Freedom of expression

Offending Images cannot be displayed

It seems that the row over cartoon depictions of Mohammed has been cranked up a notch, as several European newspapers re-print the images, in a gesture of solidarity with the Jyllands-Posten. It reminds me of a premiership-brawl, where after one guy gets into a bit of banter with an opponent, his mates run the full length of the pitch in order to inflame the situation further.

A comment from theologian Sohaib Bencheikh caught my eye.

one must find the borders between freedom of expression and freedom to protect the sacred.”

On one hand, declaring that a certain action is off limits to everybody, because one particular group considers it sacred, is a non-argument on a par with screaming children in a supermarket. However, Bencheikh’s wider point is that we should, out of respect for other groups, refrain from deliberately offending them. It is legitimate to ask: “why did you feel you had to do that?” to the editor of the paper, because at that point the debate leaves the realm of faith and enters that of human politics. If the cartoons of Mohammed were not very good, or printed for a frivolous or deliberately antagonistic reason, then we should condemn Jyllands-Posten because it was a risible decision on its own terms, not because we give any credence to the sanctity of the Prophet’s image.

In comparision to Jyllands-Posten, its immitators around Europe do actually have a good reason for publishing the pictures. This is because the debate has moved on. The topic of their articles is not one of provocation or ridicule, but a genuine philosophical question to the muslim world: “Why are these offensive?” And muslims cannot respond with simply or “belief” or “Qu’ran” because they know that these are not our terms, not our points of reference, and are meaningless to anyone outside the faith. So the copy-cats are actually more interesting than the original, because they present a genuine response to the protest, rather than instigating the antagonism in the first place.

I find the attitude of faith groups in these situations rather naive. It is the very fact that they take offence, which prompts the desire to cause offence! Religions, by their very nature, preach certain rules and regulations. If any notion of faith is invoked, then we find that the rules are absolute, and cannot be questioned. They become walls, a psycological prison. Not only is it human nature to want to break free, but it is a human right to do so. Religious dictats invite disobediance, the philosophical equivalent of a “Please Keep Off The Grass” sign.

I am ashamed to admit it, but “Jesus Wants To Fuck His Dad” makes me laugh precisely because I know it will leave others shocked. This is a apparently the point of a lot of Gilbert & George’s art too. The play Bhetzi, which would have passed below my radar, now interests me precisely because it has the power to mobilise an angry mob. The Sheffield Crucible’s production of The Romans In Britain will have sell-out audiences, as a direct result of Mary Whitehouse’s campaign to have it banned in 1980.

All these plays and pictures gain publicity and legitimacy, as a direct result of the complaints against them. As a result, more people will engage with the work than would otherwise have been the case, had the protestors kept quiet. These campaigners achieve the exact opposite of what they intend… and that irony makes me laugh too.

Update: Jesus and Mo agree that protesting too loudly only makes matters worse.

29 thoughts on “Freedom of expression

  1. Excellent. First of all, I’ve got to applaud you on the image-place-holder reference to the cartoons in question on the homepage. That is clever in so many ways.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to publish the pictures to have the debate, a description will do just fine. The orginial Danish publication could have just printed an article asking “what would happen if we published such-and-such a cartoon?”

    It’s a bit like Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on US tv, and the uproar that caused. I agree that just because you believe something is not a reason to force others to conform to that belief. On the other hand, I do think that an ostentatious public display of not sharing someone’s beliefs can be reasonably interpreted as an act of aggression towards people who do share those beliefs, rather than just towards the beliefs per se, and it’s naiive of the belief-protester to believe otherwise.
    It is not the religious group that is naiive (at least not for the reasons you suggest), but the person who disingenuously attacks them, under the guise of free speech.

    I also think that in all the debate, the message behind the cartoons should not be lost, which appears to be a crude attempt to tar all muslims with the “terrorist” brush, which aside from the rights and wrongs of publishing an image of the prophet mohammed (?sp), is a flawed, offensive and dangerous argument. The problem with the cartoons should not be that they are blasphemous, but that they perpetuate a misconception. I’m not even sure that a non-believer *can* commit blasphemy in the terms of someone else’s religion which they never signed up to.

