The Cat Is Out Of The Bag It Seems

The Guardian is running a story which seems to cast Jyllands-Posten Jens Kaiser editor in a very sorry light indeed. If this story is confirmed I think the expression would be ‘rank hypocrisy’ rather than ‘free speech outpost’.(Many thanks to commenter Hans for drawing this to our attention).

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.

The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.

In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten.

Zieler received an email back from the paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.”

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

39 thoughts on “The Cat Is Out Of The Bag It Seems

  1. Having not read the article in whole, this excerpt by itself does not in any way show why Jens Kaiser is a hypocrite at all. Just because you run cartoons that you think have an acceptable editorial statement other people find offensive, doesn’t in any way obligate you to publish offensive cartoons with differing or opposing commentary you as a newspaper don’t agree with. I think Kaiser was on BBC’s Hard Talk when asked pretty much the same thing: whether he would print cartoons with rabbi wearing swaztikas or some such. And he said something like, “No because its not a commentary that we think is worth making at all, but any other paper can publish them and I would argue against it with respect to the point they’re making, but I wouldn’t prevent it from being published.”

  2. As an editor I’m sure he’s “refused” to publish much more than this. It’s not hypocrisy. It’s his job. Without seeing the cartoon in question it is impossible to judge.

  3. Even if this is case of “rank hypocrisy” (up for debate) and JP wouldnt publish the cartoons of christ, it doesnt change the fact that similar cartoons of christ(ok..& jewish symbols as well) ARE published all over the world all the time…only without the carnage. Sorry I hate to take issure with the islamophiles on this issue.

  4. This claim of ‘rank hypocrisy’ would only apply if the J-P never ever posted a cartoon that posted Jesus or other Christian values in a bad or humouresque light. I have no idea if this is the case, someone would have to go through old issues of the J-P to find out.

  5. Look, I don’t think this has got anything to do with my being islamophile or not, or with going through back issues of J-P. It has to do with the reason offered for non publication: that they would provoke an outcry. I stand by my accusation: this is hypocrisy. The argument would apply in both cases or in neither. They are simply not coherent.

    None of this is to deny the J-P the right to publish legally, but it does affect how you view their actions, so it would affect their moral authority in doing so. In both cases they knew there would be an outcry, in one they case they wanted it, and in the other they didn’t. Their readers would have have been upset. This leans me more towards the view that they have put innocent people’s lives needlessly at risk for what could be considered to be an egocentric motive: to test their own limits of self censorship.

  6. Incidentally I never for one moment have suggested that the Danish government, or the Uk government for that matter, should have intervened to stop publication. But I do think the ‘outcry’ admission could be relevant under civil law in Denmark if anyone who has had their property burnt down or has lost their job, or has lost an important contract, should choose to sue the J-P for damages. I think they have just given away the argument.

    Personally I am inclined to feel that they – using the same sort of arguments normally advanced in the case of football clubs and damages surrounding football stadiums (where the host club can be held to account for the actions of rival supporters) – should be held accountable. Publish and be damned: fine by me.

    I also think that if someone tried to present them with a bill that would help put the whole thing in a bit more perspective.

  7. I don’t see why the concern over an outcry reeks of hypocrisy. In both cases there will be outcries, in one the editor decides to fight against the outcry in the other editor feels that he will not have a strong enough argument to do so.

  8. “The illustrator thought his cartoons were funny. I did not think so. It would offend some readers, not much but some.”

    It is entirely possible that they weren’t funny. Of course this is unfortunate in hindsight, but no sure evidence of hypocrisy or malice.
    I must point out that ridiculing any prophet of the book is a sin under Islamic law’s strict interpretation. In fact, there was a minor affair in Indonesia a few years ago about ridiculing Jesus.

  9. “in one the editor decides to fight against the outcry in the other editor feels that he will not have a strong enough argument to do so.”

    But isn’t this just the point, what were the parameters for deciding that in one case the argument was strong? He was happy to exercise self restraint in the case of the Christian images (he, not me, he says so), but not in the other case. There must be some other motive here that we haven’t been informed about.

    Flemming Rose clearly implied in his hard talk interview that it was normal in his society and paper to ridicule reiligious values. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

    “It is entirely possible that they weren’t funny.”

    It is indeed Oliver. But haven’t you noticed, I’m not basing myself on that argument at all. Clearly that is an editorial decsion. As is the question of offense. What is hard to understand is why you are willing to cause offense in one case and not the other. Or at least why you are willing to do it and then resort to a freedom of speech plea to explain your inconsistency.

  10. He didn’t say. He said they would cause offence. He didn’t say that this was crucial to his decision. Maybe he would have published them, had they been funny.
    Or he was of the oppinion that there are far fewer christian suicide bombers, so the case was better.

  11. To which I should add, that it is hard to make new, funny cartoons of Christ. Which of them haven’t been done? Few care a whit about Jesus in Europe.

  12. This is a bit of a red herring. We know in ONE instance JP begged off publishing something provocative to Christians and in ONE instance they printed some offensive to Muslims. I would be surprised if in many other instances, the exact opposite was true i.e. censored material offensive to Muslims and publish things bothersome to Christians. It would be interesting to see a more systematic look at it.

  13. I don’t agree with the charge of hypocrisy. The reason why Jyllands-Posten published the Muhammad cartoons doesn’t apply to the Jesus cartoon. I very much doubt Danish artists are afraid of depicting Jesus in the same way many of them must be afraid of depicting Muhammad, so there was no need to make a point by publishing a cartoon depicting Jesus. The situations aren’t comparable.

