New cartoon mayhem in The Netherlands

In The Netherlands cartoon artist Gregorius Nekschot has been arrested following complaints by imam Abdul-Jabbar van de Ven that his work discriminates against, notably, Muslims and dark-skinned people. I really do not have the time right now to write a decent post about this and I am also waiting for more information, but Dutch weblog Polderpundit has dedicated a long post on this subject. Here is one quote to give you an idea about the gist of the controversy:

Personally we think most of Nekschot’s drawings (which we only discovered today) are rather tasteless, although some made us smile (wryly). In other words, we will not buy the book and we won’t subscribe to his newsletter. Period, that’s it. We certainly do not feel more negative or less positive about certain ethnic or religious minorities. Seeing a cartoon where Mohammed sodomizes Anne Frank makes us wish we hadn’t, but it doesn’t change our feelings about either. The only thing it incites us to do is, again, to abstain from buying Nekschot’s books. Maybe it makes others incite to buy it, good for them.

As for the “insulting” part, well, it’s hard to pretend Nekschot’s drawings are uncontroversial innocent works of art. It is imaginable that some people feel indeed insulted by some of the cartoons. In which case they would be wise not to look at them. Just as reactionary (or simply long-toed) christians did not watch “Life of Brian” or “The Last Temptation of Christ”. All these artworks can be considered insulting. But criminally insulting? The Western battle for freedom of expression is also the battle for the freedom of expression of ideas we do not like, including ideas we feel insulted by.

Subsidiary question: Are the imams who call non-muslim children “dogs”, who wish a tongue cancer onto Ayaan Hirsi Ali and all other kind of documented niceties, are these people insulting and inciting hatred? We cannot measure with two standards. The cases of both Nekschot and islamic extremists should be examined with the same zeal and integrity, and depending on the findings, they should be prosecuted or not, and then tried (or not) with identical impartiality.

The really worrying part comes next:

It is always tempting to think of hidden political agendas, and before you know it you are talking about conspiracy theories. As long as there is no more detailed information available, it would seem wise to stay prudent.

At the same time it is true that some high-profile members and cabinet ministers of Holland’s biggest political party, the CDA (christian centre), have been advocating censorship of the Fitna, a movie critical of islam, launched by Geert Wilders (founder of one of those populist parties). Has this antidemocratic attitude seeped down to lower levels? Were the police and the DA trying to please their political masters?

The latter quote I find particularly interesting because it goes way beyond freedom of speech. There is a strong sense of “Why are they allowed to do these things and we are not?” I have seen this cropping up several times before in internet discussions. Personally, I doubt if there is a political conspiracy behind the arrest, but Dutch politicians and society would do well to address what Polderpundit describes as “this antidemocratic attitude” and, more importantly, the perception, wrong or right, that some people get condemned for the very same things others seem to get away with.

Update: The link to Nekschot’s site went 404 following an official request from the Dutch Public Prosecutor. From the dozens of cartoons that were examined by the judiciary eight have been subjected to charges of discrimination and possibly even incitement to violence and hatred. All the other cartoons were deemed to be within the legal limits of freedom of speech and artistic expression.

10 thoughts on “New cartoon mayhem in The Netherlands

  1. Hey Guy,
    Thanks for noticing my post.

    Personally, I doubt if there is a political conspiracy behind the arrest, but Dutch politicians and society would do well to address what Polderpundit describes as “this antidemocratic attitude” and, more importantly, the perception, wrong or right, that some people get condemned for the very same things others seem to get away with.

    I concur with your doubts about the existence of a political conspiracy. There is however, as I think you will have noted too, a climate that is very fertile for any kind of crackpot theory. It is the public perception of this kind of acts that creates and feeds that fertility.

    The Dutch government wants to favour the integration of non-western immigrants or “allochtones” (one of the ugliest words invented if you ask me, along with “autochtones”). That is a noble cause, hard to object to (unless you want to deport one million people, which is neither a practical nor a moral thing to do).

    So, what happens? I can tell you what a lot of people see happening, their perception:

    there is an integration problem, not limited to but mainly concerning muslims. That may well be a small group of muslims (nobody has been able to present convincing data, personally I’m convinced there are no more than a couple of thousand muslim extremists in the Netherlands, but somewhere I read that the Home Security Office works with a guesstimate of 40,000 – hell, that IS scary!), but nobody knows for sure, there is poor communication, and as a result a lot of people think there are a lot of them
    instead of acting decisively against individuals who act against society, the Dutch administration arrests a whistleblower (again, I’m talking about public perception, personally I don’t think Nekschot can be considered as a whistleblower, just a tasteless and undertalented cartoonist, but our government just made him a hero, in the eyes of many). And our populist parties must be laughing right now: this is a gold present to them, courtesy of the government.
    this is not an unprecedented situation: right after the murder of Van Gogh, the then-minister of justice sought to introduce legislation that would have it made easier to punish not the murder, but Van Gogh himself!

    I do not necessarily have the same perception, as always things are more complex, some assumptions aren’t necessarily correct, but I can assure you that a LOT of people think along those lines. And frankly, who can blame them with a government that seems to do things backwards.

