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The Parameters of Free Speech

David Adams • 5 March 2006

I was surprised that in taking issue with a recent article of mine, Cowardice on Cartoon Controversy, Mick Hall, who normally writes on a range of issues, chose not to reply in person but, instead, forwarded a piece, Unreal Paradigms, by another author, Mike Marqusee.

I can only assume that the views expressed by Mr Marqusee accurately reflect Mick's own.

From the outset, let us be clear about one thing: Muslims are devotees of a religion and not an ethnic grouping.

They come from a myriad of racial backgrounds.

Easily the most outrageous statement ever uttered in my presence - and that's saying something - came from a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Muslim of Anglo-Saxon origin, who openly declared at a meeting in Belfast that Israeli children were "legitimate targets" because one day they would be drafted into the Israeli army.

I make that point simply because, increasingly, those who dare criticise aspects of modern Islam are erroneously accused of being racist.

Predictably, from as early as the second line of his article Mr Marqusee lays this false charge by describing the Danish caricatures as, "A witless racist cartoon …"

This crude attempt to muddy the waters gives an early indication of something that soon becomes apparent: the author has never seen the cartoons upon which he attempts to pass judgement.

He talks, throughout his article, of "cartoon" in the singular, seemingly unaware that there were, in fact, a number of cartoons printed.

Even if he had benefited from actually seeing them, his contention that, "It (sic) was devoid of humour, irony, artistic or social merit…" can, nevertheless, be dismissed as irrelevant to the debate.

Though, of course, he is entitled to his opinion, those are mere subjective observations based on personal taste.

As one peruses his article further, something else soon becomes clear about Mr Marqusee: he is not above indulging in a little racial stereotyping himself.

This is first evidenced by his claim that British commentators are, "…members of a notoriously mono-lingual majority whose knowledge of other cultures is often limited to the menu at an 'Indian' restaurant (usually run by a Bangladeshi or Pakistani)".

Has he not noticed, then, that today's Britain is a multi-cultural society?

Or, does he believe that each of the various communities in Britain exists in its own hermetically sealed little space and never interacts with, or learns anything from or about, the other groups around them?

Moreover, how he squares an alleged British lack of knowledge of other cultures with "…the hundred odd years…" of western colonialism he complains of later in his piece is never explained - bearing in mind that during the period he alludes to Britain was the foremost colonial power in the world.

A far more disturbing insight into the thinking of Mr Marqusee, however, is provided by these few lines: "Crucially, across Europe, the market the media aim to capture is overwhelmingly white and non-Muslim. In this market, coverage of jihadi extremism takes on a prurient tinge. It's exotic, it's threatening and it makes the white European feel smug and superior. Producers and editors are reluctant to admit it, even to themselves, but the ingrained assumptions and festering resentments of white supremacy make the story resonant for readers and viewers and shape the way it is constructed."

Leaving aside obviously racist sentiments such as "the ingrained assumptions and festering resentments of white supremacy", Mr Marqusee is actually making the ludicrous and perverse claim that there is public demand in "white" Europe for "jihadi extremism" because of its "prurient tinge" and because it is "exotic" and "threatening".

He claims that the European media "aim to capture" this market.

As though, when the Islamic extremists murder and butcher innocents, they are merely supplying what the (white) European media and its audience crave.

It has to be noted that it has only ever been a few Arab television stations that have carried unedited footage of beheadings and the like.

Should we read into that, then, something about where a genuine appetite for "jihadi extremism" lies?

It is the jihadi extremists themselves - seeking to terrorise others and for the edification of an audience of like-minded followers - and not the European media that murder people live on the internet.

Another point before I leave Mr Marqusee: he claims, "… the western media is cautious about testing free speech, especially when it comes to exposing government secrets or embarrassing rich people who enjoy recourse to libel lawyers".

If the author really believes that, then he appears to have as little knowledge of the western media as he does the Danish cartoons.

False claims on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the torture of Iraqi prisoners (not to mention the plight of prisoners at Guantanimo Bay) are only a few obvious and pertinent examples of western media exposure of secrets the British and American governments would rather have kept hidden.

It is, thankfully, a mark of the western media that they relentlessly pursue governments and powerful, rich, individuals in their quest to uncover secrets - British government minister Tessa Jowell and her husband would, no doubt, readily testify to that.

Can the same be credibly said of the media in other parts of the world?

Or, even more pertinently, can it be said that the media is permitted anything like the same degree of freedom to do their job in other parts of the world?

But what of the actual issue of freedom of expression and the Danish cartoons?

Do those who complain about publication of the Danish cartoons believe, then, that all religions should be above criticism and caricature?

If not, why not?

Why should the sensitivities of Muslims be elevated above those with different, but just as sincerely held, religious beliefs?

Could it be because certain Islamists tend to wreak murderous retribution on those they deem to have insulted their religion?