  14. Edward,

    that “Guardian” article would have been a powerful argument if ALL Muslims had only resorted to peaceful means to show their displeasure/outrage. In that case they could have pointed now to the new evidence and speaking about hypocrisy and biased views. And probably a lot of people in Europe would have supported that stand.

    Unfortunately not all Muslims were peaceful in the last few days. Nobody can say that death threats, burning of embassies and threats of kidnapping and murdering any available Danish citizen are now “justified” or even understandable just because of alleged or real hypocrisy a few years ago.

    So I fail to see why that “discovery” solves anything?

  15. Well “seeing is believing”, unless he has a namesake here’s Christopher Zieler’s website. I think it’s the large cartoon at the bottom.

    A bit too “artistic” to use it in a newspaper for my taste, some magazine perhaps…yes. I would call it “don’t call us we’ll call you”-decision.

    Then again I’m no Danish newspaper editor (maybe they like these sorts of comics over there) and opinions about art are always subjective.

  16. “But isn’t this just the point, what were the parameters for deciding that in one case the argument was strong? He was happy to exercise self restraint in the case of the Christian images”

    The choice of printing one or the other for the newspaper is a matter of personal politics. Just because I agree with or find intersting a commentary that offends some people of group A , does not obligate me to agree with another arbitrary commentary that offends some people of group B.

    [example] Supposing I’m an editor of a newspaper and I receive two cartoons. One, let’s say, is a cartoon of Christ on a stick with missiles instead of nails attached at each end and a rabbi with a swaztika on his sleeve snickering in the background. The other is a guy called “Bob” in front of the celestial gates informing the recently arrived suicide bomber that there are no virgins left in heaven. Now, I figure if I publish any one of these cartoons there’s going to be an outcry from some people regardless. Let’s say I decide to publish the latter, because I agree with a commentary that mocks the way that these suicide bombers get brainwashed into blowing themselves up and I regard it as a mockery of Islamic terrorism, and not Islam as whole. Therefore this is the sort of argument I would use to defend my editorial decision to publish such a cartoon. However, if I published the former and people demanded to know how I reach such a editorial decision, I would have to personally argue why I think that cartoon expresses a worthwhile commentary. Now if I happen to believe that the idea of a Nazi Jewish conspiracy that relishes in the killing of Christ and projects this desire through warfare around the world is a pretty retarded idea, I’m simply not going to put myself in a position where I would have to defend such an idea. If others want to, let them go ahead in their own newspapers. [/example]

  17. You’re ambivalent about the decisions to publish, and to republish.
    I can understand why. The issue has changed over the last few days however, and Detlef’s comment focuses squarely on what’s important: Is this insane overreaction acceptable?

    It’s a question for everyone, but most urgently requires a clear answer from Europe’s Muslims. You may have been offended by the cartoons, but do these people speak for you and do their actions represent you? Frame the issue in this way and you give yourself a chance to marginalise those on both the fundamentalist and racist extremes, and build a common position on the middle ground. I’m not persuaded we need to follow the “Clash of Civilisations” script into an escalating conflict between religion and free speech.

    Happily, in Britain at least, sanity has been fortunate in its enemies this week. Readers outside the UK might be interested to hear about this genius, who turned up with his friends to a demonstration in London dressed as a suicide bomber. He was persuaded the next day to apologise. The day after, he was revealed to be a convicted drug dealer, released from prison on probation. So perfect, he might almost be a plant. It’s reminiscent of the 9/11 hijackers relaxing at their local titty bar, and reminds us that talk of hypocrisy cuts a number of different ways.

  18. “So I fail to see why that “discovery” solves anything?”

    Unfortunately Detlef nothing here solves anything. There are many different arguments going on, and I am simply looking for some coherence. I am also looking for some things *we* can believe in, some sacred cows for us if you like.

    Now in the first place I don’t think you can compare apples and pears. And maybe even this is misleading since what I would be talking about is more-evolved and less-evolved versions of the same entity: in this case a social system.

    When I look at a group of protestors in Denmark and a group in Kandahar I don’t expect to see the same thing. I don’t expect to see it because, simply put, the two groups of people are light years away from each other. So I wouldn’t be inclined to carry out an in-depth analysis of the different kinds of slogans used in each of the cases: more or less I already know something about this.

    I don’t need to conduct that kind of experiment.

    But one of the key elements for getting to grips with this self-evident difference was suggested to us by the UK anthropologist Robin Horton some 20 odd years ago in a very much neglected paper about how to get out of Evans Pritchard’s tangle with the Azande: the situation is asymmetric. We can conceive of and analyse how the man in the Kandahar protest might be thinking, the man in the Kandahar protest cannot in any meaningful sense imagine how the reader (man or woman) of the Jyllands Posten in Denmark thinks.

    This of course puts us culturally and technically in another situation, and is what gives us the theoretical justification for introducing via globalisation and military back-up, our version of the story into Afghanistan.

    All this I take as read. I didn’t need any experiments to get me this far (Oh, I know that these sort of points are lost on some people, just “cosh-em” one will do for some, but the arguments advanced by those people lack all validity, and they would be much nearer to the man on the khandahar omnibus if it weren’t for the fact that omnibuses haven’t yet arrived in Khandahar).

    But otherwise these kind of arguments are important since they are the foundation of the ‘way of life’ we are trying to defend, and give us the justification for trying to export, an exportation which is not understood (for the reason I’ve explained), and which is therefore resisted in what at best seems to us to be a childish fashion (at it’s worst of course the resistance seems to us monstrous).

