So there are limits to freedom of expression after all! But not if it applies to Muslims.
“Penguin Books India has agreed to withdraw from sale all copies of a book that takes an unorthodox view of Hinduism, and will pulp them as part of a settlement after a case was filed against the publisher. The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago’s divinity school, was published in India in 2011. Its depiction of the religion drew criticism from conservative Hindus and scholars.” The Guardian, 11 February 2014
The French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has taken steps to ban the satirist/comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala because he mocked the journalist Patrick Cohen. The Minister also said that Dieudonne’s The Mur (The Wall) contained “disgraceful and anti-Semitic words toward Jewish personalities or the Jewish community … and virulent and shocking attacks on the memory of victims of the Holocaust.” So his shows are being banned all across France on the legal grounds of threatening the public order! How come when the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo published its insulting and abusive cartoons on what is most sacred to Muslims in September 2012, this was not seen in the same light? Charlie Hebdo has continued to humiliate Islamic sacred symbols – and what has been Manuel Valls’ response: “La liberté d’expression est un droit fondamental et la liberté de caricature en fait partie”. (Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and the freedom to draw cartoons is part of that). Dieudonne has long been anti-Zionist and while his humour can be of distasteful, some of the French politicians’ sermons to Muslims now sound so utterly hypocritical.
When Muslims object against Satanic Verses or the Dutch cartoons or the ‘Innocence of Muslims‘ film, they are taught lessons on the need to respect freedom of expression and ‘human rights’.
It is made out that Muslims lack a sense of humour! It is made out that nobody else responds with the same disquiet and revulsion against sacrilege.
At the end of the day it is all about the power relationships in society – those currently with influence and those currently marginalised.
Professor Memdani of Makarere University says it brilliantly:
“power can instrumentalise free speech to frame a minority and present it for target practice”
Free speech is OK for someone and so is censorship; but for the lascars, free speech is punishable and their protest against the abuse of free speech is deemed primitive!
Here are examples of double standards flourishing in Washington, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, the Vatican …
25th September 2012
“France’s Catholic Church has won a court injunction to ban a clothing advertisement based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ’s Last Supper. The display was ruled ‘a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs’, by a judge.”
17th September 2011
“the so-called ‘request’ in December 2010 from Joe Lieberman, made in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, that private corporations such as Amazon, Visa, MasterCard and others cut off all services to WikiLeaks, including hosting its website and allowing payments to the group. Those corporations instantly complied – how many American companies will continue with behavior which a leading senator announces is harming US national security? – and few Democrats had trouble understanding why such a “request” was so odious…
11th Dec 2011
“One of Paris’s most prestigious theatres was being protected by riot police and guard-dog patrols on Thursday after it became the latest target in a wave of Catholic protests across France against so-called ‘blasphemous’ plays….The head of the Théâtre du Rond-Point on the Champs-Elysées complained of death threats in the runup to Thursday’s premiere of the play Golgota Picnic by the Madrid-based, Argentinian writer Rodrigo García. Two men reported to have links to fundamentalist Catholic groups were arrested at the weekend while attempting to disable the theatre’s security system…Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianise France, has called for a large, peaceful street demonstration ‘against Christianophobia’ this weekend.”
22nd October 2011
The Christian activist group in France InstitutCivitas has disrupted the theatrical production ‘On the concept of the face of the son of God’ produced by Romeo Castellucci. The organisation has called for a day of national protest against ‘Christianophobia’.
26th March 2011
Mark Dowd in the Tablet reports that a book by the celebrated Basque priest and author Jose Antonio Pagola entitled ‘Jesus: an historical approximation’, first published in 2007 “is nowhere to be seen on the website of its publisher…all copies have been hurriedly withdrawn from Spain’s bookshops. There have even been reports that the conference of Spanish bishops requested a certificate of destruction for the remaining 6,000 copies”. Apparently, Pagola’s theological views on Jesus were “negating Jesus’ own self-understanding of his divine identity and also of denying Jesus’ intentions to found the Church as a hierarchical community”.
5th May 2011
Playwright Tony Kushner was refused a honorary degree by City University New York, apparently because “he had tied the founding of Israel to a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israel Defense Forces and supported a boycott of Israel.”
18th April 2011
An offensive artistic depiction of Jesus Christ in a French gallery was destroyed.
18th Dec 2010
“The American right wing went off the deep end, with several prominent people calling for the assassination of Assange [architect of Wikileaks]. Even Democrats lost their commitment to free speech ‘Senator Diane Feinstein called for Assange to be jailed for 2.5 million years (a 10-year sentence for each offence, and with 250,000 documents the sentence is biblical). Senator Joe Lieberman put pressure on Amazon to remove WikiLeaks from their web server. It complied, and so did MasterCard, Visa, Tableau, PayPal and EveryDNS.”
