quinta-feira, fevereiro 09, 2006

THE TWELVE CARICATURES OF Mohammed Survey of European press

Below you will find various positions in this debate. Many commentaries from non-German papers have been taken from the eurotopics-Newsletter, which Perlentaucher Medien GmbH produces together with Courrier International in three languages daily for the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. The website for this newsletter will go online soon, you can subscribe here for the German, English or French version. For those who would like to see the pictures being talked about, click here.
February 8, 2006
In Polish Rzeczpospolita, which also printed the Muhammad cartoons, Janusz A. Majcherek sees the debate not as a conflict between cultures but between European societies. "At issue is the way that religion is treated in the publicity sphere. (...) Even if religion doesn't belong in the public eye, that doesn't make it immune to criticism. Religious convictions, like the results of free elections, must protect human characteristics that are not subject to personal choice or decisions: gender, skin colour, age. Racism and sexism are far worse offences than criticism of a religion. The majority of Muslims seem not to understand that, but even many Catholics have trouble with it."
In the Hungarian weekly magazine Elet es Irodalom, columnist Istvan Vancsa criticises the Council of Europe for criticising the Danish government for its handling of the cartoon dispute. "The Council of Europe is acting just like the Kremlin did in the 1970s, when the leadership of one or the other of its satellites was regularly stood in the corner on account of a certain literary reportage, essay or book review. The only difference is that the behaviour of the Kremlin in those days was more rational, because the press was in fact dependent on the country's leadership. But Jyllands-Posten is not dependent on anyone. So the Council of Europe is presumably mixed up. What is at stake in this controversy is not two pounds of potatoes, but a basic value of Western societies, the sine qua non of Western life, the freedom of the press."
Writing on Thursday in the Hungarian paper Magyar Hirlap, columnist Julianna R. Szekely reminds readers how often caricatures and other ironic or grotesque depictions of Jesus have led to scandal in the West: "We reply to the protests in the Muslim world that we are neither real terrorists nor terrorists in the name of good taste, and that we condemn terrorism across the board. Why then is there still a storm of indignation whenever Jesus, Christianity or Judaism is portrayed in an unusual or sarcastic way? Martin Scorsese's film 'The Last Temptation of Christ' angered the entire Western world: it was banned in many countries and a broadcast on Hungarian television was cancelled because a bishop saw in it the humiliation of the world's Christians. An Austrian caricaturist was given a suspended sentence for his comic strip about Jesus."
Olivier Roy, a French specialist of the Middle East, proposes in the Spanish newspaper El Pais a geopolitical reading of the protests sparked by the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. "The map of protest movements shows that the countries where violence has occurred are those in which the regimes or certain political forces have bones of contention with Europeans. The violence has been abetted by states or political movements that reject the European presence in a certain number of crises in the Middle East. ... It would be laughable to see the Syrian regime presenting itself as a defender of Islam if the consequences were not so tragic! A regime that has exterminated tens of thousands of Muslim Brothers spearheading the defence of Muslims! What we are seeing is a strictly political manoeuvre aimed at allowing it to regain some influence in Lebanon by allying itself with those who feel ignored, or threatened, by Europe's policies."
Writing in the Times, Alen Coren, former editor in chief of the legendary satire magazine Punch, looks at the cartoon controversy from a professional point of view: "I never permitted issues of taste, propriety or sensitivity to interfere. If a cartoon about disability or Auschwitz, Calvary or impotence, cancer or Hiroshima, made me laugh, I bought it." Coren does not find the Mohammed caricatures at all funny. He goes on to ask: "Suppose they had been funny? Not to us infidels, we don’t matter, but to Muslims. I hardly dare ask — not because I fear the tap on the door and the scimitar to the throat, only because I recognise my own ignorance on the issue — whether, notwithstanding the sacrilege of any representation of Muhammad, there could conceivably be circumstances under which a gag about him was so terrific that even the devout couldn’t suppress a grin."
Local elections will be held in England in less than three months. For Matthew d'Ancona, that is the sole reason for the government's mild reaction to the massive protests against the cartoons. "Nothing must be done to alienate the Muslim vote," he describes the government's attitude in the Telegraph. But this has only bolstered the self-confidence of radical Muslims, d'Anconna writes, taking as an example the appearance by Anjem Choudary, member of the al-Ghuraba Group, on one TV show. "In response to Jeremy Paxman's point that he might be happier in a country where sharia law was in place, Mr Choudary raged: 'Who said to you that you own Britain, anyway? Britain belongs to Allah.' And just to make clear what he thinks of the British, he continued: 'If I go to the jungle, I am not going to live like the animals. I'm going to propagate what I believe to be a superior way of life.'"
And from the German press:
Late night talk show host Harald Schmidt tells in an interview with tageszeitung why he doesn't make jokes about Islam: "You have to be a little on your guard, and need the right amount of cowardice. Make jokes about President Bush. That's not dangerous. In that respect Western civilisation has made some first class achievements."
Die Welt interviews Wadah Khanfar, head of Aljazeera television station, on the Danish caricature controversy and why he thinks the cartoons cannot be put under the heading of freedom of opinion: "We have a profound respect for the freedom to express your opinion. It is extremely important, especially in the Arab world. But these drawings contain no information, they express no opinion."
In the Süddeutsche Zeitung Navid Kermani, an Iranian-born author based in Cologne, sees in the controversy over the Danish Mohammed caricatures a scandal in which both sides are at fault. "The Mohammed caricatures are not a second Salman Rushdie affair. It was Rushdie's inalienable right to defame his own religion… Rushdie stands in a long line of Islamic men of letters who have picked a quarrel with Islam. Many of them paid for it with bans, imprisonment or even their lives (even if the Middle East has seen far fewer heretics than Europe). The motives of the Danish paper were entirely different however. Here a minority was being provoked to react in such a way that they would justify their own further marginalisation." (See our feature "I can't live without Europe" by Navid Kermani.)