    Michael Scheur often makes the point that what drives OBL isn’t the craze to destroy our civilisation, but the craze to defend his, or what he understands by his, against our cultural and social system exports. If he attacks us, it is because he feels driven to do this by his obsession with defending his own.

    I don’t know whether Scheur is entirely right here, but it is something to think about. It is also relevant in that we end up going through the same sort of thought process: if we want to live in a peaceful planet, and address the 1001 things which are important to address (like Aids/HIV, global warming etc etc) then we have no alternative but to export our system. Hence we have troops stationed in a growing number of countries and the list will only get larger.

    But if we throw away the candle, if we adopt values which lack inner coherence and which are not defensible we will already have lost. We might as well all go down to the nearest bar saloon and have a good fist-fight, if that is what makes us feel better.

    So now enter Flemming Rose and Jens Kaiser. To me at least, it does matter why they published. Flemming Rose said in the Hard Talk interview that it was to defend the Danish public sphere as he felt this space was being threatened and reduced. (These incidentally are ‘philosophical’ terms, and in some senses justify a more abstract and theoretical response). Fine. I thought he had a case. As I often say on this blog, if we conduct the WOT in a way which transforms our public sphere I think we are losing.

    So I was at least taking him seriously and thinking ‘well, I wouldn’t have done that, but maybe he has some sort of case’. I was assuming that in Denmark there was a public sphere were it was normal for different cultural groups to satyrise and ridicule each others opinions (and that J-P was in the forefront of this) and that he wanted to maintain this (again this doesn’t square with a vague impression I have that Denmark is in some ways a deeply conservative society, but still).

    But, following the logic of Rose’s own argument, Jens Kaiser, when he recieved Zieler’s cartoons, might well have felt that he needed to reject them since they were of poor quality, they weren’t original, they weren’t particularly funny etc etc.

    So far, again, so good. But he might have noticed – in his own interior, I suppose we are in Bergman, and Ibsen territory here – that at the same time he was having these feelings of ‘there might be an outcry’, and as a person who is deeply interested in the limits to our own capacity for self censorship and in the need to maintain open the public sphere, the consequentialist thing to do would have been to solicit some drawings which were original, which were funny, and which were better drawn and publish them, since we are being lead to believe that he and Flemming Rose are people who find it hard to sleep at night when they feel they are having to self-censor.

    This I think is the issue. I would go farther. I feel I have been lied to. Now Frans in another thread says he is angry. He is angry at Al qaeda members and sympathisers all over the world who are playing this issue as hard as they can.

    I have to admit I am not angry about this, I am not angry since I took this situation on board some years ago (probably after 09/11) and have overcome my anger since I think that anger is blinding. What I think we need is an effective political and military/security response to deal with this issue.

    OTOH Flemming Rose and Jens Kaiser have just made me very angry (I am not, I hope at war with them) since they have intevened in (my, as well as their) European public sphere in what I consider to be an irresponsible and childlike fashion, and, to boot, they are not consistent.

  19. “The choice of printing one or the other for the newspaper is a matter of personal politics”

    Exactly Aegean Disclosures. And to be concise for once, Flemming Rose was suggesting that the personal (and I think this is a very good choice of word) politics of J-P was to do a kind of constant nordic conscience examination and where they found self-censorship to root it out. That is why in their own terms they had an obligation to root out those nasty ‘outcry fear’ feelings.

    Incidentally, in my last comment I said I was angry. Let me specify the extent (and limits) of my anger: I hope that when all this is over and we get round to counting the cost, that the Confereration of Danish Industry (on behalf of all their members) sues J-P for every last penny they have.

  20. “Is this insane overreaction acceptable?”

    Of course it isn’t acceptable, we need to do something about it, but principally what we have been doing since 09/11. I am not seeing anything worse on my TV screens that that. Maybe part of the issue here is that many of us in Europe didn’t take 09/11 as seriously as we should have done, and now we are shocked when we see Al Qaeda and their sympathisers take to the streets across the planet.

    We need to continue doing what we are doing, and if possible we need to try and do it better, we need to learn some lessons. But we need to use intellect not emotion, we need a clear head and not blind rage.

    “You may have been offended by the cartoons”,

    I’m not offended by the cartoons. I am, these days, hardly offended by anything (Ok maybe the repeated TV images of the 09/11 plane attack, and the march 11 train blowing in Atotcha Madrid, which some insensitively seem to use gratuitously). The issue is whether or not the cartoons

    a) help us get Al qaeda under control


    b) help us have that debate with European muslims which we obviously so badly need. I hope this debate will now come about, but probably after the fuss about the cartoons has died down.

    Incidentally, am I the only one who sees the mirky hand of Teheran in a lot of these ‘spontaneous’ demos? Are we being warned?

  21. the situation is asymmetric. We can conceive of and analyse how the man in the Kandahar protest might be thinking, the man in the Kandahar protest cannot in any meaningful sense imagine how the reader (man or woman) of the Jyllands Posten in Denmark thinks.

    This is hubris. It applies only to the cannon fodder on the streets. Their leaders understand western values thoroughly without sharing them. Look at the Iranian counter cartoon action. It is brilliant and demonstrates full understanding.

    Michael Scheur often makes the point that what drives OBL isn’t the craze to destroy our civilisation, but the craze to defend his, or what he understands by his, against our cultural and social system exports. If he attacks us, it is because he feels driven to do this by his obsession with defending his own.

