Re: Cartoon meme

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Thu 09 Feb 2006 - 10:18:02 GMT

  • Next message: Mogens Olesen: "RE: Cartoon meme"

    Wade Allsopp wrote:

    > The matter seems to have metamorphasised from a test of the principle
    > of free speach by an obscure Danish newspaper following the viist to
    > the Middle East by Ahmad Abu Laban of the Islamisk Trossamfund and
    > Akhmad Akkari, spokesman of the Danish-based European Committee for
    > Prophet Honouring. along with some supporters who took along a 43 page
    > dossier including the cartoons and some considerably more provocative
    > images.

    There's some interesting background in the wikipedia article. I hadn't realised that the paper invited cartoonists to "draw Muhammad as they see him", following a previous article and debate about self-censorship in the face of violence from some Muslims - artists, translators, broadcasters, etc. choosing not to become involved in anything Islam-related because of the potential results.

    So, while of course the paper must have known that this would be provocative (even the seemingly-innocent cartoon which portrays Muhammad
      wandering in the desert would be prohibited by the Qur'an), it strikes me that the original article was not so much about freedom of speech as about bullying. And that this difference is important.

    The subsequent media debate has centred effectively on censorship: should we have the freedom to say/write whatever we like, or are there limits beyond which we should be censored? But actually what the paper was drawing attention to was the fact that people are censoring
    *themselves* in this area, because they fear the consequences of doing otherwise. Setting aside the question whether any of these cartoons would/should fall foul of any national law on incitement, there are other incidents that have provoked outrage in some Muslims (e.g. reading the Qur'an aloud in a lecture hall) which would never be censored in a non-Islamic country. When lecturers or RE teachers self-censor and choose not to let non-Muslim students hear the contents of the Qur'an, this is not about freedom of speech. It is about fear of violence. And that fear was there *before* the article/cartoons were published - indeed it was the reason (however misguided) why they were published. As Douglas pointed out this is an outbreak of something that already existed - the cartoons have just brought it to a head.

    > I'd say that publishing Holocaust cartoons will just further this
    > isolation as I think the reaction of most Westerners will be: Hold on
    > a minute: publishing a cartoon that suggests that there is a link
    > between Islam and terrorism (especially in the context of having daily
    > images of islamic extremists blowing 30-50 fellow muslims up with
    > suicide bombs or beheading aid workers, and the historic Muhammad
    > himself being a pretty accomplished warrior ) isn't quite in the same
    > category as denying the fact that Hitler killed 6 million Jews or
    > advocating the Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth.

    As ever, in the case of big news stories, there seems to be rapid intial evolution in the meme (the story) and that version takes over, leaving the 'truth' trailing inaccessibly behind. Why did this story become huge just now, not when the cartoons first appeared? What was the paper's motivation in printing them? What is the motivation behind individual countries' responses to the printing and subsequent events? Why have some countries' media reprinted them and others not? I'm not hearing answers to any of these questions in the media coverage of this story. All I'm hearing is endless debates about whether we should have the freedom to criticize each others' religions or not. And fatuous (as you point out) comparisons between linking radical Islam with violence, and denying the holocaust. Ridiculing Islam is equivalent to ridiculing Judaism - not to ridiculing the holocaust. Actually the sort of anti-semitic cartoons to which Scott pointed us are probably pretty equivalent to the Muhammad cartoons (except that Judaism doesn't prohibit images of the Israeli prime minister). Not, as you point out, in the same league as making jokes about the holocaust.

    And none of this seems to have a lot to do with freedom of speech. There is a significant difference between my not reading a highbrow book when I'm bored in class because the teacher tells me not to; and my not reading it because I know that if I do I'll be beaten up afterwards by the class bully and his gang. We can debate censorship and freedom of speech till the cows come home - but if we're too scared to do and say the things that society has democratically decided we're permitted to do and say, then the debate becomes irrelevant.


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 09 Feb 2006 - 10:38:56 GMT