February 05, 2006


A useful primer on the entire saga here...

My take? I agree, of course, that freedom of expression is a fundamental, bedrock value that we must defend and uphold without reservation. And yet, I would note a couple of things. One, while we post-Enlightenment sophisticates like to pat ourselves on the back for being so wondrously accepting about 'art', like a "Piss Christ", or such--as we merrily plod about the Chelsea art district looking for bargains and a good lunch on 10th Avenue--we shouldn't be so shocked that pre-Enlightenment societies aren't quite as accepting about crude depictions of their leading religious figures. Second, depicting Mohammed as a beturbaned bomb is rather unhelpful--particularly in the context of a global struggle against radical Islamism--not least because we are attempting to stoke a greater schism between moderates and radicals in the Islamic world, and equating the venerable Prophet as something of a bomb-wielding terrorist is counter-productive on this score.

The message of the most offensive cartoon (aside from the three sham ones used by a delegation of radical Danish Islamists to whip up more anger in the Muslim world) is clear: Islam writ large, via its leading prophet, is a vessel for terrorism. And, truth be told, that's not a message that's particularly helpful to propagate at this juncture. I mean, why describe one of the three great monotheistic religions on the planet, one that over a billion individuals call their own, as a terrorist faith? After all, there's a war on in the region, let us recall, and an intensifying stand-off with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Islamist movements in Lebanon, the West Bank and Egypt have all put in pretty good shows in the ballot-box of late. In Lebanon, which is transitioning through a very fragile period struggling to beat the odds and not sink back into sectarian discord, the cartoons have already led to sectarian violence with Christian-Muslim squabbles breaking out yesterday. There will likely be more such chaos in the coming days, not to mention Embassy and Consulate burnings--although security measures will be heightened. For what, really? Glenn Reynolds is right when he writes: "the message is that if you blow things up, or even look as if you might, we'll be nice to you. And once again, I note that this is a very unwise message to send". I agree, but that still doesn't mean, on the other hand, that we should cheerlead relatively gratuitous provocation.

Still, individuals who wish to live in the West must accept certain fundamental values and ascribe to national compacts dealing with freedom of expression. Put simply, people have the right to offensively piss people off (whether gratuitously or otherwise) in post-Enlightenment, Western societies (although there are varying degrees of hate speech protection and such, leading to charges of hypocrisy in some quarters). So I agree, and unequivocally, that freedom of expression is a right that needs to be defended vigorously. Muslims who wish to live in the West must understand and, indeed, accept this. If they are not willing to accept these bedrock norms, and particularly if they will resort to violence to counter them, they must be forced to leave their adopted countries. All this said, however, I'm not sure some grave New Totalitarianism is stalking Europe. Yes, the aggregated impact of various episodes over the years (the Rushdie fatwa, the Theo Van Gogh murder, the headscarves in France, and so on) certainly point to the existence of a very serious issue indeed, regarding integrating Europe's growing Muslim minority. But we must not fall into some self-fulfilling prophecy whereby we conclude that some inexorable clash of civilizations is nigh, and being fought on the streets of Amsterdam and Paris and London this very eve (by cartoonists of steely resolve and noble mien). So yeah, I found the Danish cartoons lamely provocative, on the whole, and don't think 'solidarity'-style re-printing of them through every blog and paper in the land is particularly noble or courageous, frankly.

Brace yourselves now too for Muslim groups to test the boundaries of press freedom in Europe. As Haaretz reports, an Arab European organization has published a cartoon of Anne Frank sleeping with Adolf Hitler. Yes, we're unsurprised here at B.D. that, especially given that the Arab world is rife with anti-semitic cartoons, the response to a European paper (ostensibly majority Christian staffed, I'd reckon), crudely depicting Mohammed is, you guessed it, hate-filled anti-Jewish cartoons. But they'll doubtless be some anti-Christian fare being cobbled together soon too, in varied fora, so that we'll likely see a lot of crappy cartoons in the coming days. Bravo Jyllands-Posten!

UPDATE: Suzanne Nossel, one of the very smartest young Democratic foreign policy thinkers around, make a good point, related to the above and via Shibley Telhami, about "prisms".

MORE: What she said, again. I agree with everything Nossel writes here (save one nit, namely: I think Suzanne is seriously underestimating Bashar Asad's ability, big time, to clamp down on the protestors in much more heavy-handed fashion--if Damascus really wished too. I'm guessing Bashar just wanted to let the proverbial street blow off some steam...to distract from his many, many governance problems of late...)

Oh, and Dr. D thinks I've gotten a bit carried away...

Posted by Gregory at February 5, 2006 11:13 PM | TrackBack (3)

Greg...I love your insights, my friend. I don't always agree with them, but at least you cut to the heart of the matter and open up the possibility for reasonable debate with your logical arguments. I suscribe to your feeds via an RSS reader, but rarely post responses due to lack of time.

Please forgive my rambling in this comment...this particular issue strikes a nerve with me. I think there are three sides to this story: 1) Western freedom of speech, 2) Middle Eastern native abhorrence of western freedom of speech, and 3) Immigrant Middle Eastern people taking advantage of freedom of speech to affect the freedom of speech of their opposition. (whew!..what a mouthful)

I'm split on this issue...and I hope others (or perhaps yourself) would comment further based on what I have to say. I've stated earlier that I've spent time in the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia. The Saudi people are some of the most generous, kind-hearted folk you will have ever met. An invitation to their house is an honor...more than likely you will be treated like a king. I have many friends there, so what I have to say next is difficult at best. Despite their kind-heartedness, they (as a people) are some of the most arrogant that you will meet in your lifetime. It's ingrained culturally, I think...but manifests itself to you through conversations of day-to-day topics like politics, business, technology, etc. (As an aside...none of the Saudi's I knew actually believed the U.S. put a man on the moon. To them, it was a hoax to decieve the world. Not all inclusive, mind you...but it HAS been my experience during my time in Saudi.)

I can see where people living in the Middle East would be upset at these depictions of the founder of their religion. Their contact with western culture is through media...popular culture or Al Jazeera. Their viewpoint is slanted by centuries of post-crusade thought and wonderment at the "inferior west's" obvious technological superiority. Additionally, they honestly don't understand how a Christian can stand by and let a post-modernist create a depiction of the center of Christian faith drowned in human excrement (Piss Christ). The Muslim's I call my friends (in Saudi) honestly revere the "prophets" Jesus, Moses, and Abraham...and suffer no foolishness in their recollection of these honored people.

My dilemma: Those immigrants into western society of the Islamic faith know full well the boundaries of western tolerance. Like their homeland counterparts, these newly indoctrinated "Europeans" have every right to protest the depiction of their revered prophet...but the sheer brutality of their message needs immediate attention. Another 9/11 for Europe? Slanderers of the Prophet Muhammed should be killed?

