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, youâ€™d say? Well, not quite. The theme of the contest is the Holocaust, incidentally called an â€œincidentâ€:
A serious question for Muslims … is this: â€œDoes 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 â€œAmerica and Israelâ€™s crimesâ€. 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 â€œinsulting the holy values of divine religionsâ€ 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 â€˜lawsâ€™ and â€˜debateâ€™.
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 Ahmadinejadâ€™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 â€˜successâ€™ 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 Westâ€™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 â€œmake my dayâ€ for reasons that may in some cases (scroll down to â€œthe pig factorâ€) have nothing to do with free speech at all. See also Edward’s post right below.