The Muhammad cartoon fiasco certainly has some interesting implications for all of us. In short – Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten asks cartoonists to produce their renderings of the Prophet Muhammad (which many Muslims believe is idolatry and thus blasphemous), and happily publish a series of crude racial stereotypes, one of whom is wearing a bomb in his turban. Result – uproar in the Muslim world, leading to mass consumer boycotts of Danish products (I bet Carlsberg’s executives are quaking), Libya and Saudi Arabia have broken off diplomatic relations, death threats being made, and so on.
Right, first things first. The newspapermen are peddling simplistic caricatures and stereotypes under the guise of art and free expression. But, in a free country, they enjoy freedom of expression, no matter how idiotic this expression turns out to be. Freedom of religion does not extend to freedom from being offended; in any society where conflicting faiths and belief systems (which include atheism) exist and are free to practice, it is impossible to maintain the plurality religious freedom naturally implies and guarantee no-one gets their spiritual toes trodden on.
And in this situation, they’ve made every effort to make sure their toes got in the way. The fundamentalists who have whipped up this fervour were so desperate to make an issue of it they actually had to fabricate three far more blasphemous cartoons that were nothing to do with those published to get ordinary people sufficiently angry (and even then, it’s taken them some time – the illustrations were orginally released in September).
To call it a storm in a teacup would be an insult to weather everywhere. It’s just a fucking cartoon for fuck’s sake. It’s not as if the Muslim world is short of important news stories right now, ones that actually matter.
One of the few people to come out with any sort of respect is the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has continually refused to apologise on the newspaper’s behalf, saying that it is not a matter for his government. The fact that people have demanded he do so while simultaneously demanding lays open the ridiculousness of the situation, a belief that governments are there to protect believers’ freedoms over those of non-believers; that a petty squabble over a few offensive drawings should be top of the bill.
But, it’s just a storm in a teacup, right Chris? So why the blog rant? Well, elsewhere in the world, there’s a religious hatred bill going through Parliament, which mercifully had the very worst parts neutered today. But its original intent by the government was that virtually any insulting behaviour against a religion (as opposed to threatening) could have been interpreted as promulgating hatred; in short, it would have criminalised even the pettiest action and made it a matter of the state to prosecute and persecute, rather than the individual objecting (or choosing not to, after all – what happened to turning the other cheek?).
Rasmussen proved that he was above complaining about a mere cartoon, which is more than Blair and Clarke are able to. The more New Labour have rolled on, the more they exaggerate the petty (marching yobs to cashpoints, banning lighting up in pubs, the whole foxhunting shebang) while trivialising the important (ancient rights and freedoms demolished, hospitals and schools can be solved by the magic wand of ‘choice’, like they’re a branch of McDonald’s or something, totally ignoring the environment). One day in the not too distant future, both those who wasted their time getting angry about the Danish cartoons, and those who promote the Blairite “it’s the little things that matter” agenda, will suddenly wake up and realise that lots of big things are quite badly fucked. Then they’ll go “How come didn’t they do anything about this?”, and well, I’m not looking forward to pointing out to them why.