Saturday, February 04, 2006

Publish and be fatwa'ed

How pathetic to see the whipped up controversy in Muslim countries around the world. So deluded are these poor people about their own circumstances that they are too busy burning Danish flags and boycotting Haagen Dazs to realise the real source of their ills. Rather than obsessing over what appears in a foreign newspaper, there are much more fundamental concerns that are deserving of protest: the inability to speak freely, to vote in and vote out governments, to move around safely and to live without fear of domestic violence. For a start.

It appears that there are strange parallels between the manufactured rage over the Danish cartoons and the Chinese demonstrations against the Japanese last year. In both cases, ordinary folks with strong legitimate grievences against their own government have their anger turned outward by those governments toward a foreign enemy. That way, using the uniting force of a foriegn enemy, a national government can entrench its authority and blunt any internal criticism. Though the idea might have its roots in Marxism, it's an idea with some merit.

So whilst the Arab Street continues to seeth over what is essentially a non-event, its women continue to be raped, its freedoms continue to be curtailed and its governments continue to be corrupt and nepotistic. All without fear of protest.

For what it's worth, here are the cartoons which have whipped up a storm. You're all mature people (most of you, anyhow) and I trust you can all view the following without the need to rape and pillage:

The offending cartoons


And thanks to Wikipedia, here's what we're looking at:

After an invitation from Jyllands-Posten for around forty different artists to give their interpretation on how Muhammad may have looked, twelve different caricaturists chose to respond with a drawing each. These twelve drawings portrays Muhammad in different fashions. In the clockwise direction of their position in the page layout (I've rearranged the order so it matches what you see. -AOTW):

Muhammad as a peaceful wanderer, in the desert, at sunset. There is a donkey in the background. This is presumably a reference to Don Quixote.

Muhammad standing with a halo in the shape of a crescent moon.

The face of Muhammad as a part of the Islamic star and crescent symbol. His right eye the star, the crescent surrounds his beard and face.

Another drawing shows an angry Muhammad with a short sabre and a black bar censoring his eyes. He is flanked by two women in burqas, having only their eyes visible.

Muhammad standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with "Stop Stop vi er løbet tør for Jomfruer!" ("Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins!"), an allusion to the promised reward to martyrs.

An Oriental looking boy in front of a blackboard, pointing to the Farsi chalkings, which translate into "the editorial team of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs". The boy is labelled "Mohammed, Valby school, 7.A", implying that this Muhammed is a Danish second-generation immigrant rather than the man Muslims believe was a prophet. On his shirt is written "Fremtiden" (the future). According to the editor of Jyllands Posten, he didn't know what was written on the blackboard before it was published.

One shows a nervous caricaturist, shakingly drawing Muhammad while looking over his shoulder.

A police line-up of seven people, with the witness saying: "Hm... jeg kan ikke lige genkende ham" ("Hm... I can't really recognise him"). Not all people in the line-up are immediately identifiable. They are: 1) A generic Hippie 2) Politician Pia Kjærsgaard 3) Possible Jesus 4) Possible Buddha 5) Possible Muhammad 6) A generic Indian Guru 7) Journalist Kåre Bluitgen, carrying a sign saying: "Kåres PR, ring og få et tilbud" ("Kåre's public relations, call and get an offer")

An abstract drawing of crescent moons and Stars of David, and a poem on oppression of women "Profet! Med kuk og knald i låget som holder kvinder under åget!". In English the poem could be read as: "Prophet! daft and dumb, keeping woman under thumb"

Two angry Muslims charge forward with sabres and bombs, while Muhammad addresses them with: "Rolig, venner, når alt kommer til alt er det jo bare en tegning lavet af en vantro sønderjyde" (loosely, "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel South Jutlander". The reference is to a common Danish expression for a person from the middle of nowhere.)

The most controversial drawing shows Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb.

Another shows Kåre Bluitgen, wearing a turban with the proverbial orange dropping, with the inscription "Publicity stunt". In his hand is a stick drawing of Muhammad. An "orange in the turban" is a Danish proverb meaning "a stroke of luck."


