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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 10:51

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I think that those who are condemning the AWL for reproducing the offending cartoons are getting the wrong end of the stick. How are people to ascertain whether they are offensive (or not) if they are not broadcast in the media in Britain? My newspaper has not reproduced them. Is (say) Searchlight being reprehensible when it reproduces cartoons from far-right papers to show what is being said about in those papers about blacks, Asians, Jews, etc? I don't think so.

My problem with the AWL position is that its main position is 'free speech'. Socialists must proclaim the right of free speech; after all, it is through the free exchange of ideas that people can decide upon the best way to run their affairs. Also, it has so often been the case that it is the left that is a victim of restrictions upon free expression, so we have a vested interest in it as well.

Nevertheless, free expression also means the publishing of material which is deemed by some people or another to be offensive. It is clear that the Danish cartoons offended many Muslims, not just the head-bangers who went went around calling for censorship and worse. When Muslims as a whole are under attack from bigots, the portrayal of Mohammed as a suicide bomber is a provocation to all Muslims; it's not surprising that they're annoyed. I see no need in endorsing acts that anger a religious group that is already under attack. The paper had the right to publish the cartoons, just as the Daily Mail has the right to publish its nasty rants. But it also has the obligation to recognise its irresponsibility in doing so in today's climate.

One must ask: why were these cartoons published in the first place? The paper in which they appeared has a long history of supporting right-wing causes; a pal of mine who spent many years in Denmark and knows the place very well told me that it's called 'Pesten' -- that is, 'pestilence' -- rather than 'Posten' by left-wingers there. There are a lot of anti-Muslim sentiments in Denmark. A responsible editor would ask himself whether he wishes to add to these sentiments, or try to decrease them. I do not believe the Posten editor to be a naive man; I consider that he knew exactly what he was doing, just as those running the Daily Mail here know exactly what they are doing. In short: publish something that is bound to be considered offensive, then howl 'free speech' when the (hoped for) reaction takes place. An old trick, much loved by fascists and other bigots.

Clearly, socialists can have no sympathies for the Posten editor or for the cartoonists. Secularists, that is to say, genuine ones, try to enlighten people about religion, not gratuitously insult religious believers. We are hardly going to win over religious people to our ideas if we gratuitously insult them. Established religions, Islam and all, are not sacrosanct, of course, there is scope for attacking their backwardness, bigotry and hypocrisy; but that's not at issue here. The Posten cartoons, as we can see, have nothing to do with an enlightened critique of religion, but are a calculated provocation.

That said, socialists can have nothing to do with the jihadists demanding an end to criticism of Islam, and an end to free speech altogether, as one placard put it. The cartoons have been an absolute gift to every Islamicist head-banger, and permitted the extreme mullahs to appeal to their followers to go on the rampage. They would try to ban well-reasoned analyses of Islam such as Rodinson's Mohammed, as well as seeing nothing wrong in publishing vile caricatures of Jews (as they do).

But in Britain and other Western countries, these people are but a tiny proportion of Muslims. Many Muslims who are not by any means fanatics were angered by the cartoons. By merely posing the issue as one of free speech, the AWL is in danger of alienating those Muslims who accept the norms of a largely secular society, including the idea of free speech and religious freedom, but who also are unhappy at seeing their religion mocked and themselves portrayed as suicide bombers and general headcases.

Surely that's where the concept of the Third Camp comes in. We defend free speech and the secular critique of religion against the jihad merchants of extreme Islamicism; we also oppose anti-Muslim provocations by right-wing reactionaries made under the guise of defending free speech.

Paul F

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