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Sunday, February 05, 2006


Free speech and expensive audiences

The editor of France Soir was sacked after republishing the Danish cartoons. And what is wrong with that? Why should the owner of a media outlet not determine who it is that works at it? And here we arrive at the crux of the problem; speech is free but access to an audience is expensive.

These cartoons have NOT been censored. They are quite possibly the most seen cartoons in living history. They have been reprinted in newspaper after newspaper, in country after country, reaching an audience far beyond that which might be expected for such crude cartoons.

This is not about freedom of speech. Where were the campaigns to defend George Michael’s single ‘Shoot the Dog’? This single was not released in the US because it was controversially critical of US and UK foreign policy. Where were the right-wingers defending the right of George Michael to an audience, despite their opposition to what he had to say? Where were the demands that radio stations played the Dixie Chicks? Where were the websites that, to offer an analogous argument to that used by those who claim that they are not racist yet aid in the circulation of these cartoons, swore that they supported Bush but demanded that people listen to these records? If capital has the right to shape speech in these ways, then there is a far more pressing problem for freedom of speech then the actions of an angry, largely powerless minority.

But it is clear. An owner only has the right to determine the content of his or her media outlet if he or she is not a Muslim. The only expression worth circulating as if it were a liberatory samizdat are crudely racist cartoons. This is about demonising Muslims, but the racists have got a clever strategy. By presenting this issue as one of freedom of speech, which it is either demonstrably not, or is simply a minor episode in comparison to the much more restrictive interests of capital, they recruit stupid liberals by pressing their hot button, directing liberal ire at a demonised minority group. It is an attempt to recruit the tolerant to march with the racists.

This is the first thing I've read about these fucking cartoons that's made any logical sense whatsoever.
In the USA there was a piece of 'art' known as the 'piss Christ'; a crucifix soaked in a jar of urine. Another piece was a portrait of the Virgin Mary covered in poop. Now Christians were pissed off about those pieces and they made a lot of noise about it. But they didn't burn any cars or torch any embassies.

If I were a Muslim, I would probably be somewhat angy by them, as the image of the Mohammed shouldn't be drawn as per my religion, but the psycho-anger over the subject shows Muslims to have a bit of an inferiority complex about it.
The last sentence of your post is brilliant. Is it correct. I don't know. But it is brilliant. The cartoon was free speech. The reaction is not about free speech, however. That's a good point. Burning the Danish flag is free speech, yes? If so, is burning the unoccupied Danish embassy just a more extreme form of free speech? Kind of makes your point in a different way. It's really not about free speech when you look at it that way. I was looking at this in a different way. When a naked ape hears a tune he or she doesn't like, he or she tries to silence it ... some have the resources to do this internally ... others have to do it externally by punishment, say ... so those who don't like certain cartoons punish what is available to them as a surrogate for the cartoonist who is unavailable ... meanwhile back in the US of A, the guvment would be more than happy to punish flag burners ... for they are defying the power and authority ... disagreeing .. saying what you think is cool is shit ... just like the cartoonist did to Muhammed ... something like that ... well ... check out
be well
It is one thing for the Arabas to get offended and organize a boycott of Danish goods in Arab lands. When some Americans declared a boycott of French goods and wine in the runup to the Iraqi War, liberal Europeans rolled their eyes and got mad at Americans. However, the French boycott is where it stopped. How many French flags were burned in the streets of New York? None. How many embassies were torched? None.

How many riots have there been in the US over Arab cartoons regarding the US or Jews ( The Arabs seem awfully hypocritical. They portray Jews as Nazis, yet get inflamed when Mohammed has a bomb in his turbin. That is the ultimate hypocrisy.
they recruit stupid liberals by pressing their hot button, directing liberal ire at a demonised minority group

I know this is your thing, Andrew, but to me it just seems like another ruse to get away from deciding whether you want to stand with freedom of expression or with incitement to commit crimes aimed at silencing (and, yes, censoring) that expression. Nobody says we have to enjoy defending unpleasant cartoons, but defend it we must or we're hypocrites. It doesn't mean that I don't think Guantanamo is a monstrous gulag.

I agree with you on GM and the Dixie Chicks: but, again, you've been dealt these cartoons and you choose to answer the question with the answer to a completely separate question. All legal expression is worth circulating, or at least worth leaving to others to decide whether it's worth circulating, or else we're left with totalitarian interpretations on what is and is not acceptable to think/believe/enjoy.
But Jarndyce, there will always be editors. We cannot have a stream of all the expression in the world pumped through our senses. So we have 'censors' of some kind or another.

My point is this; given that these 'decents', these 'free-speechers', did not rise up to defend GM or the Dixie Chicks or the Hibz ut-Tahrir member working at the Guardian for that matter, then I must assume that this is an anti-Muslim episode, which is working out very well for both radical Islamists and Islamophobes.