UPDATE, 11/2, 2:00am: I've been copping a bit of heat in the comments section over my decision to publish the cartoons. I think it would be useful for me to explain why I did decide to publish them. For starters, I don't necessarily agree with the message of the cartoons. I do, however, defend people's right to make up their own mind. One of the problems with the public debate over the cartoons is that only a handful of people have actually seen the cartoons and so can offer an informed opinion: broadening their circulation can aid people in constructing their opinion.

There have been many attempts to find parallels with other potentially blasphemous examples. Look at the response to Monty Python's Life of Brian, a similarly blasphemous portrayal of Jesus Christ. To true believers it was offensive, but to most of us it was quite amusing, but there was never any serious suggestion that the film be banned, let alone any potential for bloody riots. (At least, by the way, both Life of Brian and the Mohammed cartoons are understood by all viewers as clearly fictionalised. Unlike the documentary-style presentation of Protocols of the Elders of Zion which appears on TV in the Arab world.) Similarly comedic represenations of the Holocaust, such as Life is Beautiful, might not be enthusiastically embraced, but are certainly not deserving of censorship.

Difficult as it is to see now, I think the whole controversy will be a good thing for the Arab world. The reason for the difference in response between democratic and non-democratic societies is the difference in the extent to which those socities are exposed to the exercising of free speech. As is so often the way, the first attempt to challenge taboos (whether it be Graham Kennedy or Deep Throat or Chris Masters) is greeted with uproar, however it is only through these groundbreakers that followers can speak freely. One can easily imagine that in the future, cartoonists and writers in the Arab world will feel more free than they otherwise would to speak their mind on sensitive subjects.

For a really perceptive commentary on the topic, check out the wonderful Irshad Manji, published in The Age.

15 comments:

Nadim said...

Thanks for letting us post
comments - very cool of you. I work online with my own
muslim matrimonial
website. Check it out if you get the chance. Thanks again!

Nadim said...

Thanks for letting us post comments - very cool of you. I work online
with my own used college books
website. Check it out if you get the chance. Thanks again!

John Lee said...

I think the 4th and 11th cartoons are pushing the boundaries of acceptability. It's disturbing though that the Muslim street can't see the irony of threatening to kill those who portray Islam as a violent religion. Muslim countries are hardly qualified to protest when they promote material like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

As for the anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, I wouldn't dismiss them as 'manufactured' by the CCP. The Party certainly plays the sentiment to its own tune, but anyone who's spent time around mainlanders (or Koreans) knows they really do hate the Japanese with a virulence that baffles foreigners. I'd distinguish this from the Mohammad-cartoon outrage in that the anti-Japanese feeling (unhealthy as it may be) has roots in genuine unresolved issues, which should be viewed independently of Beijing's and Seoul's domestic agendas.

Anonymous said...

Hooray, at least you are not frightened to publish these photos Ari. The west should not be bullied by any religious or political group. Freedom of the press is a right.

Look how these thug heads are reacting. Burning buildings and coursing chaos. Let the west take notice of what is happening.

Brownie said...

Thanks Ari - this is the first explanation I have seen, of how the drawings came about.
I thought they were going to be 'ridiculing Mohamed' but I can't see it.
If I want 15 minutes of fame, all I have to do is put a drawing on my site, showing Mohamed as a gay male stripper eating a hot dog.
Maybe the offense taken by Muslims, is that they are subjective representations - not part of their culture at all.

John Lee said...

looks like Tim Blair stole your thunder, Ari

notwithstanding that you published the cartoons first...

Anonymous said...

Those pictures are pretty sweet, but southpark's depictions of both Moses and God are far cooler. If u havent seen it, God is actually this short weird, monkey hippopotamus type talking creature with a tail.

Marc

PS did i miss the issue?? I think the pictures are cool

Sammo said...

Not a big fan of the choice to publish Ari. It doesn't matter how Mohammed is portrayed, ANY portrayal is prohibited in Islam. These images are not only offensive to the despicable violent thugs, but to decent Muslim people who form a vast majority. The free press argument is ridiculous - I have the democratic right to be a dick to everyone on the planet... doesn't mean I am.

ToneMaster-Tone said...

have you seen this very interesting article abou the situation:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/2/5/13149/60748

TF said...