    He’s right. Coca Cola and Madonna are a mortal danger to all conservative societies. Therefore they are very dangerous due to desperation.

    Fine. I thought he had a case. As I often say on this blog, if we conduct the WOT in a way which transforms our public sphere I think we are losing.

    Very true, but too limited. It applies to nearly everything. If we conduct our foreign policy so, we lose. And even more important, if we allow immigration and integration of immigrants to do so, we also lose. This is the danger of multiculturalism to me.

    This I think is the issue. I would go farther. I feel I have been lied to.

    Nobody would refrain from ridiculing Jesus for fear of an outcry. Predicting an outcry is not the same thing as caving in.

    Incidentally, in my last comment I said I was angry. Let me specify the extent (and limits) of my anger: I hope that when all this is over and we get round to counting the cost, that the Confereration of Danish Industry (on behalf of all their members) sues J-P for every last penny they have.

    That is the death of Free Speech. You are responsible for your own actions. Not for a reaction somebody else is responsible for, however predictable that reaction is. We cannot allow censorship by the backdoor of civil lawsuits.

  22. Of course it isn’t acceptable, we need to do something about it, but principally what we have been doing since 09/11. I am not seeing anything worse on my TV screens that that.

    I am afraid this is not the case. There was true shock at 9/11. It may be true that in parts of the Arab world there were displays of joy. But IMHO these were a minority and the large majority would have understood the US killing OBL and followers. Certainly not invading Iraq and probably not Afghanistan, but a counterstrike was deemed acceptable.

    This affair is different. Only a minority is torching embassies. But this is of little use to us. If we need to we can defend embassies and our troops in Afghanistan. We can use our security services against terrorists.
    But if we had a vote in the Muslim world (maybe, but only maybe excluding Turkey) we would get a majority for censorship. In most places even a supermajority. How do we deal with that?

  23. am I the only one who sees the mirky hand of Teheran in a lot of these ‘spontaneous’ demos?

    Not the only candidate:
    – John Simpson (BBC Foreign Editor) puts Egypt in the frame
    – someone at Kos sets out the case against Saudi Arabia

    Perhaps a factor in which theory you prefer: in contrast to Iran, both states are “allies” in the War on Terror.

    (BTW, in my last comment “You may have been offended” was part of “a question for everyone”.
    Apologies Edward if it read like I was trying to put words in your mouth.)

  24. “Apologies Edward……”

    Not needed but thanks anyway.

    The interesting thing is, that I have no idea whose side, say, Syria is on at the moment. In theory they are in the anti-Western values camp, but the US did use Damascus as a base for negotiations with the pro-Saddam Iraq insurgency. So appearances and reality may not be all they appear to be here (which wouldn’t be the first time in Middle East politics).

    This situation is, as they say, ‘fluid’, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see new, and perhaps surprising alliances emerging in the not too distant future.

    “If anyone fanned the flames, it was not Osama Bin Laden. Instead, it was the mild, distinctly moderate figure of Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Foreign Minister of Egypt”

    thus John Simpson of the BBC.

    This does highlight the complicated situation of leaders in a country like Egypt, where they are now under significant pressure from a ‘Mulsim Brotherhood’ which has recently renounced violence in order to go for winning votes at the urns.

    Soj at Daily Kos:

    “The 350 pilgrims were killed on January 12 and soon after, Saudi newspapers (which are all controlled by the state) began running up to 4 articles per day condemning the Danish cartoons. The Saudi government asked for a formal apology from Denmark. When that was not forthcoming, they began calling for world-wide protests. After two weeks of this, the Libyans decided to close their embassy in Denmark. Then there was an attack on the Danish embassy in Indonesia. And that was followed by attacks on the embassies in Syria and then Lebanon.”

    This is possibly the case. But it also in itself raises some issues. Clearly muslims have the same right to peacefully protest the cartoons as those who published them had the right to publish them. In the case of governments in muslim countries and editors of newspapers in Europe restraint and discretion is advisable, but is not a legal obligation.

    What is not acceptable, of course, is the torching of embassies (I would say economic boycotts are acceptable in the same way French products were boycotted in the US, this right, it seems to me exists), nor is it acceptable for people to strap themselves up as a suicide bomber and carry a placard stating that the “fantastic four are on their way”.

    Personally I have no problem with burning flags, as long as the person concerned pays for them, and does not burn flags which belong to others. I don’t find this offensive, whichever the flag that is being burned.

    So the Saudis could legitimately call for peaceful protests. But what we have seen have not been peaceful protests, and I seriously doubt the Saudis wanted to see what we are seeing. In particular since all this can only play in the short term to OBL’s advantage.

    So, and even if I have absolutely no scrap of substantive evidence to back this up, I find myself asking the question on weighing up what we know and don’t know whether there may not be some kind of implicit OBL -Teheran alliance here.

    Two small scraps of supporting information: the riots among Pashtun in Afghanistan do seem to have been ‘organised’ and even prepared. This is OBL territory.

    Secondly OBL himself publicly seems to have fallen-out with al-Zarqawi precisely over the bombing of Shia in Iraq. So, while I am aware that this may sound like a conspiracy theory, I am not advancing it in that way, simply I wish to say that we need to be vigilant, not provoke for the sake of provoking, identify where exactly the trouble is, and deal with it.

