Danish cartoons: Freedom of expression or licence to insult
per Astrid Essed
11 feb 2006
With the publication of the Danish cartoons under the pretext of freedom of opinion, the European papers not only show an elementar respect for moslims, they also are escalating the existing tensions
The Danish cartoons: Freedom of _expression or licence to insult
Since a couple of weeks, a deep crisis has been developed regarding the publication dd september 2005 by the Danish paper The Jylands Posten of twelve cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, among else depicting him as a terrorist.
A number of Arabic governments and the Iran government not only asked the Danish ambassador for an explanation, also a great number of Arabic supermarkets decided to remove Danish products, for example in Saudi-Arabia, Algeria, Bahrein, Jordan, Kuwait, Morrocco, Qatar, Yemen and Tunesia
Recently, dd 6-2, the Iran government has decided to cut off all commercial relations with the Denmark.
Also the governments of Saudi Arabia and Libia has closed their embassies in Denmark.
Apart from those government-reactions, a great number of muslims protested against those cartoons, by which in many cases European embassies, in particular Danish embassies, were being violated.
Also the protests were expanded to the American military.
Recently four people were killed by the often trigger happy Afghan police, when a group of people marched on a U.S. military base in Southern-Afghanistan, out of protests against the Danish cartoons
To give a thourough analysis of this crisis and the controversy between the freedom of _expression, which is the point of view of most European media, and the lack of respect, which is the point of view of most muslims in and outside Europe, it is of importance to give a short review of the events.
The first publication of the Danish cartoons:
Dd 30-9-2005, the first publication by the Danish paper The Jylands Posten took place.
This caused a strong reaction, not only under moslims and moslim-organisations in Denmark, but also in Arabic diplomatic circles.
They asked for a conversation with the Danish prime-minister Rasmussen, who refused.
Seeing the recent crisis, mr Rasmussen has tried to calm down this by means of diplomacy, which failed.
However, he refused to make further excuses about the cartoons, calling the publications of the cartoons ''freedom ofexpression''
The second publication of the Danish cartoons:
However, despite of the crisis, which was caused by the first publication and which has also led to serious threatments to the address of the cartoonists, the Jylands Posten decided to republish the cartoons after the Christmas-period
It needs no surprise at all, that this second publication again lead to a serious crisis, by which not only the Danish government was being asked for an explanation, but also Danish products were being boycotted, diplomatic and commercial relations were broken and a huge people's protest in a great number of countries burst out.
The main protests took place in Saudi-Arabia, the occupied Gaza-area, the occupied West-Bank, Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia, the by India ruled disputed Kashmir area, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Libanon.
Probably under the pressure of the worldwide protests, the Jylands Posten offered her excuses to the moslims dd 30-1, which was being accepted by the islamic community in Denmark
The publication of the cartoons in the European media:
Soon after the first reactions from the Arabic world on the second publication of the referred cartoons, a number of European media-papers, following the line of the Jylands Posten, were publishing also the Danish cartoons, claiming that they did this under the pretext of ''freedom of _expression''
The cartoons were among else published in several Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, French, Belgian, Italian and German papers
The editor of the French paper ''France Soir'' not only was publishing them, but also added some own caricatural contributions to them.
Therefore he was fired soon after publising the cartoons
As reaction, out of socalled solidarity with his indeed unacceptable resignation and again, in the name of the 'freedom of _expression'', a number of Belgian papers were also publishing the cartoons.
Of course it is evident, that the European newspapers have the right on publishing the cartoons as an information-source for the judgment of the public opinion.
However, out of their point of view and regarding some editorial comments, they are of the opinion, that freedom of _expression can be ventilated totally, without any consideration for the religious rights of certain groups of people
Freedom ofexpression versus licence to insult:
Of course I consider freedom of _expression as one of the most fundamental rights of humanity, but that doesn't imply, that there is no limitation to it.