If that is the thinking, then what is actually being argued is that we should only refrain from challenging and questioning those who can harm us most.

If that were indeed to become the case, then God help the weakest among us!

Besides that, it is the primary duty of journalism to speak truth to power, particularly power with murderous tendencies.

If the argument is that all religions should be above criticism, then why elevate religious belief above, for example, political belief?

Why should one type of conviction be immune from criticism and ridicule, and not another?

Importantly, if Muslims believe that all religions should be free from ridicule and censure how then to explain the fervent anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Hindu and anti-Buddhist attitudes that prevail, from top to bottom, in Islamic controlled states.

Where are the Muslim and non-Muslim voices of protest at the denigration of those religions, the active discrimination their adherents suffer and the often brutal treatment they must endure?

When have the Muslims and non-Muslims who have become so agitated at publication of the Danish cartoons protested against limb amputations and beheadings as state punishment, the subjugation and degradation of women, forced marriages, rampant homophobia, female genital mutilation and honour killings?

Are these practices, with their fundamental violation of the human rights of hapless individuals, to be ignored or, God help us, respected because they form part of another culture?

On the broader issue, the whole notion that we should always respect another person's beliefs is, in itself, spurious.

What, of course, should always be respected, upheld, and free from discrimination and threat, is a person's right to hold whatever view they like.

But that is as far as it goes.

Ideas and beliefs, in themselves and of whatever kind, once aired, have to earn respect in the hurly burly of discussion, debate, ridicule and competing views that together form the world marketplace of ideas.

As I stated in the article, Cowardice on Cartoon Controversy, I believe the Danish cartoons to be reflective of a widespread view of Islam within western society.

Whether we like it or not, most people do associate today's Islam with terrorism and brutality, and that is something that Islam has brought upon itself.

Where, for instance, is the voice of "moderate" Islam when so much carnage is being committed in its name?

Why no demonstrations in Europe's capital cities with placards saying, "Not in Our Name" after suicide attacks by religious fanatics in, to name but a few places, Casablanca, Istanbul, Bali, Madrid, London and New York?

Why no protest by Muslims whenever kidnappings, suicide bombings and beheadings are committed in the name of their religion?

Also, why have Muslims only lately become so agitated about portrayals of Muhammad?

Down through the years, numerous artists such as Salvador Dali, Auguste Rodin, William Blake and Gustav Dore have all made paintings of Muhammad, without a squeak of protest.

From illustrations for Dante's Inferno to the television cartoon series South Park he has been portrayed, yet Muslims have had nothing to say about it.

Without rehearsing all that I said before, in my previous article, I think it is worth repeating this:

"As if, as British foreign secretary Jack Straw has suggested, publishing the cartoons breached the boundaries of free speech simply because some felt them to have been "insulting", "inflammatory", "insensitive" and "disrespectful".
If those indeed marked the parameters of free speech, then, essentially, we would be free to do little but agree. What opinion, of any note, can be expressed without being adjudged by someone or other to have been insulting, inflammatory, insensitive, or disrespectful? Besides, freedom of expression is already ring-fenced by rafts of defamation and anti-hate legislation to ensure it is not abused."

Can people really be serious about giving in to threats and rolling back western civilisation to pre-Enlightenment times?

If they are, then I say this: It is only a short distance from being told what we cannot do, to being told what we must do.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
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Index: Current Articles

5 March 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

MI5 and Omagh — The Bomb to End All Bombs?
John Hanley

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism

Freedom of Speech
Anthony McIntyre

The Parameters of Free Speech
David Adams

MI5 and the Stasi Syndrome
Dr John Coulter

Misrepresentation of the Republican Position Must Be Addressed
Francis Mackey

The Progressive Road
Mick Hall

Imperialism and National Revolution
How the Trotskyists got it wrong

Robert Clough

Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey
Seaghán Ó Murchú

No Dangerous Liaisons
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters page has been updated:

Remembering the Hunger Strikes

Sunday Times Responds

Rights and Responsibilities

The Whys

Images of the Dublin Riots
Carol Russell

28 February 2006

Gratefully Remembering
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain

Another Unjust Execution?
Maria McCann

Sinn Fein Be Warned - The Truth Will Out
Martin Ingram

Who Will Be Left?
Aoife Rivera Serrano

Irish Republican Socialists Show Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Willie Gallagher

Queens, New York City, Republicans decry Irish parliamentarian's inappropriate intervention on U.S. immigration bill
Patrick Hurley

Bush's Double Standard
Fr Sean Mc Manus

"Democratic Unionist Pharisees"
Dr John Coulter

A Society That Failed to Protect Its Children
Anthony McIntyre

Unreal Paradigms
Mike Marqusee

The Letters page has been updated:

Dublin Riots


Moon Man?

Independent Workers Union rejects Sunday Times allegation of involvement in Dublin riot
Noel Murphy



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