Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mixed news from Yemen

A second editor in a month has been fined for reprinting those Danish cartoons in Yemen. Muhammad Assadi of the Yemen Observer, who maintained that he had published the cartoons in order to show how terrible they were, has been fined 0.5m riyals (£1,280) for “denigrating Islam”.

Last month the editor of the weekly al-Rai al-Aaam, Kamal al-Aalafi was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment with the newspaper ordered to be closed down for six months for the same “crime”. In fact, he is out on bail and is planning to appeal, which puts rather a positive gloss on the Yemeni judicial system. We shall see how that goes.

Another editor is still awaiting trial for reprinting the cartoons.

In the meantime, Mr Assadi’s lawyer announced that the guilty verdict “in this case is what harms the image of Islam”.

President Saleh has said that he will overturn the sentences passed on journalists and one does not quite know whether to applaud his ability to see that this is not quite the best publicity the country can have or wonder why courts need to be overruled by political leaders.

Strangely enough, the BBC, which did not publish the cartoons, has not mentioned President Saleh’s statement in its report. Instead, it decided to “cover its back” and show that it is not on the side of those who publish those cartoons.
Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits images of Muhammad and other major religious figures.

Several of the cartoons associated Muslims, including the prophet himself, with violence, backwardness and fanaticism.
As it happens, none of that is true. There are many images of Muhammad and other major religious figures in Islamic art (though not too often in Arabic art) and the prohibition is far from explicit; and the cartoons were, on the whole, rather mild.

What interests me particularly is the contradiction in journalistic approach. For whatever reason, several Yemeni editors took the very courageous decision to reprint the cartoons. They may or may not pay a penalty for that decision. Our own rather spineless hacks, who are not under any threat, all took the decision to grovel before Islamist groups, who screamed abuse, while our brave boys and girls in blue announced that they could not possibly provide newspapers and journals with protection.

In solidarity with the Yemeni editors, we thought we’d publish one of the cartoons again.


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