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February 06, 2006


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I have deep respect for freedom of expression, and therefore do not agree with those who argue that speech must give way to religious respect. Consequently, I find the publication of these cartoon galling not on grounds of respecting religion, but because they demonstrate what seems to be pervasive European bigotry against Muslims. After all, a European newspaper would likely not publish cartoon offending Judaism for the obvious reasons that Jews are a minority in Europe and that Europeans have a long and disturbing history of oppressing Jews. So why would Europeans be so quick to offend Muslims, another minority within Europe itself, and members of a religion which Europe has a long history of killing and oppressing (think Crusades, 19th century colonialism, or present day marginalization of French Muslims, just to pick a few examples)? Why the double standard? The obvious answers seems to be that, broadly speaking, Europeans are deeply bigoted against Muslims.

Raw Data Complex

Concern for Muslims' tender sensibilities is touching but perhaps you overlook their own bigotry and history of violence? Are you aware that Muslims have several times attempted and even succeeded in invading Europe by the sword? And compare, for example, the numbers of churches in Riyadh with the number of Mosques in Paris. Think of their treatment of women today in many parts of the Moslem world -- have you seen the film "Osama"? And remember their central role in the slave trade of sub-Saharan Africa. I think when it comes to bigotry and violence, the Moslem world can hold its own with any culture.

But personally, I am optimistic that something good will come out of this furor i.e. a bit of shock treatment for Muslims, both in Europe and in their home countries, (to which they could return if they find Europe so oppressive) which may help them gain some sensitivity to the feelings of others.


The reason US newspapers are not publishing some of the 'offensive' cartoons is simply out of fear. Fear of harm to the editors, publishers and their families. It has nothing to do with 'understanding' - think of all the crucifixes bathed in urine that the media have reported on over the years. That was offensive - but no one feared physical reprisals.

Furthermore, your statement, "I suspect that many rioters do not understand how offended we are, in turn, by their violence." is naive at best. They are not trying to understand nor do they even want to. This is intimidation which is leading to self censorship and ultimately to appeasement. Call it "chamberlainism" if you like because that is exactly where, unfortunately, we are heading. In the mind of these Muslims who are 'offended' by the cartoons, they only view the West's "attempt at understanding" in all its forms as weakness.

When we ever learn?

Kimball Corson

Saul writes,

". . . I suspect that many rioters do not understand how offended we are, in turn, by their violence. If so, our inability to understand one another makes it even less likely that we will master the strategic thinking necessary to know when it is wise to compromise and when it is better to draw lines and show strength by refusing to budge."

I respond:

This is precisely the point. That said, after the many bombings in Europe, some of the cartoons really were and are fair game, but we could have left Mohammed out of them and recast them to make the same points.

To be sure, the Muslim response to them has been outrageous, from our point of view. And their violence should lead to swift criminal remedies, not appeasement. But we must also exercise some restraint in picking our points and how we present them and then determine not to stand down and hold our ground on our freedom of speech.

We really do have a religious and cultural war at hand that our immigation policies, foreign policies and preemptive wars have only made worse, all in our naïve, faith-based belief that we are going to bring western values to the Islamic world and drag them kicking and screaming into the 21th century. It is a silly and expensive crusade, if you will, and we picked the fight with Afghanistan.


Raw Data Complex,

Your comments are largely misinformed or beside the point. First, I never argued that Muslims are perfect, for they are not. I merely wanted to expose European bigotry, which is the issue that is raised with the publication of the cartoons.

Second, although Muslims have tried to invade Europe, the Europeans were the ones that initiated any aggression between civilizations (if that's the right term) during the First Crusade, and their incursions into the Muslim world have been far more pervasive then any Muslim incursions into Europe. Far more Muslims have died under European swords or tyranny than vice versa. Any basic textbook would edify you on that fact.

Lastly, you try to score points by mentioning the absence of churches in Riyadh. Of course there is a dearth of Christian houses of worship on the Arabian Peninsula, but that's because the Arabian Peninsula contains the Hijaz and is therefore the most sacred area of the world to all Muslims. The fact that there are no churches in the Hijaz or the Peninsula on which the Hijaz sits is no more surprising than the fact that there are no mosques in the Vatican.


I am quite convinced that the vast majority of violence in respect to this situation is not directly about the free speech issue. Most Arabs and most Muslims value free speech just as most Americans or most Europeans (Though, i would remind that many European states make many types of speech illegal). But, the vast majority of the violence is latent frustration at overall Western Imperialism and anti-Islamism, and these cartoons were used as an excuse to vent that frustration. This is a political issue, not a speech issue really. And, the West has put so much pressure on Middle Eastern states like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and against the Palestinians, such that it is no surprise that any little spark could start a fire.

