Yet another cartoon controversy

Against the background of the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah, Israel and the rest of Lebanon, Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet published a cartoon by Finn Graff on July 10 which depicts Israeli PM Ehud Olmert as the infamous SS Major Amon Goeth, who used to amuse himself by sniping at random Jews from his balcony in the Paszow death camp.

The scene was famously depicted by Steven Spielberg in Schindlers List and some people are not happy at the comparison:

In response, the Norwegian Israel Center against Anti-Semitism, an Oslo-based organization comprising Jews and Christians, has appealed to the government to speak out against hatred of Jews.

We have launched a campaign to get Norwegians to send letters to the minister of justice to make Norway a safer place for Jews, said center founder Erez Urieli by phone from Oslo.

We should not go underground. We have to take care of anti-Semitism before it becomes dangerous, he said.

According to the BBC, Israels ambassador to Norway has complained to press regulators about the cartoon claiming that it somehow went beyond free speech and would be open to prosecution in some countries.

Lars Helle, Dagbladets acting editor-in-chief, disagrees although the newspaper is taking the complaint seriously.

Those blasphemous Norwegians

Muhammed cartoon The National Secular Society reports that Khalid Mohammad, a Norwegian Muslim, has reported the editor of Magazinet, who published the cartoons of Muhammad way back in January, to the police for violating a blasphemy law last used in 1933 against a poet who called Christians “cannibals”.

“I have been reported to the police for blasphemy. We will have to see what happens as this law has not been used since 1933,” said Verbjoern Selbekk, editor of newspaper Magazinet. Paragraph 142 of Norway’s criminal code states a person can be prosecuted if he or she “in word or action publicly insults or in a demeaning or hurtful way displays scorn for any religious belief that is permitted in the country”.

The 1933 case failed to convict poet Arnulf Overland for comparing Christians to cannibals. Christians do practice ritual cannibalism every time they share the body and blood of Jesus and blasphemy laws have no place in the 21st century.

Freedoms lost are rarely recovered

Muhammed cartoon EU Observer is reporting that polls in Norway and France indicate majorities in both countries believe that publishing the Muhammed cartoons was wrong and a provocation by the media.

A poll published on Friday (10 February) in French newspaper La Croix, show that 55 percent of French believe that publishing the cartoons did not serve to further the debate on free speech

The decision to print the cartoons was supported by 38 percent.

Some 35 percent of the participants in the poll said they did not understand the indignation felt by Muslim communities, while more than two thirds said the violence that followed the publication was a matter of great concern.

In Norway, the second country to publish the disputed cartoons, a poll showed that 57 percent of the people, most of them women, believed it was wrong to publish, while 30 percent believed the media had the right to publish.

They also clarify its that the cultural editor of Jyllands Posten, Flemming Rose, who has been sent on indefinate vacation following his remarks on CNN that the paper was considering publishing the holocaust cartoons being called for by the Iranians. The paper immediatly denied any such plans.

Flemming Rose has admitted his mistake, and it should be taken into account that over the four past months he has been under inhumanly hard pressure, besieged by Danish as well as international media most of the day, Jyllands-Posten announced on Monday.

Elsewhere, EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini appears to think that the best response to an article about censorship is to encourage more censorship.

He said journalists and media chiefs should be aware of their responsibility when exercising their right of freedom of expression, and that they should voluntarily agree to self-regulation in cases where sensitive religious issues are involved.

The European Commission is planning to discuss details of such a code of conduct with press organisations and major media outlets in the coming months.

According to Mr Frattini, by agreeing to a charter the press will give the muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.

This is absolute bollocks. The message that the EU, European leaders, the press and the rest should be giving is that we value our freedom of expression and its because we have freedom of expression that we are not constantly having to look over our collective shoulders in the way that Iranians and Syrians have to.

More positively

Washington has also entered the dispute, with foreign minister Condoleezza Rice saying I have no doubt that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and have used this for their own purposes. The world ought to call them on it.

Moderation in the Middle East

I mentioned earlier that moderate European Muslims are starting to organise to make themselves heard over the shouting of the radicals.

So let me now point you in the direction of this site.

Violence and moderation follows the cartoon jihad

According to The Brussels Journal, Mullah Krekar, the alleged leader of Ansar al-Islam who has been living as a refugee in Norway since 1991 has said that the publication of the Jyllands Posten Muhammend cartoons amounts to a declaration of war.

“The war has begun,” he told Norwegian journalists. Mr Krekar said Muslims in Norway are preparing to fight. “It does not matter if the governments of Norway and Denmark apologize, the war is on.”

The Brussels Journal also notes that Islamist organisations worldwide have started issuing threats against Europeans. Hizbollah has announced that is preparing suicide attacks in Denmark and Norway and that a senior imam in Kuwait, Nazem al-Masbah, has said that those who have published cartoons of Muhammad should be murdered. Al-Masbah also threatened all citzens of all countries where the cartoons have been published (see here, here and here and see the full set of cartoons here).

