The cartoon row: aiming for maximum shock value

Iran newspaper Hamshahri came up with an original plan to counter the release of Danish cartoons making fun of the prophet Muhammad and decided to hold a little cartoon contest to test the limits of free speech:

The daily paper Hamshahri said the contest was designed to test the boundaries of free speech — the reason given by many European newspapers for publishing the Prophet Mohammad cartoons.

Fair enough, you’d say? Well, not quite. The theme of the contest is the Holocaust, incidentally called an “incident”:

A serious question for Muslims … is this: “Does Western free speech allow working on issues like America and Israel’s crimes or an incident like the Holocaust or is this freedom of speech only good for insulting the holy values of divine religions?”‘ the paper said on Tuesday.


A number of Western countries expressly forbid caricatures of the Holocaust for a number of well-founded reasons. In light of the, still relatively recent, mass murder of Jewish people I believe they do deserve some special protection against a new witch hunt. Does this mean we should wait until a Muslim holocaust happens before we start giving Muslims special protection? Surely not. And Muslims are already protected under a number of hate speech laws. Just like other minorities. It is a sad state of affairs that we should have these laws in the first place, but apparently they are necessary and so be it.

The publication of cartoons insulting to Jews and the denial of an historical fact, the Holocaust, may very well be legal in Iran, here in Western Europe it is not. That is already one solid boundary of free speech.

Western free speech, however, does allow working on issues like “America and Israel’s crimes”. I agree that criticising the actions of Israel could be tricky, in some quarters it would be considered highly incorrect, but it is legally possible. And it happens.

As to “insulting the holy values of divine religions” the issue is less clear and there could be some measure of hypocrisy in favour of the Christian god. Some countries, like The Netherlands, still have blasphemy laws that could maybe be invoked to condemn the publication of the Muhammad cartoons. I do not know for sure, I am not a legal expert, but this would be one avenue to explore if people are offended by the cartoons. Demanding that extant blasphemy laws be extended to include offending the Prophet would be one possibility and could lead to a very interesting debate. The keywords here are ‘laws’ and ‘debate’.

The Iran newspaper Hamshahri has cleverly separated the issue of the Holocaust from that of blasphemy by attacking Western free speech in general. And, to a certain degree, they have a point. If we can raise a stink to condemn Ahmadinejad’s outrageous remarks about the Holocaust and the very existence of the state of Israel, they surely must have the right to play tit for tat. Only in this case it is like comparing apples and pears. The only thing that connects the Holocaust and insults to the Prophet is emotional shock value.

The ‘success’ of the Danish cartoons, being published in several European newspapers and spreading like wildfire all over the internet, shows that Islam is indeed something that worries many people tremendously. Islam is fast becoming the West’s favourite black sheep, just like Jews and Israel have been black sheep in several Muslim countries. Both camps are playing out their favourite pet subjects, it seems, and daring the opponent to “make my day” for reasons that may in some cases (scroll down to “the pig factor”) have nothing to do with free speech at all. See also Edward’s post right below.

50 thoughts on “The cartoon row: aiming for maximum shock value

  1. The decision by Islamists to publish a variety of anti-semitic cartoons, notably the Anne Frank raped by Hitler item shown by a Belgian-Dutch Islamic group, and the Iranian anti-semitic cartoon competition illustrates their confusion and helps us dissipate our own.

    1) It is entirely their business what they publish in Iran. We may find it ugly, vicious and indicative of future danger, but that’s it.

    2) The Anne Frank cartoon is shocking, and deeply offensive to any Holocaust survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims, but it isn’t inciting hatred and doesn’t deny the Holocaust. Muslim and other exponents of tastelessness should be free to publish and be damned in our eyes.

    3) No major western paper would print such a cartoon (except to discuss it) because it would be a very poor reflection on its readers to assume they would wish to see it in a normal context.

    4) What this comes down to, in the context of the caricatures of Mohammed, is that there are European majority sensitivities and the sensitivities of our Muslim minority. Neither can dictate to the other – in Europe, at least. Perhaps we can accommodate each other, eventually, but that’s likely to be a long process and should be mutual.

    5) Denial of Genocide and incitment to racial hatred is a different and more complicated matter. There are laws about it because Europeans see it as leading people into danger. For Europeans to deny their history is like deliberately distracting people from looking both ways before they cross a road. We know that truck is there.

