Friday, February 03, 2006


A Cartoon Controversy

This blog needs a new strategy manager. Back in October, when I first read about the Danish Mohammad cartoons, I decided that it would be one of those stories just not worth writing about. I guess Jyllands-Posten probably thought the same thing, maybe a bit of trouble from a couple of Copenhagen imams, and then the end of the matter.

Well, both they and I were wrong. In a world with communication as wide as it is today, these stories always seep out eventually. It's taken over three months to reach this point, but now it has, it's become a diplomatic crisis.

The controversy has deepened over the last couple of days with several more European papers including the 'toons. A full list of the papers to do so, minus the Jordanian one found in that report, plus the editorial statements of those papers, can be found here. At least this last has helped separate the wheat from the chaff in blog terms - those who actually believe in the freedom of expression taking a different tack from those merely claim to.

The Danish cartoons, were, I suppose a little offensive. Probably the most offensive were:

According to this, the BBC news managed the worst possible compromise, showing the cartoons, but blacking bits out as if they were genitals before the watershed. In fact, perhaps they should have gone the whole hog and just put fig leafs in the strategic places.

Apparently, the Die Welt editorial claimed that 'One could take the Muslims protests more seriously if they were less hypocritical. When Syrian television broadcast a prime time documentary drama showing rabbis as cannibals, the imams were silent.'

I would go further than this. This website collects cartoons from some of the major newspapers in the Middle East, and the stench of hypocrisy runs foul indeed. For instance:

This is from the Jordanian Al-Dustur newspaper. The picture is obviously of Auschwitz, and the writing states 'Gaza Strip, or the Israeli Annihilation Camp.'


This one, from the official cartoonist of the Palestinian Authority (quite a job!), shows Jews as snakes - as they have been portrayed in European anti-Semitic literature for centuries - 'controlling' the US.

Now, my position on this is simple. Either both of these sets of cartoons are offensive and condemnable or neither. Personally, I think people should just grow up, get a thick skin and generally act like they've got a pair, and stop this pathetic whinging about cartoons, of all things. In particular, those protesting the Danish cartoons should acknowledge that they produce plenty offensive themselves, and call it a day. After all, at least those show a little thought - it could be worse, it could be Steve Bell drawing George Bush as a chimp yet again, for about the 800th time, in the Guardian. Great idea, Steve, did you think of it all by yourself?


It now emerges that, in fact, the controversy has been stoked by a handful of Danish Muslims who travelled to the Middle East, armed with the cartoons, plus three more that are even more controversial - one depicts a praying Muslim being raped by a dog, and the other two show Mohammad as a pedophile and as a pig respectively. These cartoons were not published by Jyllands-Posten, and were almost certainly not commissioned by them, or any other media source in Denmark. So, nice one, you travelling whiners, congratulations, you've just (unfairly) dropped your own country right in the shit. Well done.

Somehow I don't think they care that Denmark is "their own country".
Sadly, probably not.
To be honest, I found the cartoons fairly miserable and obvious. That to me was the biggest crime.

None of them rose to the challenge of the subject matter and said anything of much value.

I'm a bit torn on this one.

On one hand, I can't see how any Muslim would not be angered by such depictions. On the other, the reaction has been beyond belief. Condemnation certainly, but rioting? Oh, and yes, the anti-Semitism of much of the Islamic world is breathtaking. Some would argue that such sentiment is steeped in political and historical conflict. I'm not remotely convinced.

I wouldn't pretend to understand the hysteria though, I'm not a Muslim and have little knowledge of the faith and it's sensibilities.

A bit like our cartoonist friends..........
I think it's worth bearing in mind that the reason Jyllands Posten called for and published the cartoons in the first place was that they'd heard about a Danish author who couldn't find anyone willing to illustrate his book about Muhammed.

One cartoonist turned the author down citing the murder of Theo Van Gogh and another cited an attack on a non-Muslim university professor who had read out sections of the Koran to his students.

The newspaper decided to treat this as a free speech issue and called on cartoonists to supply pictures of Muhammed. 12 cartoonists responded. Four of the cartoons were critical of Islam, three criticised Jyllands Posted, one addressed the issue of cartoonists being afraid to draw Muhammed and the rest made no point at all.

I think that the fundamental point here is that, if we are to have freedom of speech, then people are going to get offended. This is true of Muslims in relation to Jyllands Posten and of Christians in relation to Jerry Springer: The Opera. If we start limiting what can be said one the basis of the sensibilities of one outraged minority or the other then we will have abandoned free speech and all the progress that has been built upon it.
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