Ari - I agree with Sam. Yes we all know that we have freedom of expression, but why do we feel the need to try and prove this point, when we know they are going to offend those commited to the Muslim faith. Especially at at time when we are trying to promote good will and tolerance amongst all religions

How are these any better than the Leunig cartoon in your Sharon post

NahumAyliffe said...

I think freedom of speech is important. But what is the outcome in this case. Does it inform public opinion? Or is it an unecessary use of a freedom we know we have.

We show warnings before broadcasting footage of deceased persons out of respect for the Aboriginal culture. We don't have to, but we do so out of respect.

I think publishing these cartoons does lack respect. Some of the cartoons are quite derogatory, and poke fun at Muslims and their holy prophet.

Having said that, the response seems to lack proportionality and reason. Instead of overcoming the insult, Muslims have given great publicity to the cartoons that they would not have had otherwise.

It's a similar rationality which provokes radical Christians to campaign against homosexuals, abortion and exhibitions like Andre Cerrano's Piss Christ.

As a Christian, I am all for discussion of the religion. Free and fair discussion is an important way of discovering life giving truths, but I think that we should respect people as we're doing it.

Peter...Canberra said...

On this particular issue, I find myself agreeing with Sam, tf and NahumAyliffe.

Freedom of expression does not mean it is responsible to say (or draw) provocative things just for the sake of it.

Freedom of expression is supposed to encourage an open exchange of ideas through (informed) debate. I’m not sure the Jyllands-Posten was making any contribution to the sum knowledge of humanity other than to say “Look! We have the right to publish cartoons which serve no purpose other than to be highly insensitive and offensive to 1.3 billion people.”

There is an argument that publishing the cartoons gives us of an insight into how a small European nation perceives Muslims –or at least how 12 of its cartoonists do. However, I would argue that we could have got this insight many other ways (op-ed, town hall debate, survey), without having to offend an entire religion.

While I disagree with the decision to publish, and Ari’s decision to republish, I would also like to note that I am appalled at the over-reaction in the Middle East. I agree with Ari that the governments are using the cartoons as a pressure release valve while failing to address the domestic sources of disquiet amongst the people.

John Lee said...

there's little difference between some of these pictures and 19thC cartoons portraying the Chinese as slant-eyed fiends poised to invade Australia. They really have no point except to fan hatred of Muslims as a group

specifically the bomb-turban one, the boy-blackboard one (given what the text says) and the two involving sabres

Anonymous said...

Hi Ari,

You said, "ordinary folks with strong legitimate grievences against their own government have their anger turned outward by those governments toward a foreign enemy. That way, using the uniting force of a foriegn enemy, a national government can entrench its authority and blunt any internal criticism. Though the idea might have its roots in Marxism, it's an idea with some merit." So that is were John Howard got the idea from. In trouble in the polls??? All you need is a boat load of "those kind of people". Mmmmm, John and Karl...an interesting pair.

And I probably need to offer you an apology Ari. I had assumed the reason you had published these cartoons on an open media was because you couldn't help but 'stick it up em' just like the editor of a certain Danish Christian right-wing rag. However you have since explained our actions thus, "I do, however, defend people's right to make up their own mind. One of the problems with the public debate over the cartoons is that only a handful of people have actually seen the cartoons and so can offer an informed opinion: broadening their circulation can aid people in constructing their opinion." In the same spirit I am certain you are now doing your best to find and publish the cartoons that 2 years earlier the same editor refused to use because of their potential to offend christians and cause strife within the community.

However could you temper your zeal and logic a little if the topic is child pornography or the like. You might get arrested and we wouldn't want that. Mind you depending on the style of the cartoons regarding Christ you may find yourself arrested and convicted, like the editor and publisher of Gay News, if you were to publish them in that bastion of democracy, the good old Blighty. However you are safe to publish the Mohammed cartoons as a ruling under Regina v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate ex parte Choudhury, 1990 decided that the offence of blasphemy does not extend to Islam or faiths other than Christianity.
Is it publish or be damned or publish and be damned, I often forget which.

Cheers,

Cameron

John Lee said...

publish AND be damned.