  2. I could not disagree with you more.

    Have a read of the Wiki article on this for the context to JP’s original publication in Sept last year:

    I quote:

    “On 17 September 2005, the Danish newspaper Politiken ran an article under the headline “Dyb angst for kritik af islam”[2] (“Deep fear of criticism of Islam”). The article discussed the difficulty encountered by the writer Kåre Bluitgen, who was initially unable to find an illustrator who was prepared to work with Bluitgen on his book “Koranen og profeten Muhammeds liv” (“The Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad’s life”). Three artists declined Bluitgen’s proposal before an artist agreed to assist anonymously. According to Bluitgen:

    One [artist declined], with reference to the murder in Amsterdam of the film director Theo van Gogh, while another [declined, citing the attack on] the lecturer at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute in Copenhagen. [In October 2004, a lecturer was assaulted by five assailants who opposed the lecturer’s reading of the Qur’an to non-Muslims during a lecture at the Niebuhr institute at the University of Copenhagen[3]].

    The refusal of the first three artists to participate was seen as evidence of self-censorship and led to much debate in Denmark, with other examples for similar reasons soon emerging. The comedian Frank Hvam declared that he did not dare satirise the Qur’an on television, while the translators of an essay collection critical of Islam also wished to remain anonymous due to concerns about violent reaction.

    On 30 September 2005, the daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten (“Jutland Post”) published an article titled “Muhammeds ansigt”[4] (“Muhammad’s face”). The article consisted of 12 satirical drawings of Muhammad and an explanatory text, in which Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, commented:

    The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with temporal democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. [...]” [5]

    In this context, your view that these were “a crude attempt to tar all muslims with the “terrorist” brush” is really extremely insulting.

    “It’s a bit like Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on US tv, and the uproar that caused.” Except that ambassadors were not recalled. Or (to continue the analogy) employees of Irish Food distributors or her record company or some remote outpost of the TV company beaten up by angry crowds of Catholics.

    Let us be absolutely clear. The reason that these cartoons were published at all was because an author of a perfectly reasonable book could not get anyone to illustrate it. Illustrators FEARED FOR THEIR LIVES if they drew a cartoon. That is a very real and subversive form of censorship.

    I don’t know about you, but I find that unacceptable. JP was right to raise the issue. It was right not to back down.

    “I’m not even sure that a non-believer *can* commit blasphemy in the terms of someone else’s religion which they never signed up to.” In which case, why the hullaballoo?

    My view is here.

    Give it a good fisking: Let me know where my argument falls down.

    PG

    P.S. Robert – Blog meet: Jolly Judge, Thurs 18th, 2pm onwards.

  3. Very interesting PG. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I’m in the clear here (albeit on a technicality). As you so rightly point out, the context for the JP publishing these articles was not reported as well as it should have done, so I was ignorant of the reason for their decision to publish it. I gladly take back the ‘risible’ comment in the main post, although I added the caveat ‘if’…

    However, that’s not the substance of my post above. Those with religious belief need to engage with those who don’t on rational terms, since that is the only common language available. Violent complaints still make the art more popular. My conclusion still stands, no?

  4. Quite so: your conclusion stands, but then, we are both using reason.
    ;-)

    On the point in question:
    “If the cartoons of Mohammed were not very good, or printed for a frivolous or deliberately antagonistic reason, then we should condemn Jyllands-Posten because it was a risible decision on its own terms, not because we give any credence to the sanctity of the Prophet’s image.”

    I agree completely. In fact, I think it MORE important to state this now because this is NOT what happened. We need to be clear that we would have condemned the publication if they had been unjustified. The assumption made by protestors is that this would not have been the case.

    I think my goat may have been more with Clarice’s comment, which led, I think, from the absence of context.

    ;-)

  5. Dear Pedant-General

    I will look at the link to your view in a sec but in the meantime, I say this:

    Firstly, re. my comment about the terrorist-tarring, was there not a cartoon of Mohammed depicted with headwear made out of a bomb with a lit fuse? In the current political climate, that was my interpretation of such an image. Perhaps I was wrong. Certainly I can see that it’s only one possible interpretation, but perhaps not an entirely irrational or far-fetched, or counter-intuitive one?

    Secondly, the context that you quote notwithstanding, I do not see how my terrorist-tarring comment could be construed as insulting. It could have been a misinterpretation of one of the images, but given the current political climate and the penchant for suicide bombings in the name of Islam, perhaps that could be forgiven?

    I do not see who my comment insults, or how. Perhaps you can tell me.

