Addendum to “Connecting the dots”

by Yule Heibel on February 5, 2006

Several hours ago, I added the following entry to my “Connecting the dots,” which I wrote yesterday but couldn’t post till today because the berkman server was down. Usually I don’t repost, but just now I checked my blog on another computer, and noticed that the addendum didn’t show up — weird. (Not much weirder than technorati telling me that I haven’t posted for nearly 50 days, so chalk it up to digital gremlins or something…) Anyway, here’s my postscript. In many ways this issue represents a mess I don’t want to get into, but I do feel strongly about freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and about imagery in social contexts…

—— ~~~ ——

To see the cartoons as they appeared, click here and scroll down a ways. For an explanation of the images in English words in a different article, click here — this is useful in terms of understanding any Danish text included in the cartoon(s), as well as understanding how the image illustrates a saying or some aspect of Danish popular culture or society. The entire article is worth reading for background information. Do take a look at the images, too: they’re pretty tame as far as cartoons go. Most of them would function easily enough as illustrations, which is what they were commissioned for in the first place. The ensuing row has to do with the fact that Islam forbids any representation of Mohammed, regardless of whether it’s favourable or not, and it has been exacerbated by fundamentalists’ insistence that they be accorded special privileges in western society by having this iconographic ban respected. No other religion that forbids representation of its gods is given this special status, however. Jews cannot sue or threaten to burn down the offices of newspapers (or kill its cartoonists) if they publish images that purport to represent God. (And let’s emphasise “purport”: one of the other things understood in the West is that images are fictions. They are not real. This might in part be a cultural quirk of ours, but it deserves to be admitted as one of our freedoms. If we agree on that basis, we can argue about whether the images are offensive, but we can’t argue from the basis of their “realness.” In part, the current arguments are clashes between literalists and those who are comfortable with fiction. Fundamentalists hate people who feel comfortable with fiction, it seems. To them, modern society is a decadent den of fictionalists who must be brought to heel by literalists.)

Read this article for more on how death threats were issued against the cartoonists months ago, back in December 2005: “The Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami and its youth branch have offered a bounty for anyone who murders the Danish illustators who drew cartoons of Muhammad for the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten”. Since then — in January 2006 — “Muslim intellectuals and representatives of Muslim organizations in Denmark have visited a number of Muslim countries to ‘explain’ the matter to local political and religious leaders and media. Their ‘explanations’ were biased and inaccurate. The Danish-Egyptian Dialog Center in Cairo says that after meeting with the Muslim representatives from Denmark the Egyptian press has claimed that Danish newspapers are waging a campaign against Islam, that Copenhagen plans to introduce a state censored version of the Koran, that a Danish film is underway ‘to show how horrible Islam is’, and that the matter involves 120 cartoons – not 12.” (See here. In response, the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, responds some days later that he “is shocked at the way in which some Muslims are misrepresenting Denmark in the Islamic world.” See here.)

By the end of last month, Denmark’s moderate Muslims were politely telling the fundamentalists to get lost, but to no avail. See this article:

A group of Muslims in the Danish city of Århus intend to organize a network of Muslims who do not want to be represented by fundamentalist Danish imams or others who preach the Sharia laws and oppression of women. “There is a large group of Muslims in this city who want to live in a secular society and adhere to the principle that religion is an issue between them and God and not something that should involve society,” said Bünyamin Simsek, a city councillor and one of the organizers. Århus witnessed severe riots after the publication of the cartoons in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten last Autumn.

In Copenhagen, too, moderate Muslims are speaking out. Hadi Kahn, an IT consultant and the chairman of the Organization of Pakistani Students in Denmark (OPSA), describes himself as a modern Muslim living in a Western society. He says that he does not feel he is being represented by the Muslim groups. When he goes to the mosque for Friday prayers he says the imam does not say much that is useful for him. “We have no need for imams in Denmark. They do not do anything for us,” he says. According to Mr Kahn the imams are not in touch with Danish society. He says too few of them speak Danish and too few of them are opposed to stoning as a punishment. [More…]

Ayaan Hirsi Ali posted a funny counter-counter cartoon on her website: it depicts a George Smiley-ish fellow in cap and glasses talking to a person in full medieval armour, on whose back a thrown rock is bouncing to the ground. Cap-man points to armoured guy and says, “You’re a cartoonist working on Jyllands-Posten, eh?”. Hirsi Ali incidentally supports solidarity with western freedoms and advocates publishing the cartoons as widely as possible. And if anyone still thinks the cartoons are offensive, take a look at these photographs (i.e., not made-up drawings), also courtesy of Hirsi Ali, which show European-based fundamentalist Muslims protesting with placards that read “Behead those who insult Islam!”; “Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer”; “Exterminate those who slander Islam”; and “Europe you will pay — demolition is on it’s [sic!] way”, among other niceties of tolerance and peace. Oh, and it warns Europeans that they should “Be prepared for the real Holocaust!”

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