4th Nov 2010
“Citing growing numbers of demands from the US and British governments, YouTube today announced the mass removal of sermons given by US cleric Anwar Awlaki. YouTube officials say the videos violated community guidelines regarding ‘hate speech’.î
18th June 2010
Theresa May, the new Home Secretary, said she was banning Zakir Naik from entering the UK. Dr Naik, a 44-year-old Indian televangelist, had been due to give a series of lectures at arenas in Wembley Arena and Sheffield….Mrs May told The Daily Telegraph: ‘I have excluded Dr Naik from the UK. Numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour….”
Professor Mahmood Memdani, in his acceptance speech on receipt of an honourary doctorate from the University of Johanesburg, 25th May 2010 provided this example from 1967 when Britain’s leading publishing house, Penguin, published an English addition of a book of cartoons by France’s most acclaimed cartoonist, Sine:
“The Penguin edition was introduced by Malcolm Muggeridge. Sine’s Massacre contained a number of anticlerical and blasphemous cartoons, some of them with a sexual theme. Many book sellers, who found the content offensive, conveyed their feelings to Allan Lane, who had by that time almost retired from Penguin. Though he was not a practicing Christian, Allen Lane took seriously the offense that this book seemed to cause to a number of his practicing Christian friends. Here is Richard Webster’s account of what followed ‘One night, soon after the book had been published, he [Allen Lane] went into Penguin’s Harmondsworth warehouse with four accomplices, filled a trailer with all the remaining copies of the book, drove away and burnt them. The next day the Penguin trade department reported the book ‘out of print’.’ Now. Britain has laws against blasphemy, but neither Allan Lane nor Penguin was taken to court.”
Professor Mahmood Memdani, ”Beware Bigotry: Some Thoughts on Free Speech and the Zapiro Cartoons’, Johannesburg, May 2010
- “A group of protestors disrupted a rabbi’s planned Lectern lecture in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last Sunday, forcing him to deliver the speech from the sacristy…” Source: The Tablet, 27 March 2010, p.36
- March 2010: Arifa Akbar writes, “a critically acclaimed play about the British National Party and homophobia which has toured the most racially sensitive areas of the country in an effort to ‘start a conversation about the far right’ has been barred from a stage in Dudley for fear of community disapproval.
The play’s production team yesterday expressed their dismay at the decision to pull Moonfleece from the Mill Theatre in Dudley’s Dormston Centre, and claimed the move was tantamount to appeasing right-wing and BNP sympathisers…”
- The Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Trattini has objected today to a publication in India of “a blasphemous portrait of Jesus”. In his press communique, he expresses his “profound concern for the violation of rights and dignity of Christians”, with reference to “the deplorable publication of a book for primary schools in India”.
- Feb 2010, a gallery in Paris removed a satirical art installation because it was seen as a criticism of President Sarkozy. Lizzy Davies of The Guardian reported, “A British curator has accused France’s most prestigious art school of ‘unambiguous censorship’ after a work satirising one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign slogans was taken down hours after going on display.
Clare Carolin, a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London, who was working on the ill-fated project at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, condemned the decision to remove the work, which was deemed ‘too explosive’.
An installation of four banners by the Chinese artist Ko Siu Lan on the exterior of the Beaux-Arts building in central Paris featured the words ‘earn’,'less’,'work’ and ‘more’ as a play on Sarkozy’s phrase ‘Work more to earn more’….
Sources inside the Beaux-Arts indicated that the work had provoked complaints from the ministry of education because of its politically sensitive nature.”
- In Feb 2009 the British Medical Journal provided facts and figures on how the suppression of information is OK in some contexts! In October 2004 it had published an article in which a contributor, Derek Summerfield, expressed concerns at the systematic violations of the fourth Geneva Convention by the Israeli army in Gaza: “…there followed an orchestrated campaign to pressurise the journal not to publish such articles in the future….many emails abused the BMJ or [editor] Abbasi personally. These were often sent anonymously … allowing writers the freedom to use obscenities and personal (including racist) insults without worrying about the effect on their reputations. However, some abusive emails came from people apparently unconcerned about signing their names…the ultimate goal of some of the groups that lobby for Israel or against Palestine is apparently the suppression of views they disagree with.”