    As for some people getting away with things that others get punished for, again, how can you blame people for thinking that when they see for themselves (in their streets, in the schools of their kids, on TV and in the newspapers) that if they commit burglary, break windows, pee in the open air or drive too fast, they get fined and/or imprisoned, whereas delinquent youth of foreign origin (the link muslim-Arab is an easy one to make in the mind of the public) get away with it, or are being sent on holiday in their country of origin for “sensitivity training” or whatever idiocy the do-gooders of our society have invented?

    Public perception often is black/white thinking (no pun intended), but instead of blaming the public for that, maybe our Regents should start blaming themselves. They are shaping a future where our government will be led by Wilders and Verdonk.

    I’m not sure that’s what they want, it certainly isn’t what I want, but it is what they will get.

  2. Hi, polderpundit.

    I think the debate about perceptions is a very important one and your post, as well as your comment here, illustrates that very well. And I agree with you. That is why I said the government (and the press, etc) should start addressing these problems. They should engage in a real debate with the public about what worries them and forget about politics for a moment. So, no debates about who is left or right or who favours multiculturalism or not, etc. Been there, done that, got no T-shirt.

    Or, in other words, good old fashioned Dutch nuchterheid.

  3. According to the AIVD (Dutch pdf, intelligence report of 2007 about radical islam) there are about 500.000 religiously oriented moslims in the Netherlands (half the moslim population), of whom 5% is susceptible to radicalize. About 10% of those 5% will become radical extremist. 0.5% of 500.000 is about 2500 which is why the AIVD doesn’t think it is a real threat to Dutch society.

    I think that the arrest is ridiculous, and AFAICS most people agree. They claim that the official complaint was made in 2005, but it took 3 years to discover Nekschot’s identity (/me is not impressed). Since the complaint was made about his public work it is strange that they had to arrest him and search his house : he can hardly be accused of hatespeech if he doesn’t do it in public. They also allready said that ‘most of his cartoons are within the limits of the law’ and they don’t even know for sure wether they will sue him or not.

    Since we had moslims arrested for rather trivial things too (‘conspicious behaviour’) and all stats show that immigrants are more often and more severely punished than the whiteskins from comparable class I’d be inclined to ascribe the perception mentioned by polderpundit to those who are most sensitive t populist demagogery. Unfortunately that covers a hugh part of the Dutch population, but I agree with Guy that nuchterheid is more likey to prevail.

    I also agree that there should be more public debate, but my (probabely prejudiced) perception is that those most likely to fall for the populist view are not really interested in debate. Facts are boring and even sensationalism can distract only momentarily from the next episode of Big Brother. Sigh.

  4. Any of you ever saw or read a Arab paper ?
    Even the seriouce once publish anti Jewish or Cristian cartoons at least twice a week.

    Insults on the adresses of Jezus, the Pope, Abraham etc are more or less the mild once.

    Anyone ever hired a Syrian propaganda movie or a Palastinian one?
    Against the tastless stuf our Muslim friends fabricate Nekschot`s drawings look rather innocent.

  5. Dutchmarbel wrote:
    all stats show that immigrants are more often and more severely punished than the whiteskins from comparable class

    Hey Marbel,
    That’s a thought-provoking comment. Do you have any source to back that up?


  6. Nauarchos, I know. And there was the infamous Hamas Mickey Mouse, for instance. But that’s over there and the context is slightly different.

    I am more concerned, on a daily basis, with what happens over here in my own context. Even when I know that the things over there do to a certain extent influence things that happen over here. I’ll even have a few posts on this within due time.

  7. The guy was drawing cartoons that would not have been out of place in Der Sturmer, so cry me a river for this free speach martyr.

  8. You should. If you give the state power (outside very narrow limits) what is acceptable speech, you no longer have free speech.

  9. You people are sad. Looking for excuses to act racist, how pathetic. Stop killing muslims in wars and insulting them in every possible way, maybe then you’ll become recognized as the “civilized” that believe to be. Until now there are only dozens of murders and attacks on immigrants and your governments are killing whole countries.

  10. Nekshot used to be an anonymous cartoonmaker that nobody had heared of who published mainly on his own website. Our government has mishandled the case so that they have made a martyr of him and given him wide publicity with many major publications publishing some of his cartoons and one of our major political parties (VVD) organising an exhibition of his works.

    How did they accomplish this?:
    – the minister ordered a prosecution of the man several years after the complaint was filed. The weak excuse was that it took that long to find his address. (Nekschot is a peseudonym meaning “shot into the neck”, but they could have asked his web provider)
    – for the arrest his house was stormed by 10 police officers. (they might just as well have made a phone call).
    – he was held in prison for three days – much longer than is usual after an arrest for this kind of crime.

    The Dutch reactions in this affair are also motivated by the fact that we have a government with two Christian parties. The liberal oppositian is afraid that when anti-Islamic publishing is restricted this will automatically mean that anti-Christian publishing is also restricted.

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