Friday, 22 February 2008

All Cartoons Are Created Equal, But Some Cartoons Are More Equal Than Others

The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) cartoon controversy raised interesting valid points of discussion and the range of opinions expressed was often very revealing regarding what innervated individuals and groups.

I thought the re-publication of one of the more insulting cartoons recently was a bad call by the Danish press. Along with the fact it did not help to promote civil harmony, it came across as petulant, churlish, immature and pathetic as it’s a clear symptom of an unfocused and unhealthy way of expressing chronic underlying problems.

Those who were motivated to riot, destroy property and incite death *and* those who were motivated to defend the “Right of Freedom of Speech” have been both emotionally manipulated unthinkingly by trouble-makers.

And here are my reasons:


The cartoons were first published on 30th September 2005, in a country dominated by right-wing parties in parliament, by the right wing paper Jyllands-Posten claiming it was an attempt to highlight issues of self-censorship and difficulties in criticisms of Islam – issues that were certainly worthy of discussion. Public fury by Muslims did not occur, in fact some Danish Muslims supported the paper and some Danes criticised the paper.

An open polite letter to the Danish Prime Minister by Muslim leaders from at least 11 countries to refrain from abusing the rights of democracy and freedom of expression in a growing political climate of a smearing campaign against Islam was sent as well as a call for a meeting – which was rejected. Subsequent Danish court hearings ruled in favour of Jyllands-Posten.

So the cartoons were re-published in February 2006. And in numerous other European papers – which was exactly the textbook way of playing right into the hands of radicals.

By that stage the flames of discontent had been spread deliberately and unwittingly by individuals to the wider Muslim world of even more highly offensive images and cartoons that were not originally published in Denmark. Thus misunderstandings on both sides allowed the proverbial manure to collide with the air-conditioning. Various local political climates resulted in some highly publicised rioting, embassy destruction and death of individuals by a minority of agitators with political agendas riding opportunistically on the coat tails of the controversy. For example, chants of ‘Death to America’ in the Pakistani riots were common – uhm, what exactly did America have anything to do with the cartoons?

There are actually depictions of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in Islamic art (those not showing his face and those showing his face). God is certainly not allowed to be depicted in Islamic art and that attitude usually extends to the Prophet to prevent the growth of idolatry. The Prophet is held in high respect but not worshipped. Despite the calls of respect from Muslims, the initial repeated printings of the cartoons in 2006 did two things that offended Muslims – first, depicting him in the first place was a minor but significant point but secondly and more importantly, mocking him as a terrorist, truly showed the attitude of some of the Western media to a person whom the Muslims hold in high esteem (and one who had been voted as the most influential person in history)

The Prophet himself was insulted and slandered during his lifetime but he never called for death or rioting on that charge alone. So how can the wanton destruction of property and inciting of death remotely be Islamic behaviour for a Muslim? Muslims should certainly voice their displeasure by other more civilised means and in fact they had but this tended to get ignored by the mainstream press.

There were thousands who protested peacefully in London, Toronto and Montreal, Paris, Strasbourg, Berlin, Oslo, Brussels and other European cities; in Bosnia and in Indonesia, Rabat, Morroco, tens of thousands in Istanbul, Turkey and half a million in Beirut, Lebanon.

An Austrian court had found the right-wing British historian David Irving guilty of denying the Holocaust and sentenced him to three years in prison in February 2006. Irving insisted he never dismissed the Holocaust and that it was only ever a small part of his research.

Censorship exists

The claim by Jyllands-Posten to defend the freedom of speech was patently false as it refused to print a cartoon of the resurrection of Jesus in 2003. The paper feared that publication of the cartoon would provoke anger among Christians.

And in 1984 it campaigned against the artist Jens Jørgen Thorsen, who was commissioned by a local art club to paint the wall of a railway station. The work showed a naked Jesus with an erect penis. But the same paper certainly showed no such sensitivity towards Muslims.

Insult to religion, although not explicitly mentioned in European secular laws, is considered an “ethical crime” in many European countries. These legal arrangements, primarily designed around Christianity, do not see people breaking such rules, and as such are not implemented most of the time. Many European countries ban acts which seriously insult religion and instigate religious hatred – so long as it is Christianity and Judaism, it’s a-okay.

In Denmark where the cartoons were originally published, there are articles in the Danish criminal code for punishing “whoever explicitly insults or humiliates any religions officially recognized” in the country.

This is the law § 140. Den, der offentligt driver spot med eller forhåner noget her i landet lovligt bestående religionssamfunds troslærdomme eller gudsdyrkelse, straffes med bøde eller fængsel indtil 4 måneder...

Translated: "He who in public redicule any, in this country, legal recognised religions, are punished with fine or prison up to 4 months."

Where is the much vaunted freedom of expression again?