    Here is a link to a useful article about the so-called al-zarqawi letter, where the issue of whether it is acceptable to bomb shia is raised. And while I’m on this, here is one which makes plain why having Salafist trained Imans imported to your country from Saudi Arabia isn’t a good idea. If the state has, to some extent, to subsidise religions to avoid this, I would say the exceptionalism involved was good value for money. Also this link which explains how tactics from the mujahideen in leveraging the internet have been changing lately.

    In particular:

    The most recent demonstration of the efficiency, coordination and ingenuity of the internet mujahideen is the uproar over the cartoons published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This theme is currently conspicuous among all the electronic warfare sections of the jihadi forums, which have taken this as a cause célèbre. The al-Ghorabaa site coordinated a 24-hour attack on this and other newspaper sites and paraded its success on February 2

    Following this, the forum participants initiated discussion on how to broaden the campaign. This was aided by the death sentences on the cartoonist pronounced by radical sheikhs such as Nazim al-Misbah in Kuwait, reported on al-Arabiya television, and the report by the Lebanese daily al-Nahar that Usbat al-Ansar in the Ein Helweh refugee camp had called for “reviving the ‘tradition of slaughter,’” and demanded that Osama bin Laden take vengeance . The threat, according to the pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, has since been answered by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, who sent a declaration to the paper detailing how they have threatened Denmark with a “lasting war and a series of blessed raids”

    Amid the controversy over the burning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, al-Ghorabaa participants also called for a global “embassy-burning day” with Islamic youth called on to set fire to Danish embassies all over the world. As a demonstration of the value of the web to the jihad, the day is to be coordinated by the following mobile phone message: “Urgent! Spread this; Resistance from the entire Islamic world before all Danish embassies in Muslim states, to protest against the publication of the pictures and to demand an apology; [demonstration to take place] on February 13, 2006. Participate and defend your Prophet!”

    Confident that the scheme will receive wide acceptance, the posting then urged participants to distribute the message demand to all forums irrespective of their ideological line. “Let those who wish for a practical victory,” it details, “take a glass bottle filled with petrol and some cloth wadding…remember to incite the crowds to storm the embassy, as happened in Indonesia”

  25. In the end it turns out that this debate does have some sort of relevance, since I see that Charlie Hebdo (Le Chienlit c’est lui- reffering to De Gaulle) has just published the drawings with some of their own. Charlie Hebdo have more *moral authority* for doing this than Jyllands Posten since for the last half century they have systematically dedicated themselves to ‘transgressing’ and have had a whole string of legal problems to show for it.

    The second issue still applies: is it sensible to throw more petrol on a blazing bonfire? We are about to find out.

  26. Well, Charlie Hebdo seems to have done what Jyllands Posten was unable to do, and reached the part “the other beers cannot reach”: there will now be a demonstration in Paris on Saturday at 12:00 demanding an anti-islamophobic law in France.

    L’Union des associations musulmanes de Seine-Saint-Denis (UAM 93) a annoncé mardi avoir appelé, avec plusieurs autres associations musulmanes d’Ile-de-France, à manifester samedi à Paris pour protester contre la publication des caricatures de Mahomet. La marche devrait partir de la place de la République samedi à 14h.

    L’UAM, qui fédère une dizaine de mosquées parmi les plus importantes de Seine-Saint-Denis (dont celles d’Aubervilliers, de Bobigny, d’Aulnay, de Gagny, de Neuilly-sur Marne, de Noisy-le-Sec) a indiqué que la décision d’appeler à cette manifestation à Paris a été prise en concertation avec d’autres associations musulmanes franciliennes au cours d’une réunion qui s’est tenue lundi à la mosquée du Pré-Saint-Gervais, confirmant ainsi une information parue dans Le Monde daté de mercredi. Les associations envisagent par ailleurs de lancer une pétition demandant la rédaction d’une “loi contre l’islamophobie”, qui réprimerait les insultes faites à l’islam. “Nous pensions que les choses allaient en rester là après la publication des caricatures par France Soir. Ce qui nous choque, c’est la répétition, et la décision de Charlie-Hebdo de republier ces caricatures avec de nouvelles”, a expliqué Mohamed Henniche, secrétaire général de l’UAM.

  27. “Les associations envisagent par ailleurs de lancer une pétition demandant la rédaction d’une “loi contre l’islamophobie”, qui réprimerait les insultes faites à l’islam”

    Heh, you read it first (more or less) here on AFOE:Demanding that extant blasphemy laws be extended to include offending the Prophet would be one possibility and could lead to a very interesting debate.

  28. Well, this story now seems to be breaking beyond the Guardian. Zeiler has, understandably, written to Reuters:

    “My cartoon, which certainly did not offend any Christians I showed it to, was rejected because the editor felt it would be considered offensive to readers — readers in general, not necessarily Christians,” cartoonist Christoffer Zieler said in an email he sent to Reuters on Wednesday.

    and Jens Kaiser is changing his story. He is now saying that he only told them they would cause offense because he didn’t want to tell him they were bad. You can believe that if you want to. To me they sound like the excuses of a shoolboy who has just been caught robbing the tuck-shop.

    That these are the arguments of the last bastion of our civilisation, and for whom people will more than likely give their lives I find pathetic.

    Jens Kaiser, the former editor of Jyllands-Posten’s Sunday edition who turned down the cartoons three years ago, said he had done so because they were no good.

    “Having seen the cartoons, I found that they were not very good. I failed to see the purportedly provocative nature,” he said in a statement. “My fault is that I didn’t tell him what I really meant: The cartoons were bad.” Kaiser said he told Zieler he had not used the cartoons because they were offensive to some readers. “I do think the cartoons would offend some readers, but only because they were silly,” Kaiser said.