['Perils of criticising Israel' by Karl Sabbagh, BMJ, 24th Feb 2009 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/338/feb24_2/a2066]
- Caryl Churchill ‘s ‘Seven Jewish Children’ performed at the Royal Court London in February 2009, was “attacked by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the novelist Howard Jacobson and the columnist Melanie Phillips. A letter condemning it, sent to the Daily Telegraph, was signed by more than 60 leading Jews, including Professor Geoffrey Alderman, Lord Janner, Ronald Harwood and Maureen Lipman. The Royal Court vehemently denies that the piece demonises Israelis”.
(The Observer, 22nd February 2009)
The Geert Wilders episode, February 2009
When the Home Office decided to bar the entry of the Islamophobic Dutch MP and producer of ‘Fitna’ into the UK on 11th February there was much breast-beating, the gnashing of the teeth and talk of the death of free speech. Melanie Phillips rose to new heights of hyperbole : ‘If anyone had doubted the extent to which Britain has capitulated to Islamic terror, the banning of Geert Wilders should surely open their eyes’(Mail Online, 12th February).
However Wilder’s exclusion is far from the extraordinary event it is made out to be – since August 2005, 230 people have been excluded from entering the UK “on suspicion of being a threat to national security or fostering extremism”, including “79 preachers of hate”.
Eight days later, the Home Secretary decided to exercise the same powers to bar two anti-gay preachers from entering Britain. The Times reported on 19th February, ‘ Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, who belong to the US Westboro Baptist Church, were planning to come to the UK to protest outside a performance of a youth play called The Laramie Project, which recounts the death of gay university student Matthew Shepard who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. ”
Was there protest on the Phelpsí ban in the same way as the Geert Wilders ban? Not in the least. The Phelps item was tucked away on page 4 or 5 of the broadsheets. Did the likes of Kenan Malik or Garton Ash feel the world crashing around them because of the Phelpsí ban?
- The British-based author and publisher Carmen Calil was ostracised because her book ‘Bad Faith’ on Vichy France and a reception in New York was cancelled. This was because of a postscript in which she stated that she had grown anxious while researching the ‘helpless terror of the Jews of France’ to see ‘ìwhat the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people…’ (The Guardian, 11th October 2006)
- In March 2006, a play on the life of Rachel Corrie ‘who died under an IDF bulldozer in aza at the age of 23 ‘ was cancelled by the New York Theatre Workshop because, according to its artistic director ‘…what we heard was that after Ariel Sharonís illness and the election of Hamas…we had a very edgy situation’! (The Guardian, 1st March 2006)
- In September 2004, the BBC dropped an adult cartoon series ‘Popetown’ it had produced itself after complaints from Catholics. The late Sidney Shipton of the Board of Deputies and coordinator of the Three Faiths forum observed, ‘We had a hand in persuading the BBC not to show ‘Popetown’….the idea today of making a mockery of religion is becoming too popular with playwrights’. (Jewish Chronicle, 24th December 2004).
- A paper on the genetic origins of Palestinians was deleted from the journal ‘Human Immunology’ because it included an historical introduction calling Jews living in the Gaza strip ìcolonistsî (Nature 414, 2001)
- for years the US media has abided by the Pentagon ruling banning the showing the flag-draped coffins of personnel from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Daily Telegraph, 28th Feb 2009, Con Coughlin)
- The Wiesenthall Centre successfully stopped the Glyndebourne Opera Company from staging John Adam’s ‘The Death of Klinghoffe’ as it was deemed anti-semitic. Apparently ìKlinghoffer was condemned on the grounds that it portrayed the hi-jack of the cruise-liner Achille Lauro in neutral, even-handed terms…î
- the play ‘Perdition’ ran foul of the likes of David Cesarani and the Institute of Jewish Affairs in 1987 ‘ because it recounted the collaboration of some Zionists with the Nazis in Budapest in 1944. The play was then censored by the Royal Court ‘ according to Ken Loach, the attack ‘came from those who objected to the political critique of Zionism and the consequent dispossession of the Palestinians’ (letter to The Guardian, 23rd December 2004). More recently Cesarani had this advice to offer:’the Jewish response to ‘Perdition’…was to lobby and use the media ‘to correct gratuitous misrepresentation of religion and belief at every opportunity. Other ethnic groups could learn a lot from the way we dealt with this’. (Jewish Chronicle, 24th December 2004)
What is it that Kenan Malik said at the Bishopsgate Institute in 2009,’you cannot censor against ugly ideas…one person’s hate speech is someone else’s legitimate expression’. Really?
Using Victoria Brittain’s apt phrase,’there is a casual racism’ at work. It is OK to curtail freedom of expression to protect the powerful, but who cares if the modern-day lascars make a fuss – where are we heading if we have to take account of these darkly-expressed, hurt feelings!
It is OK for the power elites to be sensitive if something they hold dear is denigrated, but not for Muslims. (242)