And Holocaust denial laws do exist in Europe.

Where is the much vaunted freedom of expression again?

Trouble-makers giving themselves free licence to insult whilst cowering cowardly behind a claimed Right, a Right enshrined by the lives of many past brave souls, not only dishonour themselves and reflect badly on others by inciting animosity, but unwittingly risk curtailing or even losing the very Rights they claim to insincerely fight for when they abuse it.

I support the right of freedom of speech and expression but I also believe in exercising rights with responsibilities. Yes, people had the RIGHT to publish such cartoons but it was IRRESPONSIBLE to do so, especially knowing it would be deemed supremely insulting to the beliefs of the followers of an entire religion, regardless if the original intention was to insult or not. People seem to forget that where a Right “exists” it can also mean having the freedom to tactfully not exercise the Right where appropriate.

The point had been proven in the past so I see nothing to be gained by re-publication of an insulting cartoon – it just comes across as childish and promotes an unhelpful “Us vs Them” attitude. After all there are more elegant and less inflammatory ways to address valid issues.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sharia shenanigans

It is hardly an understatement to say Islamic jurisprudence is a huge specialty area yet I am hardly surprised at the knee jerk hysteria of some obtuse people when the word “Sharia” is mentioned. It is a word loaded with negative baggage thanks to sensationalist, ill-informed, irresponsible and ignorant reporting in the media and by the behaviour of certain Muslims themselves.

Besides stating the obvious difference with regards to criminal and civil law, whatever the opinions of individuals regarding the merits of legal pluralism, it has existed and does currently exist under English law. To rail with indignation at what the Archbishop of Canterbury said is unwittingly disregarding and fighting against what English law itself allows.

This is because under English law people may devise their own way to settle a civil dispute before an agreed third party – provided the outcome is reasonable and both parties voluntarily agree to the process. Especially if its quicker, cheaper, fairer and more effective.

Britain had done it before – for example when it ruled India. There was a separate legal code for Muslims, organised and regulated by British experts of law.

Jews in Britain have their own religious civil courts – the Beth Din - and have done so for centuries. Yet where are the cries of fears of stoning to death that will overturn the English way of life?…after all, did anyone not bother to read about Mosaic Law at Sunday school? Does not English law itself have a strong foundation on Biblical teachings? I find it a shame that the majority of British people have voluntarily abandoned their Anglican faith and teachings and have thus lost an essential part of their culture. In fact Catholics, due largely to immigration, now outnumber Anglicans in the UK.

Religious beliefs influencing English law also exist in other areas – for example, medical professionals can legally opt out of performing abortions.

Misinformed people fail to appreciate that such religious civil courts do not replace the state’s civil courts. In addition, state laws must also be complied, such as in a divorce, where both parties must fulfil the religious and civil divorce for it to be legally binding.

If one does not like English law then they should go out and protest at the politicians to amend the laws, rather than rail against what the Archbishop of Canterbury said, who is actually applying English law to be practised which English people seem to quickly and blindly lionise about without any knowledge about what it says or how it came about in the first place. It is clear that it is not a love of England but more a hatred of others that propel much of the knee-jerk completely off topic reactions.

I also want to clear up the term “fatwa” whilst I’m at it since it confuses a lot of people as I still notice erroneous terms like “formal legal ruling…”

A fatwa is not legally binding - it is an opinion at best on matters of Islamic law. The degree to which any Muslim wants to follow any particular fatwa depends on many factors, such as who issued it, the degree of authority ascribed to the author or body of legal scholars, the culture, nationality and faith of the individual. It is only binding on the author.

Just like if any priest stated an opinion regarding any topic, it is not automatically legally binding on all Christians on the planet. Or if the President of the USA stated an opinion, it is not automatically legally binding on all Americans on the planet. Yet it never ceases to amaze me to find how supposedly intelligent people fail at elementary logic and basic common sense where Islam is concerned, …especially seeing non-Muslims and Muslims insist that often contradictory, non-contextual and extreme fatawa issued by uneducated individuals with the most tenuous grip on reality as authentic, binding and the only representative interpretation (!). In fact it is plain to all but them that such an embarrassing insistence is more a reflection of their own prejudices, hatred and ignorance.

With regards to Islam, I have no doubt that extremists exists (like extremists in any belief system – secular or religious) who would want to overturn the status quo to their version of how things ought to be run.

Yet in Islam, if a Muslim lives in a non-Islamic state, it is the Muslim’s duty to obey the laws of the land. And under Shaira, as has been done in the past, non-Muslims in an Islamic state can choose a different legal system to address their civil concerns too. If English law forbids the option of the use of Sharia legal system concerning civil matters, whilst allowing a Jewish one to operate, and that the Sharia legal system itself allows for other legal systems to operate, what kind of message does that send?

