Friday, 24 February 2006

The people are high on opium - V

Still more cartoon deaths
Cut to Nigeria and the cartoon row has claimed quite a few more lives in the Muslim north and retributions in the Christian south.
We need to return to this free speech dialogue again and see what the exercise of rights entails without consideration of the possible consequences of that action and the ensuing responsibilities.
We, in the West do have democratic principles that enshrine and ensure a clutch of freedoms which includes expression, life and association amongst others.
Our secular society
Our constitutional, societal, legal and political heritage is Judeo-Christian in precept, example and context even though the separation of church and state presents Western societies as nominally secular.
The only part of contemporary Europe that has an inkling of any Islamic heritage is Spain through the Moorish occupation of Andalusia, whilst the architecture remains, Spain is still one of the most Christian-conservative countries on mainland Europe.
In general, all people of all races and religious persuasion have to subscribe to the basic secular law of the land; in Europe, neither Sharia nor Moses’ law holds any kind of precedent; no, not in European society.
It is therefore incumbent on citizens and residents to seek redress through the due process of law either criminal or civil if they are aggrieved; no matter the magnitude of hurt suffered.
Not so much an Arctic rag
However, we should look at the actions of the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten newspaper which was founded 1871 and is generally considered Liberal-Conservative with a contemporary penchant for right-wing immigration commentary and an early Twentieth Century history that has paid lip-service to fascism, Nazism and despotic governments.
However, it would be unfair to prejudge the newspaper on those views though its opinion is generally right-wing in perspective.
In arguing for why they published the cartoons, it is understandable that people have been afraid to publish Islamic material for the fear of exciting fundamentalist backlash.
It is also commendable that the newspaper decided to open up debate on these issues through commissioning copy that resulted in the cartoon depictions.
Serious food for thought
However, in the light of prevailing events we can assess the position the newspaper took and create the following food for thought
+        With a history as theirs, this project would have done well to incense, annoy and inflame those fundamentalists
+        They commissioned material for a subject that they have no particular experience of; Denmark is hardly Islamic – for instance, do they have a religious correspondent with an Islamic background?
+        The material could have had more credibility if the publication included intellectual input from Islamic scholars on the issues they wanted to address – indeed, there is a dearth of conventional Western teaching material for the Islamic tutelage of children.
+        They underestimated the impact their material would have on their potential audience – Danish imams probably never read the newspaper but they caught on this edition.
+        They lost control of the context they were trying to convey such that others were able to hijack their message and then manipulate it for more ulterior motives – A few more dastardly and despicable cartoon depictions were added to original set to incense the global campaign of outrage.
+        They ignored the fact that every freedom of expression includes an implicit responsibility for the consequences of free-agent actions especially in a global context – How would they account for the consequent loss of life and business stemming from this freedom of expression?
+        Adherents of Islam (1.2 billions) are not a race confined to some geographical location, they are everywhere, hence the global riots – Islam is not just about the Middle-East with only 18% of the global Muslim population, and there are at least 60 million Muslims in Nigeria – 10 times the population of Denmark. See Demographics of Islam.
Responsibilities underpin our freedoms
Technically, the Danish government has no need to apologise for the antics of the newspaper, but there is no doubt that that principled stand has had more far reaching consequences beyond that Arctic backwater.
For triviality sake, I might have the right to kick around a football in my back garden, however, if in the process of that kick-about the ball breaks a window-pane in the neighbouring house – do I expressly defend my rights or quickly take responsibility?
My view is that the right to the freedom of expression is sacrosanct and must be preserved, but in the context of understanding that rights entail consequences which could at times be immeasurable and unforeseen.
This is not a call for self-censorship but the need to engage all affected parties in order to create balanced copy that can diffuse tensions that might otherwise develop.
Where we have full knowledge of the facts we can express ourselves with authority, in the absence of that; opinion should have researched, balanced and considerate attention to maintaining civility; at the minimum.
Stepping up to full responsibility
Beyond the freedom of expression mantra, it is time for Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten to begin to think about the humanitarian respite they can bring to the suffering and damage the exercise of their rights has created.
+        Implore the Prime Minister to engage in their behalf the work of apologising for the consequences of their actions
+        Create a fund to help Western-Islamic discourse
+        Find out about every individual who has died as a result of the cartoon riot and seeking to alleviate the sufferings of their survivors
+        Devote resources to helping mend the fences that have lost Danish businesses years of painstaking global business goodwill
This is very much like mending the neighbour’s window-pane after that unfortunate kick-about.

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