The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yellow Peril right on the money

All of this palaver about cartoons of Mohammed has rather missed the point, imho.

Yes, many people can publish them legally (free speech and all that) which is a Good Thing. I have no problem with the original publication of the cartoons, but some of the blog incarnation of this saga is really quite juvenile.

If your sole motivation in publishing the cartoons is really just to piss other people off (to put it mildly) is that actually a good reason to do so? That seems to me why most of the NZ bloggers who have published them have done so.

I note that many of the cartoons are in languages I certainly can't read and I expect many of those who have blogged them also fail to actually understand the punchlines. So publication really is more about saying "Up Yours" rather than anything else.

Tze Ming has put it better than I ever could:

Why be so determined to publish low-quality cartoons only, and specifically only because they will upset a vast amount of people who never did anything to you, but who, rather, have had to put up with this crap in escalating doses since September 2001? The right to 'take the mickey' is truly satisfying when the powerful are being mocked. What kind of satisfaction are these newspapers taking from putting the boot into people who are already floored? I mean, what is the point?

What I hate the most about these 'freedom-of-speech' moments, is that when the desired outrage is elicited from some cheap shot (eg, a newpaper gets called a pack of cunts, people stop buying Danish cheese) then those reactions are deemed attacks on freedom of speech. Well, they're not. They're further expressions of freedom of speech. Sow, reap, eat.

Update, 12.19pm 6th February 2006: Maia and Mr Stupid have posted in a similar vein:
- Free Speech - Capitalism Bad
- ixnay on the lasphemybay - Stupid Internet Name

Update the second, 10.48am 7th February 2006: Psycho Milt and I are having quite a civilised and (imho) constructive disagreement about this all over at a post on Sir Humphrey's (scroll down to read the comments).

Mohammed cartoons
Free speech


Jack Yan said...

Well said, Span. You, Tze and I seem to be some of the few bloggers who think these cartoons were inappropriate. I don’t discount the fact that asking for the cartoonist’s head and wrecking embassies are very bad things, but it’s very hard for me to excuse the republication of the images, as a publisher.

maps said...

No arguments there.

And the best thing happening in the Middle East at the moment is the massive strike of transit workers in Iran, which is showing the world that, lo and behold, not every person in the region can be caricatured as a raving bin Ladenist:

Psycho Milt said...

I have some problems with this approach.

1. The powerful are being mocked. My wife spent most of a day scouring her lab clean of any Danish product or literature because the leading mullahs of the state would be visiting to ensure their country wasn't being polluted by the foul enemy of Islam's product. Those are the guys being mocked. Not some bunch of working-class immigrants in Denmark, but clerics with the power to announce they're going to walk in and inspect your factory and you'd better not have any Danish product in it - clerics with the power to direct mobs to threaten the safety of my wife's Danish colleagues. And no, the colleagues don't blame the damn newspaper for threatening their safety, they blame the cunts making the threats - the real cunts, if Tze Ming will.

2. Put up with what crap? Frenzied mobs throwing stuff at embassies or burning them down, and waving placards promising death to their enemies? Er, no, the people putting up with that crap would be us.

3. I also noted that the cartoons were in Danish and therefore not readable by me. But Tze Ming Mok seems to be able to identify them as "low quality" cartoons - using her fluent Danish, no doubt.

4. The cartoons were not published specifically to upset people, they were published to make a point. That point has probably been made far too well for the editor of Jyllands-Posten's comfort, but made it has been.

Graham Watson said...

I think you miss the point Psycho Milt.

The cartoons are (highly) offensive to a large section of the population. While the media should be free, the decision to excersize that freedom with such irresponsibility is in my view cheap sensationalism. It gives ammunition to those on the left that want to restrict this freedom.

It further fans the unreasonable flames of anti muslim hatred in the west, and plays to the redneck element.

Given the highly offensive nature of the cartoons it is little wonder there has been a strong reaction. This has done more than mobilise radical fundamentalists, it has alienated all layers of muslims, including your ordinary muslim on the street. It has cultivated feelings of dismay and despair, and aggravated the already suspicious view of the west.

