Picking up on Dave’s point, it seems to me that the pork and lego lobby are acting like they’ve been drinking Special Brew nonstop for the past three days. But never mind the pictures for a minute. Let’s look at the words. The following is from the article that accompanied the cartoons in question:
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. [
From this it’s pretty clear that the sole purpose of the exercise was to offend. That makes it different from Jerry Springer the Opera, which offended some Christians as part of a more general assault on the culture, or the Bezhti play, which offended Sikhs by airing some dirty linen from within the community, ie by raising issues of wider social importance. This is why the cartoons themselves were so crap. All that was necessary was to scribble something down that violated a particular superstition against idolatory.
Legally, I believe that the people concerned have the right to do this. But the article also says that refusal to bait muslims is a form of self-censorship. When one of the cartoonists decided to use his right of free speech to take a jab at the paper, the editor accused him of cowardice. Papers in Britain don't pick up the cartoons, and the cry goes up: “creeping sharia.” Some jokers at the Spectators start raving about Foucault, presumably on the grounds that he’s French and they’ve heard of him. As I write this, Mark Steyn is beginning to froth into his beard: onward Christian nationalist soldiers, marching as to war.
Well, I’ve got quite a few Muslim neighbours, so I can fulfil my duty personally. I could print out that cartoon showing Mohammed with a bomb in his turban and shove it through Mr Sultan’s letterbox. He only lives a few doors down the road, so it wouldn’t take long. The thing is, he works a fourteen hour day in a restaurant kitchen, so there’s a chance that he’d never see it otherwise. And then he wouldn’t fully understand the principles by which a free society lives.
Principles are one thing, sympathies another. In principle I support the right of any newspaper to print cartoons of Mohammed and the right of anyone else to reproduce them. As far as sympathies go, can I just say that if you side with a group of effete right wing pseudo intellectuals in making sport of a decent, inoffensive and hardworking group of people like my Muslim neighbours, then you ought to be fucking well ashamed of yourself. Repeat this statement on your own website. Refusal to do so is equivalent to self-censorship.
It’s sad that a decent group of people can be made vulnerable to baiting through their own superstitions. And I’m pissed off at being effectively complicit with a bunch of people who I normally wouldn’t piss on if they were burning in the gutter, but that’s the way these things go. Freedom of speech had a good day when the Religious Hatred Bill was gutted, but it’s been having a lousy time since then.