  29. “I hope that when all this is over and we get round to counting the cost, that the Confereration of Danish Industry (on behalf of all their members) sues J-P for every last penny they have.”

    I don’t know, I find this rather ludicrous. What upsets me is how some people, like those in the Turkish secular press, say the cartoons should have been prevented from being published and then turn around and agree and sympathize with the Jordanian editor who was fired and arrested for publishing the cartoons. And also, I don’t see why whether the cartoons were published for the right reasons or wrong reasons matters with respect to “the crisis”. Had Kaiser been God’s gift to mankind and published the cartoons with the noblest of intentions, the outcome would still be the same.

  30. Interestingly the J-P cartoons were also posted in an Egyptian newspaper way back on the 17th of oct 2005. Guess what? Not much outrage then.


    It isn’t an original Guardian article. The Guardian got that copy from a Norwegian newspaper. And frankly looks like a quick english translation with some extras to me. Published on sunday 5-feb in Dagbladet.

    As for the cartoons, well it helps if you browse through them yourself. Are they shocking? No, not all. And that may be the problem, apart from the Jesus caricature the rest is more autobiography art with social commentary then run-of-the-mill cartoons*.

    In the position of an editor I wouldn’t publish those unsollicited cartoons (which they probably get dozens from each month) for the simple reason that judging from the cartoons on that website are well, not very funny nor very interesting if you don’t have a student life at the university/artschool campus.

    *And apart from a small group, most readers prefer run-of-the-mill cartoons.

  31. “I don’t know, I find this rather ludicrous.”

    Aegean Disclosures, I don’t suppose we are going to agree on this one, but isn’t that what all this is about, holding opinions, having a public space, and using it wisely to have civil discussions.

    I would separate out the legal responsibility of the government to defend the law as it is in Denmark (and this is specific to Denmark in a way, since the law in each EU member state is different here. Certainly it isn’t clear to me that the drawings could have been legally published in their original form in Spain. El Mundo simply reproduced a photographic image of what was in the Norwegian paper, and they have since refrained from mentioning the issue further it seems), I would separate this responsibility of the Danish government (and of the Danish Judges) from the situation in civil law and your responsibility to third parties who may be affected by your actions. I think we have different rights and responsibilities here, and I do think that intentions matter. I also think that the background with the war on terror is not without importance here, and the fact that Denmark has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and civil groups in Palestine and Chechenya is also relevant.

    We need to spearate as clearly as we can this global situation from a debate among Europeans (including muslim Europeans) about the kind of society we want, and about how everyone needs to adapt to changing debates and realities.

    There are different rights and responsibilities involved, and some of these are colliding, and we need to get the balance right. In this context I think Guy is raising a very pertinent point and I hope that the debate on this point will continue after this current crisis has subsided. We are in transition, and I would like to see a calm ongoing debate about how to get the balance right as we move forward. I would like to be able to make up my own mind on what I think about this as the debate unfolds. I don’t think any of us has all the answers in advance here, since in a certain sense we are moving into new territory.

    In particular, as must be obvious from many of my posts on this blog, I hold the opinion that we in the EU have ageing societies. In a certain sense this ageing is an inevitable process as fertility declines and life expectancy increases. And in a certain sense all of this is a good thing. But the pace of the ageing is very rapid, and we need interim transitional policies to make it more manageable, and one of those policies is, in my view, significant immigration. I don’t know yet how what has just happened in Denmark will help them with this ‘adaptation process’, but I think this is another relevant parameter to think about.


    I don’t disagree with your assessment of the Zeiler art, but I suppose at the end of the day I don’t think this is the issue.

  32. Edward,

    The issue isn’t so much about the art but the reason given for dismissing it. The art is neither exceptional, shocking nor special. If this was “shocking” to the readers then anything Christian related would be “shocking” for them.

    “Rank hypocrisy” isn’t the issue here but a simpler explanation being “miscommunication”, and in this case two parties are guilty.

    The first party, the J-P editor for not acting like a real teacher in “School of Life”. Who should just have said it straight that Mr Zieler’s’s art just wasn’t any good (in fact only 5% of all unsolicited cartoons make the cut). If the J-P sunday editor simply has said it straight Mr. Zieler could have been on his way trying to improve his work or doing something different instead.

    The 2nd party is Mr Zieler himself, because for the past 3 years, for some reason he wasn’t able to figure out the real message: “Sorry kid, you don’t really belong to that 5%”.
    In the past week there haven’t been any other “wronged” cartoonists stepping foreward with Christian caricatures dissed by the J-P. Not a single additional artists stepped forward. Does that make him an exception that proves the rule?

    While the other 95% got it, instead he felt “wronged”. Which he was willing to tell everyone by sending 3year old emails around to the press.

    End result: playing the “wronged” artist helps, he finally got his cartoon in the (Scandinavian) papers.

  33. CapTVK

    “The issue isn’t so much about the art but the reason given for dismissing it.”

    Your interpretation of events is consistent with the facts as we know them, except, except….. for the wording of the mail that was originally sent to Zeiler.

    I think the difference between the way you and I are reading this only hangs on how you interpret what Jens Kaiser has to say.

