Friday, February 10, 2006

Reactions to the cartoons - continued

Michael Kinsley in his "The Ayatollah Joke Book" basically gets it right in today's Slate. Again, as a born Muslim I find the cartoons offensive, gratuitously provocative and motivated by far less noble intentions than the defense of free speech (instigating racial hatred among its base intentions). But the principle of free expression in the West needs to be defended clearly and forcefully. The grotesque idea of cartoons of Hitler and Ann Frank in bed together (which I have not seen) shows the intellectual and emotional immaturity of the reaction but also goes to show that the West ultimately does tolerate free expression. Despite the deeply offensive nature of both the Hitler cartoon and an Iranian newpaper's shameful contest to prolong this tawdry episode, I don't see many Jews burning Iranian embassies and baying for Muslim blood.

Some excerpts:

"Meanwhile, whatever point these European Muslims were making with their cartoon of Hitler and Anne Frank is more or less disproved by their very exercise. No one tried to stop them from putting the cartoon on the Web. The notion that jokes about Anne Frank are beyond the pale is provably false. "

"Of course it is not Western values that are trampling freedom of expression: It is the ayatollah's own values, combined with the threat of violence. The other problem with his little joke about double standards, and with the whole supposedly mordant comparison between denying the Holocaust and portraying the prophet, is that the offended Muslims do not want a world where people are free to do both. They don't even want a world where people are not free to do either, which would at least be consistent. They want a world where you may not portray the Prophet Mohammed (even flatteringly, slaying infidels or whatnot) but you may deny the Holocaust all day long."
Also, here's a reasoned view (from behind a subscription firewall) from the other side. I don't wholly agree with Mr. Sethi because the self-censorship examples he provides are not a justification for curbing speech. They should be fought against even in the West. However, he is right that Muslims have become an easy target since 9/11 and the most acceptable overt prejudice in the West today is against Muslims. Ridiculous statements that people like Franklin Graham and General Boykin have made in the U.S. such as calling Islam a wicked religion would bring massive official denunciations (and sackings) if made against the Jewish people. Najam Sethi in the Friday Times in his editorial "Dangerous divides" writes:

"What, we might ask, is the status of the notion of “freedom of expression” when Western journalists are blithely “embedded” with invading imperial armies and truth is the biggest casualty? What about “freedom of expression” when self-censorship is applied to enshrine new notions of “political correctness”, as for example in not describing blacks as “niggers”, or Jews as “Shylocks”? What about “freedom of expression” when the law of defamation is slapped on publications which unfairly taint someone’s reputation? What about “freedom of expression” when entrenched notions of “The Holocaust” are challenged and challengers are accused of anti-Semitism, as would doubtless happen if a rabbi had been shown in the cartooninstead of Prophet Mohammad? How can they say that their “freedom of expression” is curtailed if they are asked to desist from demonizing the Prophet of Islam when it is not curtailed by the defamation of a lay Westerner? Since when and under what law has “freedom of expression” become an absolute and sacred right regardless of responsibility, truth and the fundamental rights of other peoples? Nor do we need to reproduce the offending cartoons to determine whether it is right to print them or not under the guise of “freedom of expression”, as some newspapers have argued, when we can describe the nature of the offence (as we have done here) perfectly adequately in words and leave it at that."

"If all this is clear enough, what is the “freedom of expression” fig leaf all about? The answer must lie in what is meant to be conveyed by the cartoons. In brief, the cartoons depict the Prophet of Islam as a “terrorist” (his turban is shaped like a missile), like Osama bin Laden, meaning thereby that the 1.5 billion followers of Prophet Mohammad are also terrorists against whose “religious civilization” an unremitting war must be waged by a “secular civilization”. "

"Equally, it must be admitted that the violent reaction of the Muslims all over the world has been unfortunate. It is one thing to protest the word and quite another to burn down embassies and threaten to kill people. Once again the image on television screens feeds into the stereotype of modern day Islamic terrorism and plays into the hands of its agents-provacateur."

No comments: