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The cartoons aren’t about secular freedoms versus intolerance
by Graeme J. Davidson,
11 February 2006

The Koran doesn’t forbid images of the Prophet and representations of him are available in markets in Shiite Iran, Egypt and South Asia. Even so, Islam prohibits idolatry, and the caricatures of Mohammed as a Bedouin terrorist were a shocking insult. They’re as offensive as a cartoon of Christ crucified for paedophilia.

.... How would you feel if someone spread it around that your kid was a ‘dumb loser’? Wouldn’t your hackles rise as you rush to defend the child you love?
.... That’s how devout people feel when others mock what they love and would die for. For Muslim, Christian or Jew the love of God is at the heart of who they are – above self, family or anything else.
.... Many of us find that hard to grasp. Instead, we treat religions as ideologies that need to adjust to secular values and not inflict their dogmas on us. That’s why Denmark’s rightwing Jyllands-Posten published the caricatures of Mohammed last September. The newspaper wanted to test whether radical Islam had limited freedom of expression.
.... Cultural editor Flemming Rose justified it by insisting, “Religious feelings cannot demand special treatment in a secular society”. Really? Three years ago, his paper refused to publish cartoons lampooning Jesus. A 2004 report by the European Network Against Racism said Jyllands-Posten was particularly anti-immigrant.
.... Many who saw the caricatures wondered what the fuss was about. They seem tame compared to how we ridicule Christianity – as in South Park’s Bloody Mary episode, showing a haemorrhaging Virgin Mary, scheduled for the C4 television channel in May.
.... The Koran doesn’t forbid images of the Prophet and representations of him are available in markets in Shiite Iran, Egypt and South Asia. Even so, Islam prohibits idolatry, and the caricatures of Mohammed as a Bedouin terrorist were a shocking insult. They’re as offensive as a cartoon of Christ crucified for paedophilia.
.... All week our media has chanted that we are a secular democratic society. Translate that as meaning if the two-thirds of New Zealand residents who said they were Christian in the 2001 census have to put up with insults, Muslims can too.
.... We miss the point when we say the issue is about secularism, modernity or freedom of speech versus intolerant faith. Nor is it a clash of cultures or about whether we should arrogantly tell Muslims to lighten up. It certainly isn’t about radical Islam restricting our freedoms or about learning the truth of hard won press freedoms. That’s how ivory tower commentators and spectators with a Sunday school understanding of religion see it. It’s about when, if ever, it’s right to lampoon those we love so dearly, including our children, God, prophets and what is holy to us. Freedom of speech means we can, but it doesn’t mean we should.
.... Most of the world’s press avoided showing the cartoons, producing editorials about freedom and the need for responsibility. They said it was also wrong to publish anti-Semitic cartoons, as the Nazis did – and some Arab media still do – or child porn for readers to make up their own minds.
.... To ram home that the Mohammed caricatures were an abuse of freedoms, the Arab-European League's website showed anti-Jewish cartoons, including one of Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, while Hamshari, Iran’s main daily, ran a competition for Jewish Holocaust cartoons. The Jerusalem Post retaliated by publishing the Mohammed caricatures – proving how press freedom can fuel a global crisis.
.... Aljeezera television believes audiences need to know the consequences of violence. So it shows the gory details. New Zealand television airs a self-censored sanitised version. In France, it’s against the law to deny the Jewish and Armenian Holocausts. Our own country refused a visa to Holocaust denier David Irving in 2004.
.... All our media rejected Murray Ball’s political comment cartoons depicting a prophet.
So free expression has limits decided, seemingly in the absence of ‘hate’ laws, by popularity and bottom line ethics.
.... Despite cries of blasphemy from Roman Catholics, in 1998 Te Papa championed freedom of expression when it displayed the British artwork Virgin in a Condom. Offending our Catholics was the Museum’s bizarre way of achieving its mission to be a ‘forum for the nation to present, explore, and preserve the heritage of its cultures’.
.... Apparently, what was good for the goose wasn’t so good for the tax-fed gander. When a brewery put up a billboard near Te Papa showing drinkers at a bar with the slogan ‘Te Puba. Our Place’, the Museum, outraged at this insult to their shrine, pressured the brewery to take it down.
Prime Minister, Helen Clark accused The Dominion Post and The Press of acting gratuitously.
.... It wasn’t essential to show the cartoons when a description would suffice. But it’s unfair to abuse editors who struggled with the ethical decision of whether it was right for readers to make up their own mind and risk repercussions.
.... Religious people enjoy satire about some things in their faith, but there has to be a damned good reason to insult others – or tolerate insults to those we love.



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