In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Lebanese poet Abbas Beydoun says that the roots of the violence in Beirut lie primarily in Lebanon, but that they also reflect the difficult relationship of Muslims with the West: "For me the events are evidence that developments in Lebanon cannot be separated from those in the entire Middle East. The Sunni political elite around the family of the murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri is considered nationalist, pro-Western, pro-democratic and well-connected internationally. Nevertheless there were many Sunnis among the demonstrators on the weekend, but hardly any Shiites. You could even see the protests as an expression of Lebanese resistance against the policies of Iran. The anti-Western, but also anti-Shiite views of a Sarqawi are evidently also to be found in Lebanon. And that means that the anger about the caricatures is a reaction to the relations between the West and the Islamic world."
February 7, 2006
Abdennour Bidar, a philosophy professor in Nice, shares in Le Monde his views on "the profound democratic changes to Islam" in Europe brought about "by the daily reality of Muslims" living there. "The shift is characterised by what I call a 'self-Islam', that is to say, a culture of autonomy and personal choice, thus a culture based on diversity and differentiated identity – an Islam of individuals, and not of the community! ... 'Self-Islam' is, in fact, the expression of a culture that has radically mutated beyond its original authoritarian form, and which has become democratised via a process through which each European Muslim, looking to his conscience, has appropriated the question of his own identity. Let's acknowledge this change and adjust our understanding of European Islam by working to deconstruct this 'community' fantasy."
The lead article of the Italian newspaper Foglio calls the destructive anger of the Islamicist demonstrators a sign of "paranoid and sinister barbarity". Europe must become more religious to face up to Islam, the magazine writes. "We need less careless secularism, we need to drop the nihilism of indifferent tolerance that blurs the boundaries between the holy and the profane, which is after all an ideological project doomed to failure. It cannot be that the fight for democracy and the rule of law against armed Islamicists lies entirely in the hands of Israel and the US, two lay countries with solid religious foundations, while Europe waffles between Hamas payments and the Mohammed caricatures."
For Pierluigi Battista writing in Italian Corriere della Sera, the Danish cartoons are an unpleasant reminder of the illustrations of the "Eternal Jew" under National Socialism. "Let's have a look at how 'the Arab' is portrayed in these caricatures: a silhouette producing disgust in all literate, attentive people, sinister features, a malicious look, a dirty appearance, an endless black beard. What does this iconography of enmity, this caricature of evil remind one of? This twisted nose, this stereotypical look, these bushy eyebrows, where have we seen them before, where do we still see them?"
(The reader can have a look at the cartoons and judge for himself.)
"The Arabs and Muslims themselves are mainly responsible for the defamation of this religion and of the Prophet Mohammed's image, because they convey a distorted picture of this divine and immortal message and its revered prophet. We should all ask Mohammed for forgiveness for defacing his image," writes Arab author Baha al-Musawi in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, and asks: "Why don't we portray Mohammed as a devout, honourable and tolerant human being, instead of letting him be reduced to an image of Osama bin Laden, of a sword, of killing, of the Taliban, of beheadings and suicide? How can we permit the murder of the unbelievers when Mohammad honoured them? How can we oppress women when Mohammed revered them? How can we spill blood when Mohammed has forbidden it?"
In the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, Michael Prüller does not exactly want to speak of a clash of cultures, but he does feel there is a powerplay going on: "The whole thing is a test of strength to see if Islamic law – the ban on images of God and the Prophet – can successfully be transplanted to Europe. Europe cannot accept this attempt just like that, and for that reason it is wonderfully suited to escalation. Yet the escalation is coming from just those people who are responsible for the economic backwardness, mass poverty, military weakness and cultural insignificance of a large part of the world: the ruling cliques of the state and clergy. For them the caricature farce is a means to suggest in people's minds that the evil West is trying to destroy Islamic values, and so is the real cause of their distress."
It was bound to come to his clash between the civilisations, says Dutch writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali in an interview with Denmarks Jyllands-Posten. She adds that, even though it may sound cynical after the attacks on Western diplomatic buildings, the conflict still offers a great opportunity. "Thanks to these cartoons, Islam could make the progress of centuries within just a few years. It's high time there was an uprising. Had the cartoons not been published, the discussion about the Prophet Mohammed would never have arisen. It's important to remember that Islam hasn't undergone all the reforms and adjustments which Christianity and Judaism have undergone over the past thousand years. On the contrary, Islam is stagnating. Its laws are geared towards tribal society. Now all Muslims in Denmark and Europe are being forced to reflect on what their attitude should be towards Muslim taboos that are incompatible with modern democratic society."
The Danish writer Carsten Jensen is having a hard time with his country. The Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter prints a speech given by Jensen at a demonstration in Copenhagen aimed at settling the cartoon dispute: "They burn our embassy. But I don't want to live in a country where I should be afraid of my neighbour just because his skin is not the same colour as mine, or because he is of another faith or because his Danish isn't perfect. They reduce my flag to ashes. But I don't want to live in a country that believes it can get by without the rest of the world. They burn my country's very name. But I don't want to live in a country that can apologise to the strong, but is deaf to the voice of the weak. I don't want to live in a country that sees 1.3 billion people merely as the representatives of a lesser civilisation, and is at war with one fifth of mankind."
In the Czech newspaper Lidove noviny Pavel Masa reports that sculptor David Cerny is experiencing the consequences of the Mohammed cartoon dispute first hand. "For fear of the potential reaction of the Islamic world, the mayor of the Belgian city of Middelkerk has banned the exhibition of Cerny's sculpture 'Der Hai' ('The Shark'). The sculpture portrays former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as a shark swimming in an aquarium." Masa says he can't understand the Mayor's decision. "By doing this he is showing that part of the West is willing to make great sacrifices in the face of Muslim violence."