  2. “The decision by Islamists to publish a variety of anti-semitic cartoons, notably the Anne Frank raped by Hitler item shown by a Belgian-Dutch Islamic group, and the Iranian anti-semitic cartoon competition illustrates their confusion and helps us dissipate our own.”

    John, I agree with your post. For more on the Anne Frank cartoon (blogwhoring alert!!) see here. The AEL, the perpetrators of the cartoon, have also published holocaust denial cartoons. IMHO, it is ‘just’ a stunt. The AEL is not that popular among Western (Belgian/Dutch) muslims.

  3. “to test the limits of free speech:”

    Unforunate wording. 1) Iran has censorship. 2) Holocaust denial otoh is not beyond the pale there.

  4. While I agree with John Montague’s comment – to the extent that claiming liberty of speech for ourselves precludes us from denying it to Muslims in Iran – I would express my views on Islamic ‘confusion’ over liberty of speech more succinctly: it seems to me that some Muslims confuse the underlying concepts of tolerance and respect.

    One may tolerate the offensive remarks of others without according them any respect. One does this by choosing to ignore the offensive remarks and direct one’s attentions elsewhere. Yet some Muslims seem unable to tolerate the offensive cartoons because they claim that Muslims and non-Muslims alike have some obligation to respect Islam.

    As for ‘dissipating our own confusion’, I am not quite sure at what confusion that remark is directed. Certainly, I do not feel confused about the issue. One group of people believe in liberty of expression and another group of people also believe in it unless they are insulted. Simple.

  5. Jyllands-Posten should publish them. They have a moral obligation to do so. Credibility must be maintained.

  6. Interesting tit-for-tat. The fact remains that nobody will be killed in the west for Iranian “free speech”. No Iranian building will be sacked. In my mind genocide denial is more serious and yet the reaction to it will be more measured. This makes Iran and the reactions to the intial cartoon look all the more silly. As a moderate anglican american who is married to a grandaughter of a holocaust survivor their isnt a cartoon that would surprise me(about jews/american/captialists). In fact I expect it…with or without the intial “provocation”.

  7. For fairness’ sake it should be noted that up to now nobody has been killed for the cartoons. People were killed in incidents surrounding demonstrations and buildings torched, but nobody has been murdered.

  8. I am not quite sure at what confusion that remark is directed …

    Confusion arises between those images that are not published in Europe because of good manners (respect for the dead, etc) and those that are not published because there are laws against distorting certain facts, awareness of which is deemed of critical importance in avoiding a repetition of the events of the past (illegality of genocide denials).

    As individuals, we may or may not choose to extend good manners to European Muslims. Tampering with a public safety message, on the other hand, is a different matter.

  9. What nobody here even understood: the Iranians are not on about “H denial”. Not at all.

    If you read closely you’ll find that the moron Ahmadinejad spoke about the “myth” of the H. A myth is something thats formed after the fact and overshadows it. Cf. Shoah Business

    The point westerners do not get: the “H myth”, according to many voices, overshadows the reality of what really happened in WW2, and the whole treatment of “group hate” issues since. As even Simon Wiesenthal will tell you here:

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/36quest1.html

    ..the issue doesn’t circle around one specific form of racism. The “West” has a very strong desire to hide it’s own centuries of colonial crimes. This is most obvious through for example the mythification of Hitler in the anglophone countries, or the banning of stupid symbols like swastikas.

  10. It is hardly novel to claim that, in the eyes of Westerners, the only sin of Nazism was to have committed the crime of genocide at the heart of Europe.

    “Yes, it would be worthwhile … to show the distinguished, humanist, Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century … that in the end what he does not forgive Hitler is not crime against man as such – but crime against the white man” Aimé Césaire , Discours sur le Colonialisme, 1955

    Adorno and Horkheimer pioneered the understanding that Nazism had antecedents in the long, brutal past of colonialism , in attitudes like those of the French Government during Bugeaud’s 1845 campaign in Algeria, justifying a scorched earth policy and extensive massacres of civilians by proclaiming that that ‘in Europe such actions would be terrible, loathsome. In Africa, they are the reality of war. How else could it be waged ?”

    The fact is that Europe now acknowledges these horrors, and that the intent of EU legislation is to ensure that the lessons of history are not forgotten . If Europeans can identify more easily with murdered Jewish doctors than with murdered Algerian – or Russian – peasants, that is incidental.

