Freedom of press or dignity of a religion?

Monday, February 6, 2006 at 21:42 | Posted in Denmark, Freedom of speech, Journalism, Press freedom | 20 Comments

The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten printed some cartoons for quite some time ago. Although I read the paper through the web quite regulary, I did not see those cartoons at the time. I monitor Danish and other Scandinavian papers for the Estonian environmental web site (Roheline Värav) whereby my focus is on the environmental news. Hence, those cartoons did not catch my eye until today.

The cartoons have caused a violent reaction against Denmark and the Danes in large parts of the muslim World. In many of the countries concerned, the freedom of press is not as self explanatory as it is in Europe and Scandinavia in particular. I guess the same could be said about the freedom of religion.

A counter reaction of the web community based on freedom of expression was bound to follow. The web site is asking bloggers to publish these banners in their blogs and web sites:

The pictures were not particulary funny. I saw them today after posting a brief entry in my Estonian blog. A reader posted a comment including a link to the cartoons. I would not have published them but I acknowledge that anyone else has the right to do so. It is a question of freedom of expression and freedom of press. The decision was obviously made by the editors of Jyllands-Posten and they were within their rights to print them.

I would not invite a person that I know to be a practising muslim for a dinner and serve them pork. Neither would I serve a muslim alcohol. But I would sure expect a muslim to respect my right to eat pork or drink alcohol as long as I am not doing it in front of their kitchen door.

More importantly, as my good friend, colleague and fellow blogger Punane Hanrahan put it in his blog today, the fact that the Palestinian people and other muslim nations have suffered a lot under western colonialism, does not justify an attack against Danish journalists when they are exercising their freedom of expression. This is a point that I would have liked the International Federation of Journalists to recognize. As a member of an IFJ member union I was somewhat disappointed to read a very vague blog post by the IFJ general secretary Aidan White in the IFJ blog (sorry, individual posts do not seem to be linkable).

It would be stupid to say that Jyllands-Posten has by printing those cartoons somehow hurt islam as a religion. Islam is strong enough not to be hurt by some innocent cartoons. And the reaction against Denmark is strongly exaggerated. It is not making islam stronger but possibly vice versa.


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  1. It is not of sentiments or whatever you are trying to say about the freedom of expression: i myself do agree with the freedom of ones thoughts n speech but it certainly doesn’t mean that you hype about the cartoon thing so much so that it will lead to more riots in future instead of a peaceful co-existence between these already war-affected nations.

    If the muslims are being hurrt by the cartoon its their right to feel so, just as the way we guys have the freedom of expression. If a cartoon of Pope Benedict or say Christ is sketched how will the Christians react to it…

    It will in the best interest of all if this discussion is stopped altogether coz there is more important things in life that needs the attention of the electronic media to create awareness among the people.

  2. Himadree, I respect your opinion but I respectfully disagree. At the same time I could fight for your right to express the opinion that I disagree with. This is indeed a matter of freedom of expression.

    Freedom of expression must apply to all topics, including religions. No religion, including islam, is so weak that it would be hurt by innocent jokes, be it bad jokes. Or do you think that Mohammed was weekend by those cartoons? I think he still means the same for believers. For us others, it really does not matter.

    You say that further publicity could cause further riots. Come on! They were just cartoons! What sort of people could get mad about innocent cartoons that were published in another country across the globe?

    I agree that there are more important events to cover than this one but nevertheless, this is not an unimportant issue. By calling the discussion off (or suggesting to do so) you are not showing much of a tolerance against people whose ideas you do not like. The whole point is that the issue should be discussed or the next thing we know, we are being asked to give up pork and alcohol on grounds of consideration. The point is that you can not force other people to live after your own believings. I would not even want to try it.

    I can not speak on behalf of the christians as I am not a believer of any religion (including atheism which is also a religion). But I have seen cartoons of popes and other christian leaders published and while some of the audiences may not have liked it, nobody would have questioned the right to publish them. Many jews that I have spoken to also make pretty wild jokes about their own religion. Each and every one of us could just learn to laugh at themselves. That would make the World a better place to live in.

  3. It is my thought that the Islam religion is making a lot of noise about this subject because it is a weak religion. They (the religion leaders (?)) are so sure that if ever, freedom of argumenting the very truth about their prophets and teaching are permitted to their people, much of what at present is imposing as true to their followers would fall like dominoes pieces.
    So, analizing all this cartoon riots in Arabs countries ignited by the Islam leaders, right into the deep of them is another motive: KEEP THE ARAB PEOPLE FROM BEING INFORMED ABOUT ALL INCONSTENCIES FOUND into their Holy Book, wich my self did not know how much it had until I’ve been reading blogs about this religion and going to the Quoran to confirm all said.
    So, let’s keep supporting the freedom of speech and of being informed.