"There is no doubt that the freedom of opinion is a human value we must protect and respect", write the Islamic Foundation and the Association of Muslim Students in Slovakia in a joint statement printed by the Slovakian paper Sme. "But this value loses its moral worth if it is not linked to a feeling of responsibility. It becomes dangerous when hatred is preached under the banner of free speech."
In the same paper, Israel correspondent Jana Mikusova reports on an "anti-campaign" to the Mohammed caricatures started up by "radical European Muslims". The Arab-European League publishes caricatures on its website that consciously break taboos. The drawings are primarily anti-Jewish. "They deny the Holocaust and for example show Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler. … Anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli caricatures are part and parcel of the press in Arab states. Israel, the USA and many NGOs regularly protest against this, but in vain."
In the American Slate Magazine, Christopher Hitchens criticises the attitude of the American government in the cartoon dispute. The Muslim bans – on portraying images of the Prophet, eating pork and drinking alcohol – certainly don't hold for him: "Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.
I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find 'offensive'."
In The Guardian, Tabish Khair, English Professor at Aarhus University, complains in a 867-word essay that the cartoon dispute effectively silences moderate Muslims, because they must choose between two extremes: "Between the Danish government and Islamist politicians, between Jyllands-Posten and the mobs in Beirut." The moderate Muslim "has been forced to take this side or that; forced to stay home and let others crusade for a cause dear to her - freedom - and a cultural heritage essential to her: Islam."
In the Times, David Aaronovitch finds it right that Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" were published. But aren't things different with the Danish caricatures? "I don't know Danish politics very well, but I do know that an anti-immigrant strand has taken hold there in recent years, that Danish citizenship laws are some of the most discriminatory in Western Europe, and I would guess that this right-wing newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has something invested in the idea that the cultures might be unassimilable. Certainly it was being mischievous. It was interesting to discover yesterday that in 2003 the same paper refused to print some cartoons featuring Jesus, on the basis that (according to the editor): 'I don’t think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.' So this present row was, fairly obviously, provoked in the expectation of a reaction, and that — this time — the outcry was tolerable to the newspaper."
And the German press:
Irshad Manji, a Canadian and Visiting Fellow at Yale University, asks why people shouldn't be allowed to make jokes about Muslims. "We Muslims can't pretend to have the integrity to demand respect for our religion if we don't respect the religions of others. When have we ever demanded that Christians and Jews be allowed to set foot in Mecca? Only when they come for business reasons are they allowed to enter. As long as Rome continues to welcome non-Christians and Jerusalem welcomes non-Jews, we Muslims should be protesting against more than these cartoons."
The Islamic studies scholar Gernot Rotter reminds readers of the taz, "Years ago, I warned that Samuel Huntington's thesis of a 'clash of civilisations' could develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I also referred to the fact that Huntington, obviously without realising it, was only anticipating what Islamic apologists have been demanding for a long time: the fight of Muslims against the Godless, materialistic, sexist (less than Christian) West."
In a second commentary in the taz, Dirk Knipphals explains how freedom of opinion functions: "This basic right only makes sense when exaggerations, slip-ups and faux pas are defended as well."
In the Süddeutsche Zeitung Palestinian author Hassan Khader sees the purportedly spontaneous demonstrations as pure manipulation: "Essentially this is all about how the Arab leaders can reduce their subjects' lives to religion – in an attempt to save their own regimes. But this is to treat the people as if they had no identity beyond religion, as if the rich traditions of Arab culture counted for nothing. That is why despite all its religious zeal, the current campaign seems so banal and profane."
February 6, 2006
In Egypts Al Ahram Gihan Shahine reports on the reactions in the Arab world towards the caricatures of Mohammed and the apology published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. Some people are demanding tougher boycotting and others, such as the Islamic scholar Abdel-Sabour Shahine, are preaching tolerance in the name of the prophet. "The prophet himself, Shahine argued, was constantly subject to offence during the first years of his prophecy in Mecca, and his reactions were so tolerant that those who initially opposed him ended up becoming Muslim. 'After all,' said Shahine, 'we'd rather have the Danes apologising out of conviction, rather than because they feel threatened.'"
In the French Figaro the philosopher Andre Grjebine is worried at how governments – especially the UK and the USA – and institutions like the UN kowtow in face of calls for religious censorship. He demands that the torch of the Enlightenment should be relit to prevent governments from taking "the first step towards recognising the Sharia as the common law of humanity": "As Umberto Eco shows in 'The Name of the Rose', religious institutions fear nothing more than laughter, that caustic questioning of the revelation. And nothing is as fearsome as people who are incapable of seeing their belief as one among many, who want to force others to share their belief, or at least forbid them from casting doubt on it. This is why it is fundamental to protect the right to laugh, and to lend our support to those who seek to defend freedom and tolerance within Islam itself, like Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands and Shabana Rehman in Norway."
The Copenhagen newspaper Politiken fears that the controversy could turn into a battle of cultures. "This weekend it became clear that the dispute is no longer about the cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten. The torching of diplomatic buildings has carried the conflict to another level. Now it's about an attack on free society as such. Although at first it was about the balance between the right to publish the cartoons and the need to respect those who have different beliefs, now the conflict is about the choice between civilised dialogue and armed confrontation."
The Spanish on-line weekly El semanal digital writes in an editorial that the violent reactions being seen in various Muslim countries have prompted Western countries to question their relationships with the Muslim world. "Spain, whose culture and traditions are inspired by the Christian religion, has shown a complete tolerance toward other religions. This tolerance, linked to freedom of expression, is a distinctive sign of the civilisation in which we have lived for many centuries. And this tolerance is freely exploited by religions such as Islam to gain ground, with the result that we find many European followers of the Muslim religion. But in those places where Islam is the majority religion, and where it defines the culture, we see no tolerance. Different civilisations exist, which is why it is appropriate to ask oneself whether the 'alliance of cultures' proposed by Prime Minister Zapatero takes into account all that differentiates them."