    See http://non-tibi-spiro.blogspot.com/2005/01/belgium-against-racism-and-genocide.html for a good account of what European legislation is targeted at.

  11. As i am only 17, i realise i may be considered by many as ignorant as to what is going on. I however am in no way ignorant to this and have strong views on the matter. I understand how the cartoons may be seen as offensive, however point protesters in the direction of ‘The Life of Brian’. I entirely fail to understand how protesters cannot see their hypocrisy – showing how the cartoons were unfair to portray them as a violent religion yet protesting by blowing up anything and everything danish as well as the Iranian cutting of trade links. I am not in any way racist or anti-islam, but do support freedom of speech and expression. The fact is that we are tolerant of the mocking of many religions, but hyper-sensitive to any mention of Islam, perhaps due to the fact that this last week has shown the results. I still do not believe that the publishing of these cartoons was wrong. The hypocrisy shown by some (and i understand it is only a minority, but a very loud and violent minority) is hard to believe and the lack of tolerance they have to countries which are endlessly tolerant towards them is quite ridiculous.

  12. The problem isn’t European – if anything, Britain will be remembered as the ‘enablers’ for the Iraq war, but thats it for now. The problem is US-American primitivity, militarism and their own denial of an extremely racist past and present.

    re tolerance, ~10 years there was a movie called The last temptation of Christ that cinemas torched. Life of Brian wasn’t about Jesus at all, just general mockery of religion and it was banned in several European countries.

    We’re running head-on into a new Holocaust with this whole affair I’m afraid.

  13. The iranians are making an entirely valid point. The danes and all other western europeans are extremely hypocritical in claiming to be defending “free speech” when they themselves have laws again swastikas and such. The fact is that some of the drawings are fairly similar to 30s style anti-semetic propaganda.

    Western Europe should get rid of all laws forbidding “hate speech” or holocaust denial. That they are not forbidden does not mean they can’t be stopped; democratic society is strong enough to withstand such things through e.g. boycotts. Having laws against it just give’s Neo-nazis the opportunity to view themselves as “martyrs” fighting an oppresive state.

  14. Danish (French, German, Norwegian, Spanish…)Christian cartoonists mock Mohammed and (I was going to say “we” here, but that hasn’t been true since I reached the age of reason) Muslims are mightily offended. So, in a tit-for-tat, Iranian Muslim cartoonists do not draw Jesus, Mary and the Pope engaging in a depraved orgy; no, they mock — Jews (whose major organizations, it should be noted, pointedly expressed sympathy with the Muslims)?! And the Holocaust?! (Why is it that anti-semites can argue, at once, that the Holocaust never happened but that Hitler should have finished the job?) Well, if you believe Jews control all the media in the Western world, I suppose it all makes perfect sense.

  15. “I am not in any way racist or anti-islam, but do support freedom of speech and expression.”

    I also support freedom of expression and I also am not a racist. Having thought about this a bit though, I should say I AM anti-Islam. I have become Islamophobic. And here is why…

    Islam does not merely call for the conversion of non-Muslims, it calls for their REconversion, believing as they do, that everyone is naturally born a Muslim and simply deviates from the will of Allah whilst in their own cultures.

    In conversation with these people I have found that they begin with the assumption that Islam ought to be (and can be) respected and that you, their interlocutant, simply need to be made sufficiently aware of Islam in order that you may respect it.

    Yet the fact is, while I may have tolerated certain Muslims, I certainly do not respect their ‘religion of peace’. My criticism is not that they are violent or racist – we in the West are infinitely better at violence, racially directed or not, than they are – my criticism is that Islam, when implemented as the ideology of State in countries like Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia leads to a denial of human rights, including the paramount rights of individual liberty and it is thus indistinguishable from Fascism.

    I believe in the liberty of the individual and so I consider myself islamophobic, just as I consider myself communist-phobic, racist-phobic and fascist-phobic.

  16. Well mike, welcome on the flypaper!

    You meant to say anti-Islamist. And there’s lots of us with you, including the Muslims. The process going from Islam to Islamism is called Transsubstantion and is a horror for Muslims.

    And thats not taking into account that being simply “anti”-anything is usually semi-intelligent at best..

  17. The iranians are making an entirely valid point. The danes and all other western europeans are extremely hypocritical in claiming to be defending “free speech” when they themselves have laws again swastikas and such. The fact is that some of the drawings are fairly similar to 30s style anti-semetic propaganda.

