Sacred cows make the best hamburger
Sunday February 05th 2006, 9:41 am

 image: Jyllands Posten

Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005 published editorial cartoons critical of Islamic prophet Mohammed and equivocating violence and oppression of women with Islam, angering Muslims. The response of the aggrieved parties was to threaten bomb attacks on the newspaper’s Danish offices. On 4 February 2006, rioters in Syria set fire to Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, with no apparent interference from Syrian authorities.

On the face of it, the cartoonists’ points appear to have been validated. The western world does not accept management of free expression by violence. Regardless, Jyllands-Posten has issued an apology to those who may have been offended by the cartoons, but stands by the position that it advocates freedoms of speech- and religion.

The short and sweet of it is that freedom of expression trumps politically or religiously motivated violent intimidation in all cases. If Muslims were offended, letters to the editors of Jyllands-Posten rebutting the expressions in the cartoons were appropriate. While it may not have been appropriate to characterise all Muslims as bombers, violence based in Islamic dogma is well known. It should be well known that not all Muslims are mad bombers; if this isn’t clear, then there’s not enough moderate Muslims putting their views in print.

One of the primary strengths of true secular democracies is that a valiant attempt is made to accommodate freedom of expression- and religion- by all their citizens. No person’s cow is more sacred than any other. Rights are not merely assertations of what sort of acts one may inflict upon others; they are also the defined limits upon one’s actions. Your right to scream ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre ends when that expression needlessly harms others. Your right to raise your fist stops when it hits my face.

image: Jyllands-PostenHowever, the use of western mass communications to freely propagate inaccurate, narrow stereotypes is an abuse of the Fourth Estate- and deserves an equal limitation. This has been a valid criticism as long as there has been mass media. Deregulation of media ownership results in fewer people being in editorial control of publishers and broadcasters, limiting the breadth of opinions they transmit.

When one is offended by the free expressions of others, the only acceptable retort in a society which can ultimately survive and grow is more free speech. If wholesale characterisation of Muslims as bombers is inaccurate, Muslims should make comment which corrects the public record. Bombing and burning representatives of the offence is not a correction- it’s a reinforcement of the idea.


UPDATE: See also this opinon piece by Charles Moore. Bit more cynical than me, but makes some good points.  

8 Comments so far
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Who are you to blaspheme Islam? Remove the offending cartoon immediately!

Comment by son of Islam 02.06.06 @ 8:39 am

Absolutely not. When I write an entry, I normally use an illustration to show what I’m talking about. In this case, we’re talking about an editorial cartoon. Why should I leave my readers mystified when I can publish a reproduction of the cartoon?

People who do not subscribe to your religion- and I admittedly do not- are not obligated to subscribe to the tenets of the same.

I don’t only pick on Islam- Christians and even Zoroastrians get a serve around here- and I have no cause to spare Islam. I’m an equal opportunity offender.

Welcome to the secular world.

Comment by weezil 02.06.06 @ 8:43 am

And what’s blasphemy anyway?
Dictionary here defines it as:

‘ A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity.’

That being the case… I find any religious doctrine to be profane and contemptuous against the freedom and intelligence of humankind. You offend ME, son of Islam, and don’t be so self-righteous to suggest what another individual may post on their blog. Isn’t that what started the problem, and the point of the article itself?

Comment by aketus 02.06.06 @ 1:16 pm

aketus, until blasphemy is described in one of the public laws I must obey, I’ll be under no obligation not to commit the act.

Indeed, it is the baseless demands of Jyllands-Posten (enforced by threats) to obey the laws of Islam that brought us here in the first place, innit?

Comment by weezil 02.06.06 @ 3:17 pm

Great post. Probably one of the most succinct comments i’ve read on the issue.

Comment by douglas 02.08.06 @ 10:04 am

Quote: “The short and sweet of it is that freedom of expression trumps politically or religiously motivated violent intimidation in all cases. If Muslims were offended, letters to the editors of Jyllands-Posten rebutting the expressions in the cartoons were appropriate.”

This is about the only sensible, unbiased commentary on the cartoons I have read or heard. Thank you for being a voice of reason. It is hard to find someone cutting through their own agendas to see things for what they really are. The action of protests against the Dutch, and now European community entirely validates their publishing them in the first place. The only valid response was more free speech.

Comment by Nazlfrag Pope 02.21.06 @ 8:55 pm

douglas & NP, thanks for that.

Comment by weezil 02.21.06 @ 9:00 pm

[…] KERRY O’BRIEN: The right to freely express an opinion has taken something of a savaging in recent days. Reaction to a Danish newspaper cartoon that mocked the Prophet Mohammed resulted in the burning of Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut and widespread protests from London to Auckland. The backlash may not have reached Australian shores, but here, the right of a Melbourne artist to express an opinion – in his case, burning an Australian flag and mounting it as an exhibition piece – has landed him in trouble with the law. The flag, which was to have been on display on a billboard outside a Melbourne gallery, lasted just two days before a policeman, claiming to have acted on complaints, removed it. The artist, Azlan McLennan, says he wants it back. The police say they are considering whether to press charges. Legal experts say there is no case. But in Canberra, Federal Government backbencher Bronwyn Bishop has announced her intention to introduce a private members’ bill outlawing the burning of the Australian flag. Heather Ewart reports. […]

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