In the Latvian newspaper Diena, Aivars Ozolins sees a connection between Iran's nuclear programme and the caricature conflict. "No sooner had the IAEA ruled that the Iranian nuclear programme was a matter for the UN Security Council, than in Central Europe the violent protests against the cartoons published in September in a Danish newspaper flared up again. Iran announced the withdrawal of its ambassadors from Denmark, banned Danish journalists from entering the country and promised to boycott any other state who published the cartoons. It could be that these are separate chains of events but the cartoon crisis illustrates with crystal clarity why Iran should never be allowed to have atomic weapons. And the decision of the IAEA shows that the line which divides the world today does not separate military and economic blocs, or ideologies and religions, but it runs between democratic states and authoritarian regimes."
This weekend's Munich Security Conference was also marked by the bursts of outrage in the Muslim world. In the Slovenian newspaper Dnevnik Dejan Kovac says he sees signs of new transatlantic unity and parallels to the Cold War. "Once again we are witnessing diplomatic blackmail tactics, economic pressure, selective aid, intimidation, political propaganda, liquidations, military intervention and contrived wars. The arms race and the fear that nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction could be used are making a comeback. And once again, the advocates of this new Cold War are resorting to their traditional explanation that it is being triggered by organised resistance to the free world."
The taz brings two opposing voices in the caricature debate. The writer Dilek Zaptcioglu has this to say: "This war is being deliberately and impertinently stirred up in words and drawings. Because those who are really feeling hardest hit by the Danish offensive are the moderate Muslims, who have been living a 'westernized' life for generations and who stand by peace and the ideals of the French Revolution."
TV journalist Sonia Mikich digs in her heels: "I am insulted. Fanatics blow up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, those wonderful cultural monuments. But art for me is an expression of universal beauty and innocence, it is a thing of value which makes the world better and more peaceful. This is the tradition in which I have grown up. I therefore demand that Hamas, the spokesman of the French Muslims and the director of the Al-Azhar university apologise to me. Otherwise I will sadly never visit the Taj Mahal on holiday, I will call for a boycott of Palestinian fruit and I will set fire to the embassies of Tunisia, Qatar and Bangladesh."
"This conflict is not about cultural freedom in just one country, but about cultural power all over the world - about the power to uphold certain taboos or get rid of them," says historian Thomas Maissen in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. He calls for more tolerance in this issue: "What do we really have to lose, either in terms of quality of life or possibilities for self-realisation, by voluntarily, respectfully and tolerantly refraining from caricaturing the prophets of other religions or even depicting them in any way."
In Die Welt Islam expert Tariq Ramadan also calls on people to exercise restraint: "This is not the predicted clash of civilisations. This affair does not symbolise the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. Absolutely not. What is at stake at the heart of this sad story is whether or not the duelling sides have the capacity to be free, rational (whether believers or atheists) and, at the same time, reasonable.The fracture is not between the west and Islam but between those who, in both worlds, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with calm – in the name of faith or reason, or both – and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other and a liking for hasty conclusions.
February 5, 2006
The tone of the British papers – which had not published the caricatures until this point – changed in the wake of violent Muslim protests in the Middle East. In London, demonstrators – for the most part peaceful – carried signs bearing slogans like "Behead those who insult Islam", and "Britain you will pay - 7/7 is on its way".
Such displays are entirely unacceptable, writes the Sunday Telegraph, accusing Muslim extremists of double standards: "There is no excuse for gratuitous offence, of course. But some Muslims might like to consider how insulting their own views on women's rights, theocracy and Western practices are to many non-Muslims. The offensiveness of these views is no reason to close British mosques or Islamic newspapers."
The Independent also accuses extremists of not being able to take what they themselves dish out. As evidence the paper prints an anti-Semitic caricature from the British paper The Muslim Weekly.
In The Observer, Henry Porter writes: "When push comes to shove, I have to say that I would take a lot more notice of the outrage in the Middle East if I had not come across dozens of anti-Semitic cartoons published in the Arab press."
With a view to the religious hatred bill which recently failed to make it through parliament, Simon Jenkins comments in the Sunday Times that rather than protect freedom of opinion, the caricatures are a threat to it. Because if the press does not practice self-discipline, he writes, there are politicians ready and waiting to limit freedom of expression with laws. "Recent British legislation shows that a censor is waiting round every corner."
Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Nils Minkmar says violent demonstrators should not be seen as representing all Muslims. "You have to take into account the masses of Muslims who have refused to let themselves be intimidated by decades of Islamist propaganda. The Islamic terrorists are just as radical a minority as the RAF was in West Germany in the 70s. In those days no one doubted that children from Protestant pastors' families could be integrated into society. Ideologising the debate means bringing it to a standstill."
February 4, 2006
In The Telegraph, Charles Moore is amazed at the "extreme tenderness" the governments and newspapers are showing at the outbreaks of anger in the Middle East: "Of course it is right that people's deeply held beliefs should be treated courteously, but it is a great mistake - made out of ignorance - to assume that those who shout the loudest are the most representative." For Moore this is as if the Muslim were to decide Ian Paisley represented authentic Christianity. Moore, a Christian, additionally promises not to mount a terrorist attack on the fashionable White Cube Gallery, which is now showing a picture by Gilbert and George with the title "God loves fucking".
In the Times, the atheist Matthew Parris defends his right to poke fun at any God he wants to, adding: "Writing yesterday of the decision by this newspaper and others not to publish those now-infamous cartoons poking fun at Islam, my colleague Ben Macintyre suggested that 'this is not a matter of kowtowing to pressure'. With respect, I think it is (...) A little candour is called for here. Those protesting against publication are not really doing so because they themselves do not wish to see these pictures. They do not want you or me to see them either. They do not want anyone to see them. They do not want them to exist."
