did make me chuckle. It seemed to me this was lampooning a belief that suicide bombers are indoctrinated with, namely that they'll receive 72 virgins in heaven for carrying out their "martyrdom" operation. This reprehensible belief, which provides a religious motivation for attacks like those of 9/11, 7/7, Bali and of course the blowing up of Israelis in their shopping centres and restaurants, deserves to be mocked and ridiculed. I think the cartoon was perfectly justifiable and should not be insulting to anyone but the likes of Osama Bin Laden.

Those who are claiming to be insulted by these cartoons are insisting on a particular interpretation of them to do so, and are also trying to control (whether via the violence and threats or via peaceful political means) what we can and cannot print in our newspapers. Indeed some them ask us, as non-believers, not to depict Mohammed at all or they will treat it as a deep insult and a deliberate provocation. That is intimidation, and it is an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Cartoon Wars roundup (2)

Some more links related to the Danish cartoon affair:

Cartoon wars roundup

The row over the Danish cartoons continues to run and run, albeit at a somewhat lower level of intensity:

  • There have been riots in Pakistan, after weeks of protests.
  • A Pakistani cleric has announced a bounty of $1 million to whoever kills the cartoonist who depicted Mohammed. He appears unaware that there were several cartoonists! This is in addition to the Taleban's bounty of 100kg of gold.
  • There have been denial of service attacks and other attempts to hack/disrupt Danish websites and other websites that supported the cartoons. The hosters of Michelle Malkin's blog have also been under this sort of electronic attack, and she has received threatening emails:

    From: naser jianpour (n_jianpour@yahoo.com)
    To: writemalkin@gmail.com
    Mailed-By: yahoo.com
    Date: Feb 10, 2006 12:04 PM
    Subject: we will kill you

    I am Iranian I am a mosleme .
    We will kill you( every )
    down with you( Crectian & jowe.)
    world is mine.


    From: monalisa monalisa (monalisa23h@hotmail.com)
    To: writemalkin@gmail.com
    Mailed-By: hotmail.com
    Date: Feb 4, 2006 5:55 PM
    Subject: you are filth

    the dishonourable the mean the prostitute I'am a müslim and turkish I kill
    you devil you are goto the hell shit the whore


    From: greatmastafa@web.de (greatmastafa@web.de)
    Mailed-By: web.de
    To: writemalkin@gmail.com
    Date: Feb 11, 2006 9:41 PM
    Subject: mohammed

    you have one day to delete all pictures of mohammed from your server, or i hack this site and delete all files on this server. ok

    mohammed have never a face. dou you now.

    for ever islam

  • Bill Clinton has condemned the cartoons (twice). The reports do not indicate that he has said anything about those issuing death threats, rioting and burning embassies or the climate of fear and intimidation that has been created by Islamists who try to suppress any perceived insult or criticism of Islam.
  • A female journalist covering an anti-cartoons protest in Turkey was stoned by the protestors who say they provoked her by not wearing a head scarf! Hat Tip: Michelle Malkin.
  • Some interesting comments have been made on a BBC web page featuring a selection of commentators:
    • Dr Yunes Teinaz of the London Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre states "Freedom of expression is not a licence to attack a culture or religion". If we take this seriously, then he is suggesting that two huge areas of human behaviour and beliefs should be off-limits to criticism or ridicule. It seems to me that for freedom of speech to be worthwhile and to mean something, no area of human behaviour of beliefs should be held to be immune from criticism. I see no reason for privileging cultural and religious beliefs by holding them to be immune from criticism or even ridicule. I also disagree that the cartoons were in any way racist as he also suggests.
    • Munira Mirza, a journalist, makes an important point:
      British newspapers should publish the images. Muslims should be able to see them and judge them for themselves, that's why we have freedom of speech.

      Many Muslims want the same freedoms as everyone else to debate, criticise and challenge their religion.