    Yes, this is necessary. Our hands must be clean, even obviously clean, without any fineprint that is hard to explain, whatever the reason for it.

  18. “And thats not taking into account that being simply “anti”-anything is usually semi-intelligent at best..”

    Not necessarily – and in the specific case of what I have written it is not. It is a simplified expression of a very particular objection – one which I might add seems to allude the ‘intelligence’ of certain other commenters who would apologise on behalf of a religion which actively seeks to use State force to restrict the civil liberties of non-members.

  19. Oh and whose members publicly call for the beheading and general massacre of people who may happen to laugh at them.

  20. I apologise for my spelling error: ‘allude’ should of course be ‘elude’.

    “Our hands must be clean..”

    I agree – we should not ourselves pass laws curtailing freedom of expression (shout-of-fire-in-a-crowded-theatre types of situations notwithstanding). Yet we should remember that, for all their faults, western liberal societies don’t have a thing to learn from the nightmare of Islamic societies.

  21. Why not the painfully obvious comment that jokes about the holocaust are as funny and tasteless as jokes about the massacre of the Huguenots in France in 1572 and of the Armenians by the Turks in 1894, 1895, 1915, . ., and the millions who died of starvation in the organised famine in the Ukraine 1932/3 to “eliminate the kulaks as a class” or the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994?

    What is so extraordinary is that anyone can find human misery on such scales a matter for hilarity. That some evidently do is a sufficiently eloquent commentary on their values. Now we know.

  22. Mankind during evolution was almost never exposed to those numbers. Anything over a few hundred is really statistics.

  23. What makes the holocaust distinctive among the horrifying sequence of barbarities is perhaps less the number of victims than the fact that it was planned and industrialised with sober engineers in distant Berlin producing blueprints for crematoria to dispose of the millions of dead in a timely way, all partly because it was decided that shooting people on the scale intended would be too costly in terms of bullets used and could have averse psychological repercussions upon those tasked to perform mass executions by shooting and the resulting burials.

    But then:

    “Reports that a young woman has been stoned to death in Iran, the second in two months, have stirred widespread international concern.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1435760.stm

    “The stoning of women is one of the more savage, and revealing aspects of the mullahs’ rule in Iran.”
    http://www.iran-e-azad.org/stoning/women.html

  24. Iran also execute apostates. This is considered barbarous by most Europeans but it was done in Europe some centuries ago.
    We Europeans believe ours to be the views of the enlightenment – such things as liberty, equality,justice for all etc.The struggle to have these views accepted was long and bloody.Only when most Christian churches and their followers in Europe accepted the division of church and state did the enlightenment prevail.
    It is true that in this sense Islam and Islamic countries are more primitive – many insist on the primacy of their religion and behave in a manner which is abhorrent to Europe.I expect they will converge to our views but it may be some time. Based on Europe’s experience it could be 500 years.

  25. Sebbo – You’ve not mentioned: “The Thirty Years’ War . . a conflict fought between the years 1618 and 1648, principally on the territory of today’s Germany, but also involving most of the major continental powers. It occurred for a number of reasons. Although it was from its outset a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the self-preservation of the Habsburg dynasty was also a central motive.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years'_War

    I must say that if that is what religious conflicts do then it’s hardly an encouraging omen.

  26. “Iran also execute apostates. This is considered barbarous by most Europeans but it was done in Europe some centuries ago.”

    “I expect they will converge to our views but it may be some time. Based on Europe’s experience it could be 500 years.”

    Perhaps, but I would hope it would be a lot sooner than 500 years! One key difference between the historical conflicts among European religions and today’s confrontation between European secularism and Islamic barbarism is that the technological environment is different. I refer not only to military technology but to communications technology (the web of course).

    Centuries ago in Europe, the only way you could dissuade opponents from the folly of their views was usually by killing them – our means of intercultural penetration were limited to the discussions of the ruling elites. In those days culture war was effectively the same thing as actual military war. Let’s hope that this culture war (for that is what it is) of liberty of speech against the intolerance of Islam may hopefully speed up Islam’s demise from 500 years to, well, a lot less.

  27. Protestant Huguenots were living in close proximity with Catholics in France prior to the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

    “August 24, 1572, was the date of the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France. On that day, over 400 years ago, began one of the most horrifying holocausts in history. The glorious Reformation, begun in Germany on October 31, 1517, had spread to France—and was joyfully received. A great change had come over the people as industry and learning began to flourish, and so rapidly did the Truth spread that over a third of the population embraced the Reformed Christian Faith. . .”

