Offense is everywhere

Today’s Lansing State Journal carried an opinion piece by Asadullah Khan on the topic of “offensive images.” You can find it here: Freedom stops at offended faith

Building on recent Muslim street-rage about caricatures of Muhammed published in a Danish newspaper six-months ago, Mr. Kahn presents a number of anecdotes demonstrating a) that the West mistreats Muslims generally and systematically, and b) religious beliefs should be immune from inquiry – of which mockery is but one form. Taken as written, there is more than enough justification for Muslim fury over the Danish cartoons. Mr. Kahn ends his article with this comment on the Western treatment of Muslims:

Just assemble this collage of double standards, collective hatred, selective freedoms and hubristic hegemony and you may understand the fury of the wretched Muslim masses around the world.

If proponents of “freedom of the press” could realize the double standards of this incident, they all might rethink that individual and collective freedoms stop where others’ freedom of choice and belief start. There are higher truths than the secular truth and logic of publishing and uttering such insults.


I have many thoughts about this. Three of them are: 1) In the context of Mr. Khan’s writing the phrase wretched Muslim masses around the world hints that this condition must be laid at the feet of the West. 2) If it were true that individual and collective freedoms stop where others’ freedom of choice and belief start, no one would be allowed to say anything. Everyman’s “higher truth” would trump every other man’s truth. Discourse would necessarily cease. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, after all. This idea can only work where one philosophy is more equal than others. 3) Freedom of the press really does not merit derogatory quotes.

Mr. Khan’s conclusion leaves little doubt where he stands, nor do his opening paragraphs:

Western publishers of offensive images overstep their mark.

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten did not publish simple caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. It demonized him by portraying him, in one editorial cartoon, as a terrorist with a bomb on his head.

These were simple, even crudely drawn cartoons. But, yes, one of them depicted Muhammed as having a bomb in his turban. Editorial cartoons, by definition, are caricatures. Caricatures, by definition, exaggerate some aspect of the entity being caricatured. In this case we can agree that that entity was not the turban.

What, then, is the connection between bombs and Muhammed? Quite simply, it is the bombings those claiming to be his followers claim to commit in his name. Jyllands-Posten did not demonize Muhammed. It demonstrated how some fanatics claiming to be his followers are demonizing his religion.

Mr. Kahn fails to mention that the cartoons in question were presented by Danish Imams to the Muslim world augmented by images of Muhammed as a pig and Muhammed in a sexual encounter with a dog. Those images were added by those same Danish Imams. They never appeared in any newspaper. I’ve heard no charges of blasphemy against these Imams for the needless distribution of the faked images.

Mr. Kahn tells us that the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which published the Muhammed cartoons refused, in 2003, to publish cartoons satirizing the crucifixion of Jesus. He does not acknowledge that these cartoons were unsolicited while Jyllands-Posten had to ask for the Muhammed caricatures, nor does he mention why Jyllands-Posten had to ask for the Muhammed cartoons: The author of a children’s book – sympathetic to Muhammed – could find no artist willing to draw for him. The artists were too frightened. Jyllands-Posten brought this multi-cultural blackmail to Danish attention. Danish Imams then conducted a careful campaign to thrust the cartoons on the world. Some other newspapers showed solidarity with Jyllands-Posten. Then boycotts and riots erupted.

Mr. Kahn does not mention that the Danish cartoons, minus those added by Muslim holy men as noted above, were published in Egyptian papers four months before the rioting was orchestrated. No rioting erupted on the streets of Cairo, no Egyptian newspapermen were threatened with death, no buildings were burned down, no boycott of Egyptian products was demanded and no one was killed. Those things only happened in places the cartoons had never even been seen, and then only after the Danish Imams fomented the rage.

Mr. Khan’s best moment comes where he is able to point to European anti-free speech laws regarding holocaust denial:

“In some European nations – France is one, Germany and Austria are among the others – it is forbidden by law to deny acts of genocide. In France, for example, it is illegal to say that the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian Holocaust did not happen. So it is, in fact, impermissible to make certain statements in European nations.”

He calls this hypocrisy. He is right.

These laws, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, are bad ideas: Not least because they give Mr. Khan an opportunity, if far-fetched, to complain of hypocrisy.

While it is not reasonable to compare the Danish cartoons to the Holocaust, and it is certainly impossible to compare the reaction of Muslims to the Danish cartoons with that of Jews to Holocaust denial cartoons, I think he has a point about “hate laws.” I just don’t think that point is what he thinks it is.

Mr. Khan’s overall presentation succeeds more as an argument in favor of special treatment for Islam in Western society than as a critique of Western concepts of the place of religion in the public sphere. If it is religious insult as a concept that is at issue, where was Mr. Khan when “Piss Christ” was on display? If European Holocaust denial laws are hypocrisy, where has he been in criticizing the daily editorial depiction of Jews as drinkers of children’s blood that appear in state controlled newspapers in Muslim lands?

