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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Cowardice on cartoon controversy


David Adams • Irish Times, 17 February 2006

A slight variation on an old Basil Fawlty line would seem to be the guiding principle of the current debate on cartoons and Islam: "whatever you do, don't mention the suicide bombings".

No doubt, if he hadn't been butchered on a street in Amsterdam, Theo van Gogh would have appreciated the almost comedic perversity of that.

For weeks now, presidents, prime ministers, church leaders and an assortment of politicians and writers from the West have been tripping over themselves to register their disgust at the Danish cartoons and offer grovelling apologies to Muslims for the offence they have caused.

In their cowardly compliance, they have acted as though the sketches are representative of nothing more than the irreverent and twisted imaginings of a few caricaturists. They have been meticulous in isolating the drawings from everything that gave rise to them.

Not one western leader has had the courage even to hint at, never mind give voice to, a blindingly obvious truth. That is, whatever else about the cartoons, they reflect a widely-held view. For the reality is that most non-Muslims do indeed associate Islam with terrorism, brutality and coercion.

How could it possibly be otherwise? For years now, the wider Islamic community has chosen either to sit mute or, at best, heavily qualify any expression of disapproval whenever acts of mass murder have been carried out in its name.

On numerous occasions, murderous religious fanatics have invoked the name of Allah and pointed to the Koran in spurious justification of their outrages, without as much as a squeak of protest from the vast majority of their co-religionists.

Virtually the only Islamic voices that westerners hear are those of the imams, with their threatening and hate-filled sermons, and their heaping of praise and conferring of martyrdom on suicide bombers, decapitators and kidnappers.

Too often, atrocities are carried out in the name of the Muslim religion and then attempts made to justify or explain them in the context of totally unrelated political circumstances.

It cannot possibly have escaped the notice of our leaders that Muslim outrage at a few cartoons is in stark contrast to the absence of any similar reaction from Islamists to suicide attacks and on-line beheadings. Or that calls for the West to be sensitive to deeply-held religious beliefs sit somewhat oddly with placards that celebrate mass murder and threaten more of the same.

Yet, rather than risk angering Muslims any further, our spokespeople remain wilfully blind to the double standards on parade and choose to pretend that the cartoons have come from thin air. They have, instead, lambasted the cartoonists and those who published their work while muttering darkly about their publication being an abuse of freedom of expression. As if, as British foreign secretary Jack Straw has suggested, publishing the cartoons breached the boundaries of free speech simply because some felt them to have been "insulting", "inflammatory", "insensitive" and "disrespectful". If those indeed marked the parameters of free speech, then, essentially, we would be free to do little but agree.

What opinion, of any note, can be expressed without being adjudged by someone or other to have been insulting, inflammatory, insensitive, or disrespectful? Besides, freedom of expression is already ring-fenced by rafts of defamation and anti-hate legislation to ensure it is not abused.

Islamic spokespeople, from right across the spectrum, have been queuing up to condemn the publication of the cartoons and complain that the West does not understand them or their religion.

Through hard experience, and irrespective of what our leaders might say, many in the West feel they understand today's Islam only too well.

What the wildly disproportionate reaction of Muslims to these caricatures did do, though, was hand a gilt-edged opportunity to those who purport to speak on our behalf.

They should have grabbed the chance to tell Muslims how they and their religion are viewed in the West; that they have no one but themselves to blame for the negative perceptions of both; and what they must do if they want to change things.

They should have made clear that Sharia law applies only to those who freely agree to abide by it and, crucial in a liberal democracy, only in circumstances where it does not run counter to the law of the state.

They should have told the Muslim community that those who really do insult and bring shame on their religion are the people who commit blood-chilling atrocities in its name, and the religious and political leaders who act as their cheerleaders.

But, of course, they did none of those things.

They capitulated instead, and, in doing so, signalled once again that the West can be blackmailed and threatened into falling into line with the dictates of Islamic religious extremists.


Reprinted with permission from the author.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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