Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More On Cartoons

Two separate critiques.

One, our friend Amit has weighed in on the cartoon controversy coming out in support of the indefensible Flemming Rose who began this saga by publishing the horrible cartoons, and Glenn Reynolds who mistakenly thinks publishing them on his blog is a sign of his free speech machismo.

We respect Amit a lot but are astonished by his take on the matter. He closes by citing MadMan who argues that tolerance doesn't mean that just because you hold an opinion, we are obliged to respect it. We, on our part, are also perfectly entitled to treat your beliefs with utter contempt and consider you a loon for having them.

Fair enough. In that case, if the cartoonist has the right to deliberately offend Muslims -- and this non-Muslim blogger -- surely we have the right to be offended and hold him in utter contempt. That we defend his right to free expression does not ipso facto mean we stand with him in his exercise of his contemptible expression. Flemming Rose, Glenn Reynolds and now, alas, Amit have done exactly that by trying to pooh pooh his offense.

One final point. Many of us are not offended because Mohammad was portrayed in a cartoon; the offense is in that he was caricatured as a terrorist. Those who don't consider this offensive are certainly entitled to their opinions -- but, please do not insinuate that others' taking offense to this are somehow, as Mr. Rose argues, enforcing Muslim taboos on non-Muslims. This is outrageous to the extreme and demeans logic.

Two, a couple of non-entities have issued murderous fatwas in UP. They should be tried for incitement just as the UP minister who has incited people to murder the cartoonist.

More disturbing than their lunacy is the puzzling condemnation of these fatwas by the so-called moderate Muslim leadership. Sample this:

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said the fatwa had no meaning.

AIMPLB legal adviser Zararyab Jilani told IANS: "The board has nothing to do with these fatwas; but even if we consider that the Shariat does prescribe death penalty for anyone committing blasphemy with the name of the Prophet, such a fatwa would have legal sanctity only in a country governed by Islamic law."

Is Mr. Jilani really implying that death penalty for offensive speech would be OK but for the fact that India does not follow Islamic law? Wow! This is a rather technically construed condemnation -- surely there are Muslim leaders who can find the courage to condemn these fatwa-issuing idiots without legalistic contortions? Are there any?

More by Nitin here.

13 comments:

amit varma said...

Primary Red, you say, "if the cartoonist has the right to deliberately offend Muslims -- and this non-Muslim blogger -- surely we have the right to be offended and hold him in utter contempt. That we defend his right to free expression does not ipso facto mean we stand with him in his exercise of his contemptible expression."

Absolutely. But you don't have the right to burn cars and attack embassies and threaten violence and put bounties on people's heads, thus threatening future exercise of free speech with such thuggery. When it is a matter of opinions, we all have them and should have the freedom to state them, however distasteful others find them, within the caveats placed by the law such as libel, incitement to violence etc. But to impinge upon the freedom of others is just plain wrong.

Primary Red said...

But isn't the violence that's followed just one part of the story? Aren't folks like Mr. Reynolds pointing to the violence as a device to minimize the offence of the cartoons?

They aren't saying the cartoons are terrible, but freedom of speech implies they can be published. This would be an unfortunate but acceptable position. Instead, Glenn has actually called the cartoons innocuous. Flemming Rose has implausibly claimed he didn't intend offense by publishing them. How are these positions at all justifiable?

There's more than a whif of implicit bigotry here.

This is why, while harshly condemning the violence, we cannot bring ourselves to stand with those who -- in the good name of free speech -- have perpetuated bigoted speech.

Standing with them is less about free speech; rather about, in effect, endorsing their narrowmindedness. On this issue, equal distance from both camps is a better way forward. Or so we think.

Don't you agree?

Best regards

Anonymous said...

Aren't folks like Mr. Reynolds pointing to the violence as a device to minimize the offence of the cartoons?

Sure, offence was given, but two points.

1. There are "degrees" of offence, and a reasonable response to offence has to be commensurate with the degree of offence.

2. The "degree" of offence of an offending object is to be assessed by the norms, values and standards of the society/community in which the object was created, not by the norms of those taking offence and definitely not by the intensity of reaction that the offending object causes among the latter.

As an example for point #1: Consider two pictures of Sita done by Danish artists: one is nude, and the other is clothed, but the latter is printed on toilet paper. If printed in India, both cause offence, but the latter is likely to cause far greater outrage than the former.

Point #2: If printed in Denmark, the first picture is borderline acceptable according to contemporary Western values (surely, there are nude portrayals of Virgin Mary?) whereas the latter is still offensive becase it is offensive by ANY standards.