A line should be drawn, I think. At some point, we need to say "STOP." The very fabric of our culture depends on it. It's hard for me to articulate my exact feelings, and this post is way too long...but my immediate and jumbled thought could probably be summed up as: Is it religion first, then politics? Religion, then humanity? When will Humanity, and respect for life, replace the hatred seemingly spurred on by unrelenting religious arrogance? How many more centuries of unending tip-toeing around religious sensitivities?

Thanks for your time and thought-provoking essays.

Posted by: Zuke at February 6, 2006 02:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would like to praise B.D. for this excellent posting. (Needless to say, my admiration for B.D. doesn't mean that Mr. Djerejian shares my extremist views posted below.)

I would also like to praise the Muslim Council of Britain, because a spokesman for this organization called on the police to arrest and imprison radical Islamist protesters carrying signs with outrageous and incendiary slogans. (You can see that my personal support for freedom of expression is indeed limited.)

My personal complaint about the cartoon-celebrating European newspapers is not that they are militant Christians attacking Islam (which would be bad enough) but that they are militant nihilists attacking the very idea of religious sanctity. For example, one Danish comedian had complained that while he would happily urinate on the Bible, but was afraid to urinate on the Koran. This led some Danish free-expression enthusiasts to ask, "Why the double standard?" But I would ask a different question of that comedian: "Where is your shame?"

Posted by: Arjun at February 6, 2006 03:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'll differ from the first two commentators and say that whilst I generally find Belgravia Dispatch worthwhile analysis, this post is little but.

Let's start with the superfluous and frankly stupid 'of course these are terrible cartoons' même, which Greg gives a run. Firstly, trivially, are they? Compared to what? One of them shows a cartoonist sketching Mohammed en cachet...that's considerably more perceptive and foresighted than your average daily newspaper's cartoon. The first two are simply non-descript muslims arabs...in the context of the reaction suscited, an almost eloquent statement, don't you think? The 'we've run out of virgins one' is clearly legitimate political comment and again, as good as anything most newspaper readers have the chance to see. I would not have been shocked to see that one get a run in the Economist, in other times.

Secondly, vastly more importantly, what possible relevance can the standard or quality of the cartoons have??? Were van Gogh the painter to return from his grave and paint a £20 bomb-turbaned Mohammed, would that be all different then? Is there some unwritten rule out there: freedom of speech is ok for elegant and composed reflective works, but a bit beyond the pale for populist rubbish? Should we shoot Ted Rall or Michael Leunig because they can't draw?

That's important enough, in my opinion. But what about the 'shameless provocation' même? Again lets start with the trivial: the actual story suggests that it was actually immensely pertinent political comment of the kind any newspaper worth its salt ought to engage in (Le Monde, for example, felt it had to publish them!). Wasn't the paper approached by a cartoonist who couldn't find an artist to draw his book? Remembering that this is western Europe where cartoon artists are hardly in scarce supply, didn't the publication make a real and valid point? Ie that there is, at the heart of Europe, an enormous chasm between two groups? One in which, for example, Le Monde finds itself staring the Palestinians in the face and not rubbing shoulders with them? Wasn't that alone worth such an abundantly evidenced demonstration?

More importantly yet, back the point above - relevance? Is freedom of speech to be 'moderated' where it might be provocative? I personally find Michael Leunig of the Age extremely provocative and insulting - in fact, he was a major reason I stopped reading his paper! Ought I burn down his house or blow it up?!? Ah, wait, but he only insults prominent figures of my religion indirectly, and this is provocative religious speech - is that the special case? Was it Andre Serrano that I ought to have blown up? What about Nietzsche? Had I lived then, ought I have burnt down his house?

I think any suggestion that the freedom of the speech is only exercisable by the 'responsible', or where it won't draw too great a reaction, or similar such qualification as is inherent in your post, is as much as a noose for the principle itself.

In the United States, the freedom of speech extends to literally incitement of murder in some cases. But there is a reason for that. The problem is that one might disagree with a cartoon, and even wish that there wasn't anyone who did agree with it. One might even wish that it hadn't been published, or try and get the artists sacked, etc. Such seems fair game in any battle of ideas.

But when someone is reduced to violence in reaction to a cartoon, then there is only one attitude, unequivocal condemnation.

Posted by: Patrick at February 6, 2006 07:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> we shouldn't be so shocked that pre-Enlightenment societies aren't quite as accepting about crude depictions of their leading religious figures.

Hmmm... Pre-Enlightenment societies fully conversive and operationally involved with the internet and enough post-enlightenment technology to get Danish flags to the outposts in time to burn at the demonstrations. I don't buy BD's caricature. The propaganda expertise at work is not pre-enlightenment.

What is missing is the appreciation that moderate Islam had every opportunity since 2001 to define itself apart from Islamic fundamentalism, thus disarming the caricature entirely. The vacuum caused by moderate Islam's silence suggests they deserve to face the discomfort of having the Prophet's beard singed.

