Monday, February 06, 2006

I believe in freedom of speech (when it suits me)

As the controversy over the Danish cartoons rages on, there are a lot of unanswered questions, many of them raised by Charles Moore.

1. The cartoons appeared several months ago. Why has a fuss about them erupted only now?
2. We are constantly being told that any imagery of the Prophet Mohammed is offensive towards Muslims. So why have depictions of Mohammed appeared in works of Islamic art for centuries?
3. The violent demonstrations occurring throughout the Muslim world were provoked in part by Yussuf Qaradawi who called for "a day of rage". Why do some in the West continue to refer to him as a "voice of moderation"?
4. Western Liberals have wasted no time in preaching the virtue of respecting other religions, yet were strangely silent when Jerry Springer the Opera (which depicts Jesus in diapers) was shown on national television.
5. Why have the Police come down like a tonne of bricks on members of the British National Party for inciteful comments made by its members in private, yet stood idly by whilst Muslim demonstrators carried placards in public saying "Europe you will pay, your 3/11 is on its way"?
6. Anti-semitic cartoons appear on almost a daily basis in the Arab press, yet there is barely a murmur of protest.

We can endlessly argue whether or not the cartoons were offensive or not, that is a matter for debate. But no one should have a gun held to their head. It seems that when it comes to free speech, the West has become anything but even handed. As Rachel Sylvester points out today, there is one law for the bloodthirsty, another for the tolerant. The lesson that extremists of all shades will have taken from this whole sorry episode is that those who shout the loudest and who make the most threatening noises are the ones who get listened to.

When Christian clerics railed against the movie "Life of Brian", John Cleese responded that "400 years ago you would have had us burnt". No doubt that is what many of the violent demonstrators would have done to the editors of Jyllands-Posten.