    “Suddenly—and without warning—the devilish work commenced. Beginning at Paris, the French soldiers and the Roman Catholic clergy fell upon the unarmed people, and blood flowed like a river throughout the entire country. Men, women, and children fell in heaps before the mobs and the bloodthirsty troops. In one week, almost 100,100 Protestants perished. The rivers of France were so filled with corpses that for many months no fish were eaten. In the valley of the Loire, wolves came down from the hills to feel upon the decaying bodies of Frenchmen. The list of massacres was as endless as the list of the dead!”
    http://www.reformation.org/bart.html

    How much has changed since?

    “ABU HAMZA sent teams of young supporters around the country with orders to take over other mosques. Rival clerics have told The Times that they were threatened by gangs claiming to be members of Abu Hamza’s Supporters of Sharia group. Some of the rivals were beaten up inside their own mosques, and worshippers were bullied into finding somewhere else to pray.”
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2031810,00.html

  28. I respect the views of those, like Deborah Lipstatdt, who reject the extension of Holocaust Denial Laws beyond the former Third Reich countries, but I can’t agree with them.

    The Holocaust is so well established in the historical record that to deny it you have to assume that there is a systematic conspiracy to distort the facts. That is why Holocaust denial is so dear to those who rather like the idea of killing Jews. It is effectively an accusation that Jews are controlling Western thought to serve their own agenda – and usually appears explicitly in such a context, be it in Iran or on the web-pages of those who seek to rehabilitate the Reich.

  29. The Holocaust is so well established in the historical record that to deny it you have to assume that there is a systematic conspiracy to distort the facts. That is why Holocaust denial is so dear to those who rather like the idea of killing Jews. It is effectively an accusation that Jews are controlling Western thought to serve their own agenda – and usually appears explicitly in such a context, be it in Iran or on the web-pages of those who seek to rehabilitate the Reich.

    This is true, but how do you decide which official truths deserve protection? If you extent everybody’s little exceptions, each of which may be defensible on its own merit, the end result is inacceptable.

  30. “This is true, but how do you decide which official truths deserve protection?”

    I’m unconvinced that working diligently now to discover the “exact” truth of the holocaust is worth the pain and effort any more than trying to establish exactly how many Huguenots were massacred in France in 1572, how many died in the organised Ukraine famine of 1932/3 intended to “eliminate the kulaks as a class”, how many perished in China’s cultural revolution of the 1960s or the killing fields of Cambodia in 1976 and the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

    The commemoration of the holocaust did not help to prevent those later atrocities. Maybe we need less research into history and rather more into the social-pathologies of human behaviour. The results of the Zimbardo and Milgram experiments in social psychology are hardly reassuring:

    http://www.prisonexp.org/
    http://www.new-life.net/milgram.htm

    It happens that British troops among allied forces were the first to come upon the Belsen concentration camp in their advance through Germany in 1945. We have archived testimony of what they found there and we have archived newsreel reports as well. As a small boy living in wartime London, an occasional treat was to be taken to see cartoon movies at a newsreel cinema then above Victoria railway station.

    I still have etched on my mind horrific graphic images of the newsreel report of what was found at Belsen. Instantly recognisable clips from the newsreel were reshown on TV as part of the spate of documentaries commemorating the 60th anniversaries of the start of the war in 1999 and the Normandy invasion in 2004.

    Very sensibly IMO, we don’t have holocaust denial laws in Britain, which tends to encourage some to articulate their thesis of denial. A little reflection might suggest that this is useful because it helps to identify the deniers.

    There is certainly no shortage of books on the history of WW2 and what led up to it. If anything, in school history courses and in public libraries in Britain there are rather too many courses and books on the war and rather too few courses and books on modern Germany and Japan – or on the social-pathologies of human behaviour. Curiously, Blair’s Third Way has a documented provenance extending back to Mussolini.

  31. I’d ask Guy if he thinks it should be legal in Europe for someone to publish a claim that Jews regularly kidnap Christian or ( perhaps more relevantly) Muslim babies so that they can eat them at the Passover feast? Might that not lead to murder? Is it not a form of endangerment?