You are claiming that the intensity of protest against an offending object determines its level of 'bigotry'. Not true. A handsome picture of Mohammed printed in India is likely to provoke violent reactions too, but that doesn't make the artist 'bigoted'.

amit varma said...

Aren't folks like Mr. Reynolds pointing to the violence as a device to minimize the offence of the cartoons?

Well, maybe Glenn doesn't find them offensive, and surely he is entitled to his opinion. Isn't it a kind of violence to demand that others should share your opinion on a subject, and to call them bigoted if they don't?

Equal distance from both camps is not possible because their behaviour is not equal. One has committed criminal acts of violence; the other merely made an aesthetic misjudgement by bring out tasteless cartoons. What is more, the second is subjective (Glenn clearly doesn't find the cartoons tasteless) and the first is not (no one can possibly defend the violence). There is no equivalence between them, although it would be fair to say that the behaviour of the protesters validates the 'bigoted' message the cartoons supposedly sent out. As if the protesters were saying, "You show HIM as a terrorist; well, we are HIS followers and we shall terrorise!"

Frankly, the protesters do Islam a far greater disservice than the cartoons do.

Primary Red said...

You write: "The "degree" of offence of an offending object is to be assessed by the norms, values and standards of the society/community in which the object was created, not by the norms of those taking offence and definitely not by the intensity of reaction that the offending object causes among the latter."

We absolutely concur that the reaction to the offensive object should not determine our assessment of the degree of initial offence. But isn't this precisely what many are doing by pointing to the violence almost as a means of justifing the provocation?

As for applying relative standards to the notion of offence, this is a tricky area. Given their relative histories, is anti-semitism a worse offence in Austria than in Iran -- or is it, as we think, equally reprehensible universally? Is racism a worse offence in Pretoria than it is in Pune -- or is it, as we think, equally reprehensible universally?

Why is the same standard not applicable to insults hurled at non-western faiths? Sorry, but a depiction of Sita in the nude is NOT ACCEPTABLE even in Denmark. If this were to happen, while we'll not riot in the streets, we would certainly not buy a lego toy for our nephew (as we just did yesterday) or plan a trip to go visit the semi-nude little mermaid in Copenhagen (as we did a few years ago). Most of all, we won't be found among those who defend such outrage.

Best regards

froginthewell said...

Amit : within the caveats placed by the law such as libel, incitement to violence etc.

Aren't these caveats an obstruction to free speech? Why is slandering a religion not to be considered as libel? Why are certain comments to women considered sexual harassment?

amit varma said...

Aren't these caveats an obstruction to free speech? Why is slandering a religion not to be considered as libel? Why are certain comments to women considered sexual harassment?

froginthewell, I believe, in the classical liberal tradition, that one should be free to do whatever one wants with oneself or one's property provided one does not impinge on the similar individual freedoms of others. To put it simply, do whatever you want as long as long as you don't mess with anyone else. That caveat -- of not impinging upon others' freedoms -- should extend to all manifestations of our freedom.

Libel can cause material harm to the person being slandered, as can incitement to violence. Thus, they are reasonable caveats. But merely offending someone's sentiments is not, because that is so subjective and everything we say will offend someone or the other. I see no reason to make an exception for any particular faith.

froginthewell said...

Thanks Amit, I suppose that resolves the contradiction I had thought your position had.

Pankaj said...

PR,

I think if you actually see the cartoons, you would find some of them genuinely funny.

That is, if you have a sense of humour. ;)

libertarian said...

And here's the Hindu Law Board that does not want to be outdone. Ashok Pandey should be indicted just as Qureshi was.

The 51 crore number puzzles me. Is 51 lucky?

froginthewell said...

Libertarian : I think the idea of "51 crore" is borrowed. That Qureshi was not indicted probably gave the courage/inspiration/licence for others to follow suit. By reacting softly to such issues we will be setting a bad precedent.

At the same time, while we should show no sympathy for them, I think there should be more dialogue between people. The philosophy of Madman etal that only tolerance needs to be there, no respect - is technically okay, but I think in this particular world where things are not working fine - developing a culture of respect rather than just tolerance will go a long way in reducing such occurences.

Xfile said...

I think the Hindu Law Board was being supremely satirical. Is that possible?

froginthewell said...

I think the Hindu Law Board was being supremely satirical. Is that possible?

Well, what explanation will they give if some crazy guy "doesn't understand the satire", goes ahead and kills the artist? What about considering the possibility that this is a ploy by p-secularists to blacken hindus ( an equally wild guess? )

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