      They want to be able to say: "Hey we're not children, we can handle criticism, we don't need special protection - we're equal."

    • Karen Armstrong, an author of a biography of Mohammed, claims that the cartoons were "criminally irresponsible", yet fails to make any mention of the responsibility, criminal or otherwise, of those who have sent death threats to anyone who dares to criticise or insult Islam or Islamists, those who have been rioting, those who have toured the middle east stirring up anger with extra pictures that Jyllands-Posten had not solicited or published, those who have been torching embassies or those who have been offering bounties for the heads of the cartoonists concerned. These cartoons are no worse then those that appear regularly about world leaders and politicians or figures from other religions in Western media. I don't see why lampooning Mohammed should be held to be criminally irresponsible when these other cartoons are not.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

British Muslim group calls for ban on depicting Mohammed

As I've reported at Magna Carta Plus, a group of British Muslims have called for a ban on depicting Mohammed. Thus this group wants us to observe a tenet of their religion. That's both an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Cartoon wars: Murial Gray gets it.

Muriel Gray writing in last week's Sunday Herald shows she understands the cartoon wars:

One of the biggest misunderstandings of the crisis caused by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printing cartoons of Muhammed is that the paper was merely satirising Islam and hadn’t realised that any image of the prophet, insulting or respectful, is utterly taboo to Muslims. This is quite wrong.

The incident arose from the fact that an author of a children’s book about the life of Muhammed wanted it illustrated but couldn’t find any artist brave enough to risk offending those who currently express their offence by murdering the offender. Hence in a deliberate test of freedom of speech, the newspaper, not Muslim and therefore not bound by this taboo, sought artists willing to draw Muhammed. The mild satire on the state of Islamic jihad was incidental.

So yes, it was a deliberate provocation, a massive shove in the playground, but they didn’t start the fight. The initial provocation came from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 when he pronounced a death sentence on the author Salman Rushdie for having a written a novel that contained another Islamic taboo, that of disrespecting the Koran. This was a stroke of genius. Whereas critics of repugnant ideologies were only in peril when they acted openly in the country guilty of the tyranny, and were free to express their disgust from the safety of a civilised country, Khomeini came up with the brilliant Mafia-like scheme of recruiting his foot soldiers everywhere.

Knowing that there are now Muslims in almost every country in the world, he removed that safety net once offered to people such as critics of the USSR or Idi Amin, so that even in safe, tolerant Britain, nobody would ever again dare write, paint, broadcast, film or lecture on anti-Islamic views for fear of their lives. Of course most Muslims, being sane, peaceful human beings, simply ignored the psychotic Khomeini. But tragically the subsequent brutal murder of Theo Van Gogh, the deadly riots sparked by journalist Isioma Daniel’s article about Miss World in Nigeria, and the threats to people like author Irshadi Manji for writing a witty book about reforming Islam, have had such an effect that they have bought Islam immunity from criticism, not through respect, but through fear.

This was what Jyllands-Posten was testing, and the result, as we can see, is that it has proved its point spectacularly. The other European papers which published the cartoons were, with a couple of exceptions, not trying to further provoke Muslims, but were engaging in an “I am Spartacus” moment, showing solidarity for Denmark and trying to gain enough similar support throughout Europe that it would make it harder for the extremists. What if everyone publishes? Going to kill everyone? Going to boycott goods from every European country? If only the Czech Republic would publish the cartoons then Hamas would have to boycott Semtex.