That the Sharia legal system is in fact more tolerant and liberal than English law?

Workable Sharia legal pluralism exists in other countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Egypt where there is a separation of criminal and civil law. And like English law, there is no monolithic codified unalterable law with regards to many civil matters – the subtleties of law with new circumstances can change based on agreed precepts.

Legal pluralism also exists in other “western” countries, such as First Nation laws in Canada, which has worked well (there are different types of First Nations, just as there are different types of Muslims all over the world under the rubric of “Islam”) Yet where are the arrogant cries that “European Law” (try to spot the misnomer) would be overturned or that First Nation peoples do not know what the principles of honour, sharing, tolerance, civility and generosity are and that their individualism should be denied? Or that “Europeans” should submit to the laws of the host country? How much have Europeans truly integrated?…or is it, *shock* *horror*…it is they who have unilaterally insisted on their way of life as the best and only way to be imposed on others all over the world?

All criminal matters are reserved for the UK's state courts, and there is no appetite for change in the majority of people of the UK and it rightly should stay that way.

After all, disciples of liberal democracy zealously insist that this is the way people should unquestioningly and unilaterally submit to as the way things should be run in this world.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

I Used To Write With A Pen

…Skulptur…you know I love the embarrassed Bavarian way you pronounce it…

Bloody Hell! The days have whizzed by so fast yet so slow…I have pretty much been working almost everyday for the past month and have so much to say and write yet never seemingly having the time to sit down and uncork my brain. I owe e-mails to so many people everyone must think I don’t give a shit!!!!

I’m pretty sure I will have to move as soon as I have the time to look for a new place in Edinburgh and leave my rather spacious pad I’ve grown fond of. After scouting out my new work place this weekend I bumped into Victoria and her bf at the ice cream (my current and recurrent vice) stand at the local cinemaplex…I was there to see Cloverfield and I must admit it was better than I expected (I do not subscribe to internet hype…let alone hype…for it will always lessen the enjoyment so I went in rather blind). It’s a cross between Godzilla and the Blair Witch Project except it works a thousand times to the power of π better than either of those two utter pants films. If you ignore the giddy camerawork and punctuated mushy contrived moments, the story was succinct, the tension palpable and the H.P. Lovecraftian nightmarish vision and the M.R. Jamesiysh utter lack of a resolution or explanation was what made it delicious for me.

I am also very happy to have re-connected with my long lost German pal Petia. I loathe chain letters but back in the day when I was 14 I got one of these odious snail mail spam. I decided for once (and only time) in my life to forward it (picking on 5 hapless unknown girls from the local Sunday paper…muahahahahaha) and to add my name on the list and send a postcard to the name on the bottom of the list after scoring it out. In theory one should get numerous postcards from all over the world after several weeks…and I DID!!! Postcards from USA, Germany, Indonesia etc came pouring in through my mail-box. And the bizarre thing was they were all girls!?!?!! I wrote back to several who unwittingly gave me their addresses AND told me to write to them…but out of all of them, it was 16 year old artist Petia from Germany with whom I managed to cerebrally connect with the best. All our exchanges were witty (heh), informative (I learnt about the German X’ams tree tradition from her), artistic (we both drew and painted) and above all, amazingly good fun.

After some years we finally got around to actually exchanging photos and I must admit I was pleasantly blown away by her blonde winsomeness and her in turn of my unusual Eurasian background. We’ve since met several times (Germany and UK) and got along great with fantastic memories (and some I have totally forgotten…the Frankfurt Wine festivals was a definite blur as she carried me back to her car but I do remember the inebriated buzz of the München Hofbräuhaus…the meals we made together for a party at her place…the stunning medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber at sunset…and the late night showing of the Wizard of Oz at St Andrews, Scotland - I couldn’t believe she had never seen the 1939 classic and dragged her to a showing and she fell in love with it!!!)

I still have the “Radio Obernburg” mixed cassette tape with all our songs and in-jokes she made for me to this day. We lost touch (my fault really as I got caught up in hectic professional postgraduate exams and kept moving around) We have both wondered how each of us have been since but thanks to the internet (uhmm…all it took was the rather mundane act of googling her name and violà!).

On top of haunting tunes from REM’s “Automatic For The People” (my prime candidate for it being in the Top Ten albums of all time), I do remember us dancing energetically to this awesome track by the Spin Doctors…

The summer of 1993 was a significant turning point in my life from a worldly, academic and spiritual POV. But Our Song has undoubtedly got to be this one by the 4 Non Blondes…for some strange undefined reason it spoke to both of us at our stage in our lives I guess…and where unbeknownst to each other initially we adored this song to death…and then both cheered it together as we witnessed it became a Number 1 hit in Germany.

To my peculiar Petia…:)