Posted by: sbw at February 6, 2006 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is Fleming Rose of the Jyllands-Posten responsible for the torching of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and the Danish Consulate in Beirut, where the fire spread to an adjacent high rise and eye witnesses saw people jumping out of windows to avoid the flames? Of course, not. The responsibility lies with the mobs of Muslim extremists, who also threw stones at a Maronite church in Beirut as they marched toward the Danish Consulate. I am so tired of commentators blaming the messenger for the bad news, being that the Middle East in particular and Islamic societies in general have engendered Muslim extemists with the political mentality and maturity of brown shirts, who never miss a chance to demonstrate and to present the religion of Islam in the worst possible light for the entire world to see.
But what really bothers me is how the Western democracies are responding to these totalitarians. On 31 January 2006 the British House of Commons narrowly defeated New Labor's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill by 283 votes against 282. The bill would have prohibited free speech and artisitc expression deemed insulting to religious communities. During the debate over this bill before the vote, a politician invoked a quotation from William Pitt the Younger: "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom; it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." It seems quite ironic that Prime Minister Tony Blair along with President Bush invaded Iraq on the false pretext of WMD, yet when it really came time to show his political mettle, caved into the criticisms of the imams in Londonistan and had no misigiving about the abridgement of free speech and artisitic expression in his own Western democracy, the country that gave us the Magna Carta. Does Prime Minister Blair have any shame about starting a war in Iraq that has killed an estimated 30,000 innocent civilians, according to a report in The Lancet, and limiting free speech in his own country? He probably envisions himself as an inheritor of Winston Churchill's legacy, though through his actions to pass this bill is closer to Neville Chamberlain, the great appeaser of the 1930's.
And one should not casually gloss over the murder of Theo van Gogh. On 2 November 2004, while riding his bicycle in Amsterdam, he was stabbed and shot to death by a Muslim extremist, a Morracan, who held dual citizenship to Denmark and Moracco. And what was van Gogh's horrible crime against the religion of Islam? He made a film, Submission, that protrayed how women are subjected to violence in Islamic societies. The film was made with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a liberal Dutch politician and Somali refugee, who fled an arranged marriage.
And now little Denmark, whose entire population comes to only four million, has become the unlikely front line in an intellectual jihad against the most cherished tenets of Western democracies, the right to free speech and artisitic expression.
But the Danes know totalitarians when they see them, given their experiences of being occupied by the Nazis in the Second World War. They know that the road to hell is paved with the good intentions of apppeasement.And I think that it is more than a coincidence that Germans have uphelded Denmark's defense of free speech. They have learned their lessons well from history, the oppressed and the oppressor. But it has been a mixed message in France, where the editor of The France Soir, fired the editor who allowed the cartoons to be published in the newspaper. But as A.J. Leibling once observed, freedom of the press belongs to the person that owns the press. But Le Monde published a cartoon in which an imam is watching a French artist's hand write over and over again that he will not draw cartoons of Mohammed. Yet the repetiton of this sentence forms a picture of Mohammed. So as usual the French want to have it both ways.
Americans have never really seen the face of war before the 9/11 attacks. But President Bush has really squandered his mandate by invading Iraq and bringing untold misery to the brave men and women serving in the armed forces there and the innocent Iraqi civilians. Former Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfovitz finally has admitted that he was taken by surprise at the strength of the insurgency in Iraq. But at least, he had an exit strategy; he fled to The World Bank, much in the same manner that another architect of another unnecessry war, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara did when he resigned from the Johnson administration. And now Secretary of State Condelezza Rice has stated that the stunning victory by Hamas in the Palestinian elections was also a surprise. And her predecessor, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that when he presented all the false intelligence on Iraq's WMD program at the UN Security Council, he was lied to by the Rumsfelds-Cheney cabal within the White House. And the finger-pointing continues: Paul Bremmer, the incompetent viceroy of neo-imperialism, is blaming everyone but himself for the debacle in Iraq, where he tried to cheery-pick Iraqi politicians to form a government, that is, until Al Sistani, the Shiite cleric, forced him to hold really democratic elections. Of course, the result of the election was the Shiite victory. And the grand experiment of exporting democracy to Iraq has become the catalyst for instituting a Shiite theocracy, closely aligned with Iran, or a civil war when the US troops finally are told to leave by the Iraqis. All this blood and national treasure squandered. Of course no one in the Bush administration wants to take any responsibility for the ironic turn of event in the export of democracy. Or as President Kennedy observed after the Bay of Pigs debacle, success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.
Yet when it came time to uphold the right of free speech and artistic expression in Denmark without firing a shot, dropping a bomb or invading a country, the State Department caved into the appeasement camp with Prime Minister Blair.
And the infringement of free speech continues apace in this country with illegal wiretapping of American citizens by the NSA and the Talon operation at the Pentagon. In the Talon operation, American citizens, who passed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to employees leaving work at Halliburton to protest the exorbitant fees the company is cahrging the American tax-payers to provide basic services to our troops, were placed on the Pentagon's list of possible terrorist threats along with a group of Quakers in Florida, who opposed the war in Iraq.
Who needs Comedy Central when you are presented with Bush administration officials like Wolfy, Condi, Colin and Paul, a cast of characters whose collective sublte mediocrity boggles the mind?


Posted by: George at February 6, 2006 05:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is no freedom of speech on religious topics.

Either do what they say or they will kill you (or anyone they can reach from your country) and destroy your property (or any other property owned by people from your country.)

Ask Rushdie.

And if you think freedom of speech on religious topics is worthwhile or valuable, then you had better be prepared to fight for it.

Because they are prepared to fight against freedom of speech on religious topics.

Sooner or later you will have to make a choice. They have already made theirs.

Posted by: rich at February 7, 2006 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have to say I'm not sorry that the offending cartoons were not widely reprinted in American newspapers. Bad taste is greatly overrated as a commodity in the marketplace of ideas.

At the same time terrorists who go around killing people in the name of Islam are either accurately representing the values of their faith or they aren't; unless Muslims anathematize and suppress them non-Muslims are bound to assume the former. And Muslims don't, for the most part -- they express mild disapproval, or agreement with terrorists' goals and grievances while not sanctioning their methods, or blame non-Muslims for the provocations that produce regrettable (terrorist) events. This, obviously, is a generalization that applies in some places much more than in others. But it applies in quite a large number of Muslim countries, and in a number of countries with large Muslim minorities. People who understood the attempted hijacking of their faith by mass murderers as the most vital question facing their religion would not be rioting over the publication of a cartoon in a newspaper published in a country few of them have ever visited, and in a language even fewer of them speak.

Having said this, what should we say about the evident lack of spontaneity of some of the "cartoon riots" (honestly, how many Lebanese Muslims could even have found the Norwegian consulate on their own?)? Might this not reflect the authoritarian bias of the culture among some Muslim populations? Maybe rioting crowds in Damascus and Beirut were genuinely outraged that somewhere far away someone had drawn something disrespectful of the the prophet Muhammed -- but maybe most of these people were just doing what they were told to do, whether it made sense to them or not. Perhaps both; but in any event this ought to be considered when we think about freedom and democracy as the answer to terrorism and tyranny and general badness in some of the Muslim countries. We assume, or at least President Bush assumes, that freedom will allow Muslims to make up their own minds, but some of them may not want that responsibility.

Finally there is the issue of what this episode says about Europe. The stark fact is that Western European countries are economically advanced, most of them having been so for many years; most of their Muslim immigrants come from places that are not. Europeans may well wonder what the values of a religion that has produced no economy to equal their own (to say nothing of having produced so many people who want to move to Europe) have to offer them. Their political leaders -- who on various issues have gotten somewhat out of touch with European public opinion lately -- can talk of dialog and accomodation, and intellectuals can use elegant, non-judgmental phrases like "prisms of pain," but it would hardly be surprising if some Europeans started to become impatient with what they might well see as extravagant demands that they change their way of life to suit Muslim immigrants. Perhaps some of that impatience is reflected in the European reaction to the cartoon riots.

Posted by: Zathras at February 7, 2006 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: What makes you think that Europeans would be offended by anti-Christian fare? Europe is a post-Christian culture that may in fact dislike Christianity more than Islam.

Posted by: Dignan at February 7, 2006 01:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course Europeans are right to be outraged by the violence and by the incitement of violence. (Since I am not a civil liberties enthusiast, I think even the latter should be harshly punished by law.) But the Europeans are wrong to be outraged by the outrage itself.

I saw a Danish poster on the BBC defend the cartoons by boasting about how unoffended he was, despite being "Christian", by a work of art which depicted Jesus Christ in a manner more vulgar and indecent and offensive than I am even willing to describe. (N.B. I do not belong to any of the three great Abrahamic faiths.) So there you have it. The European post-Christians basically say, "We don't believe in, or even care about our religion. So why should you believe in or care about yours?"

