The ongoing uproar over the publishing of those cartoons is so much more than just another news story. Let’s face it: somebody, somewhere, is offended by something they have seen in the media every second of every day. What this story illustrates is the extent of the division between western, secular democracy which cherishes and upholds freedom of speech and expression, against that of unreconstructed Islam which is, in some extreme cases, prepared to kill to ensure words are not said and images not displayed that they find ‘offensive’. Unreconstructed Islam which cannot differentiate between state law and personal freedom and does not grasp the concept that the actions of a newspaper are not the responsibility or business of the government. So we get futile lobbying of the Danish embassy, an organised boycott of Danish goods and – oh my – the burning of the Danish flag. These, of course, were mild responses compared to the burning and looting of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the attacks on similar buildings in Iran and Syria.
This is, in every sense, a battle between debate and dogma, freedom and doctrine, liberty and fascism. The papers that have reprinted those pictures are totally within their right to do so and defenders of the sanctity of freedom of the press should absolutely refuse to capitulate to the dogmatic thugs insisting otherwise. These freedoms are much more precious than some archaic belief system that forbids any representation of its main prophet. And that goes for religious fundamentalists of every persuasion, by the way: Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, whatever. The government is under no obligation to protect your faith from being affronted, nor should it ever feel any – once you start, where do you stop?
The irony is that the cartoons which whipped up the most anger weren’t even published in the first place. According to a piece in the Guardian on Saturday, a group of imams from Copenhagen, not satisfied with the response the story was getting in their own country (remember, they were originally published back in September), took the offending items on a ‘tour’ of the middle east to whip up fury. According to the article:
At this point a group of ultra-conservative Danish imams decided to take matters into their own hands, setting off on an ambitious tour of Saudi Arabia and Egypt with a dossier containing the inflammatory cartoons.
According to Jyllands-Posten, the imams from the organisation Islamisk Trossamfund took three other mysteriously unsourced drawings as well, showing Muhammad with the face of a pig; a dog sodomising a praying Muslim; and Muhammad as a paedophile. “This was pure disinformation. We never published them,” Lund complained. But the campaign worked. Outwardly the row appeared to be calming down. But in Muslim cyber-chatrooms, on blogs, and across the internet, outrage was building fast.
I wonder how many of the people who took to the streets globally this weekend have actually seen these cartoons in their entirety. The depressing thing is that, as a body of satirical work, the cartoons were actually pretty poor. The most offensive thing about them to my mind is that they weren’t particularly funny in the first place. But then Danes are not famed for their sense of humour. In fact, as I said elsewhere, Danes aren’t famed for anything in particular apart from Carlsberg and Danepak. Oh, and Lego. That is, until now.
The sad fact is, most of the people that protested chose to be offended by something they probably hadn’t even seen with their own eyes. So they took to the streets of London, dressed as suicide bombers, adorning babies with I Love al-Qaida hats and carrying placards with such lovely sentiments as: “Massacre those who insult Islam”, “Butcher those who mock Islam”, “Europe you’ll come crawling when Mujahideen come roaring”, “Britain you will pay: 7/7 on its way”.
Meanwhile, papers in the Middle East routinely run ‘satirical’ cartoons that are blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-western. If you want an example, take a look here. An Iranian newspaper has now launched a competition to find the ‘best’ 12 cartoons about the Holocaust, as if there weren’t enough similarities already between Islamic extremists and Nazis.
Because that is what a lot of those protesters in London at the weekend reminded me of, and it’s absurd that the extremist elements were not challenged and arrested. If the BNP held a rally in London, with hundreds of people on the streets promising death to non-whites, while others dressed as Hitler holding placards saying “Kill all Jews” or “Holocaust now”, they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. And if we don’t tolerate this behaviour from white supremacists, we shouldn’t tolerate it from Islamofascists either.
Fortunately, those that took to the streets to preach hatred and incite murder of innocent people are still very much a minority within the Muslim faith and it was encouraging to see the chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee openly condemn their actions. Even the idiot who dressed as the suicide bomber on Friday has now apologised. Apparently he “had not intended to cause offence.”
Ah yes, offence. Of course. Wasn’t that the abstract concept that kicked this whole issue off in the first place?