Gary Younge asks in the Guardian why anti-Semitic statements and caricatures are almost never published in the press, while anti-Muslim cartoons apparently can be: "The question has never been whether you draw a line under what is and what is not acceptable, but where you draw it. Rose (editor of Jyllands-Posten) and others clearly believe Muslims, by virtue of their religion, exist on the wrong side of the line. As a result they are vilified twice: once through the cartoon, and again for exercising their democratic right to protest. The inflammatory response to their protest reminds me of the quote from Steve Biko, the South African black nationalist: 'Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked.'"
In the German papers:
In an essay published on Spiegel online the author and Muslim dissident Ibn Warraq argues that freedom of expression is our western heritage and we must defend it against attacks from totalitarian societies: "A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth. Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest. Do not apologize."
Author Richard Wagner writes in the Berliner Zeitung that the real issue is not the caricatures, but power who take advantage of the cartoons to further their politics of obfuscation: "While everyone is caught up with discussing the cartoons, the new Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made the denial of the Holocaust official doctrine. This is the real escalation facing the world, and a further violation of the UN Charter. When will he apologise?"
In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Angela Schader critics the Mohammed cartoons and the Jyllands-Posten, which has dished up "a hearty meal to radical Islamicist groups, as well as to certain Arab regimes who are ever thankful for political distractions and scapegoats."
If the democratic states start chipping away at their basic freedoms, writes Andreas Platthaus in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "at the same time they will endanger multiculturalism as we know it. Because in the absence of freedom, the stronger side always has the say. This should be foremost in the minds of people like Bernd Schmidbauer (CDU), former coordinator of the German secret services, who criticise people who 'bawl for freedom of the press' and who demand tolerance for all religious groups. Only those who themselves are tolerant can expect tolerance in return."
In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl calls for "the sections dealing with abuse of religious groups to be struck from the German Basic Law. What remained would be those on the incitement to violence, and that would be enough." Prantl looks back on the many court cases and violent demonstrations in Europe having to do with blasphemy against the Christian God, and concludes: "In democratic states, to say 'defining culture' is to say 'controversial culture'. Muslims have to learn. And Christians and agnostics still haven't learned enough."
Also writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, writer Georg Klein states that fundamentalism has its back to the wall: "The supporters of Islam are going to learn pretty quickly that no place and no time, neither the Prophet nor his faithful warriors nor any book of books can lay claim to the aura of unconditional holiness. At best, the sphere of the sacral can be screwed back to a rather decently furnished niche. Religion as a tolerated private affair, as a negotiable public matter. That is the extent of what the West can offer.
February 3, 2006
Would we have published the Mohammed cartoons if we had known what the repercussions would be? asks Jyllands-Posten editor-in-chief Carsten Juste in the lead article. "Today, the answer would by 'no'. Had we known that it would result in death threats and put the lives of Danish citizens in danger, of course we wouldn't have published the cartoons. It's obvious that, in the light of what has happened, the price for this journalistic initiative is too high. But the point is that nobody could have foreseen the consequences, and that's why it's a moot question. We couldn't have known that a group of imams would travel to the Middle East to spread lies and disinformation about Jyllands-Posten and Danish society as a whole. We could handle a trade boycott and the Confederation of Danish Industries' selling out our principles, but genuine death threats mark the border between what can be accepted and what can't.
In an interview with Le Figaro, French philosopher Marcel Gauchet is critical of how quick the West has been to bow down to Islamic demands: "The Arab countries are upset, but do their bans really reflect the opinion of the populace? Who do the protesters active in Europe really represent? We have every right to cast doubt on this alleged insult. How good it would be to set a team onto this affair, to find out who is really behind this revolt in the name of faith. The press is naive to take the supposed unity behind Islamic indignation at face value. Is that not falling into the first trap?" Gauchet also questions the ban on images of the Prophet: "It does not extend to non-Muslims."
"A battle between two civilisations is unfolding before our eyes," writes Milan Vodicka in the Czech paper Mlada fronta dnes. "When Muslim governments start demanding apologies and for the editors to be punished, it's clear they have absolutely no idea how our part of the world functions... If the Jihad Today newspaper printed a caricature of my God, I would cancel my subscription, and perhaps write a letter to the editor in chief, but I wouldn't stop eating dried dates. The Muslim world, however, is a collective world, and therefore they see blame, too, as collective blame."
Dominique Von Burg, the editor-in-chief of La Tribune de Geneve, proclaims solidarity with Jyllands-Posten on behalf of his newspaper. He argues that "freedom of expression does not preclude responsibility. Not everything is necessarily fit to publish, and errors of judgement can be made. But that does not mean we should take the argument further and rule out publishing anything that may be provocative. Isn't provocation sometimes a blunt way of encouraging reflection, of triggering a debate? ... One can respect something and still disagree with it. If a caricature is offensive to someone's sensibilities, this needs to be said. Even loud and strong. But for states to intervene as they have been doing, for an entire country to be nailed to the stake for the actions of a single newspaper - this is inadmissible."
Heiki Suurkask, writing in the Estonian paper Eesti päevaleht, says offending minorities can't be excused by quoting the principle of freedom of expression. "Denmark regards itself as a stronghold of tolerance, in which immigrants can find a home and gays and lesbians are free to live their lives as they please. But now, a different picture has emerged, one of a country which doesn't respect people of another religion. Denmark's most important newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has achieved global fame. By publishing these cartoons it has managed to offend a billion people, for the sake of testing the limits of tolerance. But Muslims do feel insulted when their prophet is portrayed as a terrorist. Would we Estonians really react any differently?"