Posted by: Arjun at February 7, 2006 03:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

February 7, 2006
The War Behind the Cartoon War
By Jack Kelly
Iran has been, after Saudi Arabia, the nation most active in promoting the boycott. The International Atomic Energy Agency has referred Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions against its nuclear weapons program. The nation that will chair the Security Council when the IAEA recommendation is taken up, British Web logger David Conway noted, is Denmark.

"Suddenly the pieces fall into shape," he said. "The rumpus suddenly escalated, complete with fabricated offensive cartoons, to so inflame Muslim opinion that Denmark could be intimidated...into voting in favor of Iran."

Posted by: Martin at February 7, 2006 08:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Martin, wouldn't it make just as much sense to figure somebody on our side wanted to scare Denmark into voting our way?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 7, 2006 05:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Still, individuals who wish to live in the West must accept certain fundamental values and ascribe to national compacts dealing with freedom of expression."

I lived in the Tampa Bay area for three years prior to 9/11 and watched how Sami al-Arian played the media and civil libertarians like a violin. Until we realize that a great many of these instigators view those trying to look through their "prisms of pain" as useful idiots of the west we will not deal with this conflict effectively.

Posted by: wks at February 7, 2006 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This controversy reminds me of a story about an English Communist who went to Moscow in the Soviet era. He was so excited to be out of what he considered the "tyranny" of England that he took out a picture of Queen Elizabeth and stomped on it and tore it. He expected the Soviets to be as gleeful as he. But they were outraged. They threw him in jail, then deported him. Their argument was almost as religious as the Islamists. Their religion was authority. They saw any rebellion against what had been constituted as authority as dangerous and unacceptable. One of the aspects of Western culture the Islamists hate is our tolerance of anti-religious feeling. They are almost as outraged at cartoons deriding Jesus as at those mocking Mohammed. They don't riot when those come out because they figure before long Islam will replace Christianity, since Christianity is obviously too weak to defend itself against blasphemers.
Make no mistake about it. Their enemy is not Christianity. It's toleration, individualism, reason, and sanity itself.

Posted by: Robert Speirs at February 7, 2006 08:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Religion first or humanity?

Pardon me but my imperfect understanding of religion is that they are for humanity or rather aimed at developing evolved apes into humans.

The first basis of humanity or civilisation is peaceful coexistence.

The basis for peaceful coexistence is mutual respect.

When mutual respect is lost or destroyed, peaceful coexistence becomes impossible. And so on till the very basis of civilisation is threatened.

I simply just cannot see where such "free" expressions such as urinating on symbols of things held sacred by others can contribute to the development of humanity as such.

Should the right and freedom to believe be subject to the ridicule of the right and freedom of expression?

Tough one.

Posted by: cashy at February 8, 2006 07:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

cashy> The first basis of humanity or civilisation is peaceful coexistence. The basis for peaceful coexistence is mutual respect.

Sorry to disagree, but mutual respect requires the ability to disagree.

In other words, people plan their futures based on their own mental maps of reality. If such maps are not accurate, it shows lack of respect to leave another in error. So, true respect allows discussion, explanation, and disagreement. To define something out of bounds is to cave in to the irrational, the unscientific, and the anti-social.

Try again.

Posted by: sbw at February 8, 2006 04:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jyllands-Posten have contacted the Iranian newspaper that is holding a competition to publish satirical cartoons about the Holocaust. The cuture editor of the Posten has said that she plans to publish the cartoons satirising the Holocaust on the same time they go to the press in Iran ( http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,,1705297,00.html ).

It certainly meets the, quite fair, Muslim accusations of being unfairly treated (I believe Norway, for example, has a blasphemy law that would prohibit a depiction of Christ blowing up an abortion clinic). However I don't know if it meets it in quite the best way. It is particularly ironic given that the EU report on anti-semitism (Hushed and then leaked to Jyllands-Posten in the last year or two) largely blamed Muslim communities for the worst outrages. In 6 months Jyllands-Posten looks set to confirm the prejudices about Europe's Muslims and to satirise the historical suffering of Europe's Jews. Thank God for the Jyllands-Posten boldly breaking worthwhile taboos.

I agree that the "New Totalitarianism" is overstated. Let's not forget that in a France which has just suffered "Intifada-en-Seine" only 5% of Muslims actually practise. What is emerging, I suspect, is a cycle of mistrust and resentment from the Muslim, migrant community (Perhaps spreading to the wider migrant community, if they happen to look Muslim) and the, mostly white, established communities. As the Imam of a Mosque here in the UK said the protests are now just confirming the message of the cartoons and the cartoons have just confirmed the message of the most radical preachers.

Posted by: Shaun at February 8, 2006 08:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jyllands-Posten has not agreed to publish the Iranian newspaper's Holocaust satirical cartoons. The following is from their website which is www.jp.dk and which is partially in English.

"No Holocaust Cartoons in Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten
Citing CNN as source various media have stated that Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten intends to publish Holocaust cartoons from an Iranian newspaper.

This information is based on an over-interpretation of a statement made by Culture Editor Flemming Rose, and Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten's Editor-in-Chief Carsten Juste emphasizes that Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten in no circumstances will publish Holocaust cartoons from an Iranian newspaper.
Culture Editor Flemming Rose had informed CNN that Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten would consider publishing the cartoons, but that this would not happen until Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten had seen the cartoons and until the newspaper had had the opportunity to take a decision on their standard.

Under any circumstances, such a possible publication would solely serve as journalistic documentation in the same way as Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten recently published a page with cartoons from the Arab press."

Many Danish websites are being hacked with pro-Islamic messages and other misinformation being inserted. Apparently, the guardian story and the CNN story (which may be one and the same) were stimulated by such hacking although I am not certain on that account.

We have to be on guard against the propaganda that is being disseminated on this subject. The cartoons are hardly as provocative as they are being made out to be and I suspect that many who are commenting on them haven't seen them. Remember that Ahmed Abu-Laban, the Danish cleric who spread the news throughout the Muslim world, added a number of cartoons of his own makeing that were extremely offensive and has told the world that they had been among those published. That is the true definition of blasphemy.

Also, today's WSJournal has an excellent editorial that describes how images of Mohammed have appeared in Islamic art thousands of times over the centuries and hence the claim that there is an absolute taboo over such depictions is a bunch of hooey.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 8, 2006 10:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

All I want to say on this is that the West's response has been shades of Neville Chamberlain... Its absolutely fair to express your outrages as such cartoons. But when that outrage crosses over into damaging property or incitement to commit murder it has gone too far... and when that line has been crossed the response should be unequivocable, regardless of the perpetrators ethnic, religous or any other identity. Freedom of Expression is just that - expression.