While the Danish newspaper and other cheap rags like the Dominion do have the right to offend people if that is their gratuitous desire, they have severely hampered the all important cross cultural understanding necessary for world peace.

Jolly good that Tze Ming and Span have swum against the blogosphere current on this one.

Eleanor said...

First of all, I respect you for actually stating your opinion on this subject, for standing up and being counted. A lot of bloggers (especially, I'm sad to say, from the left side of the spectrum) are adopting a 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' policy on this and not expressing an opinion either way.

But I think it's you that's missing the point.

This isn't about what the guy has said or the quality of the cartoons. This is about defending the democratic right of these Danes to speak their minds without being beheaded.

I won't insult you by asking if you've heard the statement "I despise what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I only point out that a lot of left wingers like to say this right up until the point where they have to take the last part literally.

If you can honestly say your decision to take this stand was not influenced by fear, and that you adopt the same position for anti-Christian and anti-Jewish cartoons such as 'South Park', fair enough.

But if you're going to take another line when a more politically safe censorship scandal comes up, I promise I'll be waiting to remind you you said this.

Rich said...

I've got one of the cartoons up on my blog, with an explanation.

I've also, incidentally, not removed a comment that contains the full text of one of the Critic stories banned by the Censor.

Why? Because I believe in (almost) unrestricted freedom of speech. Ensuring that controversial material is widely circulated is a practical way of promoting this. It gives those publishing the ability to withstand attacks through weight of numbers. Salman Rushdie was alone in being forced into hiding by the Iranian fatwa. It's going to be much harder for the mullahs to attack hundreds of newspapers and thousands of bloggers.

If a Muslim organisation were to print an insurrectionary leaflet and get that suppressed as sedition or whatever, that would go up on my blog as well. In quotes.

Maia said...

Span you and I quoted exactly the same two paragraphs of Tze Ming's piece - obviously some sort of mind meld thing going on there.

Eleanor I'm not quite sure

I haven't seen the South Park episode, I loath South Park and it's pureile reactionary world view, I think it's a really bad programme. Just like I think the cartoons are bad.

I think there are two fundamental questions here. One is the conflation between freedom of speech, and freedom from criticism. Now I do think it's a complicated line, and that there are times when non-governmental power can stifle freedom of speech, by enforcing massive consequences for the speech. But unless someone can articulate that problem, and where they think the line is then I can't really have a debate with them.

Secondly there's the line between freedom of speech for an individual, and how that changes when we're talking about corporations not individuals. Personally I think Freedom of Speech is a pretty meaningless concept when it's possible to buy speech. I believe I have every right to criticise corporations for the choices they make about which speech they choose to publish.

Eleanor said...

freedom from criticism

I have never heard of 'freedom from criticism' before. The fundamental right to never be criticised doesn't strike me as something that's going on the UN charter any time soon. In the aftermath of the "Life of Brian" John Cleese said 'No one has the right to not be offended' and that is something I deeply agree with.

Lots of people hate South Park and I agree that it's definitely not to everybody's taste, but that's not the point. The point is that this shouldn't be treated any differently than cartoons offensive to Christians or Jews. People joke about Christianity all the time, and whether or not the jokes are funny we would be a poorer society to ban that.

The point about freedom of speech for corporations is interesting, but not really relevant to this case. The fact that media giants choose what information is released means it is even more imperative for impartial outlets such as blogs to try and keep the world as informed as possible.

Maia said...

So what is wrong with bloggers saying they think the Dominon Post were fuckwits for posting this for the reasons they did?

Or with people who were offending saying "I was offended." Whether that's with letters, protests or boycotts?

Just as there's no right not to be offended, there's no right not to hear about it when people are offended.

Maria von Trapp said...

yes and Maia we're happy to hear that people are offended.

we're just not happy to see people engaging in acts of war (which is what they are) on Danish embassies as a result.

there are better ways to voice your offence.

as a Christian I have had to put up with stacks of insults and I do a pretty good job of putting up with it. I choose how to respond to it, mostly by ignoring it.