Without any limitation namely, anywone would be free to utter racism and anti-semitism and other fundamental violations of human rights, as being condemned by as well European legislative law as International Law
In extremis it can lead to the opinion of a Dutch cartoonist J Collignon, who remarked in connection with the crisis round the cartoons, that it is no problem to publish Mein Kampf either
Also the socalled defenders of the freedom ofexpression forget, that their own legislative law has limited a total freedom of opinion, because the rights of different groups would be violated, as is being said above
In the first place, in European legislative Law, The ECHR [European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms], article 10 guarantees the freedom of _expression, there is an addition, that states that it is limited ''by everyone's responsibility of the law''
In the Netherlands, where a great number of papers have published the cartoons, also article 7 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of _expression, there is an addition, that states that it is limited ''by each responsibility of the law''
Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution states, that racism and discrimination is not permitted.
Insult of the religion of certain groups:
More specifically yet, article 137c of the Dutch criminal law, forbids insults of the religion of the several groups in society
The insulting character of the cartoons:
It is obvious, that the Danish cartoons, from which some are depicting the for muslims holy Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist, is violating the muslims in their most sacred feelings and is therefore a violation of their religious rights.
Moreover the provocation lies in the fact, that it also implies a connection between the Islam and terrorism, which makes fundamentally no sense (being, like Christianity and Judaism, based on the principle of Love) and also a connection between muslims in general and terrorism, a serious European prejudice.
However I think, this is not only a question of legislative law, but responds also to the deeper principle of fundamental respect for other human beings.
By publishing those cartoons, the European papers not only has shown a fundamental lack of respect for the muslims outside Europe, but also for their moslims-co-citizens on their own country.
This sort of freedom of opinion bigotry is leading in extremis only to the further escalation of the growing tension between European autochtones and especially islamic allochtones, with the great risk of further radicalisation.
Reactions in the Arabic world:
Of course I am of the opinion, that the diplomatic reactions of the Arabic and Iranian government, not only regarding the boycot of the Danish poducts, but especially also against the Danish government, are extrapoportionnal, since the government of a country has no power over the edition-policy of a newspaper.
Also I condemn the reactions of violence in parts of the islamic world, which is directed against the foreign embassies.
However it is evident, that such an outburst of violence has more causes than the publication of the cartoons
Backgrounds of the violent outbursts:
Yet apart from the reaction on the publications of the Danish cartoons, it is obvious, that for such outbursts, more explanations must be seek
I am of the strong opinion, that those violent reactions, which take place in so many countries, are directly interconnected with the feelings of powerlessness and humiliations, which are being mainly caused by the European military support of the British-American occupation of Afghanistan and especially Iraq.
This is also combined with the decennia-long European political attitude to the Middle-East crisis, which is de jure condemning the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian areas and the Israeli war-crimes and human rights violations, but de facto is maintaining the status quo, by not taking any political or economical measures to pressure on Israel to implement the UN-Security Resolution 242 dd 1967, to withdraw our of the occupied territories and also to dismantle the settlements, which are illegal according to International Law and break down the Wall, which has been condemned by the International Court of Justice dd 9-7-2004, because of cutting through occupied Palestinian area.
This, in combination with the since 11 september 2001 amounted anti-Islam hysteria in Europe, from which the publication of those cartoons are one of the utterings, is leading to those violent protests, which is only being worsened by the provocative attitude of a number of European papers, from which for example the Dutch Volkskrant [literary translared: People's Paper] is one of the most extreme, by publishing the cartoons two times in a short period.
Denigrated remarks of de Volkskrant:
Not only ''De Volkskrant'' was very bigot in her defense of the freedom of _expression by placing the cartoons twice, in an editionary comment ''Geen slappe knieeen'' [''No weak knees'', by wich was meant no capitulation for ''religious fundamentalism'', which as so often in the European media is used in a wrong way] she also utttered very denigrating remarks considering the muslim protesters.