Where is his acknowledgement that courageous Muslim publishers are in jail for daring to print these cartoons? I.e., an acknowledgement that some Muslims think a debate worthwhile even if they risk arrest? The debates the arrests raise involve determining where theocratic states’ rights end.

Mr. Kahn notes that:

The 13th century Christian reconquest of Spain from Muslims is celebrated by week-long fiestas in many small towns and villages of Spain. These events commemorate the ouster of the Muslims and Jews from Spain. Until the Danish incident, annually, the puppet of Mahoma (Muhammad), with its head filled with gun powder, was detonated with a cigar.

Now they only drag the puppet in the streets.

It is, of course, possible to see a celebration originating in occupied 13th century Spain as not entirely directed at 21st century Muslims in Pakistan. Anecdotally, one might even mention Mogadishu – where Americans, there on a UN peacekeeping mission, were dragged through the streets by Islamofascists.

One might anecdotally note that it was a bomb that caused the destruction of a sacred Shiite mosque last week in Iraq, a bomb which I am sure also damaged many Qurans. One might note that this act was most likely carried out by Muslims of another sect. The bombers probably were not wearing turbans.

Mr. Kahn brings up a question of religious freedom in France:

In France, where Le Monde republished the cartoons twice to uphold freedom of expression, Muslim girls are not allowed to express their religious tradition by the ban on hijab (head covering) in French schools.

Treatment of women is another whole topic; but this is the same France which has accommodated gender separated swimming lessons as a concession to Muslims. It is the same France which saw weeks of rioting by Muslim youth over the accidental deaths of some boys who were themselves responsible for the accident. It is the same France where Mark Steyn notes:

Sebastien Selam was heading off to work from his parents’ apartment when he was jumped in the parking garage by his Muslim neighbor Adel. Selam’s throat was slit twice, to the point of near-decapitation; his face was ripped off with a fork; and his eyes were gouged out. Adel climbed the stairs of the apartment house dripping blood and yelling, “I have killed my Jew. I will go to heaven.”

Is that a gripping story? You’d think so. Particularly when, in the same city, on the same night, a Jewish woman was brutally murdered in the presence of her daughter by another Muslim. You’ve got the making of a mini-trend there, and the media love trends.

Yet no major French newspaper carried the story.

This month, there was another murder. Ilan Halimi, also 23, also Jewish, was found by a railway track outside Paris with burns and knife wounds all over his body. He died en route to the hospital, having been held prisoner, hooded and naked, and brutally tortured for almost three weeks by a gang that had demanded half a million dollars from his family. Can you take a wild guess at the particular identity of the gang? During the ransom phone calls, his uncle reported that they were made to listen to Ilan’s screams as he was being burned while his torturers read out verses from the Quran.

This time around, the French media did carry the story, yet every public official insisted there was no anti-Jewish element. Just one of those things. Coulda happened to anyone. And, if the gang did seem inordinately fixated on, ah, Jews, it was just because, as one police detective put it, ”Jews equal money.” In London, the Observer couldn’t even bring itself to pursue that particular angle. Its report of the murder managed to avoid any mention of the unfortunate Halimi’s, um, Jewishness. Another British paper, the Independent, did dwell on the particular, er, identity groups involved in the incident but only in the context of a protest march by Parisian Jews marred by ”radical young Jewish men” who’d attacked an ”Arab-run grocery.”

At one level, those spokesmonsieurs are right: It could happen to anyone. Even in the most civilized societies, there are depraved monsters who do terrible things. When they do, they rip apart entire families, like the Halimis and Selams. But what inflicts the real lasting damage on society as a whole is the silence and evasions of the state and the media and the broader culture.

If the West is to be convinced that a new Crusade is immoral, then arson, homicide and death threats over cartoons must cease.

Let us leave off religious posturing, or pretending as does Tariq Ali that it is racism. This concept of racism might well apply to the broadcast of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on Islamic television – again state controlled and so representing messages directly from the governments – but criticism of Islam can’t be said be a racial insult to the diverse ethnic groups making up modern Islam.

In closing, I believe Mark Steyn has identified the agenda of those finding deadly insult in some cartoons of Muhammed

What, in the end, are all these supposedly unconnected matters from Danish cartoons to the murder of a Dutch filmmaker to gender-segregated swimming sessions in French municipal pools about? Answer: sovereignty. Islam claims universal jurisdiction and always has.

One sign in a Muslim cartoon protest in Toronto puts it plainly:
“We won’t stop the protests until the world obeys Islamic law.”