The double standard just really fucks me off right now.

span said...

If you actually read my post Eleanor you will see that I am not opposed to the original publication of the cartoons.

What I am concerned about is the gloating and poking that is going on, with bloggers (in particular) trying to outbid each other to be the most offensive.

I've blogged frequently in the past on the fact that here in the NZ blogosphere we are often incredibly nasty to each other and indulge in pointscoring that is meaningless in the real world. I see my stance on the cartoon issue as entirely consistent with my previous calls for all being a bit nicer to each other.

My post was in no way motivated by fear. I'm a bit surprised you thought it was, to be honest.

I realise I'm starting to sound awfully pompous in this comment, sorry about that - I guess this is one of those High Horse issues.

My original post was not really about freedom of speech - I accept that people have it, and I'm glad they do. It's about how we choose to exercise that right - do we choose to be senselessly offensive, or do we choose to engage and respond in a manner that moves the dialogue along? I'm not denying any blogger their choice, but I'm pointing out that I think some people are making damn stupid decisions about this.

Eleanor said...

Well, I read your post, again. I did read it the first time in spite of the random phrases and words in bold which made it rather hard to understand.

Yes, there has been some very childish behaviour about this whole issue on several blogs, but your post didn't read like it was just about that the first time, and it still doesn't now.

The first time I read it, I got the impression the entire publication of the cartoons and everyone who republished them was doing it 'to piss people off for the sake of it' which is completely dodging the point.

And when you said: "All of this palaver about cartoons of Mohammed has rather missed the point, imho." just what the heck were you trying to say? I can't find any record of what you thought the point already was, and could only assume you agreed with Tze Ming, who basically took the 'freedom of speech does not mean freedom to insult religions' line.

My post was in no way motivated by fear. I'm a bit surprised you thought it was, to be honest.

Well, I suppose you are writing under a pseud.

span said...

So Eleanor, when I wrote this:

Yes, many people can publish them legally (free speech and all that) which is a Good Thing. I have no problem with the original publication of the cartoons, but some of the blog incarnation of this saga is really quite juvenile.

in my original post, what did you think I meant? I thought I was pretty clear, but perhaps not - how could I have put it better?

In regard to the issue of the pseudonym, I have been blogging now since about June 2004, always using the same pseudonym. It's actually not that hard to work out who I am in real life. I use a pseudonym because of my work, mainly, and I've always been upfront about that.

Does the last paragraph of my last comment not explain to you what I was trying to say when I said that the palaver missed the point?

I'm not trying to be patronising or sarky by asking these questions, I am just trying to get to the heart of what you are asking me - please take this comment in the open way it is intended. I'm just a bit confused about why you are being so hostile in your comments and would like to understand.

Eleanor said...

Yes, I was being hostile, perhaps overly hostile. But I really didn't appreciate your statement that I hadn't read your post. Even saying that it *appeared* that I hadn't read your post would have made me a lot less angry.

And perhaps my initial response wasn't just responding to you, but also Tze Ming's post, which you seemed to be implicitly agreeing with, and the whole response of the Left side of the blogosphere to this thing. I had felt very let down when it seemed most left wingers weren't commenting on this issue at all, and the only places which seemed to be doing the right thing were right wing blogs which were childishly competing to produce the most 'Offensive' cartoon.

So when I replied here it was more like I was venting all my anger and frustration at basically every left-wing blogger I could think of, with the exception of Kete Were. And that was probably somewhat unfair to you, and for that I Am sorry.

I admit that I skim read your post the first time, which is mostly because I was very angry, but I did read it. I am not in the habit of seeing a headline and then clicking the comments and typing whatever comes into my head. And I read it more carefully a second time.

But weirdly enough, it wasn't until you highlighted it and put it in the comments that I actually noticed the sentence "I have no problem with the original publication of the cartoons". It would be unfair to blame your habit of bolding seemingly random keywords (it was going too far to taunt you about that in the previous comments, but it's still distracting IMHO).