So every protest was being ''directed'' from ''the authorities'', by which they forgot, that it is highly unlikely, that so many protests in so many countries would be ''put in scene''
Further they called the protests ''opgelopte lucht'' [litery ''cooked air'', which means ''of no real meaning and irrational''], which shows a complete lack of respect for the intelligence and think-capacity of the protesters.
Further the Volkskrant also neglected a remark by a French muslimleader, who was comparing the cartoons with the anti-semite cartoons from the 30 years of the former century
Their comment was, that the comparison was not just, because the systematic nazi-propaganda of that time is not to be connected with those cartoons
Yet the Volkskrant is missing a very important point here.
Although there the anti-Islamhysteria is happily not to be compared with the nazi-propaganda from the years 30 of the former century, yet there are comparisons.
For example the Jews were being considered as untrustworthy [the same qualification is given to moslims nowaday in Europe], they would plan an ''international plot to dominate the world'' [compare with the generalisation of all moslims with the ''international terrorism''] and they were out to ''destroy the German cultural society'' [compare with the muslims, who would ''destruct'' ''the democratical European society'']
In my opinion I am also supported by no-one less than the very respected Dutch-Jewish rabbi Soetendorp, who stated that there are a number of comparisons between the anti-semite propaganda in the 30 years and the present European anti-Islamhysteria.
Political signature of the Jylands Posten:
Considering the Jylands Posten, it is perhaps interesting to commemorate, that this paper was in the 20, 30 and 40ths of the former century, a fervent political supporter of the racist-facistic regimes of as well Hitler as Mussolini
Although the past is not to be considered in this, it is being named by me, because nowadays this paper is a very right-wing paper also with ideological ties with the extreme right party in Denmark
Reaction of the AEL [Arab-European League]
The chairman of the Arab-European League, mr D Abou Jahjah, has recently decided, in reaction on the publication by the European media, also to publish a number of cartoons.
The deeper meaning is not only to explore the limits of real freedom ofexpression, by placing certain cartoons, which are a taboo in the European ideological train of thought, but also confont the European defenders of the freedom of _expression, who don´t care about insulting the feelings of muslims, with cartoons, which are shocking to them.
Considering the fact, that the holocaust is such a taboo, he has placed already a cartoon, by which Hitler shares the bed with Anne Frank
Although I can understand the purpose of this and in reactions a possible double standard point of view can be read, I think it is unacceptable to make a cartoon, even for testing this principle, of a genocide like the holocaust.
In that respect also the comparison would have more meanful, when the AEL had published a rabbi, being a terrorist.
I know almost certainly, that that would not be considered als ´´´freedom ofexpression´´, but as anti-semitism.
My other objection however is, that it is better to protest against the publication of the cartoons, rather than to place possible shocking cartoons, but of course that is the responsibility of the AEL-Europe.
Overwiewing the insulting character of the publication of the cartoons and the fact, that the freedom of _expression has its limits, when it comes to violating of the rights of groups of people, regardless whether they are cultural, national or religious, it would be wise, when the European media would not have pubish them, at least not out of the point of view of ´´defending of the freedom ofexpression´´
In the first place, there is a difference between freedom ofexpression and licence for insult
In the second place, papers have not only their responsibility to bring news as objectively as]they can, but also a responsibility to society in respecting all citizens, also people, who have a different religion and descent
Depicting intentionally cartoons, knowing it will hurt people in their deepest authentic feelings, whether religious or on another part of their identity, lacks the most elementar feeling of respect, which is also a part of the principles of democracy
By this arrogant attitude, only national and world-tensions will escalate, with as a consequence an amount of bitterness on the side of the powerless and already humiliated people in this world
It is time for Western media and a number of anti-religious or anti-Islam intellectualistic publicists, columnists, to show some respect.
Without that attitude, violent outbursts and more tensions will be the answer
I´´ll end to show my respect and appreciation for those European papers, which didn´t publish the cartoon in a senseless obsession with the ´´freedom ofexpression´´
In that respect many European newspapers could learn from the American papers, from which a very little part has published those cartoons
See for the political signature of the Jylands Posten
This work is in the public domain