Posted by: Aran Brown at February 9, 2006 12:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aron, finally someone puts it where it should be. I refuse to go down the road of self censorship.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 9, 2006 05:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sandmonkey sez the cartoons were reprinted last October in an Egyptian newspaper:


Aside from the hypocrisy implied here it causes me to suspect that the outrage has been carefully orchestrated. See also:


It has now spun out of control because the various muslim population centers are now trying to outdo each other on just how outraged they are. Outrage, it would seem, can be yet another opiate of the masses.

Posted by: Chuck Betz at February 9, 2006 07:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


as a resident of the Middle East who has lived in Syria, I agree completely that Mr. al-Asad has an iron fist grip on the behaviour of the man on the street in Damascus (and Beirut last weekend!). On any ordinary day in Damascus one can observe a dark suited mustachioed Mukabarat (secret police) standing at every corner. I watched these guys descend on a guy one night and kick him blue.

The Cat

Posted by: The Cat at February 9, 2006 07:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In my view all this situation has nothing to do, neither with free speech, nor with religion. It is about establishing Muslim’s exclusivity in the world. They can destroy Buddhas and burn flags and kill people by the name of God, they feel themselves entitled to publish anti-Semitic cartoons routinely with no hesitation but ,in the same time ,they are violently( I emphasize violently!!!) against anything that they uncomfortable with.
I meant same things that author of the Iraq the Model blog meant:
“You know that those cartoons were published for the 1st time months ago and we here in the Middle East have tonnes of jokes about Allah, the prophets and the angels that are way more offensive, funny and obscene than those poorly-made cartoons, yet no one ever got shot for telling one of those jokes or at least we had never seen rallies and protests against those infidel joke-tellers.

What I want to say is that I think the reactions were planned to be exaggerated this time by some Middle Eastern regimes and are not mere public reaction.
And I think Syria and Iran have the motives to trigger such reactions in order to get away from the pressures applied by the international community on those regimes.

However, I cannot claim that Muslim community is innocent for there have been outrageous reactions outside the range of Syria's or Iran's influence but again, these protests and threats are more political than religious in nature.”

Posted by: rim at February 9, 2006 09:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

and when that line has been crossed the response should be unequivocable, regardless of the perpetrators ethnic, religous or any other identity. Freedom of Expression is just that - expression.

not to pick on you Aran, but this response is emblematic of much of the reaction to the protests/riots.

Everyone says that the violence is "intolerable", but precisely what should we (the US government) be doing about it?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at February 9, 2006 01:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aran, I'm unclear about your meaning here.

What exactly has the West done to appease muslims? Have we agreed to move borders? Have we accepted them invading nations that offend them? Have we accepted them arming themselves while we cut our own militaries?

What unequivocable response do you suggest that we do instead of what we've done? Bomb strikes? Invasions?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 9, 2006 02:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'd say that the fact your Danish comedian would happily urinate one someone's Scriptures says a lot more about him (none of remotely positive) than it does about either Muslims or Christians. However, the fact that he's willing to do it to the Bible but not the Koran says a lot more about certain Muslims than anything else. (OK, I suppose it also makes him a bit of a coward, too.)

Posted by: Kirk Parker at February 9, 2006 09:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kirk Parker,
I think you're right. Thank you for your comment.

Michael Pecherer,
The WSJ editorial you strongly recommended is by Amir Taheri, who concludes:

Islamic ethics is based on "limits and proportions," which means that the answer to an offensive cartoon is a cartoon, not the burning of embassies or the kidnapping of people designated as the enemy. Islam rejects guilt by association. Just as Muslims should not blame all Westerners for the poor taste of a cartoonist who wanted to be offensive, those horrified by the spectacle of rent-a-mob sackings of embassies in the name of Islam should not blame all Muslims for what is an outburst of fascist energy.

In other words, Mr. Taheri states that the cartoons were "offensive" and in "poor taste". I do not believe Mr. Taheri's response is "shades of Neville Chamberlain".

Posted by: Arjun at February 10, 2006 03:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


What I'm referring to (based upon our own politicians reactions when the cartoons were published here) was the fact that the majority of the politicians came down against publication suggesting that having done so was irresponsible (maybe) provocative (indeed but not more so than many things published in the Arab world on a daily basis), could hurt trade (since when should trade considerations ever dictate what a free and independent press publishes??). Not one politician (outside of a few right wing lunatics) in my country has defended the right to publish such things.

It is precisely this which is shades of Neville Chamberlain. Freedom of speech means that I have to listen to White Supremacists, Xenophobes, racists and fundamentalists whether I like it or not - provided that they don't cross the line into incitement to commit violence etc. Now contrast the cartoons (offensive - yes) to the placards of protestors in London calling for beheadings etc. The latter quite clearly crosses the pale.

But instead our governments have played the appeasement card instead of defending the right of free speech. This is one of the fundamental bedrocks of a democratic society. Or are we content to allow this to slide so that one day we may not be able to critize our own governments any more??? (Given that the MSM is doing a pathetic job of this anyway do we really need even less free speech?)

Its not that I support these cartoons in anyway, but they are simply cartoons, no matter how fundamentally objectionable that they might be to Muslims. When they are published in a Western Society where they are not breaking any law then as far as I'm concerned then every muslim has the right to express whatever they like concerning them, provided they don't incite hatred or whatever. However instead of standing up for Free Speech and condemning vociferously the embassy burnings Western governments have done little more than whimper about using free speech responsibly. Not good enough in my books.

I'm certainly not referring to bombings or anything ridiculous like that, but I expected a much greater defense of free speech, hence my earlier comments.

As much as we need to engage and draw common understanding with Islam, this is a 2 way street - they need to recognise this as well and come to the party.... Anyway that's my 2 cents...

Thanks for the observating MP - appreciated!

Posted by: Aran Brown at February 10, 2006 05:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I have an important news item on the cartoon war. A blogger (www.freedomforegyptians.com) has posted that Al Fager, an Egyptian newspaper, published the 12 cartoons in its edition on 17 October 2005. Of course, the logical question would be: Why wasn't there an outpouring of rage by Muslims at that time against The Jyllands-Posten and Denmark? And another question related to the previous one: Why didn't the Egyptian government imprison the editors like Jordan recently did when the 12 cartoons were published in one of that country's newspapers?
A simple answer to both of these questions is that an entourage of Danish imams had not gone to the Middle East with a dossier of the 12 cartoons, including the three fake one that you mentioned in your article, and presented them to emissaries from Arab nations attending a conference.
I always felt that something was rotten in Denmark when there was a lag time of five months between the actual publication of the cartoons in The Jyllands-Posten and the so-called spontaneous outburst of rage in the Muslim world. And what gave off such a pungent aroma was the group of Dutch imams, who saw a opportunity to develop a collaboration with repressive regimes in the Middle East to attack the Western democracies. The Arab leaders love to forment rage and rioting against the Western democracies, because that allows the Muslims to vent their frustations againt an outside target rather than the repressive regimes, which are the Muslims's true enemies.
And it has been reported by the wire services that the majority of rioters arrested during the torching of the Dutch Consulate in Beirut were Syrians. I would surmise that they were agents from Syria.
So what appears to be a spontaneous outrage directed at Westerners is really a carefully coordinated manuver by intelligence agants of repressive Arab regimes. And Bush continues to defend Muslim rage in the Middle East rather than address the issues of how giving into the rioters is an appeasement threatening the basic tenet of free speech and artistic expression. With a friend like that, who needs enemies?