Although this affair is worrying and ominous, those who support the European project have good reason to be happy about the cartoon dispute, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter comments. For the first time we are seeing what pro-Europeans had so eagerly awaited, namely a pan-European public which acknowledges its commitment to common European values, it writes. "In Europe, God belongs in civil society. This isn't to say that people shouldn't be open about their religious affiliations. But they shouldn't try to force them on others or use them as a weapon against democratic society. Not all those who live in Europe share these values, but the vast majority do. This is why it's so crucial that the European public discuss and defend this system of values. The staggering thing about it all, however, is that it strengthens the opposition of 'us and them', of Christians against Muslims, of natives against immigrants, of West against East."
No British papers have printed the caricatures. Yesterday the BBC showed the first page of France-Soir where all of the cartoons had been printed. According to a report by the mediaguardian (accessible free of charge on registration), The Spectator also printed one of the cartoons on its website, but then took it down again on order of its publisher Andrew Neil.
In mediaguardian, Sarah Joseph, editor of the Muslim lifestyle magazine emel, reminds Spain, France, Italy and Germany of their nasty history of fascism. "The Holocaust did not occur overnight. It took time to establish a people as subhuman, and cartoons played their part. Does Europe not remember its past and the Nazi propaganda of Der Stürmer? Now the great shape-shifter of fascism seems to have taken on the clothes of 'freedom of speech'. If these cartoons were designed to provoke Muslim fundamentalists, maybe they have done more to reveal the prejudices of Europe. Europe has a history of turning on its minorities. Will that be its future too?"
mediaguardian further reports that the Jordanian paper al-Shihan published three of the 12 cartoons. Al-Shihans "points out that Jyllands-Posten has apologised for offending Muslims but for some reason, nobody in the Muslim world wants to hear the apology. 'Who offends Islam more? A foreigner who endeavours to draw the prophet as described by his followers in the world, or a Muslim armed with an explosive belt who commits suicide in a wedding party in Amman or anywhere else?'"
The Daily Telegraph reports that Jihad al-Momani, the editor of al-Shihan who published the caricatures, was sacked. "He said that he was aiming 'to show his readers the extent of the Danish offence'", the Telegraph quotes him.
A commentary in the Daily Telegraph explains why the newspaper didn't publish the cartoos: "Our restraint is in keeping with British values of tolerance and respect for the feelings of others. However, we are equally in no doubt that a small minority of Muslims would be offended by such a publication to an extent where they would threaten, and perhaps even use, violence. This is a problem that the whole of the Western world needs to confront frankly, and not sidestep... Those Muslims who cannot tolerate the openness and robustness of intellectual debate in the West have perhaps chosen to live in the wrong culture. We cannot put it better than the editorial in an Arab paper in which the cartoons briefly appeared yesterday (before all copies were suddenly withdrawn): "Muslims of the world, be reasonable."
Most German papers today were critical about publishing the cartoons.
Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Rudolf Chimelli demands polite treatment of Muslim culture: "We've already seen in our papers various depictions of grim, bearded terrorists, lusty smiling oil sheiks, dumb mullahs. One hope that such pictures have meaning and comic, they are, in and of themselves, harmless. But by a sensitive minority, they will be used for purposes of cheap propaganda."
Stephan Speicher, writing in the Berliner Zeitung, finds that the caricatures in question are not worth all the hot air: "even unshakable rights can be used wrongly. And that is the case with these much-discussed cartoons. They are no clever objections to the irrational, no Voltairian critique, even though France Soir would like to portray them as such. They are – and this applies in particular to Mohammed with a bomb in his turban - evidence of a xenophobia which is now wondering why those offended are so offended."
In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, "ras" accuses the paper Jyllands-Posten of using the "mediocre" Mohammed caricatures to create a "provocation for provocation's sake." And worse, "for months, the newspaper refused to apologise for having insulted religious feelings, thus creating the basis for a full political exploitation of the affair."
In the Tagesspiegel, one voice to the contrary: Ali S., a Muslim German student of Iranian origin. "While we Muslims are constantly demanding equality of rights and accusing the West of applying double standards, we ourselves are turning into fascists who want special rights here, there and everywhere. If caricatures of the Christian prophet Jesus are possible in Europe, then they should also be allowed for the prophet Mohammed. Why should we we granted special treatment: is our blood redder than the others'?"
February 2, 2006
The Nouvel Obs announces that the editor in chief of France Soir, Jacques Lefranc, has been fired. The French-Egyptian owner of the paper, Raymond Lakah, apologised last night "to the Muslim community and all those who were insulted by the publication."
The New York Times reports on all the European papers that printed the caricatures. Whether the Times printed the caricature cannot be determined on the internet.
Flemming Rose, cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, claims in an interview with the Czech newspaper Lidove noviny that Danish Muslims travelled to the Middle East with the express purpose of stirring up the Mohammed cartoon dispute. "They deliberately spread lies about the way Muslims are treated in Denmark and about my paper there. Among other things, they used two Mohammed cartoons which have never appeared in a Danish paper. What we are witnessing here is a struggle between a modern secular democracy in which everyone has the right to say and write what they want and forces which are trying to push their religious taboos on people who adhere to beliefs other than their own."
In an interview with Jörgen Steen Nielsen, Islam expert Tariq Ramadan describes in the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information the recent escalation in the dispute surrounding the Mohammed cartoons as crazy. "On both sides there are people with a vested interest in an escalation of the dispute. They goad the other side with overreactions and provocations, and pull a lot of people in their wake. On the Muslim side the dictatorial regimes are using the conflict to demonstrate that they are the best defenders of Muslims and Islam. On the European side there's a right-wing bloc which has made it their business to spread an image of Muslims as undermining freedom of expression and wanting to change Western society. It will take clever and sensible people on both sides to put an end to the insults and overreactions."
