Je suis Charlie.

My deepest sympathies to the friends, families and colleagues of the Charlie Hebdo journalists who were murdered by religious fanatics.

Freedom of speech includes the right to peacefully express views others may find offensive. Mere causation of offence should not be a crime, let alone used as an excuse for murder, riots, violence or intimidation.

If we let the risk of causing offence silence us, we allow those who would react violently to anything they dislike to dictate what we say, and freedom of speech thus dies.

It seems to me that the murdered journalists at Charlie Hebdo bravely understood this and sadly paid with their lives. Let us hope the perpetrators are caught.

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Mohammed Cartoons controversy still making headlines

[HatTip: LimbicNutrition]

B92 reports:

DUBLIN — Irish police arrested seven Muslims for planning to kill a Swedish cartoonist who drew a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body.

In response, several Swedish papers reprinted the cartoons on Wednesday.

Several Swedish newspapers on Wednesday reprinted a controversial caricature of the Prophet Mohammed as a dog, the day after an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist was disclosed.

Stockholm tabloid Expressen said it decided to reprint the caricature “in support of freedom of speech.”

An editorial in the Dagens Nyheter daily said a “threat against (the cartoonist) is ultimately a threat against all Swedes.”

Irish police on Tuesday arrested four men and three women who they say planned to kill Lars Vilks. The Swedish cartoonist in 2007 drew a caricature of Prophet Muhammad’s head attached to the body of a dog to illustrate a newspaper editorial about freedom of expression and religion.

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The Islamophobia Awards — my alternative nominations

The Islamic Human Rights Commission organises the annual Islamphobia Awards, and have revealed the nominations for this year’s awards. It seems to me though that the following people have done more to stoke up Islamophobia than many of the nominations listed there:

Surely, by conforming to the stereotype of the angry intolerant Muslim, who will threaten, if not carry out, acts of violence over any perceived insult to their religion, these people have been stoking up Islamophobia far more effectively than e.g. Jack Straw asking Muslim women to remove their veils or the Pope using an ancient quotation during a speech?

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Cartoon wars mini-roundup

A couple of stories I forgot to put in my previous article:

  • Michelle Malkin highlights a BBC report that the Yemeni newspaper editor who allowed cartoons to be published in the Yemen Observer in order to condemn them is not only languishing in jail, as Harry’s Place reported before, but might face the death penalty if the prosecution get their way!
  • Malkin also reports on a pro-Denmark rally, supporting freedom of speech, that was held on Friday in San Francisco.
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Cartoon wars roundup (4)

The Danish cartoons affair continues to rumble on, even if it’s not making as much headline news as it was:

  • Little Green Footballs (LGF) reports that the EU are considering demands from Arab countries to “fight defamation of the religion”, apparently the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab league are demanding that the Mohammed affair is never repeated (i.e. no one publishes such cartoons again).
  • Also cited by LGF, is the (Australian) Daily Telegraph’s report that Danish Muslim clerics are demanding an apology from the Danish government over the cartoons, and call for changes in Danish and European laws:

    We want the laws in Denmark and the European Union to be changed, either to have free speech for everyone including on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, or to change the law to respect religious figures like Mohammad,” Suweidan said.

  • Back in February, some students in Afghanistan threatened to join Al-Qaeda if further cartoons ‘abusing’ the Prophet Mohammed were published.
  • Harry’s Place notes that publishing the cartoons in order to condemn them does not necessarily protect a newspaper from prosecution in Muslim countries:

    As I’ve said it’s a deviation from the normal rule that a Defendant can’t be guilty of something if he didn’t intend to commit an offence. To give an example one can’t be charged with murder if one accidentally shoots another person while cleaning a gun. The end result may be the same – a dead body, but the difference is in the intention of the person who held the gun. It’s not fair to jail someone for the murder of another where he didn’t intend to kill him.

    That sort of distinction doesn’t seem to exist in Yemen where three newspaper journalists decided to publish the infamous MoToons in their newspapers in order more effectively to condemn them as blasphemous:

    Mr. Assadi, who once worked as a part-time correspondent for The New York Times, is one of three Yemeni journalists facing criminal charges for republishing the cartoons. The other two are Abdulkarim Sabra, the managing editor of the weekly Al Hurriya, and Yehiya al-Abed, a reporter for that paper. The men were jailed for two weeks last month, before being released on bail. The three stand accused of insulting their faith by publishing the images, a crime approaching heresy. In each case, the editors’ stated intention was to condemn the drawings. In the case of The Observer, the images were obscured by a black X.