  4. Dear lugus, I would rather not make this an issue of theology, that much more because I am a very secular person. But in all fairness, a religion with hundreds of millions of devoted followers can hardly be characterized as weak.

    As a secular person and as a journalist, I am more concerned that I am perhaps in the future being imposed on restrictions to what I may or may not write and publish. If every newspaper and web site everywhere in the World must by default abstain from publishing anything that might hurt somebody’s religious or other feelings, the freedom of expression is dead and we will be living in a global theocracy rather than a democracy. And it is not only islam that is known to have tried to impose a theocracy on us. The christian religion has a two miilenium long history which it can hardly be very proud of.

  5. Yeah, I partly agree with you. What you said about the Christian Religion in the past is true, they tried to do what’s happening now in the Islam world. We were lucky that there was an empty land where to go, AMERICA.
    I can not imagine what the fate of freedom of expression would’ve been if the first men that came to settle to America would have not been religion rebels.

    You are right about the 1.3 billion islam followers, but I’d like to see what’d happen in those countries if the people were allowed to manage the islam religion as they would like to. Say that they allow all muslims to fast or not on their ramadan, or that they are allowed them to argue about the veracity of what it is said in their Holy Book, or to search for proof of the real existence of Mahoma or what’s said about him. Do you think that the Islam religion would be as strong as they think it is in this moment. That’s my point, they try to keep the arabs in the obscure side because if all things above mentioned were allowed, the “leader” of that religion would not enjoy the kind of power they are enjoying presently.

    This is like what happened in the time of Christians, when the “leaders of the church” prevented the people to learn to read and write, just in order to keep our ancestors from access to information that could put their previleges in danger, which eventually happens.

  6. lugus, as I posted in my previous comment, I would rather not make this a debate of theology. That is to say, the issue is not the content of one religion or another but not allowing one religion or another to dictate how everybody else is allowed to behave.

    With all due respect, there are segments of the christians in America and elsewhere that are not much more tolerant than the extreme muslims. It is not just the past of christianity, it is very much the present as well. But just as the majority of ordinary christians that I know are more or less tolerant, the majority of ordinary muslims that I know in person are people who can agree to disagree. There are those within and outside all religions who fight for the civil rights, such as freedom of speach, and there are those within and outside every religion who prefer a totalitarian government.

    Let us not be devided by what we believe beyond the secular World. It is far more important that those who beleieve in freedom and democracy regardless of religious believings unite against all forms of totalitarianism, be it in the Middle East or Pennsylvania Avenue.

  7. By the way, lugus, I do not think that native Americans would agree that America was empty when the first christians arrived there.

  8. Yeah, good point about native Americans. My “empty” reference was not really literal. At least the native americans could not cause any harm no the “new guests”, as compared to presently a group of persons trying to go to another country to impose a new religion an belief. As you can guess, and I know you do, what i meant when comparing the chances that have those muslims living today– that do not agree with the present stablishment– of running away from the opression or totalitarism (at the end, are the same thing) they are facing and create a better society even with that same religion, with the chance our Christian ancestor of doing that had. I feel that the arab people will never have a chance to enjoy the freedom of speech we in our countries enjoy, and this because their Holy Book has too many rules stablished which if they ever intend to break them, then will have to go against those rules written in the Quoran, which I find really nearly impossible that someone can dare to do it in the arab world. Contrary to our Holy Book (New Testament, I am not sure about the Jews’ Holy Book) which our ancestor could stick to the teaching without breaking any rule or saying that had been written in the Chirstian Bible.

  9. lugus, I am saying for the third time now that the argument is not between religions. All religions are equally restrictive in their nature because they impose a pattern of thinking. Sure, there are horrible passages in the quoran but I could just as well quote some passages from the bible that would make your hair rise. Your life would propably be much more restricted than it is if you lived literally according to every rule established in the bible.

    Religious fundamental extremists allover and within every religion are just as bad. The war in the Balkans was not just between muslims and christians but also between Greek and Roman catholics, just as the war in Northern Ireland was between two segments of christians unable to live and let live.

    Live and let live is exactly what the World needs because without tolerance and diversity there is no other foreseeable future than destruction of the man kind. Western secular democracy has the best traditions of tolerance. If we allow our tolerant enheritage to be destroyed by extremists of any label there is no hope for survival.

  10. larko, regarding freedom of expression whats your take on one, questioning anything regarding the holocaust being a jailable offence in several countries and two, insulting and mocking someone (anyone for that matter) for the sake of insulting and mocking only?

  11. Thank you for a good question, 24-year-old! There is no short answer to it, I am afraid. I’ll make a note of returning to the subject later.

    Mocking and insulting just for fun is neither fun nor nice. But I’ll complete on that one as well on a later date.

  12. okay. good.

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