Unfortunately, though at least she's honest about it, she and her paper have declined to publish the cartoons because of this very fear, as she states in her final paragraph:
This paper’s belief in freedom of speech is paramount. The decision not to reprint the cartoons, not to declare ourselves another Spartacus in support of our European colleagues, was taken, at least partly, out of consideration for the safety of the staff, and the safety of Scottish people here and abroad, and I fully support it. But the extremists, who created the fear that made that decision a foregone conclusion, must understand that if they think the UK press have done this out of respect, they are so very wrong. They have undoubtedly won this battle hands down. Well done. We are afraid. But do they think people neutered and silenced by fear are going to work at embracing their culture, their religion or their values? Clearly, they don’t care. The danger of this backlashing on to our innocent Muslim fellow citizens is a distinct possibility and the thought makes me sick to the stomach. It looks as though those of us aching for the misery of all this hatred to end are in for a long wait.
It is depressing that so many of our politicians have chosen to attack and condemn the people standing up to this intimidation rather than give them support. These actions will only encourage the extremists who carry the intimidation to continue.

Is the rage over the Mohammed cartoons manufactured?

Consider the following:

I also find it suspicious that embassies in the middle east, such as Syria and Iran, were torched. Many of the countries concerned are dictatorships with high degrees of social control being exercised by the state. I find it hard to believe the riots would have been allowed to get so far out of hand had they not had some tacit support from the authorities.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Has Jyllands-Posten been hypocritical?

It turns out that Jyllands-Posten, the paper which published the cartoons of Mohammed in Denmark back in September, had previously, in 2003, refused to publish a cartoon of Jesus, on the grounds that it might cause offence.

Some have suggested that the argument that Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons of Mohammed as a test of Danish freedom of speech and as part of a debate on freedom of speech is a hypocritical one in the light of this.

I don't think this does necessarily show they've been hypocritical, though of course it's not unknown for newspapers -- or any other human organisation -- to do so. There are several reasons:

  • according to the article linked above, the editor who rejected the Jesus cartoon is a different editor from the one who commissioned the Mohammed cartoons. Thus we have different people judging the suitability of the cartoons in each case.
  • the Jesus cartoon was submitted for publication, not commissioned by the paper.
  • the paper's ostensible reason for commissioning the Mohammed cartoons was that, in the light of the difficulties Kare Bluitgen had finding an artist to illustrate a children's book on Mohammed, difficulties based on fear of death threats from militant Muslims at a perceive insult to Islam if they did, they wanted to test Danish freedom of speech and spark a debate about the issue. The fear of intimidation for depicting Mohammed simply did not exist with regards to Jesus. Thus the need to stand up for freedom of speech did not exist in that case and the possible causation of offence over an unsolicited cartoon would not be countered by the imperative to stand up to intimidation from some militant Muslims.
It is worth nothing that since publication the offices of Jyllands-Posten have been subjected to bomb-scares and that the cartoonists have faced death threats and have gone into hiding. Also, the remnants of the Taleban have put a bounty on the cartoonist's heads, namely 100kg of gold.

As with Salman Rushdie, Theo Van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, the response of some Islamists to a perceived insult of Islam is to intimidate and threaten the death of those responsible. Indeed, where Salman Rushdie was famously the subject of a fatwa calling for this death, Theo Van Goh was murdered and a note pinned to his body threatened Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Their crime? To have made a film, Submission, highlighting the mistreatment of women in Muslim families.

It is this intimidation that threatens freedom of speech and it seems to me that Jyllands-Posten were trying to stand up for freedom of speech against such intimidation when they asked for the cartoons.

Now maybe JP aren't perfect, maybe they've not always been so good at standing up for freedom of speech, maybe they were even trying to get some publicity, but that does not alter the fact that such intimidation occurs, they are now the recipients of such intimidation - along with anyone else who has published the cartoons and that there is a need to counter this intimidation of people who dare to criticise Muslims or Islamic culture.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

If Islam is a religion of peace...


  • those who send death threats to the cartoonists of Jyllends-Posten are betraying Islam.
  • those who are torching embassies in the middle east are betraying Islam.
  • those who marched in London calling for those who depicted Mohammed to be exterminated, annihilated or beheaded are betraying Islam.
  • those who murdered Theo Van Gogh and drove Dutch MPs Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali into hiding are betraying Islam.
  • those who called for the death of Salman Rushdie, including issuing the famous fatwa, are betraying Islam.
  • those who carried out 9/11, 7/7, the Madrid bombings and the Bali bombings are betraying Islam.