The most annoying thing is that there is so much racism in the West that none of the context will be seen and this violence will just be, again, used to say, "see how uncivilized Muslims are... they don't even believe in free speech... they are just violent masses..." Obviously forgetting the daily threats and bombs the USA and Europe direct at the Middle East on a daily basis.

Just to put things in perspective, I will leave you with a quote from the always hated president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He once said, "Civilized nations don't need nuclear weapons." And he was 100% correct about that.



And how do you intellectualize/rationalize this?

"Tehran papers announce international contest for cartoons on the Nazi Holocaust. Winners will be awarded gold coins."


Levmore: "It may be that we simply do not understand the offense."

Of course "we" don't understand how publication of silly cartoons in The Netherlands could lead people to do all the silly and stupid stuff we're reading about now.

Just as I am unable to understand why an exposed nipple on television resulted in the uproar we saw two years ago. (Not to say that a lot of puritanical talk about censorship is the same thing as burning embassies and threatening lives.)

On one view, though, it may be more noble to get worked up over a picture of one's prophet with a bomb on his head than over a nipple. Unless, of course, your prophet is a nipple, and Janet Jackson's, no less.

Maybe the reaction to the nipple is a different kind of offense. But I still don't understand the "offense."

The point: the inability of some of us to understand the offense should not be taken as evidence of "the West's" inability to understand "the Muslim world."

It's probably more accurate to say that some of us with a certain world view (skeptical, liberal, non-religious, etc.) find it very difficult to understand the offense.

That said, my guess is that most of the people whom the nipple offended or whom desecrated crucifixes offend DO understand the offense that some Muslims take when their holy man is made the object of mockery. When Jesus is mocked, people get offended.

Of course, they usually don't respond with violence and threats. But they are offended. And who knows what some of them might do, if they knew the government would let them run wild for four or five days, or if they didn't have jobs to be at, or football games to watch.


My apologies: Denmark, not the Netherlands.

To confuse the Dutch with the Danes: I hope no one takes offense.

Kimball Corson

h writes:

“I am quite convinced that the vast majority of violence in respect to this situation is not directly about the free speech issue. . . [T]he vast majority of the violence is latent frustration at overall Western Imperialism and anti-Islamism, and these cartoons were used as an excuse to vent that frustration. . . [T]he West has put so much pressure on Middle Eastern states like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and against the Palestinians, such that it is no surprise that any little spark could start a fire.”

I respond:

This is very troubling and, as I think about, very likely a part of the problem, if not a complete explanation. However, Muslims in America have not gone on a rampage. Why? Are they simply less frustrated? Do they not also face anti-Islamism? Are they also not sensitive to US pressures brought to bear on their homelands, the countries identified? Is it that they did not riot here because they better understand the importance of free speech among our other liberties and appreciate the economic opportunities America affords them? Or have they become more secularized than their foreign compatriots? Why the difference in response? Any help here?


Levmore writes: "I suspect that many rioters do not understand how offended we are, in turn, by their violence." To this I respond that many Americans do not understand how offended Muslims are by violent occupations of their lands by the Israelis and the American army.

Kimball Corson

I strongly concur with RB's last post. The scale of our atrocities totally dwarfs any riot damage, and we still don’t get it! We have a serious empathetic blind spot.


I have to say that I've been dismayed by the level of discussion here by those on all sides of the issue (and there are more than two). Indeed, while I am completely empathetic towards the previous post, and its correct pointing-out that large and significant segments of the American public do not - or choose not - to understand the humiliation (and general awfulness) of being bombed on a day-to-day basis by the American armed forces, it's not so simple as an issue of "Muslims" and "their lands," etc. Let's pause for a moment, take a breath of humility, and realize that there are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, a small percentage of which live in the Middle East. Indeed, the largest concentration of Muslims in the world (nearly 500 million) live in the South Asian countries of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, and there has been very little violence surrounding this issue in those countries. In sum, I think there is some vast disaggregation that needs to be going on when speaking about Muslims - and also "the West."

And on that note, I'd also encourage people to think about speech in a less simplistic manner. I'm not going to do the topic justice in this short post, but I think different kinds of speech - political, sexual, religious, commercial, hate - are tolerated in greater and lesser degrees in different places. It's not the case - indeed, the claim is simply non-sensical in its over-generalizations - that "Muslim countries" as a whole do not value "speech" as much as "the West." If we look at individual countries (and areas within countries, e.g. the Bible Belt), and specific types of speech, I think we will see important variation. Of course, to know this requires experience living abroad, and curiousity - not armchair philosophizing. Sorry folks, the New York Times doesn't cut it in today's world. Al Jazeera is a good place to *start* - as long as the U.S. army does not blow it up in one of its continuing attacks on the channel and its reporters and bureaus.

