March 2006

Self abuse

This is great. A group of 27 Danish Muslim organizations have filed a defamation lawsuit against Jyllands Posten over the Muhammed cartoons.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, two weeks after Denmark’s top prosecutor declined to press criminal charges, saying the drawings that sparked a firestorm in the Muslim world did not violate laws against racism or blasphemy.

Michael Christiani Havemann, a lawyer representing the Muslim groups, said lawsuit sought $16,100 in damages from Jyllands-Posten Editor in Chief Carsten Juste and Culture Editor Flemming Rose, who supervised the cartoon project.

“We’re seeking judgment for both the text and the drawings which were gratuitously defamatory and injurious,” Havemann said.

If Muslim groups are genuinly concerned about the reputation of Islam following the publication of the cartoons, we should expect to see prosecutions in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

(via The Melon Farmers)

China bans a Rolling Stone

First edition of Chinese Rolling Stone The Chinese edition of Rolling Stone magazine has been banned after only three weeks of publication.

The Shanghai bureau of the Government Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), which keeps a close eye on new magazines for signs of dissent, said Rolling Stone had not fulfilled all the procedures to publish.

In recent months, government censors have clamped down on free expression in newspapers, magazines, websites and weblogs. Without being explicit, the watchdog hinted there was more to the decision to stop publication than a technicality. Its not simply a matter of procedure because, even if they handed in the right application, whether we would approve it remains a question, said Liu Jianquan, a spokesman for GAPP. So we have issued them a warning and told them to stop their illegal action.

When the magazine was launched, editor-in-chief, Hao Fang, wrote: From today onward, let us summon our readers that we in the East may also create a miracle worthy of this era. The first edition carried a photo of Cui Jian - a protest singer best known for Nothing to My Name, a song widely seen as referring to the 1989 Tiannamen square massacre.

The interview inside avoided touching on political subjects, although Hao had insisted the the magazine would do so during its lifetime.

So what is an inappropriate placard these days?

Time taken to arrest someone calling for people to be beheaded: 7 weeks

Time taken to arrest someone with a picture of Muhammed: An hour or so

Iranian dissident Reza Moradi attended the March for Free Expression on Saturday with a placard depicting one of the now infamous Muhammed cartoons. He was questioned by the police and is due to appear in court for the offence at some point.

Toon protestor arrested

Following demonstrations in London at which a number of slogans and placards were on display calling for the “massacre”of “those that insult Islam”, the police started to come under pressure to explain why no-one was arrested even though the demonstrators were clearly inciting violence.

Now theyve arrested a 23-year old man.

The man was arrested, at a north London address, under suspicion of soliciting to murder, Scotland Yard confirmed.

A number of other arrests, in relation to the same protest, have also been made by police.

Uman Javed, 26, was charged with soliciting murder and remanded in custody when he appeared at Bow Street magistrates court in London on March 16.

The married father-of-one, from Birmingham, was also charged with using words likely to stir up racial hatred and will appear again at the Old Bailey on April 7.

Abdul Rahman Saleem, 31, from east London, has been charged with using words likely to stir up racial hatred.

Meanwhile, Omar Zaheer, 26, from Southall, west London, was charged with racially aggravated disorderly behaviour and disorderly behaviour.

Danish imams joke bombs

The Scotsman (via) reports that one of the imams at the centre of the Muhammed Cartoons Controversy, is to be investigated by Danish police over allegations that he issued death threats against a moderate Muslim politician.

A French TV documentary crew secretly filmed Imam Ahmed Akkari threatening to have Naser Khader a founder of Denmarks Democratic Muslims network, which opposes violent protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad bombed.

Apparently, the remark was meant as a joke. But since Akkari is currently attending a conference against jokes in Bahrain, Im sure that he wont be trying to claim a sense of humour as a defence.

