You have the right to be offended

A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, caused a right stink in September 2005 by publishing cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad; one of which depicted him as having a bomb hidden in his turban.

Boom and, indeed, boom.

Unsurprisingly, this caused widespread offence throughout the Muslim world. The representation of Muhammad is forbidden under Islamic law under any circumstances, so an illustration of the prophet portrayed as some kind of suicide-bomber was always going to raise a few eyebrows, to say the least. Cue the closure of the Libyan embassy in Denmark, the recall of the Saudi Arabian ambassador, the burning of Danish flags in Gaza and the threat of a boycott of Danish products across the Middle East. (Although seeing as Denmark’s chief exports are lager and bacon this strikes me as something of a futile gesture.)

Ironically, the paper had commissioned the work for a piece on self-censorship and freedom of expression prompted by the publication of a children’s book about Muhammad, whose artists had only been prepared to provide illustrations anonymously for fear of reprisals (i.e. Salman Rushdie forced into hiding after writing The Satanic Verses; Theo van Gogh knifed to death on the streets of Amsterdam after making a film about attitudes to women in Islam).

The newspaper has apologised for any offence that was caused. The Danish government, however, has not issued any apology, despite pressure from Muslim nations and organisations. Nor should they. This is a fundamental principle of western liberal democracy – we operate a free press and media, independent from government interference or influence, which can publish anything it sees fit, within the limits of the law. The pictures were in poor taste (and if anyone wants to see them, they can do so here) and politically insensitive (the implication that Muslim=terrorist is a slander on millions of people), especially in this day and age. But you can bet that they would have had no qualms running any satirical cartoons about Jesus – nor would they have faced much of a backlash if they had done so. The only reason they would have decided not to publish would have been due to unease about a potential reaction by Muslim extremists: self-censorship through fear, in other words.

Interestingly, in London today, people have gathered outside parliament to protest against the proposed ‘religious hatred bill’, which intends to sanitise speech to the extent that it becomes an offence to ridicule another person’s belief. Which is absurd. People have the right to be offended, and the right to ask for an apology. Nothing more.


Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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11 comments on “You have the right to be offended
  1. mAc Chaos says:

    You seem to be developing the habit lately to beat me by one day to the topic I intend to post about.

    Good show, nonetheless.

  2. Citizen Sane says:

    I do have the timezone advantage I guess.

    Would be interested to read your take on it anyway, so hope you do so.

  3. FamilyValues says:

    STOP PRESS – Government defeated in the House of Commons on the odious Religious Hatred Bill – Labour MPs rebel (again…watch out Tony, its getting to be habit), Tories call for Blair to resign…I love it, just like the dieing days of the Tory regime…who says politics is boring.

  4. sparx says:

    Why stop at racial and religious hatred? I am regularly discriminated against in everyday life and in the media and have heard of numerous occasions where there have been calls to ban me, hurt me or even kill me.

    Why? Because I ride a motorbike. If that bill had gone through where the hell would it have stopped?

  5. Citizen Sane says:

    Are people really that aggressive towards bikers?

    I’ve got to say, I hate those fuckers with the really loud exhausts that go racing up my road at 100mph. Noisy wankers.

    You’re not one of them, are you?

  6. sparx says:

    I have had people open their door on me as I filter past, i’ve had people walk up to me as i’m getting off my bike to hurl abuse. Insurance companies assume the bike was at fault to some extent regardless of circumstances because of some court case in the sixties. I get Jeremy Clarkson encouraging Sun readers to knock me off and now Talksport DJ Ian Collins has got in on the act.

    I would agree with you about those fuckers doing 100mph down every straight piece of road before binning it a the first corner they come to. They are probably the single biggest cause of the hostility towards us. They are bikers fundamentalists that the small-minded and bigoted can use to tar the rest of us with the same brush.

    Point is though, everyone can claim discrimination somewhere because of their belief, interest, clothes they wear, car they drive. If we start ‘protecting’ one group of people then we have to offer that same ‘protection’ to every one else. I mean, why not pass laws to outlaw the ridicule of gingers?

  7. ph says:

    I am afraid to say it, but the Islamic world has got the Western leftie liberals on the run. The liberals have viewed Muslims as innocents downtrodden by the nasty white racists from the west. Now that it seems that Islam provides a comfortable home for racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry and sectarian violence the liberals are all at sea. They feel that they cannot condemn Islam, because it is the religion of an oppressed minority, and are thus happy to accept all sorts of views that if held by a white christian would be howled down in rigteous indignation. I think Ken Livingstone happily associating with people who advocate the killing of gays and Jews, and the stoning of women is a good case in point. Liberals – what hypocrites.

  8. Nav says:

    You are so right on every level.

    This boycott of Danish goods by Muslim stores has spread to my city, Toronto, and I can’t stand it.

  9. dw says:

    Opressed minority? One in five people on the planet are Muslim and everywhere they dominate they oppress, intimidate and openly practice violence. Almost all major conflicts are Muslims attacking somebody or demanding controll wherever they have immigrated. Good example to me was Ghandi helping carve Pakistan out of India so that hostile Muslims that had immigrated there or were converted could have a homeland. A million died in the transition and now look at the gratitude. That is their modus operandi.

  10. dw says:

    I think I’ll go and buy a big Danish ham and some quality Danish cheese and read some history about the Vikings.

  11. Citizen Sane says:

    And a Great Dane and some Lurpak.

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