Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Euro Diary: freedom of the press vs. Islam sensitivity

The cartoons which messed around with the sacred image of Mohammed ran in Europe, not in Mecca. Listen up, Muslims. As crass as these cartoons may be (some of them are actually quite funny), and as upset as you may be, the rule is real simple: when in Rome, put up with the Romans. OK?
The Muslims have a goddam cheek telling Europeans what to do in their own countries. Why don't they stop fucking their women around and tone down their anti-Semitism? We don't tell the Chinese not to eat dogs. Listen, you medieval troglodytes, we're real sorry you got all hurt and upset, but go stone another poor woman for the "crime" of adultery if you need to get your rocks off.

Blasphemy is Authorized -- by Jean-Marcel Bouguereau

Mohammed sniggering, a bomb in his turban. Another cartoon catches the Prophet on a cloud at the entry to Paradise, shouting at suicide bombers, "Go away, we're all out of virgins."

And twelve others from the same barrel, not always in the best taste, published in a Danish daily, arouse a shock wave. Arab Ministers, forgetting that freedom of the press reigns in Denmark, demand sanctions, even though the newspaper in question has offered its apologies to Muslims. But that's not enough. France-Soir, which published the cartoons, has found itself immediately condemned by the shadowy Council of the Muslim faith, and its director was fired by Franco-Egyptian owner Raymond Lakah, who has presented "his apologies to the Muslim community." Perhaps we need to be reminded that freedom of the press is complete within the framework of respect for the law. In France, everyone has the right to criticize religions. Blasphemy is even authorized. It is perfectly legal until proven otherwise to dump on religions, to judge them to be lying, soul-destroying, mind-numbing.

Unless we want to re-establish the crime of blasphemy? Many of the glorious names in our literary canon, from Lautréamont to André Breton, have blasphemed. And Voltaire first of all, who certainly took serious risks in attacking that temporally and spiritually omnipresent power that the Catholic church then was. It's not certain that we're not in a similar situation today with a worrying rise in Islamic fundamentalism. Why should we be able to make fun of the priest, jeer at the Pope, at Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, but never Islam, under pain of being accused of racism? The episodes of criminal intolerance with respect to Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen have not aroused any protests from the Muslim countries that come today to teach us about morality in the name of a one-way respect. It's obviously not an accident that opposes one country -- Denmark, which, with respect to morals, has long been in the forefront -- to the most obscurantist tenants of a religion, Islam, which, as it awaits a reform that obviously is not in the offing, makes millions of Muslims, and notably Muslim women, suffer.

(Jean-Marcel Bouguereau is Editor-in-Chief of the Nouvel Observateur. He is also an editorialist at the République des Pyrénées, for which this article was written.)


At 2/03/2006 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I am wondering about cartoons and freedom of speech is this: would any of these european newspapers publish cartoons of jews that depicts them with big noses and money hungry? Would they publish cartoons that deny holocaust? It's crime in these countries. The editor or cartoonist would go to jail. Hypocrisy? Apparently freedom of speech has limits to them.

At 2/04/2006 8:36 AM, Blogger Adam said...

If it is a crime, I don't think it should be. Freedom of speech includes the right to be in total bad taste, or totally prejudiced.
I'm sure there are Western publications which run anti-Semitic propaganda, which is perfectly legal, or should be.
As far as I know, only Germany has laws against anti-Semitic speech, given their terrible history.
In the US it's allowed. It only becomes a crime -- a hate crime -- when there is bodily harm involved.

At 2/06/2006 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's a mistake to buy into the blasphemy narrative, actually. Whether you support or oppose it.

The real point isn't to say insulting, rude things about "the" Muslims -- a rather odd way to describe a specific group of protestors, organizers and politicians.

The point is that many Muslims and many who might be perceived as Muslim (because they are Arabs or because they have brown skin) are being subjected to serious human rights abuses. So it's unwise for Muslims to be distracted by the relatively abstract problem of blasphemy. Yes, it was racist of the newspaper to pick on a Muslim figure but it would just be a whole lot smarter for a Muslim NOT to get manipulated into pouring one's energy into this. And I do think those protestors are being manipulated. (See recent news about the authorities in Damascus.)

That's the REAL point. And it's distressing to me that people are demonstrating in the West Bank over this. If your goal was to keep those people sequestered in an emasculated pseudo-state and use them for cheap labor, you'd definitely want them focusing on religion.

How much wiser it would be for those demonstrators to be talking about the taxes owed to the PA by the Israeli govt or to focus on getting more control of their lives in any number of ways. Yesterday it was reported that "Israel has handed over 250 million shekels (£30m) in frozen tax and customs revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority" but further monthly payments are being withheld to try and influence the future of the PA.

As far as I am concerned, people are being manipulated in a shameful manner at a time when too many crucial issues are on the line. The future of Palestine. Secret detention. Torture... HOW CONVENIENT to suddenly shift the global conversation in this way!

I think your recent post on this panders to a false dichotomy. How equally convenient for westerners to buy into the freedom-of-expression ballyhoo, the "we free people of the west versus medieval them" trope. While we live in a freer place, it is naive to get carried away with this notion.

BOTH narratives are misleading, smoke and mirrors, designed to keep people from seeing what they have in common with each other as human beings. Designed to lull westerners into a false sense of superiority; designed to distract Muslims and their allies from the real problems.

Censorship has always been, continues to be, a reality in the West. There is no absolute artistic freedom here. Nor will there ever be. Anyone who makes a living as a working artist knows this.

I am surprised to see you buying into these dichotomies because I have known you a long time. Or were you being provocative and simplistic just to get this kind of a conversation going, perhaps??

I'm going to keep this post anonymous because I feel that it's safer in many ways to express these thoughts unsigned. Let me know what you think.


At 2/06/2006 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this news item:

"Authorities backed Damascus riots, say protesters"

This is a shameful ploy to discourage people in Arab countries from challenging government authority. This talk on your blog of living amongst and putting up with the Romans is, in my view, a little bit off-track! We don't just live in the West, we live in the world.



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