UN Absurdity on Danish Caricatures

I've never been an anti-UN guy. I've always had a realistic view of the UN as an organization that can be effective at things like small scale peacekeeping operations, refugee aid and moderating minor conflicts between nations. When it comes to major conflicts between the world's powers, the UN is terribly ineffective because it was designed to be - the world's great powers all have permanent veto power over the security council, so they can prevent any action they choose. So when I've heard the often-fevered anti-UN rhetoric from the right, I've pretty much laughed it off as more paranoid conspiracy-mongering. But this Danish caricature situation has me rethinking that position.

A report in a Turkish newspaper (scroll down about halfway) cites a UN Human Rights Council report on the situation in Denmark with the caricatures of Muhammed. If his citation of what is in that report is accurate, the UN has lost its mind completely.

UN Higher Commissioner Louis Arbour's special reporter Doudou Diene made harsh criticisms in his report about the Danish government and intellectuals along with the Danish daily Jyllands Posten, which published the blasphemous images first. The report stressed that "beliefs should not be humiliated under the veil of freedom of expression" as it dwelled on the importance of fighting against Islamophobia.

Isn't it interesting that the blame for "Islamophobia" is put exclusively on those who provoke the rage of the violent thugs and not on the violent thugs themselves? The blame for fear and hatred of radical Islam (as opposed to what I'm sure is the majority of peaceful and decent Muslims) rests with the lunatics who think that they have the authority to murder people for saying things that offend them. It really is that simple.

Diene remarked that xenophobia and taking sides before Islam reached an "alarming" level in Denmark with the publication of the insulting images admitting that, "When political leaders do not fulfill their responsibility about xenophobia and insult to religion, Europe has entered a path, which will confirm the thesis of "clash of civilizations". The reporter emphasized that Jyllands Posten daily attacked Muslim believers by "showing Islam equal to terrorism", which is an old prejudice and it acted under the veil of auto-censorship and freedom of expression.

This argument would be a lot more compelling if the response to the caricatures hadn't completely confirmed and reinforced the "old prejudice". And I would argue that the fact that most Muslims aren't violent is really irrelevant to the question of whether it's acceptable to mock or criticize those within Islam who are. The vast majority of Christians aren't slick hucksters either, but that doesn't mean it should be illegal to draw a cartoon or write an article or a comedy sketch about a televangelist conman.

"The cartoons are absolutely insulting" said the reporter as he directed his criticisms towards the Anders Fogh Rasmussen government, which did not fulfill its responsibility. Diene's report highlighted the violation of international agreements by the Danish government guaranteeing freedom of expression and respect to thoughts and beliefs.

First, no government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from criticism. It does, however, have a responsibility to protect their right to criticize any and all ideas and beliefs. No idea is immune from criticism and the moment the government decides to make some ideas immune to criticism is the moment that tyranny begins. No one has a right to have their beliefs "respected". If you state your beliefs, someone is going to disagree with them, disrespect them, perhaps even mock them. These are the kind of people who would have locked up Voltaire for mocking the Church.

Emphasizing the cartoon crisis arose in Denmark due to rising xenophobia, the UN report stated Jyllands Posten stands against tolerance and supports the clash of civilizations. The Senegalese reporter said "Their defense that freedom of speech is limitless contradicts international rules. There is a great need to establish a balance between freedom of speech and freedom of faith. This publication explicitly shows a lack of understanding and emotion for believers. The newspaper also helped Islam and terror to be likened."

No one claims that freedom of speech is limitless and to claim so is to beat up a straw man. The question is whether free speech should be limited whenever the content of that speech offends someone's religious (or political, or cultural, or...) sensibilities, and the answer is clearly no. Once you begin down that path, you have committed to authoritarian madness. You have given to government the power to decide which ideas may be expressed and which may not, and that is a power that no government may legitimately claim.

I'm frankly just fed up with this entire attitude. You don't like that people criticize your beliefs and make fun of them? To be perfectly blunt, tough shit. Deal with it, or go live in a cave by yourself where you'll never be offended by anyone or anything ever again. You cannot claim the right to express your beliefs while simultaneously seeking to destroy someone else's right to condemn, attack, criticize and mock your beliefs, it's that simple.

If you think you have the right to express your beliefs and to silence criticism of those beliefs, you are a hypocrite and a fraud. If you support their right to silence the beliefs of others, you are an apologist for authoritarian tyranny. And if you think you have the right to kill those who offend you by criticizing your beliefs, you are simply insane and a danger to those around you and to their liberty. We will not be held hostage to your irrational outbursts and we will not diminish our hard-fought freedoms in order to placate your insanity. The fact that the UN Human Rights Council would defend such lunacy only shows that they have completely lost any credible notion of what human rights means.

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Not in the form of "You're all a bunch of violent idiotic barbarians," they don't.

I'd agree. However, having the daftness of suicide bombing pointed out, or the Muslim world's poor treatment of women highlighted, or the inanity of these claims of blasphemy lampooned are certainly things that the Muslim world will need to hear at some point if we want to be able to survive on the same planet as them for any length of time.

Even the cartoon by Lars Refn, which doesn't feature the Prophet but instead reads "Jyllands-Postern's journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs", makes a point - if people had actually bothered to read the damn cartoons before protesting in the streets, they might realise that that and one of the others actually provide an excellent example of the right way to go about protesting.

