Saturday, February 04, 2006

What price must be paid for free speech? - Times

What a shame that some Europeans see in these cartoons a form of "freedom of expression".
Insulting someone or a community is different from expressing a point of view.
Considering these insults to be acceptable will only bring an end to any form of communication between communities. Is that what is meant by "freedom"?

I have seen these cartoons. They are shockingly rude. They clearly imply that Islam = terrorism. They clearly imply that ALL muslims in that sense should feel guilty for being muslims. If this is not insulting, I wonder what is.
Let us consider that these cartoons were equally insulting the jewish communities. Wouldn't the whole Western world be willing to stop any form of antisemitism to be spread in the Media?


The great debate gathered pace over a remarkable week on whether the right to express a view - whatever the cost in terms of damage to racial and religious harmony - must be defended without question

“I have seen the cartoons and was unimpressed by them. They are the intellectual equivalent equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded cinema. While there is a need for a genuine discussion about the rights of the West to define its own boundaries of free speech, these cartoons are trite, purposely provocative and unnecessary. In this case, the protesting Muslims have a point.
“Western civilisation loses out if these insulting images are the best critique that we can make. But I would point out that many Muslims, particularly in the Arab world, would have a stronger argument in favour of censorship if they began to withdraw the anti-Jewish, and occasionally antiChristian, cartoons that often appear in their own newspapers.”

TARIQ MODOOD, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy at the University of Bristol
“This week Parliament, supported by the liberal intelligentsia, decided that religious hatred was a lesser problem than racial hatred and could be effectively dealt with by weaker legislation. Events in the world are testing this view. While some want to demonstrate their right to provoke religious people, others want to demonstrate their right to be provoked. The ideal that there might be a culture of mutual respect looks forlorn, but are we also to give up on the second best of conflict-avoidance?
“In any case, satire should check the powerful, not hurt the powerless. The underlying causes of the Muslim anger is a deep sense that they are not respected, that they and their most cherished feelings are ‘fair game’.”

PETER BROOKES, Times cartoonist
“I only saw the drawings yesterday. My first reaction was ‘what feeble cartoons’. Perhaps I don’t understand Danish humour, but there was only one out of the 12 — where Muhammad’s turban seems to be a bomb — that seemed to have any meaning.
“But even that one is a poor cartoon. It is ambivalent. You can read it one of two ways: either terrorism is using the cloak of Islam, is dressing itself as Muhammad, or that Muhammad himself is a terrorist. I hate that ambivalence in a cartoon, not knowing quite what the message is. We could be misreading the intentions of the artist entirely.
“There is an awful duality about cartoonists: on the one hand, we feel we must be able to depict anything, we must be free. So as a rule, I try not to be too sensitive about these things, and all cartoonists are guilty of doing things when we have no idea what the reaction is going to be.
“And yet, as a cartoonist, I think there has to be a purpose. I cannot see any reason for these images; they just seem gratuitous. They are meaningless. Depicting Islam, there is no need to show the Prophet.
“Of course now there is so much happening, everything is moving so fast, that this looks like it will all go on and on. And, ironically, we will have to do cartoons about it.”

ZIAUDDIN SARDAR, author of Desperately Seeking Paradise: The Journey of a Sceptical Muslim
“I have spent a lifetime criticising Islam and Muslims, but I am absolutely infuriated by these cartoons. They are a provocative and premeditated insult against Islam, and a violent abuse of power. What people must remember is that we are watching the repetition of an argument that took place in Europe during the Thirties. Then, we were discussing the right to depict Jews in cartoons with racial stereotypes. Now, we are discussing the right to show Muslims.”

ROGER SCRUTON, philosopher
“People of different religions or none can co-exist — so we hope, and so we have reason to believe. But co-existence with someone requires respect for the icons, rituals and symbols of his faith.
“It is as wrong to mock the religious taboos of a Muslim as it is to pour scorn on the icons of Christianity. Unfortunately, because we have got used to the continual childish blasphemy against the Christian faith that passes for sophistication in the film industry, on television and in the art schools, we think that others, whose experience of Western society is more recent and who are not yet inoculated against its hooligan iconoclasm, will also respond with a saddened shrug when people pour scorn on their faith.
“We have so lost the habit of respect for sacred things that we are astonished to discover that others can still be devastated by public acts of desecration. This kind of blasphemy is not a form of free speech, any more than pornography is. On the contrary, it is the kind of behaviour that makes free speech impossible.”