I didn't know Norwich had an embassy in Syria

From this news report:

Denmark and Norwich have begun to urge their citizens to leave Syria after their embassies were set on fire in the country...

Some questions

If the Labour party said that cartoons caricaturing or mocking their MPs and leaders deeply offended them, should the media stop producing such cartoons?

If the Royal family said they found cartoons that mock the Royals offensive and hurtful, should the media stop producing those?

If the leaders of Christian, Jewish, Sikh or Hindu institutions or communities said they found cartoons mocking their prophets or leaders insulting, should the media obey?

If representatives of the USA said the Americans found cartoons caricaturing them or their president or their army or their people deeply offensive, should the media stop producing such cartoons to mollify their feelings?

If this line of reasoning doesn't convince you that the media should stop producing cartoons caricaturing (members of) the above groups should they claim to feel that way, why should it convince you in the case of Muslims?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The cartoons produced in Arab newspapers and Muslim depictions of Mohammed

See this link, for examples of cartoons from Arab papers portraying Jews, Israel and America with provocative cartoons.

And they apparently don't mind producing cartoons that might offend Christians either.

Why should we listen when they complain about cartoons caricaturing Mohammed?

Furthermore, despite the edict against depicting Mohammed, apparently Mohammed has been depicted for hundreds of years, not only without a peep from Muslims, but also he has been depicted by Muslims.

So why all the anger and fuss now?

Protestors in London call for beheading of those who depict Mohammed

Channel 4's special report in the Danish cartoon row features a protest outside Regents Park Mosque. The protestors can be clearly heard chanting "Denmark, USA, 7/7 on its way", the placards features slogans such as "Behead the one who insults the Prophet", "Annihilate those who insult Islam" and "Freedom of expression can go to hell". Click on the video link on this page to see the report.

Here are some photos of the placards. One reads "Be prepared for the real Holocaust". Another reads "Freedom go to Hell".

If anyone wants to know who some of the enemies of the open society are, look no further.

Is this a remotely sane or reasonable response to the publication of these cartoons?

What we have here is a group of militant religious fundamentalists trying to dictate what we can and cannot print in our newspapers, on the basis that if we violate a particular tenet of their religion, they will feel offended and insulted. They are trying to make us obey a tenet of their religion whether we subscribe to that religion or not. They are also calling for the death of those who dare to depict Mohammed, and some seem to be calling for a holocaust.

If we decide to give in on this, what will the religious zealots claim insult for next? The drinking of alcohol? The eating of non Halal food? Women who dare to dress in anything more revealing than a burqa?

I sincerely hope most Muslims have nothing to do with people like the protestors above. It is worth noting that some Muslims are bravely standing up for free speech. We should give them our support and stand up for free speech ourselves.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why freedom of speech must include the right to offend

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the publication, last year, by Danish newspaper Jyllends-Posten of some cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (in Islam, depicting the Prophet is apparently forbidden). See for example coverage at Samizdata and The Pub Philosopher. The reaction of Muslims has ranged from street protests and boycotts of Danish products, through to death threats, threats of terrorist attacks in Denmark, warnings to Scandinavians not to enter Palestine, withdrawal of diplomatic relations from Denmark by Arab states, and Islamic countries lobbying the UN to pass a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs. See my usenet article on uk.politics.misc for details.

One of the criticisms I've seen levelled at those who have published the cartoons is that by publishing the cartoons they were offending/insulting Muslims. I have, for example, seen (via a comment at Samizdata -- a comment robustly responded to by other commenters and the editors of Samizadata, e.g. see the link above) the newspapers' actions compared with shouting insults at someone in the street and freedom of speech described as the freedom to insult.

It is worth considering why freedom of speech is important, including considering why even the right to cause offence should be protected. Fundamentally, in a society where you have freedom of speech, it means that you can say what you believe to be true without reprisal.