I am against, say, robbery, but I am hardly going to join a racist lynch mob; even if I was certain of the guilt of their target.

If it is about free speech, then lets have some serious defence of it, against its far more powerful opponents. Otherwise, it is just about the 'enemy within', or as a Danish MP put it, the 'cancer' in our civilisation. And I know where that shit comes from and where it is going.
I'm not unsympathetic to your point, Andrew, but I tend to err on the side of allowing free expression in every case short of incitement. Empirically speaking, that way we're likely to ensure the least powerful have their rights protected. Once you start allowing exceptions, those will be manipulated to the advantage of... you guessed it, the most powerful. So in every case, freedom is a right worth defending, whoever's side that pits us on.

You know your lynch mob analogy doesn't work: I'm standing up for the right not the content of the cartoons. In this case, it's led to me being branded a racist. Fair enough. When I defended Dilpazier Aslam and Saad al-Fagih on my blog, at The Sharpener and in the zoo at Harry's Place, the abuse was similarly unimaginative. Frankly, the totalitarian zealotry from the loudest voices on every side of this is pathetic, and is one of the many reasons I'm going into blogging retirement for a while.

is working out very well for both radical Islamists and Islamophobes.

I agree with this though. It's now time to shut up about it.
"I'm standing up for the right not the content of the cartoons."

That is fine. I would not argue against this.

But these cartoons have NOT been censored. In fact, they have been reprinted around the world. So this is less an issue of free speech than the GM or Dixie Chicks cases, where power did prevent expression. Given this, I cannot help but conclude that these cartoons are being used as a special case because of, well, simply, race.

I am not calling you a racist. I do though think that the ringleaders of the 'free speech is under threat' crowd are, as I cannot see similar outcry over the gross restriction on free speech that is a collolary of capitalist owndership of media machines. Only when Muslims FAIL to censor speech.
But Andrew, the cartoons have NOT, AFAIK, been published here. I had to search on the internet for them: I am absolutely sure that fans of the Dixie Chicks and GM could find their music on the internet, both illegally and legally.

Furthermore, we had Jack Straw essentially saying that the government was all in favour of NOT publishing the cartoons. I was left staring at the radio is dismay, wondering what would happen if the Satanic Verses affair happened again today.

There was a great letter to the Indi yesterday:

Sir: So, The Independent did not publish the Danish cartoons because "there is no merit in causing gratuitous offence, as these cartoons undoubtedly do" (leading article, 4 January). Just so. That would explain then the cartoon on your facing page of a foul-mouthed God smoking a cigar.

To me and to several million more Christians in this country God is dear and precious beyond words. The fact that you know this perfectly well and still publish shows that it is not sensitivity that guides your decision not to publish the similar cartoons about Mohamed but fear of a violent reaction, a reaction you know you have no cause to anticipate from the Christian community. So cut the pompous explanations: the fact is you're running scared.

Excuse me if I get a little bit more worried about censorship because of violent threats (both real and imagined) rather than for commercial decisions.

The real issue seems to be a small number of government sponsered clerics whipping up this storm in Saudi Arabia, and other Middle-Eastern countries. There is, however, a massive amount of rubbish being said by various Muslim commentators, and the whole affair has basically reminded me how much I hate (mainly organised) religion.
I am not calling you a racist

Yes, I know. I didn't mean to imply you were. Only a Jansenist would.

Look, I'm not sure we disagree much beyond emphasis. I choose to stand for the principle here because on every occasion that someone threatens free expression, through exerting power or theatening violence, I think it's worth shouting them down. These freedoms are won and lost incrementally - as someone more 'traditionally' leftist than me you obviously know that. I'm perhaps also a little less inclined than you to see "victims" here beyond those who take their religion so seriously that they choose to identify themselves as such. Though clearly, too, I'm not unaware of the unpleasant racial context, as I'm sure you're equally aware that lunatics on every side here are stirring the pot to their own advantage.

(Oh, it's me, by the way, J. Remote n'all.)
The right of Free Speech give a Danish cartoonist the right to publish what ever he wants. It also gives people who do not like it the right not to republish it and/or call it rubbish. Or you have the right to publish any cartoons you wish, and someone (obviously suffering from very poor judgment) has the right to protest them. Where there is a problem is if the government comes in and supports either side of the discussion, then there is a violation of free speech. Persons advocating the government step in on one side or the other, are exercising their right of free speech, but they are using it suppress free speech.

Persons who commit violence should be prosecuted as persons who commit violence, it is criminal whether or not speech is involved.

The government should be neutral in such things except to protect against violence, and to reject suggestions that it intervene.
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