    I don’t wish to pass any comment about the merits or otherwise of Christoffer Zieler as an artist (you may well be right there), nor attribute any motives to him (one way or the other) for making the mail public now. He may, as you suggest, simply want to get his cartoons published (and good luck to him). All I can tell you is that if I had been him, I would have made this mail public, since I think it is important when it comes to interpreting the intention of the JP when they took the decision to publish the latest cartoons, and I think here ‘intentions’ do matter, since they have a bearing on how you read the meaning of the drawings for the people who published them.

    This has a bearing on how you see their experiment in testing the limits of self-censorship. As I suggest, the decision of Charlie Hebdo, which I disapprove of, is quite different in this context. It conforms to their general editorial policy and criteria, it is not hypocritical, and it is legal under French law since a judge has so ruled.

    These details may seem of little import, but when you look at the consequences of the decisions to publish I at least consider them important.

    What stands out in this little sub-debate about the mails to Zeiler is that Kaiser has at no point questioned the authenticity of the extracts which Zeiler has presented. We can therefore assume that he said what Zeiler suggests he said.

    Personally I don’t think an editor would have too much difficulty simply saying he wasn’t going to publish, that the cartoons weren’t suitable for inclusion, ‘not appropriate’ or something like that. But he did choose to say ‘they would cause an outcry’. Really he seems to have being saying something about the profile of his readership, and he has every right to say this in that context. But it is an implicit, if you like unintended, clarification of his way of seeing ‘self censorship’. Obviously he didn’t feel the Mohammed cartoons would have the same effect among the JP readers and I think that this is the point. Self censorship here seems to revolve around the idea of acceptable to (and even welcomed by) my readers, even if they may well prove offensive to others (in this case non-readers of JP).

    In a UK context, one could imagine a Northern Ireland protest paper pubishing cartoons of the Pope, satirising his views on the ordination of women, the use of condons, abortion etc. There would be nothing strange or out of place here, the cartoons could be or greater or lesser aristic merit, they may be more, or less, acceptable to the papers readers and more, or less, offensive to catholic non-readers. What they would undoubtedly be is a statement of the editorial line of the paper, and no-one would imagine that they could lay claim to any moral higher ground as defenders of a more universal and collective set of values. It is on this latter level that I think J-P have been claiming to be operating, and it is on this level that I personally now find them wanting.

  34. Edward,

    “Self censorship here seems to revolve around the idea of acceptable to (and even welcomed by) my readers, even if they may well prove offensive to others (in this case non-readers of JP).”

    I disagree profoundly. This is not about whether publication will cause an outcry. It is about the underlying issue raised by the cartoons (or which prompted the cartoons to be commissioned).

    In the case of Christian offensive cartoons, there was no pre-existing sentiment of self-censorship. The publication would cause an outcry for no apparent purpose. They would be not just offensive, but *gratuitously* offensive.

    The contrast with the Mohammed cartoons could not be more stark. The Mohammed cartoons were commissioned by J-P following a two week long debate on the prevalence of self-censorship and the fear of criticising Islam.

    There is no fear of criticising Christianity, so offence is counter-productive.

    In the one case, the “self-censorship” is indeed self-imposed. The editor sees no purpose in offending Christians and can respect their sensibilities. There is no real “fear” of offending Christians. In the other, Muslim fanatics use threats to prevent rational discussion. This isn’t really “self”-censorship. And there really is real fear.


  35. PG thank you for this.

    I don’t agree with you but thank you for clarifying in part what this is about.

    I think what is involved in this whole debate is what I would term a ‘category mistake’ or error of levels. Since I take people like Flemming Rose seriously, and try to understand what they are doing, I try to analyse what they are saying, and look, for example, for coherence, and appropriateness. When they talk about (eg) defending the public sphere, then this (in a European context anyway) is an implicit philosophical claim, and needs to be examined on that level. The topic of the ‘public sphere’ has quite a long history in European discourse, and I think Flemming Rose uses it in full knowledge of those traditions and those debates.

    In a sense I disagree with him from the outset, since I think the idea of ‘unconstraind choice’ in an invalid one, everything is contextualised and constrained. The difference between a democracy and, say, an authoritarian regime, is that we put the limits ourselves, the motive force comes from within, and not from external imposition. But that doesn’t mean that simply ‘anything goes’ is an adequate or meaningful response. I guess the difference between the protestant and catholic traditions has some relevance here.

    Let me give an example.

    When I first moved from the UK to Spain I was shocked. I was shocked by the kinds of images which were routinely available on prime time public television. In particular I am referring to violent images and soft-core porn. I wasn’t shocked by the images themselves (although on occassion I may have been, in particular by the way the intimacy of the dead and their families is intruded upon), but by the way the idea of freedom of expression was understood by the people who were circulating them.

    The BBC was, and is, very different.

    People in Spain often criticise the way the US public is ‘sheltered’ from violent images. In the context of giving a clear picture of what is, say, happening now in Iraq, this may have some justification. But on the underlying issue I think the US public is a lot better off if they are not bombarded with what we call in Catalan ‘Sang i Fetge’ (or if you like blood and gore). Spanish society has a fascination with what is called ‘morbo'(or, again if you like, a routine attraction for the morbid and the gruesome).

    I think some level of ‘self control’ is necessary if you want a healthy and well functioning society, full of lots of ‘nice’ people.

    Another relevant example right now would be the avian flu issue. I do think the means of communication have a responsibility to ensure that this topic is treated responsibly, since their activity forms part of our public health policy arsenal. Again I don’t think simply applying ‘anything goes’ works here.

    So what has all this got to do with the Danish cartoons? Lets have a look at what you say:

    “there was no pre-existing sentiment of self-censorship.”

