Respectful Insolence

As anyone who read my old blog knows, I have some very strong views on free speech, viewing it as the single most important basis of a free society. It is therefore not surprising that I recently commented on the Danish cartoon imbroglio, in which fundamentalist Muslims, outrage stoked by their Imams and by Muslim governments such as Saudi Arabia and Syria, have tried to impose their religious views on secular societies. One thing I noted is how the Iranian government, in their effort to try to claim that Europeans have a double standard, launched a contest asking for cartoons about the Holocaust., asking the question: How would anyone notice the difference, given the volume of anti-Semitic articles and cartoons that come out of Iran and other Muslim countries every day?

Now, via Andrew Mathis, I’ve discovered that another fellow traveler in the fight against Holocaust denial, Albrecht Kolthoff, has made a rather spot-on observation while responding to an editorial by Enver Masud, a point that I wish I had considered myself more carefully.

Masud writes:

The West’s double standards, hypocrisy, and injustice fuel Muslim anger. For example: [...] Ernst Zundel, Germar Rudolf and David Irving are serving time in jail in Europe for their views about the holocaust. [...] Would a U.S. president invite Zundel, Rudolf, Irving, or Garaudy to dinner at the White House as then President Clinton invited Salman Rushdie? Why doesn’t the press support Zundel’s, Rudolf’s, Irving’s, or Garaudy’s right to free speech?

When Masud tries to imply that these examples imply an assymmtric treatment of different religions, Albrecht nails him (note that English is is second language):

Unfortunately Masud fails to recognize that just this has happened in the West: Muslims have been offended by some cartoons mocking their religion, just like in the past centuries Christians have been offended by anti-Christian drawings and pamphlets in the West – and I don’t have spoken of Jews in the West yet. Welcome to the Western World! When your religious faith is being insulted, you are enjoying symmetric treatment, and you are part of the West.

But Masud actually didn’t compare the treatment of Muslim faith with the treatment of Christianity. What he did was to compare the treatment of Muslim faith with Holocaust Denial.

And that is quite interesting.

Doesn’t Holocaust Denial present itself as a scholarly, academic venture, intended to discuss the facts? Wouldn’t that mean that Holocaust Denial is far from a faith? Actually Holocaust deniers accuse their opponents to promote some kind of “Holocaust religion”.

This is the point where Masud made a mistake. He compared and eventually equated a factual historical issue with a religious faith. In the West as in other parts of the world, some factual issues are protected by law, for instance by libel laws. It is a legitimate debate to discuss the legal and moral implications of protecting a factual historical issue by laws as they exist in some Western countries; besides that it also would be worth to debate if it is sensible and useful.

But that doesn’t change anything to the fact that Masud complains about insulting one’s religious faith by the publication of Cartoons goes unpunished while at the same time – well, what? – is being punished.

What is it being punished? Doesn’t that mean that Masud regards Holocaust Denial as a religious faith?

And this is the point where Masud is right. I’ll leave out the cheap and obvious question whether punishing Holocaust deniers would be justified in Masud’s view if only someone insulting Muhammad would be punished as well.

Masud is right that in a certain sense Holocaust Denial is a kind of religious faith because Holocaust deniers regard historical facts as an insult to their idols – the National Socialist leadership who exterminated about two thirds of European Jewry – while at the same time they are wishing for someone finishing the job.