A.C. GRAYLING, philosopher
“Free speech is the fundamental civil liberty. Without it none of the others is possible. I applaud the newspapers in Europe that have shown solidarity with Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper by reprinting the cartoons, and regard our own Foreign Secretary as pusillanimous in buckling to the artificially inflated hysteria of those who think that feeling offended gives them a licence to censor other people’s freedom to criticise and satirise whomever they wish.”

“I am strongly in favour of freedom to comment on anything, including religious matters. There needs to be some possibility to protect not only from direct incitement but from things that lead indirectly to violence. I think the spread of falsehood that can incite fear and hatred is something that should be controlled. I think people should be perfectly free to caricature any aspect of religion they wish. I am always baffled as to why it is considered blasphemous. It is made clear in Islam that Muhammad is not a divine figure. He is a human figure.”

TONY BENN, former minister
“People’s faith should be respected. To say anything that offends against the faith of others is a real mistake. (The cartoons) have caused great offence at a very sensitive time. This is not a question of illegality; that is nonsense. You just do not insult people.”

“Those newspapers that have decided not to print the cartoons at this time have acted wisely and in the public good. Freedom of speech is fundamental to our society and all religions need to be open to criticism.
“But this freedom needs to be exercised responsibly with a sensitivity to cultural differences. Respect for the deeply held convictions of others as well as freedom of speech is the mark of a civilised society.”

“Never before have we lived so closely with people whose cultures and sensitivities are so different from our own. It is as if the whole lexicon of anthropology has come to life and we are living in the middle of it.
“Many schools I visit have children from as many as 40 or 50 different countries. And the children I meet have a wisdom that sometimes we adults lack. They feel enlarged, not threatened, by diversity. They know not to assault someone else’s deeply held convictions.
“Like the Christians of my childhood, they know that each of us cares deeply about something but not the same thing; and they try to respect that fact. Civilisation needs civility. Judaism says that putting someone to shame is like bloodshed. At the end of every prayer we pray, we ask God to guard our tongue from evil.”

IBRAHIM MOGRA, senior member of the Muslim Council of Britain
“Muslims are upset, distraught and angry. I am urging them to calm down and take stock of their own lives. We should all remain within the law and not be provoked by hot-heads on both sides. Muslims take seriously the Koranic injunctions to listen to the Prophet and not to be forward in the presence of God or his messenger.
“Because of these teachings it is very easy for Muslims to feel hurt and pain when such an important person is villified in this manner. Most Muslims believe Muhammad’s teachings were primarily about living in peace and harmony with the rest of the world. So to depict him as a terrorist is deeply distressing.”

DR ANTHONY SELDON, Master of Wellington College
“Something that is grossly offensive to another culture has to be taken into account. It is completely wrong to make it a principle of freedom because in any free society you have to accept that others have taboos. The absolute principle exists the other way round too. Muslims can make expressions of horror or contempt or injury clear, but they are guilty of the same intolerance if they make physical threats on other people.”

“A bit of self-discipline is what is needed. In my view, in this country we are at least two decades ahead of some of our partners in Europe on the issues of integration, minority communities, race and religion. I have spoken in many of these countries and I am truly horrified. There is no better place in Europe than Britain to be Muslim.
“But Muslims will be feeling today as if they are the new Jews of Europe. It is ironic that some of the cartoon caricatures reprinted in the German newspapers are similar to some of the ones used to depict Judaism and Jews in the 1930s. The point is that publications have run with this story not from the traditional news perspective but from some kind of macho media statement about freedom of expression”

“Religions are keen to assure us that God will punish wickedness in ways even more ingenious and extensive than human beings can devise; if blasphemy is obnoxious to the Almighty, the best response of his human followers is surely to rub their hands with glee at the thought of what will come to the blasphemers in due course, and not seek to pre-empt God’s judgment with human laws.”

Interviews by Rajeev Syal, Ruth Gledhill, Alexandra Frean, Jack Malvern and David Charter


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