    It doesn’t speak to one very important issue (which you highlight), true, but to comment on one issue is not to insult all others, surely? I think there are (at least) two issues going on here, one of which is the right to depict the figures of religions whose doctrines forbid it, the freedom of speech question notwithstanding, and another one is the right to say what you think even if it is inflammatory or offensive, or inaccurate, and even if you are saying it in the media, whose content I believe has a two-way relationship to cultural beliefs.

    With regard to my tearing up the pope comment, if you are truly a pedant, you will have noticed that I said “It’s a bit like…”, and not “It’s exactly like…”. Do you see the difference there? I stand by the comment in any case.

    I do of course agree that the FEARING FOR THEIR LIVES factor is unacceptable. But I also think that just because using violence and threats of violence to further a cause is unacceptable, that doesn’t automatically mean that the cause is wrong.

  6. ps Was the writer Kåre Bluitgen a Muslim? If not, then what was his motivation for writing such a book, and if so, then what was he doing trying to get it illustrated…?

  7. Deep sigh. Talk about out of all proportion. Leaving aside that the people objecting to the cartoons don’t think twice about printing cartoons offensive to and critical of other religions and groups, we are talking about satirical CARTOONS for goodness sake!

    These were NOT serious representations of the Prophet. Apart from anything else we have no idea what he looked like. These were drawings to illustrate political points.

    May I suggest that the followers of Islam lighten up, and if they are offended, and I am sorry that they are, they show their displeasure in a more acceptable manner. A letter to The Times, or newspaper of their choice springs to mind. Flag burning, foreign national kidnapping, gun firing and laying seige to embassies does not.

  8. “Leaving aside that the people objecting to the cartoons don’t think twice about printing cartoons offensive to and critical of other religions and groups”

    Ros H- how so you know what “the people objecting to the cartoons” do and don’t think twice about printing – or if they even have the means and capacity to print anything at all? I count myself in the group of people who object to the publications of the cartoons and to some of the responses I have witnessed. I think the right to demonstrate against the denigration of a prophet is legitimate – but I consider the threats toward foreign nationals that some factions here in the occupied Palestinian territory have called for entirely self-serving. (In my view this grandstanding has more to do with various Fateh factions hoping to flex their Islamist muscles after they lost the PLC elections than anything else). But let’s be clear about the issue at stake:

    This is not about the freedom of the press; this is about the responsibility of the press not to publish images that insult, denigrate, or defame minority faith and/or ethnic groups. To pretend the publication of the cartoons was a bid to generate discussion on freedom of the press by testing the levels of Muslim sensitivity is disingenuous and irresponsible.

  9. To pretend the publication of the cartoons was a bid to generate discussion on freedom of the press by testing the levels of Muslim sensitivity is disingenuous and irresponsible.

    Don’t forget that these images were printed in October. The furore is out now because Danish Imams circulated these images (including some that were not in the original publication apparently) to stoke up anger in the Middle East?

    Is this not something that could have been resolved within Denmark? Was the boycott of Danish products not enough? Why are imams allowed to circulate offensive images in the first place?

    Quite rightly, the newspaper and to a lesser extent the country should be prepared to suffer consequences such as boycotts and closures of embassies.

    I am disgusted at the burning of embassies in Syria and the calling for public executions on the streets of London.

    People choose their faiths. An attack on a faith/belief is not an attack on a person and we should be prepared that some people will not respect our choice and try and offend us. We should not be retaliating violently!

    In that sense, remember that nobody chooses their ethnicity, and you should not equate ethnicity with religion. They are two different things.

    Muslims cannot ask for something that the West does not give to Christianity.

    No special treatment for anybody, sorry.

  10. Well argued, thank you. But – “People choose their faiths”?; unfortunately that isn’t true, except for those who do so in adulthood. In this context, for ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ or ‘the sacred’ read ‘brainwashing from a very early age’.