Posted by: George at February 10, 2006 04:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The conflict is simple: Free society versus totalitarism. Today, some European cartoonists must fear death penality for using freedom of expression. The whole thing is a carefully planned campaign by muslim brotherhood. Islamists are testing wheter they can force Europeans to give up some basic freedoms. European governments are reluctant to defend freedom, they fear terrorism as well as muslim voters (British labour party). The more Europe is reluctant to defend it's liberal order, the more the islamists (as movements as well as in government) will put pressure on it. They are clever, and they know our weakness.

Posted by: Ulrich Speck at February 10, 2006 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aran, what country are you in?

In the USA we hardly need politicians to repeat what we all know. In the USA you can publish whatever you want so long as you don't embarrass the Republican government.

It isn't really our place to tell the Danes what kind of free speech they ought to have. We do it anyway, but they get to choose for themselves regardless of how we think they should choose.

If muslim protesters here carry signs advocating murder I think that's illegal and they might possibly get arrested. And if they commit arson that's definitely illegal and they should be arrested.

If I was a moderate muslim with ties to US officials, I expect I'd ask them to try to tone down the outrage. The more western outrage that gets expressed, the more ammo the radical muslims who're trying to use this will have. And of course the more they can stir up muslims, the more western outrage it generates.... I don't see anything wrong with western government officials asking the media to be responsible. Not like they're passing laws restricting free speech, they're just asking people to be responsible.

They did that in the USA after the Rodney King incident, where truthful reporting stirred up arson and and occupation by the National Guard. Asking the media not to incite riots wasn't appeasing the rioters, and it wasn't forbidding free speech.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 11, 2006 04:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is interesting how this thread is evolving into two parallel discussions. The first is what we, the West, should do or shouldn't do in response to what we all seem to agree is a grossly disproportionate response to what are at best, trivial cartoons. The second is the coming to the realization that the madness that we are observing in the Islamic world is not the result of the cartoons at all, but rather to the diabolicly clever public relations gambit of the Danish imans. We all know now that these fine fellows concocted outrageous cartoons of their own, far worse than those published, and circulated rumors that the Danish government was attacking Islam in various ways. I have read that the imans claimed that Denmark was imposing a new translation of the Koran that minimized the role of Mohammed. Having established to my satisfaction at least that the rioting has been the result of a carefully orchestrated effort, I turn back to the first inquiry.

Certainly one of the objectives of fomenting the attacks on the West was to test the mettle of the West in defense of its values. I believe that the notion was that if "we" (the imans and their followers) could cause the West to back down, a process would begin where the West would continue to retreat in accomodation to the demands of radical Islam until key Western values were compromised to the ascendency of conflicting Islamic values.

That brings us directly to the question of what we should or should not do in response. What we should not do is back down, not at all. The cartoons simply were not so offensive that they couldn't be countered from an Islamic viewpoint by explaining the source of the "outrage" and why Muslims might not find them either humorous or comforting. For the West, from Clinton to Bush to others to fawn at the feet of the Islamics by exaggerating the gravity of the cartoons and for the American press to cower in the corner afraid to publish for fear of some backlash was precisely the wrong response. I salute the European papers that came forward and unabasedly supported the Danes as we should have done.

IIt is interesting how this thread is evolving into two parallel discussions. The first is what we, the West, should do or shouldn't do in response to what many of us perceive to be a grossly disproportionate response to what are at best, trivial cartoons. The second is the coming to the realization that the madness that we are observing in the Islamic world is not the result of the cartoons at all, but rather to the diabolically clever public relations gambit of the Danish imans. We all know now that these fine fellows concocted outrageous cartoons of their own, far worse than those published, and circulated rumors that the Danish government was attacking Islam in various ways. I have read that the imans claimed that Denmark was imposing a new translation of the Koran that minimized the role of Mohammed. Having established to my satisfaction at least that the rioting has been the result of a carefully orchestrated effort, I turn back to the first inquiry.

Certainly one of the objectives of fomenting the attacks on the West was to test the mettle of the West in defense of its values. I believe that the notion was that if "we" (the imans and their followers) could cause the West to back down, a process would begin where the West would continue to retreat in accommodation to the demands of radical Islam until key Western values were compromised to the ascendancy of conflicting Islamic values.

That brings us directly to the question of what we should or should not do in response. What we should not do is back down, not at all. The cartoons simply were not so offensive that they couldn't be countered from an Islamic viewpoint by explaining the source of the "outrage" and why Muslims might not find them either humorous or comforting. For the West, from Clinton to Bush to others to fawn at the feet of the Islamics by exaggerating the gravity of the cartoons and for the American press to cower in the corner afraid to publish for fear of some backlash was precisely the wrong response. I salute the European papers that came forward and unabashedly supported the Danes as we should have done.

I think Aran has it precisely right. This was the opportunity to man the ramparts and defend what it is that we hold dear. Remember, that a democracy without freedom of expression is an illusion, for the very heart of democracy is that debate, however offensive and however difficult, breeds greater insight, greater understanding and better results since any and all perspectives may be represented without fear of censorship. I commend all of you, whether Americans or from elsewhere, to read the Federalist Papers, especially those addressing this issue. These were written by James Madison and to some extent by Alexander Hamilton in support of the ratification of the American Constitution. I am not being xenophobic here. These men were truly the architects of the structure of democracy and they speak with a clarity and an insight that is rare, notwithstanding the somewhat archaic English.

On another note, I am abundantly pleased that BD is up and running again. I sure missed these conversations.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 11, 2006 05:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas,

I respectfully disagree. This is one time where we want to fan the flames.

The "outrage" does not cut deeply enough to sustain its combustibility. In order to sustain the fire, the network of radical imams will have to deploy an increasing amount of their assets and spend an increasing amount of their political capital. The more agressively the imams pursue short term benefit, the more deeply the west will enjoy long term profit. The key thing to realize is that the inflamation is based upon deception. In order to fuel the fire, the decpetion must be maintained and spread. But in time, the deception will become widely known. In the long term, the porkypig wars are win-win for the west.

a) we will have a clear map of the radical network and an exhaustive list of names identifying radical imams who belong to it.

b) the more violently the radical element reacts to a falsehood that they themselves have created - then the wider the internal chasm between radical and moderate muslims will become.

