Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Prophet of Doom

There aren’t quite any fatwas yet, but if there were, the above image could get the cartoonist killed. As it is, the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten has got its home country into trouble with muslim countries because it printed cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. He isn’t ever meant to be depicted visually because apparently, to do so would distract from the greatness of Allah.

It started when the paper printed the offending cartoons, and a cacophony of protest washed northwards from muslim countries and crackled over the country lanes of Jutland. The paper has had its second bomb threat in as many days.

Ambassadors from offended countries issued statements of reproach through diplomatic channels, as other European papers showed their solidarity on freedom of expression issues — by reprinting the cartoons themselves.

And then, with a sick sense of inevitability, the first diplomatic rebuke arrived from none other than Norway! Apparently Norway “understands the anger and dismay” (my italics) felt by the aggrieved states, and feels that for a Norwegian paper to reprint the cartoons is “not positive for the dialogue between different cultures and people of different religions”.

Germany’s Der Spiegel said:

But what should one call such a statement? Preventative capitulation? Suicide out of fear of death? A contribution to a multicultural life in which one side acts insulted and the other side promptly takes distance from itself? Or perhaps simply: The interplay of extortion and opportunism.

Today, at least outside of Norway, there is precious little solidarity with Jyllands Posten. The conservative daily Die Welt was the only German paper to show enough courage to reprint the caricatures. In Paris, France Soir stepped up to the occasion.
And what happened then at France Soir? Hmm. Let’s see:

Under the headline “Yes, we have the right to caricature God”, France Soir covered its front with Buddha, the Christian and Jewish deities and the Prophet all sitting on a cloud. The Christian God says: “Don’t complain Muhammad, all of us have been caricatured.”

Shortly after the paper appeared, however, its managing editor, Jacques Lefranc, was sacked. Raymond Lakah, the paper’s owner, issued a public apology: “We express our regrets to the Muslim community and all people who were shocked by the publication” of the cartoons, he said.

The Danish paper has now also been forced to apologise. Its editor has done so reluctantly, conceding that the forces of self-righteous indignation have won again, and predicting that nobody in Denmark will draw a cartoon of Mohammed for the next 10 years or more.

Whatever the truth of that augury, here is a page which has an article on the scandal and full-size reproductions of the cartoons. There’s a blog, called ‘Draw Mohammed Week’. MetaFilter discussion. Latest updates on this Wikipedia timeline. And finally, I’ll also support France Soir as it was before its editor was sacked, for writing this:

It is necessary to crush once again the infamous thing, as Voltaire liked to say. This religious intolerance that accepts no mockery, no satire, no ridicule. We citizens of secular and democratic societies are summoned to condemn a dozen caricatures judged offensive to Islam. Summoned by who? By the Muslim Brotherhood, by Syria, the Islamic Jihad, the interior ministers of Arab countries, the Islamic Conferences — all paragons of tolerance, humanism and democracy.

So, we must apologise to them because the freedom of expression they refuse, day after day, to each of their citizens, faithful or militant, is exercised in a society that is not subject to their iron rule. It’s the world upside down. No, we will never apologise for being free to speak, to think and to believe.

Because these self-proclaimed doctors of law have made this a point of principle, we have to be firm. They can claim whatever they like but we have the right to caricature Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Yahve and all forms of theism. It’s called freedom of expression in a secular country ...

For centuries the Catholic church was little better than this fanaticism. But the French Revolution solved that, rendering to God that which came from him and to Caesar what was due to him.

Moving on, lest I explode: lovely panoramas of New York, via Gothamist. If you live in the UK and are interested in the historical mapping of your surname, make with the clicking. The perils and pleasures of literary translation. (I once had some experience of this, and my god, it was fun. And infuriating.)

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