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RE: <nettime> publication of "Jyllands-Posten" cartoons is not "freedom
Joe Lockard on Fri, 10 Feb 2006 11:09:19 +0100 (CET)

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RE: <nettime> publication of "Jyllands-Posten" cartoons is not "freedom of thepress"

The responses of Ronda Hauben and Florian Cramer essentially recapitulate that of
the Vatican, which released an unsigned statement that "The freedom of thought and
expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the
right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously
applies to any religion."  I could not disagree more profoundly with such a
position, and see it as seeks to privilege religion and religious prophets as
being beyond critique, satire or parody.  It is particularly disturbing to watch
how easily some elements of progressive political thought capitulate to claims for
the sacralization of civic discourse, as if the principles of free expression
could be sacrificed because some legally-protected expression alienated millions
of adherents to one religious faith or another.  There are many of us who view
religious faiths as atavistic, fictive, erroneous, patriarchal, violent,
class-ridden, and alien to humanistic values.  In their humanity, these faiths
simultaneously are capable of ethical wisdom, beauty, and moving works of art,
music and literature.  Works of art, such as the Danish cartoons, that puncture
through the negative ethos of a religious faith do not invalidate its positive
social and cultural contributions.  Progressive politics function under
obligations of democratic courtesy and a modicum of tastefulness, but that is not
an obligation that extends to imposition of censorship by those who view
anti-religious expression as illegitimate. Blasphemy is, at root, the name for
critiques that religious faith and theocratic authority cannot abide.  Blasphemies
and heresies -- including antagonistic representations of prophets, saints, or
religious symbols (viz. Piss Christ) -- are the stuff of human progress.

A newspaper's political history or current conservatism has no relevance to this
argument, especially as the history of the European press will reveal significant
social ugliness in almost any newspaper with a sufficiently lengthy history.  The
Times of London could be condemned on similar historical grounds as
Jyllands-Posten, none of which bears on a legal right to publish freely in the
twenty-first century.  Much of this present argument recapitulates ground covered
regarding publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, as if nothing has been
learned in the interim.20

What does bear immense relevance lies in the social context of this cultural
conflict in the specificities of anti-Moslem discrimination in Europe and the
United States, and the growing global antagonisms between the Islamic and an
amorphously-defined "Western" world.  For discussing these specificities, the
Danish cartoons are only one starting-point.



Joe Lockard
Assistant Professor
209 Durham Languages and Literatures Bldg.
English Department
POB 870302
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-0302
Tel: (480) 727-6096
Fax: (480) 965-3451
E-mail: Joe.Lockard {AT} asu.edu

Antislavery Literature Project

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