Our greatest problem is identifying, locating, and gaining access to the radical elements within Islam. A map would help. Our second greatest problem is the unwillingness of moderate muslims to expose the radicals. If there was only some way to drive a wedge between them ....

Yeah, this is one time where we should gently inflame our enemies while giving them enough rope to hang themselves.

Posted by: moron99 at February 11, 2006 04:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael, I tend to doubt that the instigators of this on the muslim side were particularly interested in the western response. They were primarily interested in the muslim response.

Of course we think of ourselves as the center of the muslim world, at the center of every muslim plot and the target of very muslim propaganda effort. But why would it be true?

When the western equivalent of the evil imams does its thing, is it focused on the enemy or on its own people? When we have a big anti-abortion outrage, are they focused on how pro-choice people will react or on their supporters? No, the norm is to pay attention to contributions. The more outrage, the more money. Is there any reason to think it isn't that way for them too?

Backing down would be getting rid of the free speech laws. We've shown no sign of doing that. Saying soothing things to help the muslims calm down is not backing down at all. Saying that some of our publications have been irresponsible is less of an infringement on free speech than saying that they have committed treason, which has been the response to some truthful reporting about the iraq war.

Moron, it's silly to think that muslims will find out about deception in the propaganda they've been given and will learn to distrust the sources. Look at the USA. We've been getting nonstop lies for 5 years and 40% of the public still supports Bush. Muslims mostly don't even have a free press, how would you expect them to do better than we're doing?

And what do you want to do with radical muslim religious leaders after we identify them? Martyr them? Sheesh. If some foreign power started killing off fundamentalist preachers in this country do you think it would make us more liberal?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 11, 2006 08:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J homas,

the immediate threat is an immigrant population that provides ready cover for the radicals. Although some suicide recruits may come from the indigenous population the radical leadership invariably traces to foreign roots. The wedge we need is between our immigrant population and the radicals. Meanwhile, knowing the geographic range and scope of the global radical imam network will assist in limiting their future influence amoung European and North American immigrants. If for no other reason than having a better idea of which ones to deny asylum and through which countries radical assets are most likely to be moved.

The long term project to undermine radicalism is Iraq. The greatest enemy to radical Islam is seperation of powers. The three main sources of power are politics, money, and religion. Politics may be further subdivided into law and media control. If any two of these powers combine, then they are able to oppress the third and seize totalitarian power. Radical Islam seeks to combine the power of religion and politics wheras the dictator seeks to combine politics and money. The project in Iraq is to build a prosperous muslim nation that incorporates separation of powers and, hopefully, develops a strong merchant economy. The existence of such a state will be a cancer to totalitarian regimes both theocratic and dictatorial. It will atack their lefitimacy with something they can not stop (prosperous religous pilgrims).

there's a lot more layers, but the bottom line remains. It is in the wests best interests for this thing to keep going.

Posted by: moron99 at February 11, 2006 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J. Thomas, I think your first point is well taken but I don't think it is the whole story. I agree that part of the motivation of the instigators was to rally the troops and to spread the influence of radical Islam within the Islamic countries by generating hatred for the West. But I also think they were motivated by a desire to spread the influence of Sharia within the Western democracies. The latter is a full court press that in this country (US) involves lawsuits, petitions, and the like.

I also agree that the Muslims of the world are not likely to sort out who are the radical Imams and who are the moderates, if such a thing exists. This will be a long, hard slog with an uncertain outcome. It will be interesting to see how the Danes deal with the return of the three Imams to Denmark. I suspect there will be a lot of support for deportation on the basis of their fraud. We shall see.


PS: sorry for the duplication in my post. I would like Greg to add a spell check to the posting mechanism. I transfer from Word and it was late at nite for me.

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 11, 2006 11:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Moron, I like the idea of an iraq that fits your description. But I see no evidence that "we" are trying to head them there, and little evidence that they are heading there.

Michael, it's fine for muslims to sue about things that bother them. The last I heard, in the USA the question of what's pornographic etc is a question of the local community. Wherever there are so many muslims who object to whatever are present in large enough numbers, they should get what they want -- just like christians who object to pornographic magazines etc. Other places such lawsuits can be expected to lose.

Muslims have precisely the same right to enforce community standards as christians do, right? In the communities where they have influence.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 12, 2006 01:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

there is, of course, the third reason that this should go on.

Fear. There is a specific group within western society who needs to feel fear. Real, tangible fear. The kind of fear that lingers for weeks afterward.

It was their job to inform us. It was their job to let us know that such an assault was possible. Did you know? Were you fully aware that it was possible for freedom of press to be threatened? Not many people did. A lot are still in denial.

Somebody should have been informing the public but wasn't. They need to experience a little fear. It'll do them good.

Posted by: moron99 at February 12, 2006 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I see nothing great about the Muslim religion.

If Islam was a computer program claiming to be an improvement over prior formats such as Judaism and Christianity, it would be a total flop.

Over the centuries, Judaism and Christianity have had numerous fixes, updates and plug-ins.

Yet since its inception in the 7th century, though it has had several off-shoots, Islam has remained an authoritarian, reactionary, narrow-minded, intolerant and male-dominant/anti-feminist faith.

Islam is still a faith which promotes anti-Western hostility and stifles individualism, innovation and intellectual stimulation.

Clearly, such a religion does a major disservice to its adherents or subjugants, not to mention the rest of the world.

Posted by: Kismir Tuckis at February 12, 2006 04:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Moron, muslims are not a threat to free speech in the west. They just aren't. They can have mass rallies with 7000 people or 10,000 people in syria or egypt or wherever and it won't do much of anything to persuade us to give up free speech.

In the USA the Bush administration is the major threat to free speech and freedom of the press. Muslims are only a distraction.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 12, 2006 03:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J. Thomas

Your premise is not correct. The notion of "community standards" is not a localized notion depending upon a census of who lives where. If it were, it would always be possible to define a community to achieve whatever standards one might seek. If you read the applicable court opinions, you will see that it is a construct based upon reasonableness, that is a hypothetical community that represents the values of the society at large. One of the great, truly great things about this country is that subject to nuances based upon local interpretations, the law is applied equally and generally across the entire land. Muslims are not suing over pornography, they are suing to prevent or to collect damages on account of legitimate published commentary about Islam and its issues. They are losing the suits, but some of the defendants can't afford the fight and are giving in. Thus, the incremental erosion of the rights in question.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 13, 2006 12:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael, are you a lawyer? I am not a lawyer.


"The Court in [Miller vs. California said that it was constitutional for different communities to articulate different community standards in obscenity cases. [....]

“Nothing in the First Amendment requires that a jury must consider hypothetical and unascertainable ‘national standards’ when attempting to determine whether certain materials are obscene as a matter of fact,” Burger continued. “It is neither realistic nor constitutionally sound to read the First Amendment as requiring that the people of Maine or Mississippi accept public depiction of conduct found tolerable in Las Vegas or New York City.”