It is no good to say, "you are allowed to express yourself so long as you do not offend or insult anyone" for one simple reason: those who would feel (or claim to feel) insulted or offended by the truth would be able to suppress the truth if mere offence or insult was a sufficient reason to prosecute someone. A society which prohibits mere offence, stifles freedom of expression.

Of course this is not an excuse, e.g. to harangue people in the street. However freedom of speech is not the right to force people to listen to you, but rather the right to express your views to anyone willing to listen. Thus when a newspaper publishes a cartoon, only those who chose to read the paper will view the cartoon and they'd be choosing to do so. Many of those who are angry at these cartoons may never have read the paper and may not even have viewed the cartoons themselves. Certainly they won't have been forced to view them, and they are entirely free to ignore the issue if they so wish.

Freedom of speech, including the freedom to ridicule beliefs we disagree with, is crucial to both scientific inquiry, open debate and a functioning democracy. If I cannot express my political beliefs without fear of reprisal, then democracy is thereby diminished as one view of how society should be run has thereby been cut off from the debate. It seems to me that this freedom has been a major factor in the advance of Western society over the last few centuries.

We should value freedom of speech and defend it against those who'd rather we all submitted to The Truth they believe they've had handed down to them from ancient prophets.

Many European newspapers have, in solidarity, published the cartoons, or even published their own cartoons of Mohammed. However not one British newspaper is amongst them, so far, though various British blogs have provided links or published them as well.

To see what all the fuss is about, you can view the cartoons here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The consequences of a nuclear armed Iran

Iran's continuing defiance of the International Atomic Energy Authority, the US and the EU over its nuclear power program, their President's claims that the Holocaust did not happen and his suggestion that Israel should be wiped off the map are all naturally making people nervous that some sort of military clash with Iran is brewing.

The fear behind this conflict, on the part of the West at least, is the fear that Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons for themselves. One must hope that this conflict can be resolved peacefully, but Iran's actions seem to suggest a willingness to test the will of the international community to prevent them acquiring these weapons, if not to actually acquire them. Of course they deny trying to do so, but their lack of cooperation with the IAEA over the matter and their secrecy naturally lead to suspicion. They would not be the first state to develop nuclear weapons clandestinely, e.g. consider India, Pakistan and Israel. So the possibility they are trying to develop nuclear weapons must be taken seriously.

Why is there so much concern over Iran obtaining nukes, when we already have a nuclear armed US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India? It seems to me there are a number of reasons (in no particular order):

  • The more countries who have nuclear weapons, the more likely they'll end up being used, with devastating consequences. Containment combined with the deterrence of Mutually Assured Destruction(MAD) may have worked in the cold war (even then we nearly ended up in a global nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis) between two large evenly matched power blocks, but we may not be able to rely on MAD working if nuclear weapons proliferate amongst religious fundamentalists in an unstable area of the world.
  • The Iranian regime is a sworn enemy of the US, Israel and indeed the West generally and is ruled by a president who seems to see himself as some sort of messianic/prophetic figure.
  • The Iranian regime is a Islamist fundamentalist theocracy, sitting on a large chunk of the oil that fuels the world's economy, and sitting in one of the more unstable regions of planet.
  • A nuclear armed Iran would thus be far more powerful, and would likely try to use that influence to spread Islamist fundamentalism around the world (note they are known to support Islamist terrorist groups), whilst undermining the West.
  • Iran's neighbours would naturally be nervous and would either ally themselves or seek to acquire their own nuclear weapons or both.
Allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and I'd thus expect a nuclear exchange in the region within a decade, if not less, alongside a serious boost to a totalitarian religious ideology. It must not happen. Hopefully this scenario can be averted peacefully and there is still some way to go before the diplomatic road runs out. However, it seems Israel will attempt other options if she deems it necessary. It would be far better if the international community united to stop Iran on this and far more likely to end peacefully too.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is Scotland's First Minister considering more nuclear power?