I’m not quite sure that I totally agree with Albrecht here, because it seems fairly clear to me that the Muslims who are so quick to bring up Europe’s treatment of Holocaust denial as a counterexample to its treatment of the cartoons of the Prophet are not necessarily implying that Holocaust denial is a religious belief, but rather that the Holocaust itself is a religious belief. Thus, to them, denying or mocking the Holocaust is the equivalent of criticizing or making fun of Islam. Either that, or they seem to think that the Holocaust is a symbol of the Jewish faith on the same order of Mohammed as the founder of Islam is a symbol of the Muslim faith. Their ideology and anti-Semitism have led them to confuse what is probably the best-documented and best proven genocide in history with a religious belief. Their hatred leads them to equate historical fact with religious belief.
I have pointed out on several occasions that, as odious as I consider Holocaust denial and Holocaust deniers, I nonetheless consider European laws that criminalize Holocaust denial to be grave affronts to free speech. As much as I detest David Irving, I do not think that he should be behind bars in Austria for denying the Holocaust.
Perhaps the most brilliant response to the Danish cartoon imbroglio and the Iranian response of running a contest looking for cartoons making fun of the Holocaust comes from Israel itself. Via Deborah Lipstadt, the historian whom David Irving sued for libel and lost in 2000, leading to his humiliation and being proclaimed by the court to be a Holocaust denier, I’ve learned of a contest from an Israeli himself looking for anti-Semitic cartoons. There’s just one catch. They have to be drawn by Jews themselves:

Amitai Sandy (29), graphic artist and publisher of Dimona Comix Publishing, from Tel-Aviv, Israel, has followed the unfolding of the “Muhammad cartoon-gate” events in amazement, until finally he came up with the right answer to all this insanity – and so he announced today the launch of a new anti-Semitic cartoons contest – this time drawn by Jews themselves!

“We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!” said Sandy “No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”

The contest has been announced today on the www.boomka.org website, and the initiator accept submissions of cartoons, caricatures and short comic strips from people all over the world. The deadline is Sunday March 5, and the best works will be displayed in an Exhibition in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Sandy is now in the process of arranging sponsorships of large organizations, and promises lucrative prizes for the winners, including of course the famous Matzo-bread baked with the blood of Christian children.

Heh. This is the kind of response that truly shows the difference between a confident democratic society able to laugh at itself and humorless and repressive theocratic societies like Iran. It’s absolutely brilliant, managing to point out this difference and at the same time to mock the Iranian “contest.” The day a person in a country like Iran runs a contest looking for cartoons criticizing Islam or featuring stereotypes about them and doesn’t have to seriously fear for his life is the day I will take their complaints about a “double standard” about free speech as anything more than a rather obvious ploy.
ADDENDUM: As usual, The Onion sees right through the situation.
ADDENDUM #2: It’s been pointed out that the The Sandmonkey may have been the first blogger to disseminate the news of the Israeli cartoon contest.

Comments

  1. #1 slc
    February 15, 2006

    In actual fact, Syria does not have a Muslim government. The ruling Baathist party is dominated by the Alawites who are considered apostates by the rest of the Muslim world. It should be pointed out that the current dictators’ father murdered an estimated 20000 people in the city of Hama in response to a fundamentalist Muslim threat to his regime.

  2. #2 Orac
    February 15, 2006

    So noted.

  3. #3 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 15, 2006

    The person in the blogosphere who first spotted this was the invaluable Egyptian SandMonkey
    http://egyptiansandmonkey.blogspot.com/
    (who also was among the first to discover that an Egyptian Newspaper had republished the cartoons — during Ramadan — without protest).

    As for the person who informed Dr. Lipstadt, you might check the second response to the previous post, and the time.

    Jim
    (who sometimes needs to take his ego out for a walk or it makes messes in the house)

  4. #4 Sastra
    February 15, 2006

    Orac wrote:
    “…Their ideology and anti-Semitism have led them to confuse what is probably the best-documented and best proven genocide in history with a religious belief. Their hatred leads them to equate historical fact with religious belief.”

    Somehow I doubt that fundamentalist Muslims view Allah’s dictation to Mohammead as a “religious belief” in the same sense that modern liberal Westerners are content to separate their personal faiths from empirical facts. On the contrary, like Christian Fundamentalists, they seem to regard their own holy book as an absolutely reliable, objectively convincing factual historical document which, once examined, could only be denied by the perverse.

    It isn’t their hatred which leads fundamentalist Muslims to equate historical fact with religious belief. It’s their entire mindset.