I believe this says what I believe it say. ;)

Pornography laws basicly don't make sense, but if we accept them then it makes just as much sense to follow the same principles for blasphemy or whatever else offends the public.

You point at muslims suing for their outrage, but it certainly didn't start with them, this has been a continual problem with christians and scientologists, and B'nai Brith has the media so well-trained that they hardly have to threaten lawsuits.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2006 02:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J. Thomas: I am a lawyer and worked in this general area for many years - more than thirty. The quote is fine, but it has never been understood to mean that a small community could dictate standards that departed dramatically from the pervasive sociatal values. Burger got tangled up in his own words and you have to read the entire opinion to get a real feel for this. More to the point of your first comment, the "values" of the community or the standards cannot be religiously based as that would run afoul of the other portions of the First Amendment and hence, the standard that Berger articulates makes little sense and is impossible to apply in the Islam v. the West context.

The Freedom of Speech decisions are all over the map and it is in the nature of the beast that we will never have clear line rules.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 13, 2006 02:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael, it sounds like the laws do not make sense.

I strongly approve of freedom of speech. And if I'm going to fight for a principle I need it to be a principle that makes sense to me. So I must disregard the actual laws which after all do not make sense, and come up with something more workable, and then campaign for that to become law.

What we must have is a balance between people's right to say and do whatever they want that doesn't harm other people, versus people's right not to be subject to offensive behavior.

Pornography is a special case only because so many americans are hung up about sex.

I personally believe that in a rational world people should be able to say whatever they want in public, and it's my responsibility not to physically attack them for it. Physical attack should be illegal, provocation to attack should not. But we have so many people who aren't ready to live under that rule, we must make allowances for them. Again, in an ideal world they would all be put under house arrest and given therapy until they're fit to go out in public, but that isn't the world we have. So -- some sort of local community standards.

Again, muslims suing for religious offense does not look different to me from christians, jews, and scientologists doing it.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2006 03:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"by cartoonists of steely resolve and noble mien"

or not so steely resolve. You seem to overlook that the cartoonists insisted on anonymity. That some folks didnt submit anything, not out of grand strategy, or reluctance to offend, but out of fear. That Rushdie lives in hiding, hirsin ali has a police guard, and that Van Gogh was murdered. This denigration of an actuall serious issue is unwarranted.

Perhaps if we had taken the Rushdie affair more seriously earlier, it wouldnt have come to this?

Posted by: liberalhawk at February 13, 2006 10:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Liberalhawk, what would you suggest we might have done earlier about Rushdie that would have changed this?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 14, 2006 12:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here are some possibilities : Done whatever it took to ensure his safety. Publicizing the unacceptability of the Fatwah. Making a concerted effort to destroy Iranian intel abroad, including Hezbollah cells. Making the fatwah, and Iranian support for terror, a key aspect of our relationship with Iran. Ensuring new immigrants respect freedom of expression, including that of Mr Rushdie.

Anything other than brush it under the rug, which is what we have done, AFAICT.

Posted by: liberalhawk at February 14, 2006 04:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Done whatever it took to ensure his safety. "

You mean, take up a collection? Or assign american agents to guard him in britain? I guess either would be a possibility, but how would they have changed things beyond reducing the strain on Rushdie's finances?

"Publicizing the unacceptability of the Fatwah."

OK, that sounds harmless enough. He says Rushdie's continued survival is unacceptable and we say his fatwah is unacceptable. OK, I'll go along with that.

"Making a concerted effort to destroy Iranian intel abroad, including Hezbollah cells."

We didn't do that? !? Whyever not? I can understand that we might want to tell them we're doing it because of Rushdie, and we didn't. But there's no particular reason not to destroy iranian intel. Except of course the ones who haven't actually done anything illegal yet. And those might get deported or something on general principle.

"Making the fatwah, and Iranian support for terror, a key aspect of our relationship with Iran."

Ah. And if the world hears that some US mafia leader has put out a bounty on somebody, should the english and the french make that a key aspect of their relationship with us? Well, it's different. It's illegal to pay somebody to commit murder in this country, a public death threat could be prosecuted. But then, we've had a religious leader recently suggest that somebody should be killed, and he appears to have gotten off scot free except for some bad publicity. But that wasn't exactly the same either. He didn't promise to pay the guy who did the job. Don't we have a lot of other key issues with iran? Hmm. There was a time when Trotsky had to leave the USSR and Stalin had him tracked down and killed in mexico. Should we have protected Trotsky? It isn't the same, he wrote about politics while Rushdie wrote fiction about religion. Looking back, it would have been good strategy to protect him and put him on VOA and RFE etc. There were a lot of people in russia and eastern europe who had no interest in capitalist propaganda but who were fascinated with the banned trotskyite doctrines. It would have done a better job spreading unrest (as well as demonstrating our free speech). But I don't see that we had any particular responsibility to Trotsky himself.

Do we have a responsibility to keep the bad guys from killing guys we like, but not guys we don't like?

"Ensuring new immigrants respect freedom of expression, including that of Mr Rushdie."

I'm not at all clear what you mean about getting immigrants to respect freedom of speech. If an immigrant goes into a bar and some drunk repeatedly insults his mother, is he supposed to, ah, respect freedom of speech? We have a lot of americans to re-educate if that's what it means.

All of these look harmless unless I've misunderstood them, but I don't see how they'd have changed much.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 15, 2006 02:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Evidently you are under the impression that Ayatollah Khomeini had the same relationship to the govt of Iran as a mafia boss or even pat robertson have to the govt of the US. And you also seem to think that robertsons off hand obnoxious remark about Chavez was in the same category as the sustained campaign to kill Rushdie.

Trotsky vs Rushdie. Rushdie, AFAIK was not an important political leader and ex govt official in Iran. He did not have a substantial following withint he ruling group in IRan. AFAIK he never set foot in Iran. He was a write who wrote a novel. Theres no comparison. Really.

Posted by: liberalhawj at February 15, 2006 04:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Liberalhawk, none of the comparisons are precise equivalences. They do have something to do with each other, they are part of each other's context.

We don't usually protect people who get death threats. It just isn't what we do, and witness protection programs are the big exception. Why would we make another exception for Rushdie, who was in britain? As it turned out, the british government did extend it's protection to Rushdie, who was from india and moed to london. And the USA did make a big deal to get the issue resolved, and pretty soon Rushdie felt safe. He moved to New York.


Again, what should we have done differently about Rushdie? Rushdie thought Clinton did all that was needed.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 15, 2006 09:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

hello all! a simple comment ... how would we feel if someone insults someone we love more than life ... definitely not laugh about it .... leave religions out of this ! what is your honest answer!

Posted by: blues at February 21, 2006 04:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hello! Very interesting and professional site.

Posted by: violet at April 21, 2006 03:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hello and congratulations!

Posted by: kori at April 28, 2006 10:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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