Freedom of theocratic tyranny

According to MediaWatchWatch, a eport leaked early from the UN Human Rights Committee reveals the the UN “special reporter” on the cartoon controversy, Doudou Diéne, blames Denmark for the unrest:

Judicially, the Danish government ought therefore, especially considering its international obligations, to have, respecting Freedom of Speech, taken a position not only on the consequences of the caricatures for its community of 200.000 Moslems but also for the protection of peace and order.

Ophelia at Butterflies and Wheels rips this particular piece of wooly thinking apart:

So its the Danish governments fault. It should have met with the ambassadors from the Moslem countries and - what? Agreed to arrest, prosecute and punish the cartoonists and editors? Pass new laws banning prophet-mocking? Sworn a great oath that no Dane would ever make a joke about anything to do with Islam from now until the ending of the world?

She goes on to point out that:

The freedom of religion does not require the freedom never to hear anything one might find irritating or disconcerting. That is not the meaning of freedom. That has never been the meaning of freedom. Translating it to that is a shortcut to theocratic tyranny.

Elsewhere, and on a slightly different but related subject, Sunny Hundal points out that:

Freedom of speech is the best tool that minority groups have when fighting for their rights. Thus anti-racism campaigners are setting themselves up for a pyrrhic victory when asking for his removal because it sets a dangerous precedent if we were to apply those standards equally.

Mustafa name change

The Melon Farmers report that a Manchester mosque has persuaded the Ann Summers sex shop chain to abanon a bow up doll called Mustafa shag.

They complained to Summers executives that Mustafa was one of the names of the Prophet Mohammed. Members of the mosque and Islamic cultural centre on Upton Road, Hulme, said the sex toy caused Muslims hurt and anguish.

No-one has explained what the imams were doing in the sex shop in the first place.

Dont gag the gagsters

Jerry Springer: The Opera is currently playing in Manchester and, predictably enough, all of ten protesters turned up outside the Opera House to complain about it.

They were, however, outnumbered by a group of noisy Manchester comedians, who carried placards reading Dont Gag the Gagsters.

Organiser Mike Landers, who heads the Manchester Comedy Forum, said: We are concerned about freedom of speech. There seem to be a lot of things conspiring against this freedom because of the protest against the Prophet cartoons and the religious hatred bill. We think it is the job of comedians to be able to say what we think, even if it offends people.

MediaWatchWatch has a report from the organiser.

Building understanding by not talking

Denmarks Natfilm film festival, which opens today, aims to increase knowledge of other cultures and thus build tolerance and understanding between peoples of the world.

But not everyone agrees.

Iraniad director, Majid Majidi has withdrawn from the festival, claiming that he is doing so to protest against insulting any religious belief or icon.

A paper in your country has insulted the huge population of Muslim people and disrespected the boundaries of the holy sanctuaries of beliefs, he said.

So much for dialogue then.

Freedom of expression for all

The March for Free Expression takes place today.

The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.

I will be unable to attend as Im in Belgium, so can I instead point you in the direction of Peter Tatchells excellent defence of free expression and discussion of the issues that has let him to decide that he will be both attending and speaking at the march.

As a radical left-wing Green, committed to human rights and social justice, I do not share the politics of some other speakers and marcher. But this is the whole point of Saturdays demo - to defend the right to free speech of those with whom we disagree.

Contrary to what the cultural relativists try to suggest, freedom of expression is not a western value; it is a universal humanitarian value that every member state of the United Nations has pledged to uphold. By demanding the right to free speech, we are not seeking to impose western values on non-western nations. We are merely asking the governments of the world to honour the human rights commitments they agreed when they signed up to the UN.

Free speech is one of the litmus tests of a free and democratic society. Alas, not everyone shares a commitment to democracy. To maintain their power, political and religious tyrants have always censored ideas and opinions. Some liberals and left-wingers, often with the honourable motive of tackling prejudice, have also attempted to place constraints on what can be publicly said on issues such as race and sexuality. This authoritarianism-lite has its downside too. Suppressing intolerant ideas doesnt make them go away. They just go underground and fester. This is not a solution.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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