And I think you could have made it a bit clearer that you were referring to the example of blogs like the Whig and Silent Running who are just taking the opportunity to turn this whole occasion into an Islamophobiafest. Comments like That seems to me why most of the NZ bloggers who have published them have done so. feel insulting in the context of blogs like Kete Were who were clearly doing it in the name of freedom of tolerance. 'Most blogs' is not nearly specific enough.

This is ridiculously long already, but what I'm trying to say is that I'm really annoyed about the wanky response to these cartoons on blogs left and right, and am especially annoyed at the 'play safe don't comment at all' approach. Your blog became something of a place to yell at pretty much everybody but it was unfair to direct all my anger at you and I do want to apologise for being a pain in the neck.

So I'm sorry.

span said...

Thanks Eleanor, I really appreciate your comment.

I wrote my original post before I had seen any left responses except for NRT and Kete Were (and obviously Tze Ming) - I toyed with linking to Xavier's post, as I agree with much of what he says too, but in the end was in a hurry and too lazy to do so as I couldn't easily fit it into the post (sounds lame I know, but it's true!)

Perhaps I subscribe to too many right wing blogs, but it did seem, when I wrote the original post, that most NZ bloggers were taking the low road (Whig you have pointed out, WhaleOil is possibly worse, I haven't seen Silent Running). Checking my bloglines subs was like this onslaught of "me too, I can offend those towel-heads even more than you can, oh and by the way I have a bigger dick." ;-)

Hopefully I'll get time tonight to write a second post which brings together some of the stuff from this thread and also the discussion I've been having over at Sir Humphrey's (of all places!) with Psycho Milt.

Maia said...

Maria I understand why it seems like a double standard. Like I said on my blog the embassy stuff makes so little sense to me, I don't even know where to start to analyse it (and I believe that's because there's more going on than I understand).

But what's bothered me is that it seems to me that many people are making it a free speech issue by equating all the difference sorts of protests as similar. People were talking about Freedom of Speech before the Embassy's were attacked.

I thought that people who renamed French Fries to Freedom Fries were tremendous dorks, but I didn't think they were attacking France's right to a free foreign policy.

Likewise boycotting Denmark, or New Zealand, seems insane to me, but it isn't an attack on freedom of speech (it gets murky when it's been done by government's rather than individuals - and that's a distinction I'd like to make if I write another post on the issue).

Psycho Milt said...

Maia, that probably makes sense from NZ, but I've been pontificating about it at great length on any blog that'll have me because I'm getting the "free speech" part in my face a lot more (in Kuwait).

What makes it a free speech issue isn't boycotts or protests or burnt embassies. The free speech issue is that the local mullahs and politicians here (and elsewhere in the Middle East) aren't only calling for an apology, they're demanding that the Danish govt "reprimand" the journalists responsible and see that this can't happen again. So there is no way we can give them satisfaction - the only thing we can do is sit tight and tell them that what they're asking will not be given to them.

Well before the embassies were burned, Danes here were being advised to avoid giving any public indication that they're Danish, because it would threaten their safety - and for once, I don't think the security advice is bullshit. It is a freedom of speech issue when people are threatening to beat or kill you for your speech, I think. And for people like Tze Ming Mok to provide an analysis that basically says "Gee, you shouldn't have said that, you made them mad" is not helpful.

Maia said...

I agree, and that's why I only analysed it from a NZ point of view. I have found your perspective really interesting.

What's going on here is a little more complicated than that. Because the people who are suffering aren't even the people who made the speech in the first place. Which doesn't make it any less of a problem, but it does mean that I don't think anyone is going to get out looking particularly good here. Because the people facing the consequences are not the ones making the speech. So people like the Dominion Post aren't actually risking anything personally, and yet they still pat themselves on the back

Psycho Milt said...

I have to admit, I do feel like these editors volunteered me to take a stand on their behalf.