February 2007

More Mo’ toon news

The BBC (via) reports that 24-year-old Abdul Muhid has gone on trial at the Old Baily over his part in last years demonstration over the Muhammed Cartoons Controversy.

According to David Perry QC, prosecuting: The drawings of the Prophet had not appeared in any UK newspaper. This was supposed to be a demonstration against the publication of the drawings in the newspapers abroad. This behaviour shows what the demonstration was really about. It was an exhortation, an encouragement to terrorism.

Muhid was allegedly one of the protest organisers and, according to the prosecution, urged people to commit terrorist killing and led the crowd chanting bomb, bomb the UK.

Also, the Clareification fallout continues. Cambridge Dons are unsure what to do about the guest editor of the magazine that reprinted one of the Muhammed cartoons. Some are taking the view that he should be expelled while others - such as philosophy lecturer Arif Ahmed - are taking a much more admirable stance.

Writing to The Cambridge Student, Ahmed said:

Dear Madam

The fact that mocking somebody’s beliefs is liable to cause him offence is no reason to refrain from it if the beliefs in questions are nothing but a tissue of superstition and prejudice. But that is exactly what Islam is. I do not know the guest editor of Clareification. But I hope that he and other Cambridge students are aware that some senior members of this University (including me) regard the satirizing of religion as commendable, indeed in the present atmosphere I think it is practically obligatory. He has done nothing wrong, and I am ashamed of those of my colleagues who have chosen to condemn his actions.

Best wishes,
Arif Ahmed
(Fellow of Girton and Lecturer in Philosophy)


Censoring criticism

Baztab, an Iranian fundamentalist site which has accused Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of betraying the Islamic revolution by attending a female dance show, has been closed for acting against the constitution and undermining national unity.

The order to close the website coincided with the confirmation of Gholamhossein Elham, who has supported restraints on press freedom, as Irans new judiciary minister. His appointment came as the government disclosed new measures to monitor and restrict unofficial news websites.

Baztab is one of Irans most widely read political sites and has criticised both the governments economic policies, which have produced surging inflation and high unemployment, as well as blaming Ahmadinejads approach to Irans nuclear programme for bringing the country closer to confrontation with the west.

The website also posted video footage purportedly showing Mr Ahmadinejad watching a female dance performance at the recent Asian Games in Qatar, in breach of Irans prohibition on women dancing in front of men.

The culture and Islamic guidance ministry has deemed the site illegitimate and declared that its continued activity is illegal and banned. Access to the site is now blocked on most Iranian internet service providers.

Turkey to reform Article 301

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul has pledged to change the countrys notorious Article 301 in a few weeks time.

This article 301 overshadows Turkeys reform progress. Both myself and Prime Minister Erdogan believe that we have to change this article, Mr Gul said referring to Turkeys penal code article which punishes denigrating Turkishness and which has led to charges against journalists and writers like Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk.

The EU has repeatedly urged Ankara to either revise or scrap the article in order to ensure freedom of expression in the country, but Mr Gul has indicated that the trials against writers in the country also reflect a mentality within the ranks of Turkish prosecutors. He has expressed a desire to see this mentality change, but also pointed out that this cannot happen over night; its a process.

No public hair in Singapore

A book by Singaporean photographer, Leslie Kee has been banned (via) in the conservative city-state because of excessive nudity.

According to Information, Communications and the Arts Minister Lee Boon Yang, current guidelines do allow for nudity in artistic works including photography publications provided they are suitably depicted. However, Kees book, Superstars has been deemed beyond the pale because it featured excessive nudity with photographs showing full frontal nudity, with public hair and genitals clearly visible.

When in doubt, ban something

The Pakistan government has decided to ban the portrayal of wicked characters as heroes in motion pictures and has, so far, used this pretext to refuse permission to release four new films.

Culture Minister, Dr G G Jamali, confirmed the ban on Thursday claiming that, following the success of Maula Jatt in the 1980s, a trend has developed for films that glorify villainous characters.

This is probably true. Filmmakers, as much as anyone else in the entertainment business, will tend to try and replicate each others success and, if an idea works, others will tend to copy it. However, when Dr Jamali goes on to claim that such films are brainwashing young men he is talking rubbish. People dont, on seeing a film with an anti-hero, rush off and become criminal masterminds and the idea that there is some sort of causal link between fiction and reality is one that should be challenged.

(via The Melon Farmers)

Free Kareem

Egyptian blogger Karim Amer was sentenced yesterday to four-years for criticising Egypts al-Azhar religious authorities, President Husni Mubarak and Islam. Charges against him included spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country’s reputation, incitement to hate Islam and defaming the President of the Republic.

Amnesty International considers Karim Amer to be a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression of his views. The human rights organisation are calling on the Egyptian authorities to repeal legislation that in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion.

A website in support of the campaign for his release can be found at freekareem.org

Backfiring gestures

The previously mentioned attempt by the French National Assembly to criminalise denial of the Armenian genocide has failed to become law. The socialist drafted proposal would have made denying the genocide punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of €45,000.