    I don’t see how awareness of what the Nazi’s did could be expected to impact on Cambodian Marxists – but I do think it is, rightly, what defines the modern educated European self-perception, sets the parameters for moral debate here, and modifies our Enlightenment derived idea of civilization. Milgram’s experiments are chilling, but ever since I first came across them, I have that they had a more telling precursor in Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism, for all its faults.

    Bob, your claim that the legality of HD in Britain helps us identify deniers assumes not only that someone is watching but also that something will be done about it when necessary. There’s nothing a policeman hates as much as another cop busting his snitch. It’s a bit like the security services’ attitude to Muslim fanatics preaching in our midst – watch, acquire information but do not intervene – which has so infuriated their French equivalents and has turned Britain into a haven for advocates of terrorism.. Usually, by the time some action is taken, it’s too late – as Blunkett bemoans in the Sun
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4695680.stm

    Meanwhile, our children surf the net to do their history homework and come to the conclusion that the gas chambers may or may not have existed – and hence that Jews may or may not be predatory 12 foot lizards from outer space determining what is taught in the schoolroom. I’m not saying that a change in British law would solve the problem – but it would be a step in the right direction.

    Finally I do think it is worthwhile trying to discover exactly what happened in the Gulags, and in the Ukraine now that we have access to historical material much more precise than Conquest’s speculations. Applebaum’s recent book is a good step in the direction of making new data available to a wider public. http://www.anneapplebaum.com/gulag/gulag.html

  32. “I’d ask Guy if he thinks it should be legal in Europe for someone to publish a claim that Jews regularly kidnap Christian or ( perhaps more relevantly) Muslim babies so that they can eat them at the Passover feast?”

    Sure, if that someone can prove those claims. If not = slander/hate speech/racism/whatever with the appropriate legal consequences. Why do you ask?

  33. Sure, if someone can prove those claims. If not = slander/hate speech/racism/whatever with the appropriate legal consequences. Why do you ask?

    I ask because I think that European laws correctly equate Holocaust denial with incitement to racial hatred. My point throughout this thread is that it is the legal notion of causing harm rather than the notion of causing offense that is relevant in this instance.

    Now I do accept that :

    “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?””

    But we are living in an age of mass communications that would have made Milton gasp, and in that context the importance of open debate is sometimes secondary to the harmful effect of mere publicity. I really recommend the following thoughtful legal discussion of the issue from which I have filched the Areopagitica quote. http://webjcli.ncl.ac.uk/1997/issue4/butler4.html#poachange

  34. “Bob, your claim that the legality of HD in Britain helps us identify deniers assumes not only that someone is watching but also that something will be done about it when necessary.”

    What’s the point of being quiet and discrete about HD? Never mind the police or the security services, the media would soon pick it up even if the remarks were made in closed meetings.

    Publicity is by far the most potent counter measure as HD has little credibility in Britain. We are more likely to regard the deniers as nut cases.

    On the Hamsa case, I’ve some sympathy with the police viewpoint. It would be very counter-product to go to court with a half-baked case and fail to convince a jury. There is much to be said for producing media recordings as evidence as that goes some way to discrediting otherwise predictable claims during or after the trial that the police have fabricated the evidence. If you check, the police have made something over a 1,000 arrests under our terrorist laws but have only managed to secure a few handfuls of convictions. It’s a huge embarrassment.

  35. Very interesting article, Dave. Kenan Malik is apparently opposed to all incitement to hatred legislation that does not relate to specific violent acts that have already occurred. In that, he is at least consistent and makes a good case. But I tend to agree with Butler and MacKinnon that that’s a bit like saying ‘Kristallnacht was just so much broken glass’.

  36. Perhaps near the fade out of this thread I can insert what seems to me to be an important marginal note. As time since WW2 passes, there is a recognisable and understandable but ultimately regretable tendency to focus increasingly on the holocaust as though that is and was the only or main fault line of Hitler and the Nazis.

    The increasingly dominant focus of the public debate and a series of movies and books has served to bolster that perspective. The (possibly unintended) effect is to foster an impression that that the totalitarian and authoritarian dimensions of the Nazis and their commitment to territorial expansion by military aggression were relatively insignificant compared with the murderous implementation of the party’s racist doctrines. We also seem to be losing interest in probing how and why a country with a thoroughly democratic constitution transformed over a short period into a dictatorship without undergoing a revolution or even a violent coup. That is a big mistake IMO.