  11. P.S.

    Was interested to read “Jesus wants to Fuck His Dad”. Were this a t-shirt, I wonder what would happen. The worst slogan I have cme up with yet is

    COSMIC
    SEX WITH
    TOILETS

    JM

  12. I take on board many of the points and agree with many too, however what jumps out at me, and I have to confess to not being a follower of Mohammed and therefore not sure of my facts but what I can see happens, as illustrated clearly in the comments resulting from Rob’s initial post, is that people firstly get caught by the initial act – the cartoons, then the response and then everything gets muddled by minutiae eg the use of “if” and “like”. This shows exactly how everyone gets the wrong end of the stick even if they are learned and well read – also people choose to see or not see the “if” and “like” if they wish to argue or agree with a point.
    Blogging a debate therefore has the advantage over the spoken debate as you can time your response and re-read your own comments and that to which you are responding and it all becomes more reasonable.
    However my initial “person in the street” response was that I did think in these times it could be construed inflammatory to have printed them in the first place (I think another way could have been found if they had tried even harder) and for others to jump on the band wagon and inflame the situation further was just a lazy act on the part of those editors – they must have known they were stirring up trouble.
    I think it implies to again “the person in the street” that all followers of Mohammed are likely to be going about with bombs and do not tell me that that was not the intention???
    By the way I cannot access PG’s view so cannot comment. However I feel you can blaspheme against another religion because it is to say something offensive about something considered sacred (Not necessarily by oneself) and we can’t pretend that Muslims do not think of Mohammed as sacred.
    Let’s face it – humans learn from an early age what will cause offence.
    I am glad that Rob has some shame when he mentions his Jesus comment but still need to take issue – as I think he might expect! – not all people are shocked by your comment they may be either offended or just don’t like it – so do not laugh – continue to be shamed – why should you want to say something that might upset someone whether their discomfort is justified or not? Some people do not have such a fine tuned or whacky sense of humour, but don’t upset them to give yourself a laugh.
    I take issue with Ros – in difficult times – a group is not going to examine whether something is meant as satire or not – they just see red and get angry and we know this ,so why inflame them and I do not agree with tit for tat anyway and it is cloud cuckoo land to think that these problems are going to be sorted by a letter to The Times. It is easy to say Lighten up but these people feel threatened and cornered and that must be an awful feeling – backed in with no way out as they see it. I agree that I wish their leaders could have just made the party line to Ignore it but then I do not totally understand the feeling of something sacred being blasphemed.
    A comment is to JM, who I hope has not been brain washed into a relgion but I think you will find an objection to, what I read as, a sweeping assumption that all those of a certain faith have been brainwashed although some may not have had a choice I agree.
    Biodun – how about special treatment for everybody then?
    Intafada seems to have it about right and I doubt he will be retaliating violently.

  13. I am gratified that the British press (thus far)has shown restraint and respect for the feelings of Muslims by not publishing the cartoons. By doing this they are demonstrating the freedom of the press by taking the stand of deciding not to publish. I quite agree with Kathy that we all learn how to cause offence and it does seem that the wider continental European press has knowingly gone out of its way in the so called guise of ‘freedom of speech’ to try to cause maximum distress to other people. In doing so the more unenlightened/militant groups are bound to take the greatest offence and a hornet’s nest has truly been stirred up.

    Laughter, biochemically and neurologically is a reaction to shock and all jokes, to a some level, shock us. It is through education and learning that we learn about other people’s values and beliefs. Of course, to me, it seems sensible to try to persuade people of the value of enlightenment and multiculturism but thoughts of deliberately trying to cause offence because you know they will take offence is nothing short of bullying and is not a very clever way to go about demonstrating the benefits of western culture.

  14. Please stop being so touchy and taking it all so personally. I have no idea who you are, but I do know that some concepts are worthless and do not further the amelioration of the species. I will never again mention foreskins.

  15. Stewart Lee, who created Jerry Springer: The Opera and thus the author of “Jesus Wants to Fuck His Dad” made a very interesting point regarding the equating of satire against Christianity with satire against Islam. In his view (Radio 4 Today Programme, Friday) was that Christianity forfeited the right to protection of the ‘sacred’ when it put the Virgin Mary onto snow-globes to sell outside the vatican. Islam has been more careful over its brand.

    Egyptian newspapers may print anti-Jewish cartoons, but do they satirise Jewish sacred symbols (an open question, I really don’t know the answer)

    The problem with religions, as John points out, is that they really cannot take a joke. I’ve just finished reading Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose where the central plot is bound up in the idea of whether to allow laughter to penetrate the Christian religion.

    And the embassy burnings now serve to re-enforce my point. By reacting so violently to the cartoons, these arsonists lend a legitimacy to the cartoons where none existed before.

  16. And actually, now I think about it, the Jyllands-Posten were not as clever as they thought they were. If they were genuinely interested in a debate about blaspheme and censorship, they should have published cartoons that satirised all religions.