In the Portugese newspaper Jornal de Noticias editorial writer Rui Camacho is surprised that the editor of Jyllands-Posten should be amazed by the reaction the caricatures have provoked in the Muslim world. "Salman Rushdie could have explained to him what happens when one questions the Muslim prophet!" Camacho notes ironically. "But the most surprising thing is that there are still intellectuals out there ready with a justification when people react to any humourous treatment of the prophet by burning books, flags or newspapers. The editor of Jyllands-Posten was right not to apologise. This is not just about blasphemy toward a God that does not laugh and does not permit others to laugh at him, it is about higher values, those pertaining to freedom of expression and freedom to laugh. ... Fanatics may burn the Danish flag because they don't like a few drawings, but not here, not in Europe, not under the Western firmament."
The Swiss daily Le Temps runs a drawing by Chappatte on its front page in which the caricaturist depicts himself saying, 'I did not draw him' while holding up a sheet of paper with the words 'Muhammad with a giant schnoz'. The editorial writer Patricia Briel analyses the consequences of the dispute. "When all is said and done, the reaction of the Arab-Muslim countries reflects the urgency and necessity of launching another Ijtihad, the effort that consists of constantly revising the interpretation of Islam's precepts in order to adapt them to the contemporary world. Today, several Muslim intellectuals are urging people to maintain a healthy distance from sacred issues – the only approach that is liable to prevent Islam from being manipulated by religious extremists. Taking up Ijtihad again, interrupted in the eleventh century, would encourage a more fruitful dialogue between Western democracies and Islamic societies."
The German Feuilletons also took up the cartoons:
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christian Geyer calls for the Mohammed caricatures to be published in as many European media as possible: "Only Europe-wide solidarity can show: religious fundamentalists who do not respect the difference between satire and blasphemy have a problem not only with Denmark, but with the entire Western world."
In die Welt Boris Kalnoky writes: "It is apparant that the demonstrations are the biggest, and the diplomatic reactions are the most vehement in countries where authoritarian regimes are under domestic pressure from Islamicist opposition forces." The boycott measures adopted also show originality. In Egypt, for example, a Danish credit is being blocked. Rainer Gatermann reports on the most recent reactions in Denmark: "Erik Svendsen, Bishop of Copenhagen, said: 'We distance ourselves both from the drawings, and from the burning of the Danish flag, which shows a white cross."
In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Aldo Keel reports both on the escalating controversy over the Danish cartoons, and on an initiative for reconciliation: "Herbert Pundik, former editor in chief of the Danish paper Politiken, suggests a highly visible sign of peace in the construction of a large mosque with a minaret and dome. To this day Copenhagen's Muslims must pray in back rooms and disused factories. The major papers should take it upon themsevles to collect the money for this 'popular donation'."
Frankfurter Rundschau correspondent Hannes Gamillscheg accuses the Danes of xenophobia: "It's no coincidence that this issue came to a head in Denmark: nowhere in Europe has the debate over immigrants been so nasty, or the immigration laws tightened so brutally. (...) In the most influential media, immigrants are consistently represented as a collective problem, never as an asset. Representatives of the Danish People's Party (DPP) have called Islam a 'cancerous abscess" and a 'terror movement'. 'War of civilisations?' asked the party head Pia Kjærsgaard, 'there is only one civilisation and it's ours.'"
Aktham Suliman, Germany's Al Jazeera correspondent, says in an interview with die tageszeitung, "I'm insulted by some things that get said and thought about Muslims here in Europe. The fact that Mohammed is being depicted is not such a problem, even if this is proscribed by the Koran. What bothers me is the lack of respect that this represents."
Also in the taz, Robert Misik regards the whole spat between the Muslims and "liberal militants" as a tempest in a teapot and suggests, "Kids, go and play outside."
There is already an entry at Wikipedia on the topic. Arabic reactions on English are hard to find. Al Jazeera has had various reports but no commentaries. Die Zeit publishes a weblog of two German Journalists who report on the reactions in Yemen.
February 1, 2006
Die Welt publishes the twelf cartoons, one on its front page. Tagesspiegel and Berliner Zeitung print some of the cartoons as well.
Even after the apology by Jyllands-Posten, the Mohammed cartoon dispute continues to rage. Yesterday a fatwa was pronounced against Danish soldiers stationed in Iraq and the Jyllands-Posten offices in Arhus and Copenhagen had to be evacuated after a bomb threat. In the commentary columns of today's edition, the paper goes on the offensive again. The newspaper points out that both it and the Danish government had extended a hand to the Muslim world, and that now it was up to the Islamic organisations and governments to calm people down. "You would have thought this crazy situation could hardly get worse, but the experiences of the past few days have taught us to be more cautious with such predictions... If the Danish imams and the diplomats responsible for setting the fire were willing to put it out, they could perhaps do so. It's up to them now to show whether they're willing to do so."
The controversy can't simply be reduced to a discussion about freedom of expression, writes Cecilia Bornäs in the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan. "The cartoons weren't published in a political vacuum. They were published as a token of friendship with the government. People who sought protection in Denmark are being treated in a manner reminiscent of Apartheid. The debate focuses on the cartoons, yet the reaction of the Arab world would hardly have been as strong if the Danish government didn't hold Muslims and Islam in such contempt. This is about concrete policies, not just some drawings in a newspaper. That's why this affair can't be compared with the controversy triggered by Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses'.
France Soir outdoes the other French newspapers by publishing the cartoons. The Online service of Nouvel Observateur interviews Serge Faubert, a senior editor at the paper: "Not everyone is obliged to share the strictures of a religion, whichever one it may be. ... I believe freedom of expression wears thin if one fails to use it. And caricature is an element of free expression. We are a republican newspaper and we fight for republican values. The moment that someone wants to forbid caricatures, that is the moment we publish them."
