The Danish Cartoons Controversy
When I first read about the controversy over the portrayal of Prophet Mohammed in a Danish cartoon, I thought it was an unintentional gaffe and the issue would soon blow over. Looks like that is not the case. There were more developments today that makes matters worse.
What happened is this: A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, printed a set of a dozen cartoons featuring Prophet Mohammed, some of them showing him as a terrorist. This was back in September. There were protests as the news slowly spread. The Danish Imams called for government censorship. Ambassadors of Muslim countries, Arab States, Pakistan and Iran complained about the cartoons to the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Had the newspaper apologized quickly, the issue would have ended there. But the Prime Minister turned to be a defiant person, refusing to bend to the pressures from the Muslim world. The timeline of what happened from then on, from the BBC:
20 Jan: Muslim ambassadors in Denmark complain to Danish PM
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
28 Jan: Danish company Arla places advertisements in Mid-East newspapers trying to stop a boycott
29 Jan: Libya says it will close its embassy in Denmark
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
Today, two major European newspapers have printed the drawings again. From the Guardian:
Newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy yesterday reprinted caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, escalating a row over freedom of expression which has caused protest across the Middle East.
The front page of the daily France Soir carried the defiant headline: "Yes, we have the right to caricature God," and a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper ran the drawings.
The centre-right Die Welt also ran the caricature on the front page, reporting that Muslim groups had forced the Danish newspaper to issue an apology. It described the protests as hypocritical, pointing out Syrian TV had depicted Jewish rabbis as cannibals. Yesterday Roger Köppel, editor-in-chief of Die Welt, said he had no regrets. He told the Guardian: "It's at the very core of our culture that the most sacred things can be subjected to criticism, laughter and satire. If we stop using our journalistic right of freedom of expression within legal boundaries then we start to have a kind of appeasement mentality. This is a remarkable issue. It's very important we did it. Without this there would be no Life of Brian."
That was not the end of it. Today, immediately after the newspapers reprinted the cartoons, the editor of France Soir was fired! From the Brussels Journal, which has comprehensive coverage on the issue:
Raymond Lakah, the owner of the French newspaper France Soir, has sacked Jacques Lefranc, the paper’s editor. Yesterday France-Soir republished the twelve controversial Danish Muhammad cartoons (see them all here, halfway down the page). Mr Lakah declared: "We express our apologies to the Muslim community and to all the persons that were shocked by the publication of the cartoons."
My views: I think there are two main points to be debated in this issue. One is where does freedom of speech end and slander/hurting sensibilities begin? If Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammed should not be depicted, and such an action will hurt their sensibilities, why go do it? We are so careful about racial taunts, we don't use the n-word since it will offend African-Americans. We condemn stereotypical descriptions or offensive words when it comes to race. Should we give the same level of importance to religious sensitivities? Or, are religious taunts different from racial taunts? It is always possible to argue that every statement will potentially offend someone or the other, so freedom of expression should override any such consideration. I can go along with that line of thinking, but common sense dictates that one should stay away from contentious issues like saying the n-word or depicting Mohammed.
The second point is the quagmire that the global Jihad has fallen into. The Islamic radical extremists have escalated this issue, literally begging for a backlash and public outcry. Had they just politely asked for an apology, they would have probably gotten it and the issue would have ended there. With bomb threats and boycotting Danish goods and fatwas and other potentially violent means, they have pushed people to respond. Now, many more images of Mohammed will show up, public will be more defiant (as people just love to demolish sacred cows). More websites will carry these cartoons. Bloggers are already pointing out that the Islamists don't mind showing Jews and Christian symbols in bad light, so they will return in kind. The European Union is getting involved, taking up the ban on Danish products to the World Trade Organization. It is a no-win situation really.Update (2/2/2006):1. Jyllands-Posten chief editor Carsten Juste said: "They have won. That is the sad fact. "I guess that during the next generation no one in Denmark will draw the Prophet Mohammed." News 24
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the insistence of European newspapers on printing the cartoons risked provoking a terrorist backlash, as the protests escalate from a trade embargo by consumers. "European provocations have placed the offices and European churches in our line of fire," the Palestinian gunmen said in a statement. "We give the Danish, French and Norwegian governments 48 hours to present their apologies." Middle East Online
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