  5. #5 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 15, 2006

    I hope to be doing something on the “Muslim mindset’ on my own blog sometime within the next week, but I wnt to make a couple of points here. The term ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ is, as Muslims say, a misnomer, especially if we consider it as being a small subset of Muslims, the way we speak of “Christian Fundamentalists” or “Orthodox (or “ultra-Orthodox”) Jews.”
    ALL Muslims, theoretically, and the vast majority of believing Muslims in fact are “Fundamentalists.” (This does NOT mean they are all terrorists, or haters, or anti-Semites, as I’ll explain.) That is, a believing Muslim believes that the Qur’an was not ‘inspired’ by Allah but directly dictated by him, through the angel Gabriel to Mohammed, and furthermore, that it was the final revelation, not to be changed (“The book of prophecy has been closed, the inkwell has run dry.”)

    Where Muslims differ is in interpreting the Qur’an. There is no heirarchy, technically no authoritative clerical structure, in Islam. An imam is chosen by a particular congregation because they view him as learned. But his interpretation is his alone, and binding on only those Muslims that accept it. (And Muslims consider only the Qur’an in Arabic to be authoritative. A translation is never THE Qur’an, but ‘The meaning of the Qur’an.” Only a minority of Muslims can speak Arabic, and there is a fairly high rate of illiteracy in much of the Muslim world, so few can read the Qur’an and probably a minority cannot even read the translation. They are dependent on accepting the word of the imam as to what the Qur’an says, which verses he emphasizes, which Hadiths (sayings and traditions of Mohammed of which there are thousands) are authoritative.

    And the Qur’an is a very difficult book. (For those who have never read it, three translations are available at the wonderful Internet Sacred Text archive
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm
    which has books and texts from and about every religion from African Animism to Zoroastrianism — though older ones because he’s limited to those in the public domain. The Pickthal is the most readable, but the introduction to the Palmer is also very interesting.

    (Another and searchable one is the Shakir at
    http://www.hti.umich.edu/k/koran/
    Any of these are useful.)

    The Qur’an is unlike the Bible, a narrative including any number of illustrative stories. Instead it is a series of sermons delivered by Mohammed over several years, and only written down and collected after his death. It isn’t even arranged chronologically, since the compilers weren’t able to agree, but arranged by length with the longest first. (Palmer claims that in some cases the compilers were unable to agree where a particular verse went and just put it in wherever it seemed to fit.)

    It is also incredibly repetitious, with the same idea repeated in the same words in twenty or more Suras (sermons), as well as being frequently incoherent and contradictory. (Palmer claims, with some justice, that Mohammed was either epileptic or a ‘religious hysteric’ and that many of the early Suras in particular show signs of being delivered in a state of religious ecstacy. (It is also incredibly charmless and dreary to the Unbeliever such as myself. with none of the occasional bits of beauty and joy and love you find in the Testaments — which I also do not ‘believe.’)

    Because of this, and because many of the Suras were, in fact, speaking of the situation Mohammed found himself in at the time — though believers would reject this, of course — and because they were delivered at a time when Mohammed was unifying the Arabs and fighting against many local groups to establish the religion, an imam can find support in the Qur’an for almost any violent idea he seeks to profess. (Imagine a collection of sermons delivered by a Christian chaplain during WWII. You’d find little about Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” and many exhortations far more violent than a minister or priest would deliver during peace time.)

    Sorry to take this amount of room, Orac, but it might be worthwhile having this in your data banks. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I’ll save that for my own blog.

  6. #6 tim gueguen
    February 15, 2006

    Of course the irony of elements in the Arab world supporting Holocaust denial is that its giving aid and comfort to the people in the West who arguably hate Arabs the most.

  7. #7 Ahistoricality
    February 15, 2006

    I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but the Onion story notes that the assembled Jews will be marked with a “six digit identification number”…. which would, of course, be grossly inadequate for any number of Jews over one million. Error or satire? You decide.

  8. #8 Gdr
    February 17, 2006

    You may be over-analyzing this. The Iranian government asks for cartoons mocking the Holocaust simply because they can be sure that this subject will cause offence. It would not serve their purpose to make cartoons mocking Christianity, because hardly anyone in the west would care.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.