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 (
    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 (
    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: (
    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.