Sadly, it seems that many people (quite apart from those stirred up by the three extra phony cartoons that got added by Muslim clerics) didn't actually bother to read before rampaging. I had serious trouble locating the above pictures because, when checking Google Images, most of the pictures were of burning embassies and balaclavaed gun-toting nutjobs.

I'd agree that it's counterproductive to call people a bunch of violent idiotic barbarians. But that's not particularly what happened here, and the folk in question still rioted in the streets. IMO, the only people here who were promoting the view that Muslims are violent idiotic barbarians were the Muslims themselves.

Let's hope this doesn't start to affect our country or we'll never hear Homer Simpson saying "Jeebus" again. I agree with you completely, Ed, on this issue. Condemning someone for criticising (sp?) your right to your beliefs is completely hypocritical. It's not like the cartoons were stopping Muslims from practicing their religious beliefs, just taking a comical stance on them. EVERY religion and culture at some point has been poked fun of, but that didn't stop the people of said religions/cultures from continually following what they believe.

This reminds me of a Sylvester Stallone movie called "Demolition Man". It took place in the future and the area consisted of Las Angeles/San Francisco. Everyone was all so goody goody that at one period Denis Leary's character remarked "His idea of the future consists of a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, and singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener." Yep, sounds like fun to me!

What if my beliefs include criticizing someone else's beleifs? Does that mean that they're beliefs are more sacred then mine? They get protection and I do not? Or do you only get that sort of protection when you react violently to your beleifs being criticized? And where exactly is the line between criticizing and mocking? Who gets to decide that?

I beleive that people's religous beliefes should be respected, but that doesn't mean that goverments should mandate it.

I'm a bit torn, honestly.

On the one hand, I agree with you completely-- there is (or should be) no recourse of force for those who have seen their sacred cows barbequed. They may voice their disapproval by whatever peaceful means they choose, however, Sayid should not have the option of calling in the authorities to make sure Jens Peter plays nicely and doesn't say anything to make him cry.

That being said....I am imagining what it must be like to live in a place where all information is filtered tightly through a religious authority. A place where the only chance to find glory is in the glory of God, which means that anyone who blasphemes tarnishes the only valuable thing in the world. Where life on this land ain't so great, so nobody had better muck up your belief that the afterlife is going to carry everything you've had to suffer without.

In other words, I think I can sympathize with the rioters in this situation more than I can sympathize with the UN, and all of those other damn apologists. Their scope of what is possible and acceptable is not nearly so limited and threatened. Claiming that the Muslims in the middle east hate the West because it insults them is a smokescreen, and a pathetic one at that-- there are so many better reasons to hate the West, and the cartoons were just the last straw (well, perhaps the penultimate straw). Insults are not the problem, and saying they are just obscures the reality. It is indeed clever to persecute people of a region for decades , and then when some people in a small country of northern Europe insult them for being violent, blame the small country for the violence that results from the insult. Right. It's all Denmark's fault. Never mind history, we all have the attention spans of gnats.

That being said....I am imagining what it must be like to live in a place where all information is filtered tightly through a religious authority. A place where the only chance to find glory is in the glory of God, which means that anyone who blasphemes tarnishes the only valuable thing in the world. Where life on this land ain't so great, so nobody had better muck up your belief that the afterlife is going to carry everything you've had to suffer without.

Of course, it's precisely people like that who most need exposure to views contradicting their own. What we're seeing in the middle east is an entire culture that's isolated enough from disparate opinions to completely disappear up its own arse.

And who knows, maybe if they placed less faith in God and more faith in themselves they could actually make their lives less sucky.

Of course, it's precisely people like that who most need exposure to views contradicting their own.

Not in the form of "You're all a bunch of violent idiotic barbarians," they don't.

Diene remarked that xenophobia and taking sides before Islam reached an "alarming" level in Denmark

A remark: regardless of what the UN official meant by this, it is in itself true, from what I read. AFAIR, Denmark IS a xenophobic country, not only to Muslims but also to as diverse nationalities as Germans and Jews. I've heard that tourists were bashed in the street for speaking... English. Apparently, you shouldn't think about visiting Denmark without learning their wonderful language :P

The fact that the UN Human Rights Council would defend such lunacy only shows that they have completely lost any credible notion of what human rights means.

It's an entirely political institution. When was the last time when UNHRC condemned China or Russia for their human rights violations? Or the US for Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and now Camp Nam?

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 20 Mar 2006 #permalink

I couldn't find the article you cited. Can you find another link? So far I found only one reference, which at least quoted the UN also condemning violence and threats in response to the "insults."

I'd mostly agree with Roman's first comment. My experience living in Denmark gave me the impression there was a lot more xenophobia and racism towards Muslims. It certainly isn't present in all Danes, but I was struck by how easily people would express ideas that were incredibly racist. While I think it's unfair to criticize the Danes over these cartoons, there certainly are issues iinvolving their attitudes towards the immigrant population that will need to be dealt with.

Though I have to say that if people were criticized for speaking English, that would have been very unusual. I actually had more of an opposite experience of trying to speak Danish and generally having people switch to English if I would show any hesitation