January 31, 2006
Carsten Juste, editor in chief of Jyllands-Posten publishes an open letter addressed to Muslims all over the world in which he apologises for the cartoons' impact (in English and Arabic): "Serious misinterpretations of a series of drawings of the prophet Mohammed have recently led to a lot of anger and the boycotting of Danish products in the Muslim world. Perhaps owing to cultural differences, the act of publishing these 12 cartoons has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world. I categorically deny these accusations. We have no intention of offending people because of their beliefs. If we have done so, it was unintentional. Jyllands-Posten disassociates itself from any kind of symbolic act aimed at demonising certain nationalities, religions or population groups."
Gilles Kepel, a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris and a specialist in the Muslim world, says in an interview in the French Liberation that "the notion of blasphemy remains an extremely sensitive one in a Muslim world that lives with the feeling of being under siege and that Islam is a religion under threat – even though many preachers and imams go around asserting that it is going to conquer the world. ... It is understandable that believers should consider themselves appalled by a drawing depicting the founder of their religion as a terrorist. While certain terrorists are islamists, that in no way means that all Muslims are."
Jurek Kuczkiewicz observes in an editorial in the Belgian paper Le Soir, "It is at once revealing and distressing that this whole affair of the 'Muhammad drawings' has occurred in Europe. That is, in the part of the world where freedom of expression remains least burdened by the 'politically correct', but where cultural and racial diversity have raised tolerance to the status of religion. The demand for tolerance, however, cannot limit the ideal of freedom to the level of the least tolerant among us. Whatever their faith."
In the German tageszeitung, Reinhard Wolff describes the publication of the cartoons as an act of "calculated provocation". "Over the past few years Denmark has gained a reputation as a country with policies overtly hostile to foreigners. This policy has left its mark not only in politics and law, but also in the public discourse. Leading Danish politicians can refer to entire groups of immigrants as second-class citizens and liken Islam to the plague without triggering major protests." Wolff nonetheless complains that the reactions of the Muslim world have been so predictable. "This reaction leaves the West no alternative but to defend the freedom of the press – even if it's a difficult task considering the unappetising nature of the cartoons."
January 27, 2006
In response to the cartoons, the Danish paper Dagbladet Information reports that Egyptian companies have started to boycott Danish products. According to the paper's acting editor-in-chief Bent Winther, they're simply attempting to conceal the democratic shortcomings of their own country with their actions. But Winther also criticises Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "The prime minister should have agreed to attend the meeting proposed by Arab ambassadors. This would have given him the opportunity to explain the Danish government's position. As we all know, dialogue promotes mutual understanding and diplomacy is the final vent before the kettle boils over and war breaks out. Now Anders Fogh Rasmussen is stuck in a no win situation. His opportunities for dialogue have run out. If he takes action, everybody will know that Denmark's export trade takes precedence over its principles. If he doesn't react, the boycotting of Danish products will probably spread throughout the Muslim world."
January 19, 2006
The Danish paper Kristeligt Dagblad responds to the criticism of Denmark's integration policies in Swedish and German newspapers. The criticism centres on the Danish government's introduction of new and tighter immigration policies and the dispute over cartoons portraying Mohammed. The author points out that in Sweden discussion about integration policy and other awkward developments is taboo. "An open and, every now and then fierce debate can help to prevent hidden frustrations from building up. In Sweden, which is currently experiencing a new wave of neo-Nazi violence, there are many more cases of racist violence than in Denmark. The same goes for Germany, where open discussion about the problems created by immigration was suppressed for many years."
January 17, 2006
Writing in Sydsvenskan, Swedish commentator Tor Billgren does not understand why the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet has reprinted the controversial cartoons. Billgren sees this as a provocation as, according to him, the discussion of the past few months was not just about freedom of opinion, but also about respect for other religions and cultures. "This is the same strategy employed by the Red Army Faction in West Germany in the 1970s. The object of its terrorist attacks was to escalate the confrontation between the police and the authorities so that 'the true face of fascism' would be revealed and the nation's proletarians would rise up and revolt. In the same way, fundamental Christians are trying to provoke Islam into showing its 'true face' in order to strengthen people's opposition to Islam."
January 11, 2006
The Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter felt the Danish government was right to side with Jyllands-Postens in the Mohammed cartoons debate and insist on freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. "The government left no room for doubt in this issue, and has therefore earned the respect and support of its EU counterparts. However, like its EU counterparts, it has also failed to accomplish the much more difficult task of establishing an open society for all its citizens. Part of the Muslim population in European countries is still having difficulties coping with an open society."
December 9, 2005
In Scandinavia, the caricatures and the reaction were already being hotly debated in the winter. Jyllands-Posten was subject to some criticism. But the Danish paper Berlingske Tidense had had enough when the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents 56 Muslim states, lodged a formal complaint against Denmark with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The OIC has overstepped the limit of what is acceptable with this campaign," the newspaper comments. "To involve the UN in this matter is a clear abuse of the organisation. Of course, it's convenient for certain members of the OIC to make a fuss, and to get their citizens to make a fuss, about some cartoons printed in a faraway country. After all, that deflects attention from the problems these countries have in terms of respecting human rights, religious freedom and freedom of opinion."
How it all began:
On September 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. These had been commissioned by the culture editor Flemming Rose, after he learned that the children's book author Kare Bluitgen had been unable to find an illustrator for his new book project: the life of the prophet Mohammed, as told for children. "He wanted to see how deep the self-censorship in Denmark lies," today's Zeit quotes Rose as saying in a detailed background article. Muslim organisations protested against the caricatures and organised a trip through Arab countries to show the pictures abroad and gain support for their cause. But in addition to the "twelve incriminating caricatures from Jyllands-Posten (...) additional blasphemous drawings, much more insulting and tasteless whose origins are unknown" were also being shown around, as Spiegel Online reported yesterday. Kaare Quist, journalist at Ekstra Bladet, explained to Spiegel Online, that "in the file, there are caricatures in which, for example, the prophet is depicted as a paedophile and a pig or a praying Muslim is being raped by a dog."