Thursday, December 29, 2005

"We support freedom of speech as long as you are saying nice things that do not offend people"

That's what a guy from Singapore told me sometime in 1993. He was quite serious about it, too. At that point I figured it must be some cultural difference between Singapore and the West. Guess not:

The Council of Europe has criticised the Danish government for refusing to take action against Jyllands-Posten for publishing cartoons of prophet Muhammed. Franco Frattini, the Deputy EU commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security, said that the cartoons will cause hostility against Islam and foreigners.

No shit, Sherlock? Let's take a look at the background of the case: last summer a Danish writer has complained that it's hard to get anyone to illustrate a book about Muhammed, because everyone is afraid of a retaliation by Muslims (it is forbidden to draw the prophet). In order to test the current state of freedom of speech in Denmark Jyllands-Posten asked a number of artists to draw Muhammed cartoons, and 12 did. The freedom-of-speech test: Danish government passed, Muslims failed, the Council of Europe sort of passed but does not look good.

Silly me. I thought that hostility against Muslims might have been caused by riots, threats to bomb Denmark, and guys like Imam Raed Hlayhel saying that democracy is worthless to Muslims and that women who go to hairdressers will later go to hell. And maybe - just maybe - by a perception that Muslims might overreact to anything that offends them by, say, issuing fatwas against writers, stabbing film directors and having violent protests in Pakistan and Kashmir over depictions of the prophet in Denmark. But now I know that it must be the cartoons. You just look at a cartoon and immediately start doubting that Islam is the world's most peaceful religion.

Egyptian Grand Imam Muhammad Sayid Tantawy also condemned the Danish government for showing such disrespect towards Islam. Wait, is that the same Tantawy who said in April 2002 that Jews are "enemies of Allah, sons of apes and pigs"? And later during the same year called for intensifying the "martyrdom operations" against Israel? Yeah, just the guy whom you want to lecture you on the subjects of respect for other religions and freedom of speech.

Seriously, though, I think that freedom of religion has already pretty much died in the West, and freedom of speech is under attack, and not just from radical Islam.

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