    As I commented over on Jarndyce’s blog, how about a picture of Jesus blowing Mohammed, in a Sikh temple? (Accompanied in the interests of fairness, with one of Mohammed returning the favour).

    Or, as the Elephant God Ganesh said to the naked Buddha: How do you breathe through that?

  17. The great weblogworld and nobody responds. May I ask the host of this cyberplace, how far would you go in tolerating “free speech”? E.g. if I said

  18. Robert, I would say that Middle Eastern antisemitic cartoons tend to portray the Iraelis/Jews as a race of evil degenerates. That is where the insult lies. They are primarily racist cartoons rather than religious cartoons, I suppose, and so there might be a difference there. The Second Commandment forbids representations of God but that’s broken so often that no one really notices anymore.

    I thought that the Danish cartoons were crass and I understand why Muslims found them offensive. But I also think that we are now in a situation where the visible Muslim reaction (I say “visible” to account for what I hope is the silent majority of moderates) seems to prove the point which the Danish cartoons were making. For example, British papers have not published these cartoons and have spoken out quite strongly against the publication of them by European newspapers. I am not sure whether I agree with their logic, which is summed up by the Guardian to the effect that it’s fine to assert the right to publish them but you shouldn’t exercise it. (Er…) But be that as it may, the public reaction in England has been that the photographs should not have been published and yet we were still treated to the spectacle of Muslims marching through London with their faces covered holding up banners calling for the “butchering, slaying, killing, beheading” of those who “insult Islam”.

    I wouldn’t criticise someone else’s choice of faith myself – I’m Jewish, everyone thinks we’re weird – but I don’t see why other non-Muslims, non-Christians, non-Jews and non-anything elses shouldn’t be allowed to say what they like about other religions, whenever they want to, provided that they aren’t attempting to incite violence against that group – which, of course, is what the Danish cartoons did not do. And if you are not a Muslim then you can draw a picture of Muhammad or anything else if you want, just as if you are not a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew you can draw as many pictures of God and make as many graven images as you want.

    The whole point of freedom of speech is that it is a freedom. People can say what they like. You don’t have to agree with it or like it and you can protest against it, but if it’s a freedom that people can’t exercise for fear of being beheaded by someone who didn’t like it then it isn’t really a freedom at all.

  19. Katy sounds like the voice of reason but again there are misconceptions – “everyone” does not think Jews are weird and the point about the “visible” extremists (and I am glad she made that point so well that there are huge nos of the silent moderates) but she follows on by saying that their action has proved the point of the cartoons. No no no, the cartoons are portraying the prophet as a likely bomber – why do that – as to lots of people that will then colour their view of all Muslims – the vocal radicals – commiting crimes actually by incitement to all sorts of atrocities, do not speak for all Muslims but human nature is to generalise and to lump everyone into the same pot.
    JM – no one is taking this personally – am not sure where you are coming from on that one or why you are never mentioning foreskins again or why you have mentioned them somewhere else? I applaud freedom of speech but lets use it wisely – we all have free will.

  20. Hi Kathy, I said “the visible reaction seems to have proved the point of the cartoons” because the cartoons illustrated an article about how people are afraid to criticise Islam in case they receive death threats, and the visible reaction was death threats. I thought I’d made it clear that I didn’t assume that the people demonstrating in London yesterday spoke for all Muslims but if I didn’t I hope it’s clear now.

    What I said about people thinking that Jews were weird – perhaps I am guilty of an exaggeration. The point I was trying to make was that it is perfectly all right to think that what someone else, or some other group, does is weird, or wrong, or ridiculous, but as long as those who do it are allowed to do it without fear of, say, beheading, and those who don’t are allowed to say they don’t want to, without fear of, say, beheading, there shouldn’t be a problem.

  21. JM/Neitzsche Junior – As New Labour are so fond of reminding us, with freedoms come responsibilities. With freedom of speech comes the responsibility to string your words together in a proper order and not post comments that make you appear like a spam-bot!

  22. Well said Katy – I knew you were the voice of reason and to add to what Robert says freedom of speech comes with a responsibility to have respect also as well as other attributes such as stringing words together etc.

  23. Very sensible debate all round.

    I owe Clarice a response:

    “Firstly, re. my comment about the terrorist-tarring, was there not a cartoon of Mohammed depicted with headwear made out of a bomb with a lit fuse? In the current political climate, that was my interpretation of such an image. Perhaps I was wrong. Certainly I can see that it’s only one possible interpretation, but perhaps not an entirely irrational or far-fetched, or counter-intuitive one?”