  37. Bob B,
    Territorial expansion by military aggression was not frowned upon by any of the “good guys” at the time. France, UK, USA, were all colonial powers.

    (sorry for the derail)

    Also, here’s an other interesting article:
    http://www.etc.se/radikala/templates/ct_117.aspx?number=55732&category=11521
    It’s from a left-wing swedish magazine, and the gist is:
    Politicians should _first_ condemn the contents of the cartoons, and _then_ start talking about freedom of speech. As a politician it is your job to criticize publications and statements you don’t agree with. Just saying “they have the right to say it, it’s freedom of speech” withouy first making it clear that you yourself don’t agree with the contents is stupid and will obviously cause anger.

  38. “Territorial expansion by military aggression was not frowned upon by any of the “good guys” at the time. France, UK, USA, were all colonial powers.”

    True enough but the complacent notion of the time was that territorial expansion by a European country in Europe went out of fashion with Napoleon. Colonialism was something practised in other continents, not in Europe. Also, by several accounts, many in Germany and beyond regarded Hitler’s Mein Kampf as mere rhetoric, something that wasn’t to be taken too seriously – at least until the Nazi regime got going in 1933.

  39. “the gist is: Politicians should _first_ condemn the contents of the cartoons, and _then_ start talking about freedom of speech.”

    There’s recently been a lively debate in Britain’s Parliament on legislation proposed by the government to extend existing religious hate laws. In the end, the government’s proposals were rejected and rather less restrictive law voted through. Something of the flavour of the national debate that went on during the lead-up to the Parliamentary debate can be gathered from this:

    “Leading British writers and comedians have welcomed the defeat of a proposed religious hatred law, which they say would have stifled freedom of speech. . . Blackadder star Atkinson said: “I could not be more pleased with the final version of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill that has now passed through Parliament.” . . Atkinson previously said he would no longer be able to write sketches such as one set in a mosque that he wrote for Not the Nine O’Clock News:

    “It showed Muslims at prayer, bowing to the ground with a voiceover saying: ‘And the search goes on for the Ayatollah Khomeini’s contact lens.'”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4670390.stm

    Part of the trouble is that I suspect most folks in Britain do find that sketch funny. We have lots of Pope jokes and bishop jokes and so we find it hard to understand why humour can’t be extended to other religions. Why don’t we run into similar problems with Hindus, Buddhists and Confucianists?

  40. While, we are at it, let’s look at the cartoons. At least the one about running out of virgins was damn funny.

  41. I’ve only seen a copy of one cartoon and have lost the link to it – it was the one showing a turban with a burning fuse.

    Among the interesting puzzles in all this is the time gap between the original publication of the cartoons last September and the current furore. Why did it take so long for outrage to emerge?

    Another is how some western government ministers – particularly Britain’s Jack Straw – are playing down the suggestion of a “clash of civilisations” while the governments of some Islamic countries are evidently stoking up and fuelling the controversy as best they can.

    One of my favourite stories from history relates to the response of Metternich to the failure of the Russian delegate to turn up at the Congress of Verona in 1820 something – one of the interminable series of European Congresses to resettle the continent after Napoleon. The said delegate had an entirely reasonable pretext for his non-attendance – he had died on route. “I wonder what his motive was,” Metternich said when told.

  42. Why don’t we run into similar problems with Hindus, Buddhists and Confucianists?

    I remember a minor controversy about a popular singer shooting a video showing herself with multiple arms as a Hindu godess.
    The answer to your question is that there are no other major terrorist groups claiming to act on behalf of a religion.

  43. There was a big row generated by Christian fundies about Jerry Springer: The Opera, but the BBC went ahead and screened it at prime time. Because of the row, I made sure to watch it and thought it not only funny but also that the objections completely missed the point. It was a satire on the Jerry Springer show and the ridiculous and offensive events that occurred on it, not an attack on Christianity.

  44. Worrying forebodings reflected in the report of this YouGov poll in Sunday’s press in Britain:

    “PEOPLE in Britain take a hard line against Muslims protesting violently against supposed insults to their religion, and are gloomy about future relations between Muslims and the rest of the population. . . ”
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2036533,00.html

  45. Well writen. The Holocaust cartoon competition is and should be perceived by all Muslims as aweful and shameful. Insulting the Prophet (peace be upon him) is an aweful offense, but trying to hurt and disrespect other religions to attack some abstract princible is stupid. This fight does need to be faught, but not in such base ways.