The prospect of the world's oil supplies running out is clearly having an impact on our politicians, as they begin to question the moratorium in building new nuclear power stations.

Tony Blair has dropped hints about this over the last year or so and today, the Sunday Herald reports that Jack McConnell, the First Minister of the Scottish Executive, is considering allowing more nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland:

First Minister Jack McConnell is paving the way for a Scottish Labour U-turn which would remove its opposition to new nuclear power stations being built in Scotland. McConnell has launched an internal party consultation on whether Scotland can afford to turn its back on the controversial energy source.

His colleagues are being asked to decide whether a commitment to another generation of nuclear reactors should become official party policy.

The move follows widespread speculation that Prime Minister Tony Blair will back new nuclear power stations as a solution to energy shortages and as a way of helping the government to fulfil its pledge to reduce carbon emissions.

But the energy issue is sensitive for McConnell, who along with his coalition partners at Holyrood, the Liberal Democrats, has ruled out any new nuclear power stations while the problem of radioactive waste remains unresolved.

The consultation is part of Labour’s “policy forum” process that will lay the foundations for the party’s 2007 Holyrood election manifesto.
According to today's paper edition of the Sunday Herald, between 1990 and 2002, nuclear power accounted for 35% of Scotland's electricity, gas accounted for 20%, renewables 11% and coal 33% (there appears to be 1% unaccounted for).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Does Michael Howard really believe Iran's president is democratically elected?

This story on the BBC caused me to do a double take when I first saw it:

Quizzed on Iran in the Commons, Mr Blair said the world's security lay in spreading "freedom and democracy".

But Mr Howard later said he was talking "gibberish" given that Iran's president had been "democratically elected".

The West fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons after it broke seals on a research facility.

'Tough issue'

"To go on and on about democracy, has he forgotten that the president of Iran, the cause of all this trouble, was actually democratically elected?," Mr Howard told BBC Two's Daily Politics. (emphasis added)

What planet is the Tory party's former leader on?

In Iran, the Supreme Leader's authority overrides all other authorities. It is the same country that has a Guardian Council to vet candidates, whether for presidential or parliamentary elections, which barred 2,530 out of 8,157 candidates in recent parliamentary elections. In the Presidential elections, 1000 candidates entered, but only 8 were allowed to run. The Guardian Council can veto laws that are un Islamic and anti Constitutional. It is appointed by the Supreme Leader (6 members) and the head of the judiciary (6 members). The head of the judiciary is also appointed by the Supreme Leader. And Howard thinks this makes Ahmadinejad a democratically elected leader?!

A belated Happy New Year, plus the focus of this blog

I wish a belated Happy New Year to the readers of this blog!

Also, I'm sorry for the long gap in posting here. I took a bit of a break from things over Xmas and whilst I managed a few posts at the Magna Carta Plus (MCP) blog, I didn't manage anything here. During this period though, I've been thinking a bit about the focus of this blog, given that my civil liberties articles will mainly go to MCP.

Essentially the focus on this blog will shift to issues such as the end of oil and its consequences (anyone wishing to understand the middle east should look into this issue), developments in international politics and the fortunes of the British political parties in what seems to be a year of transition as David Cameron gets going as Tory leader, the Liberal Democrats hold a contest to elect a new leader, and Labour prepare for life after Tony Blair (given his promise to stand down before the next election). I also intend to cast an eye on Scottish politics, after all Scotland is my home country and I do live there, plus there's an election next year to Scotland's parliament.

Given that oil is running down just as demand surges from countries such as China and India, that the British government seems intent on further trashing the rule of law, that Iran and the international community are in conflict over the former's suspected moves to acquire nuclear weapons and that Sharon's stroke has probably thrown a spanner in the works in the Israeli/Arab conflict, we may have interesting times ahead of us...