Spiegel quotes Mahmoud Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas who told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that the cartoons were an unforgivable insult that should be punished with death. We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully, he said.

In Gaza on Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in protests and stormed a number of European buildings including the German culture center and the European Commission building in Gaza City.

And in the UK, MediaWatchWatch reports that the recently formed Al Ghurabaa group has called for those who “insult Muhammad” to be killed.

Pakistans foreign ministry has called in the envoys of nine Western countries - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic - to protest at the publication of the cartoons in those countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered his commerce minister to examine the feasibility of cancelling all trade contracts with countries whose media had published the cartoons. He claimed that the pictures show the impudence and rudeness of western newspapers.

The Vatican has also decided to get involved, calling the cartoons an unacceptable provocation, and insisting that freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers.

EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has criticised the papers that have published the cartoons , accusing them of throwing petrol onto the flames of the original issue and the original offence that was taken. Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has claimed that the decision to republish the cartoons could encourage terrorists - and he probably also thinks that women who wear short skirts encourage rapists. And UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan is said to be worried about the issue - his pokesman said that Mr Annan believes freedom of expression should always be used with respect for religion - which, quite frankly, is a meaningless disclaimer.

In France, however, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy is taking a more robust approach, reminding us that: “Freedom of expression is not an issue for negotiation and I see no reason to give one religion a special treatment.”

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed understanding for the offence taken by Muslims. However, she also pointed out that Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion.

And the Danish People’s Party wants to seriously consider the possibility of expelling imams who do not have Danish citizenship and who have harmed Danish interests in the Middle East by feeding the Arab media with false information. The initiative is backed by Prime Minister Rasmussens Liberal Party (Venstre).

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Death Threats in Norway

Muhammed The Brussels Journal (via) reports that, following a series of death threats, Norwgian Christian magazine, Magazinet, has withdrawn the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons from its website.

Editor, Vebjørn Selbekk, told the Norwegian daily Dagbladet - which has also published the cartoons on its website - that:

“The e-mail with the pictures of the burnt body is the most frightening. But I am not afraid. This is of course unpleasant, especially for a family man. But I cannot go around being afraid”

Magazinet also interviewed two leading Norwegian cartoonists, one of whom, Morten M. Kristiansen said that he had received many protest letters in the past whenever he mocked Christ.

The same applies to cartoons about Muhammad, but lately the protest letters from Muslims had increasingly become threats, including death threats in e-mails from places such as Iran.

The Muhammed Cartoons
Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands Posten told Magazinet that he does not regret publishing the cartoons.

“We cannot regret it. We live in a country where freedom of expression is recognized and we live and work in Denmark under Danish laws. The nature of the reactions has shown how necessary this debate is.”

He also goes on to remark that, although the paper didnt initially receive a lot of support from the Danish media, their attitude began to change after all the arbitrary demands that the newspaper apologize for the publication their attitude began to change.

“Fortunately most people now realize this is an important issue about freedom of expression and, as a consequence, we have been getting more and more support.”

In other news, Danish tabloid, Extra Bladet has gotten hold of a 43 page report being hawked around the Islamic world by Danish Muslim leaders and imams to “explain” how offensive the cartoons are.

In addition to the original twelve cartoons, these religious leaders have added an extra three incredibly amateurish and deliberately offensive cartoons depicting Muhammed as a paedophile demon, with the snout of a pig, and being sodomised by a dog. Apparently, the 12 original pictures were not deemed bad enough to convince other Muslims that Muslims in Denmark are the victims of a campaign of religious hatred.

Muhammed moves to Norway

Muhammed MediaWatchWatch reports that a Norwgian Christian magazine, Magazinet, has weighed into the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy by publishing the full set of cartoons.

According to the National Secular Society:

Magazinet editor Vebjoern Selbekk wrote. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 revealed “that we are not facing empty threats. We know that the freedom of expression in our part of the world is being threatened by religion that is not afraid of using violence,” he added. Selbekk said he was not afraid of the prospect of facing the same indignation and even death threats that faced the Danish paper after it published the cartoons.

According to Islam Online, the head of one of the many Supreme Islamic Councils, Mohammed Hamdan, has condemned the magazine “in the strongest possible terms” and - revealingly - responded to the news that the magazine had published the cartoons in the name of freedom of expression by asking What on earth does freedom of expression mean?

And, typically enough, he goes on to say:

Editors should not take free speech as an excuse to insult a certain religion; otherwise they risk an extremist response from the offended, which carries grave consequences.

Which can be loosely translated as, if you offend us, well blame you when we kill you.

The full set of cartoons can be seen here.