In order to become law, the bill would have to have been approved by the countrys senate. This is dominated by the centre-right government of Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac - both of whom are opposed to the bill - and was always likely to reject it. The bill was little more than an anti-Turkish gesture and, not surprisingly, it wasnt put on the upper houses agenda and - with the parliamentary session almost over and French elections on the way - the bill has been allowed to fade away.

On the face of it, then, this bill looks like a bit of low-cost gesture politics on the part of the French socialists. But the cost is higher than immediately apparent, as Turkish writer Elif Shafak - previously tried in her country for commenting on the sensitive subject - explains.

The bill, which came at the same time as an EU deadline for Ankara to fulfil its obligation over Cyprus or face a freeze of its membership talks, was seen in Turkey as yet another negative political message from the EU. This led to a nationalist reaction in the country which, ultimately, harmed people like Shafak who are trying to push for an open debate about sensitive issues such as the Armenian genocide.

I think that 1915 is such a sensitive and delicate political theme that it shouldnt be subject to political power games. It should not be up to politicians to decide which version of history should be acknowledged by everyone, she told EUobserver.

I criticise my own government for curbing freedom of expression. But it is a universal principle. If I defend it in Turkey, I will defend it in France or everywhere with the same zeal and dedication. And the French bill was very much against this principle.

She goes on to argue that Turkish society is becoming more open and is moving closer to the EU and that the trials of writers and publishers reflects a panic response on the part of a minority that would prefer to maintain the status quo.

The censorious antics of the French National Assembly does nothing to encourage dialogue or find answers and, instead, plays into the hands of the minority who would prefer to keep things as they are.

Clarification editor returns to Cambridge

Varsity (via) reports that the second year Cambridge student who, as guest editor of Clareification, published one of the Muhammed cartoons is back in Cambridge. After the student magazine in question had been published, he was forced into hiding for safety reasons.

The magazine has provoked reaction among members of the Muslim community. Hicham Kwieder, Chairman of the Mosque Committee at the Abu Bakr Siddiq Islamic Centre in Cambridge, wrote to Varsity expressing “sorrow and anger” on behalf of the Committee and congregation. He noted the publication of “material which deliberately insults the honour of the Blessed Prophet Mohammed”, stating that “the Mosque condemns this provocation in the strongest terms”. He added “Incitement to religious and ethnic hatred is at all times immoral, and its consequences for harmony between communities and nations can be grave”.

The last sentence here is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Kwieder disingenuously conflates religious criticism with religious hatred, and then conflates religious hatred with ethnic hatred. And then comes the veiled threat about consequences for harmony between communities and nations being grave.

Clare College has courageously disassociated itself from the views expressed in Clareification and has announced that disciplinary measures are under way. Acting Senior Tutor Dr Patricia Fara has also said that the institution “has been in close contact with leaders of the local Muslim Community, and also with other religious leaders, to apologise for the offence that has been caused”.

None of these apologies are warranted and the student in question - who hasnt threatened anyone - deserves the support of the college, not disciplinary proceedings.

Saudis rise to Dutch bait

Reuters (via) reports that Dutch populist politician, Geert Wilders has been baiting Muslims again. This time by saying that Muslims should tear out half the Koran if they wanted to live in his country and claiming that he would chase Mohammad out of the country if he were alive today.

Saudi Arabia has risen to the bait and are demanding that he withdraw his statements and apologise. Wilders, not surprisingly, has said that he wont be retracting any of his remarks.

Have they gone completely mad? It is scandalous that a country which does not have freedom of speech teaches me a lesson. They must learn that when you are a parliamentarian here, you may say what you want.

Personally, I think that Wilders is a prat with a bad haircut. But hes an elected prat and, even if he didnt have a parliamentary seat, he should be entitled to express his views.

Its not for the Saudis - or anyone else - to limit what can and cant be said.

Freedom of humour

Dutch actor and stand-up comedian, Hans Teeuwen has launched a solidarity campaign in support of his colleague, Ewout Jansen, who has been receiving death threats from Muslim extremists because of his jokes. Teeuwen will act as the spokesperson for the cabaret duo Ewout Jansen en Etiënne Kemerink, to distract the attention now focused on Jansen.

Teeuwen is finding it difficult to unite his fellow comedians as many are afraid to speak out. Every comedians agenda tells you exactly where and when he is going to perform. One or two threatening phone calls and the comdian loses his stage, Teeuwen explains.

However, the threats have been directed not just at Jansen, but aimed at every form of satire that touches on Islam. This is why Ewout and Etienne are calling on other comedians to join in filing collective charges against a member of the Amsterdam As Soenna Mosque named Kabli and the mosques current leadership.

At the end of January, Kabli told student magazine Folia that it was supposedly every Muslims task to fight back if jokes were made about Islam. Such jokes are called haram (reprehensible). If a comedian, despite having been warned, continues with his jokes, he must be punished or even killed, Kabli said in the interview.

The Dutch Prosecutors Office is investigating whether Kabli and the leaders of the mosque can be indicted for their aggressive behaviour.