    You are quite correct: it is not irrational or far-fetched or counter-intuitive. I just think it goes slightly too far. To me, the bomb-turban says “SOME muslims are Terrorists” or rather “Many terrorists abuse Islam to provide a justification for their hideous crimes”. It does NOT say “ALL Muslims are Terrorists”. To suggest that it does you have to divorce yourself entirely from the context in which it was commissioned and published which was that errr…. illustrators feared reprisals from the Terrorist-type minority of Muslims.

    In this climate, that sort of over-interpretation (from SOME to ALL) is indeed dangerous. Particularly because of the widespread (though not universal) denial of even the “SOME”. It is the “SOME” that we have to complain about, and the erosion of Free Expression hampers our ability to do just that.

    “Secondly, the context that you quote notwithstanding, I do not see how my terrorist-tarring comment could be construed as insulting. It could have been a misinterpretation of one of the images, but given the current political climate and the penchant for suicide bombings in the name of Islam, perhaps that could be forgiven?

    I do not see who my comment insults, or how. Perhaps you can tell me.”

    And here I have gone too far. It was clear that you lacked the Danish context so I should have been more careful. (This is a clear error on my part – I knew you did not have the context – that is why I reproduced it) My point was that you clearly had not asked WHY the Danes had published and yet you were completely ready to ascribe bad motive to them. That, I suggest, is insulting to the Danes.

    Is this fair?

    Your final point (Violence is wrong, but the cause may not be) is I think true, but may be irrelevant. I say this because we freedom-of-speechers ALL recognise the Muslim position. On the other hand, there has been no attempt whatsoever on the part of active Muslim leadership (there are moderate voices – there just aren’t any at the MCB or MPACUK) to consider the erosion of the Freedom of Expression.

    I attempt to deal with this here.

    I hope this helps.

    PG

  24. Hi PG

    Thanks for your response.
    I like your SOME Muslims are terrorists point, very level-headed. I think such an image is ambiguous though as to whether the intended meaning is SOME or ALL. The cartoonist must bear the responsibility for this ambiguity, and since he chose to produce an ambiguous image in this regard, one could argue that he didn’t take due care to rule out the ALL interpretation, and therefore showed disregard for the possibility that it might be interpreted this way.

    I would also argue that it is human nature to categorise things, and despite the distortions and injustices that this often causes, it is what people do by default. People exaggerate ALL the time :-) Without specific training, people don’t tend to do well with probabilistic reasoning, which is why bookies make money, for eg. To ignore human nature like that is foolish at best.

    Although the “over-interpretation” is indeed dangerous in this climate, creating something so ambiguous that it is (as this example clearly was) very vulnerable to dangerous over-interpretation could be considered dangerous/foolish in itself. I wonder if they would have published the cartoons if instead of fearing for their lives, they feared for the safety of Danish trade in the middle eastern market-place. I suspect they might have found a more constructive way to “exercise their freedom of speech”.

    I’m wondering if you would say that Omar Khyam’s counter-“protest” would have been right on, if only it hadn’t included the implied threat of violence? Do you see where I’m going with this.
    Enjoyed your post, off now to your link. Wish I had my own blog.
    C

  25. Clarice,

    As regards the SOME vs ALL ambiguity, I still think you are a little harsh. I wrote a little essay on the giving and taking of offence here. In short, where freedom of speech exists, there is no need to TAKE offence. You should clarify motive or intention first.

    In this context, the “ALL” is, I believe, an unjustified over-interpretation but no attempt was made to establish this before protesting.

    Indeed, from the Muslim protestor’s point of view, if he thinks it DOES mean “ALL”, in what way does reacting violently disprove the cartoon? Not tremendously rational.

    “I wonder if they would have published the cartoons if instead of fearing for their lives, they feared for the safety of Danish trade in the middle eastern market-place. I suspect they might have found a more constructive way to “exercise their freedom of speech”.”

    Clarice, you are missing the context again: If the pre-existing fear of death threats was not there, there would not have been the debate about self-censorship in Denmark leading up to the publication.

    The death threats ARE the rationale for publication so your point is irrelevant. Indeed it is irrelevant BECAUSE it is true. They would not have published in Denmark had there not been a sense of self-censorship.

    PG

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