    The Yemeni journalists aren’t the only ones in the Muslim world in trouble for dabbling with the cartoons:

    Eight other journalists in five countries are facing prosecution for reprinting the cartoons

    Muslim journalists beware: you may consider the images blasphemous, provocative or outrageous, you may deface, cover up or partially obscure the images, but publishing them is still likely to get you into big trouble as this snippet from the Yemeni court demonstrates:

    The lawyers also reminded the court of a story from the days of the prophet in which a woman was executed for insulting him, and he praised her killer, a citation The Observer took as a threat to demand that the editor be sentenced to death. He currently faces a year in jail or a fine.

  • A rally in support of Denmark was organised for the 11th March, in Toronto, Canada. This article reports on how it went, apparently they estimate 100 to 150 people turned out. Note that a march for freedom of speech is planned for the 25th March in Trafalgar square.
  • A rally criticising the cartoons, and praising Mohammed as a peaceful man took place in Houston, Texas on Friday, though fortunately without the violence that has marred other anti-cartoons protests.
  • In Russia, a website that had printed the cartoons received an official warning stating that the website had “committed an action aimed at arousing religious and social hatred and set up a real threat of causing damage to the social security”. The website was told to remove the violation immediately.
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Some freedom of speech related stories

Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I didn’t have as much time to post over the last week or two.

Anyway, the furore over the Danish cartoons has finally subsided, at least in terms of riots and embassy torchings. However the issue hasn’t died, and other events are also highlighting the issues related to freedom of speech:

Clearly the issue of freedom of speech, and where any limits should be drawn, has become a live topic since the publication of the cartoons and the subsequent furore, spurred on by other contemporary events such as the jailing of Irving, the acquittal of Nick Griffin of the BNP on charges of inciting racial hatred, the ongoing clash between anti-vivisectionists and those who support animal experimentation, and the watering down of the British governments Incitement to Religious Hatred bill. This is against a backdrop of continual erosion of civil rights by the British government, including the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech itself.

Freedom of speech is clearly a value that is under assault. Nevertheless, it has its defenders.

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Flemming Rose in his own words.

In the Washington Post, Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, who solicited the cartoons that much of the Muslim world is in uproar over, has defended his decision to solicit and publish the cartoons. His article is well worth reading in full.

Rose makes clear he was worried about the self-censorship people were exercising due to intimidation and fear of reprisals should they be perceived to have insulted or criticise Islam. Here are some passages which I found interesting:

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity,Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

One cartoon — depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban — has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent characteristic of the prophet.

Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn’t intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.

As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak.

The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labeling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.

But tragic demonstrations throughout the Middle East and Asia were not what we anticipated, much less desired. Moreover, the newspaper has received 104 registered threats, 10 people have been arrested, cartoonists have been forced into hiding because of threats against their lives and Jyllands-Posten’s headquarters have been evacuated several times due to bomb threats. This is hardly a climate for easing self-censorship.

Clearly the fear of reprisals mentioned above has proven to be well founded, and it seems to me that publication of the cartoons by other papers is both an act of solidarity with Rose and defiance against this intimidation, despite the Jack Straws and Bill Clintons of this world condemning the cartoons.

I think the cartoons themselves are mostly innocuous and unfunny but also open to different interpretations as Rose points out.

One cartoon, which shows Mohammed at the gates of heaven and some suicide bombers outside with Mohammed saying “Stop! Stop! We’ve run out of virgins” did make me chuckle. It seemed to me this was lampooning a belief that suicide bombers are indoctrinated with, namely that they’ll receive 72 virgins in heaven for carrying out their “martyrdom” operation. This reprehensible belief, which provides a religious motivation for attacks like those of 9/11, 7/7, Bali and of course the blowing up of Israelis in their shopping centres and restaurants, deserves to be mocked and ridiculed. I think the cartoon was perfectly justifiable and should not be insulting to anyone but the likes of Osama Bin Laden.

Those who are claiming to be insulted by these cartoons are insisting on a particular interpretation of them to do so, and are also trying to control (whether via the violence and threats or via peaceful political means) what we can and cannot print in our newspapers. Indeed some them ask us, as non-believers, not to depict Mohammed at all or they will treat it as a deep insult and a deliberate provocation. That is intimidation, and it is an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

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