    You are talking about vis-a-vis Christianity. I don’t really think you are quite right. I do think we exercise a certain amount of self censorship. I am not a Christian, but I would try to be careful about what I say, and try to be respectful of others, and try not to hurt their religious sentiments even though I don’t share them. I think treating the issue like this is a good thing.

    I do think when we say what we say, or portray what we portray, we need to think about the well-ordered functioning of our societies. Of course I am only talking here of self-censorship, not about law. The Danish case is a very specific one, and different European societies have different traditions and different approaches here, as, I imagine, different states in the US do.

    I mean, I’m no expert, but I do have the impression that in the United States Federal law is very resricted in its scope, but that it does identify certain categories of ‘hate’ expression as unacceptable.

    “They would be not just offensive, but *gratuitously* offensive.”

    Yes, well I think this is one of the issues with the Danish cartoons: where they simply *gratuitously* offensive? My feeling is that they were.

    “There is no real “fear” of offending Christians. In the other, Muslim fanatics use threats to prevent rational discussion.”

    I think this is the heart of the issue. I also agree that this is the case. But you are talking about ‘fanatics’, and by fanatics I understand terrorists and their sympathisers.

    Now this is just why we have declared a ‘war on terror’. And while I may not agree with the way George Bush is conducting this war (I would be much more sympathetic to the approach which is advocated by Michael Scheuer), I don’t, for example think that the invasion of Iraq was such a good idea, and I don’t think we need the kind of wholesale restriction on our liberties which is sometimes advocated and practiced). But I do think we are in a war, and I do think we need to contextualise what we say and what we do against that background.

    So what I think the J-P has done is enter a debate with terrorists and fanatics. I don’t think this is a useful or productive thing to do, and indeed may well be an action which is extremely counter productive for those who are waging the war on other levels. I think using the expression ‘rational debate’ is misplaced here. Rational debate with these people is just what you won’t get, as we are now seeing with the escalating situation with the proliferation of ‘cartoon contests’.

    On the other hand there are groups with whom rational dialogue and debate are possible – the vast majority of our fellow European muslims, and those (leaders and others) in the majority of muslim countries who are trying to modernise their societies – and many of these people were offended to no good purpose, which is why I think publishing the drawings was a ‘gratuitous’ act.

    I don’t see the point in, or real substantive justification for, this action. OTOH if we do want to have a real and rational debate about all these topics, then we need to create a climate where all of us (including muslims) can express what they think without fear. That is why I feel we need not cartoons, but a better and more effective war on terror.

  36. In the preceeding remarks, I didn’t see the point made that one can learn, grow, or simply change one’s mind in 3 years. It’s not necessarily hypocritical to do so.

  37. Perhaps the cartoons were a gratuitous, and as it turned out, irresponsible, provocation. Or perhaps not. But we need to be clear about why the question of motivation or hypocrisy is central to the issue.

    Let’s set aside the reaction of those Muslims committed to make war upon us, or who believe in using violent means in order to secure respect for their Prophet. They’re not representative of the majority.

    The core of the matter seems to be that Muslims in Europe and in the Middle East are making a demand concerning what is published in the Western press. This demand came to be articulated as a result of the actions of Danish Imams who happened to take up the challenge offered by Jyllands Posten. Something like this was inevitable eventually; if not these cartoons, then another Rushdie or a film or even an article. Cartoons just have a visceral immediacy.

    The point is that there are Islamic activists monitoring how Islam is depicted in the West and prepared to organise campaigns to protest that depiction if it displeases them. So the question we face is how are we to react to this fact. We have to accept that such campaigns will find fertile ground, because they appeal to Muslim sensitivities already hyper-stimulated by our foreign policy, racism, discrimination, and a sense of historical humiliation of Islamic cultures; none of which factors apply to sensitivities over depictions of Christ, for instance.

    Horses for courses rather than undifferentiated abstract principle, then. We should not make any concessions in law, and once the demand was framed in terms of a call for government intervention, or threats of violence, it was right that many western newspapers took a stand by reprinting the cartoons. But it is up to both sides to define the terms of the debate in a way that offers some hope of conciliation. If we have learned anything from this incident, it is that mocking their Prophet causes more grief to Muslims than we had previously realised. Muslims for their part will have to live with a Western culture in which it will continue to be permissible for a Houellebecq to say “la religion la plus con, c’est quand même l’islam. (or for Dead Sea scrolls scholar John Strugnell to call Judaism a “horrible religion”). Those Muslims that promote violence as a response to publication for such views should be vigorously prosecuted. But our press should also open its columns more widely to those eager to point out what is cheap, wrong, hate-filled, tasteless or simply grossly unkind about denigration of this kind – namely that it is very easy to move from denigrating Islam and Judaism to denigrating Muslims and Jews, and that it is facile to assume that a person’s religious faith is simply a matter of conscious, rational, adult choice rather than part of a historical identity.

    “Yah, Boo, Sucks” is not the best way to start a debate about the role of religion in a modern society. That doesn’t change the fact that Islam offers a conception of that role that is incompatible with what the majority of European citizens wants to see. It’s up to us to find a way of persuading Muslims here that this is not an insult to them. Perhaps if Jyllands Posten had affixed a preliminary remark to that effect, things might have been very different?

  38. Actually, Keiser didn’t run the anti-Christian cartoons because they were tritely foolish and stupid, and thus not hard-hitting enough, as I posted at my blog.

    Judging from his description of the anti-Christian cartoons, I’d agree with him.

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