Kimball Corson

JR, I was with you, reservedly -- for generalizations economize and suit this format -- until you opted for Al Jazeera over the Times, then you lost me. A broadcaster that runs whatever anyone hands it is suspect in the first instance. However, that said, notice how few Al Jazeera stories are picked up, translated and rebroadcast for the American public. It is almost as thought someone does not want us watching Al Jazeera. From my experience of living outside the country, the failue of the American news media is more a glaring failure in coverage than in presentation.

Raw Data Complex

It seems to me that a large part of the problem might be some self-image amongst Moslems which makes them so much at the mercy of what others say and hence so upset by what ONE editor in a small town in Denmark has done. The reaction is so unbelievably out-of-proportion. And I wonder how a people with such a long martial history can so consistently cite the (supposed) terrible humiliations heaped upon them and blame their own terrible economic/social condition on others -- the West (and mostly Jews, I assume.) Such self-pity seems so inconsistent with the spirit of the warrior. We hear no such simpering self-pity from the Vietnamese, for example, people who might indeed have a legitimate gripe against France and the USA. But no, it is the Islamofascists (and their friends in the West) who complain continually about bigotry towards Moslems etc etc, as if Moslem capital, education and native intelligence have been taken away by others and they are but leaves wafted in the winds.

Raw Data Complex

Btw, there is an interesting (and pessimistic) post on Islam and "shame culture" at


From The Daily Times - Pakistan:
Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bishop condemns ‘blasphemous cartoons’

Staff Report

LAHORE: Bishop of Lahore Dr Alexander John Malik, who is also the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, has condemned the Danish government and the press for publishing ‘blasphemous cartoons’. The bishop said that freedom of expression did not permit hurting people’s feelings. He demanded the international community and the European Union take action against those involved.



Raw Data Complex,

Your post in not worth responding to. Your use of the term "Islamofascists" is so deeply bigoted (you combine the name of a major world religion with some of the worst murders in human history!) that it reveals you are not interested in a discussion, but rather in hatemongering.


On the one hand, these drawings were not incidental. They were intended as a "poke" at the prohibition on representations of the prophet. Note, for example, the cartoon with him examining a piece of paper (presumably a cartoon) and holding back two vengeful men with scimitars, saying "Easy my friends, when it comes to the point it is only a drawing by an unbelieving Dane..."

[they're here http://www.perlentaucher.de/artikel/2888.html if you're looking]

So the "insult" was, I think, deliberate, but it draws out the important point here:

Whether we understand and repsect the prohibition or not, it is hard or impossible to respect the insistance that it be observed worldwide by believers and unbelievers alike. When the faith of others demands, for example, particular dress or behavior in particular places, respect is easily given and may be rightfully demanded. When faith demands that certain expressions or representations appear in no place and from no hand anywhere in the world, however, it demands too much.

It is intolerant, insensitive and insulting in the extreme to demand that another culture -- one in which light-hearted political cartoons that are nonetheless emblematic of treasured, fundamental freedoms of expression, are freely created and exchanged via the popular press -- yield absolutely in the face of this sectarian prohibition. I wish to be respectful, and to show my respect in any reasonable way, but see no reason to stand for this.


Just thought you may be interested in a local Muslim's take on Cartoongate.




Raw Data Complex

RB writes:
"...use of the term "Islamofascists" is so deeply bigoted (you combine the name of a major world religion with some of the worst murders in human history!)..."

I don't use "Islamofascism" as shorthand bigotry but as a way of describing people who are so sure of their own (Islamic) holiness that they urge, for example, the beheading of an editor who publishes things they don't like. What would you call that? Would you prefer "Islamic Extremism?"

Or if you have a better term for people of the Islamic faith who act in a fascistic manner, tell us!


Raw Data Complex,

So long as you also use the term fascist to describe Jews, Christians, etc. who act in what you deem to be a fascistic manner it would seem to me that you are not being bigoted. Nonetheless, the way you throw around the word fascist is inappropriate and unnuanced. You clumsily try to impose a term describing one set of historical cricumstances and thinking onto a completely different scenario. Why? I suspect you do it to score rhetorical points, rather than to be descriptively accurate.

Raw Data Complex

Even though have avoided substantive response to my questions, I'll accept your statement above as a gracious concession.

Deborah Spaeth


"That said, after the many bombings in Europe, some of the cartoons really were and are fair game, but we could have left Mohammed out of them and recast them to make the same points."

Whose "we"? Are you Danish, Kimball?

Kimball Corson

Actually, half Danish and half English.

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