Friday, February 10, 2006

The curse of the tranzis

There was a brief report on the BBC about a call for a common position issued by a French member of the Assemblée on the Danish cartoons and subsequent events. There is, of course, a problem with a common position: you need to define it before you can pronounce it. The truth is that, as usual at times of crisis, the European Union and its member states are in complete disarray.

The Danish government has, famously, refused to sanction the newspaper in question. Their politicians are now carrying the banner of freedom. Some European politicians have supported them. Others, like our own Foreign Secretary, has shown himself to be on the side of censorship and tyranny (another dog bites man story).

Now l’escroc Chirac has waded in to condemn “all manifest provocation that might dangerously fan passions”.

“Anything that can hurt the convictions of another, particularly religious convictions, must be avoided. Freedom of expression must be exercised in a spirit of responsibility.”
That should make for interesting reading. But then, for much of the time the French media exercises just the kind of self-censorship l’escroc seems to prefer (except for when it comes to anti-Americanism and a fair dash of anti-Semitism). However, on the question of the Danish cartoons, the French newspapers - unlike certain French supermarkets (see right) - have displayed remarkable courage and honesty, unlike our own pathetic outlets, who refuse to publish the cartoons but tell people where the latter can be found.

The French legal system has also shown itself in a good light.
“The latest magazine to publish the cartoons, Charlie Hebdo, won the backing of a French court on Tuesday, after several Islamic organisations had complained that publication would amount to an insult to their religion.

The magazine features all 12 cartoons of Muhammad that originally appeared in a Danish paper last year - including one that shows Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban.

Religions other than Islam are caricatured as well.

The magazine says copies have been selling so fast it is considering another print run.”
In the meantime, as Michelle Malkin reports here and here, the Danish media has gone into the attack, especially on the Danish imams who had fabricated the fake images for their Middle Eastern tour last December. (She also reports on the number of countries where national or local authorities have seen fit to suppress freedom of speech.)

(A question arises here: the original 12 cartoons are largely innocuous with one or two somewhat critical. The fake pictures are truly unpleasant and can be regarded as sacrilegous. What of those who fabricated them? Should they not be punished in all those charming ways suggested by the posters during the London demo as blasphemers and enemies of Islam?)

In the circumstances it will be interesting to see what the suggested voluntary code of self-censorship will be and, further, which religions will it encompass.

However, given the rather lost air that the EU is presenting at the moment and the rattled words of appeasement uttered by Jack Straw and l’escroc, it is not surprising that Danish politicians have been complaining at the lack of support from the EU and from other European politicians.

On the other hand, President Bush telephoned Prime Minister Rasmussen to express his feelings of solidarity and support. Together with Secretary of State Rice’s statement about Iran and Syria fomenting the riots for their own purpose, a reasonably clear American position has evolved. What of the EU?

Well, the European Parliament is going to debate the Danish cartoons and the aftermath. Not, one presumes, the blatant provocation engineered by the extremist “Danish” imam Abu Laden or the clear incitement by Iran, the supposedly secular Baby Assad and various other political (i.e. not religious) organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.

In the meantime the egregious President of theToy Parliament, the Spanish socialist Josep Borrell, has issued a statement, in which he proclaimed:
“The European Union upholds the values on which it was founded. Freedom of expression is one of those values, but this must be within the boundaries of respect for the religious beliefs and cultural sensitivities of others.

Freedom of expression must avoid any insult, especially by those who are specifically responsible for upholding its values. I understand that, for many Muslims, the cartoons that have been published are an insult to their beliefs. I wholeheartedly condemn the use of violence and incitement to violence against the property and citizens of the EU. I also consider it unacceptable that the publication of the material concerned has been exploited so as to stir up violent responses.”
Well, it could have been worse. He did say that freedom of expression is an important value but appear to think that publishing something and demanding the beheading of the author are equally to be deplored.

The statement was made at a meeting of the bureay of EMPA, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. As the Toy Parliament’s press service helpfully explains:
“The EMPA brings together MEPs and their counterparts from ten countries around the Mediterranean (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey) as part of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.”
A fascinating mish-mash of countries with democratic systems (well, two, Israel and Turkey, more or less), countries with elections but little freedom of expression and outright tyrannies. All of them, apparently, have counterparts to MEPs.

Meanwhile, the High Panjandrum of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, decided to throw his lot in with the other tranzis. A joint statement from the SecGen of the United Nations, the SecGen of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union was issued. It did what Señor Solana does best: a wringing of collective hands.
“We are deeply alarmed at the repercussions of the publication in Denmark several months ago of insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed and their subsequent republication by some other European newspapers and at the violent acts that have occurred in reaction to them.

The anguish in the Muslim World at the publication of these offensive caricatures is shared by all individuals and communities who recognize the sensitivity of deeply held religious belief. In all societies there is a need to show sensitivity and responsibility in treating issues of special significance for the adherents of any particular faith, even by those who do not share the belief in question.

We fully uphold the right of free speech. But we understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim World. We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions.”
There is the compulsory call for peace and calm and dialogue that does not quite explain how you have a dialogue with people who are burning flags and embassies and demanding the beheading and annihilation of all whom they happen to disapprove of.

The interesting aspect of the tranzi statement is that commitment to free speech comes below what they describe as “anguish” in the Moslem world. Even then it is a carefully circumscribed devotion to free speech.

The one thing one cannot say about the tranzi statement is that it shows any deep understanding. For one thing, they clearly have not looked at the actual cartoons, none but three of which can be described as being offensive.

Neither is there any suggestion that the three not-so-wise monkeys understand the provocation engineered by the “Danish” imams or the political background to the riots. Secretary of State Rice seems to have a considerably clearer understanding of matters.

Then there is the slight problem of Islamic culture. One of the aspects of this whole imbroglio that has shocked me is the sheer ignorance of the various imams who have been pronouncing on the subject, and whose pronouncements are being accepted without any questioning by, among others, the two SecGens and the High Panjandrum. But then, I suppose, self-appointed elites listen to other self-appointed spokesmen.

A number of people who do know about Islamic history and culture have written about the undeniable fact that there have been many representations of Mohammed and other prophets in Islamic art throughout history. These can be seen in the museums of the world (though, perhaps, one should not say that too loudly as there might be riots in the exhibition rooms).

In Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal Europe [subscription only] Amir Taheri wrote:

“There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Chistianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued “fatwas” against any depiction of the Godhead. [my emphasis]

That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments – which include a ban on depicting God – as part of its heritage.

The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is “an absolute principle of Islam” is purely political. Islam has one one absolute principle: the Oneness of God.

Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e. the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.”

Of course, in order to try to understand all the various developments and undercurrents one needs to have a real interest and real respect for history, theology and culture. The tranzis do not have this. What they respect, if one can use that expression, is an artificial, largely emotional concept of what they see as culture and history. One look at the EU’s official view of European history demonstrates that.

Mr Taheri then lists some of the better known Islamic pictures of Mohammed and goes on to make another interesting point:

“In addition to miniatures, drawing and paintings of Muhammad, the Janissaries – the elite of the Ottoman army – carried a medallion stamped with the prophet’s head (sabs gaba).

Their Persian Qizil-bash rivals had their own icon,depicting the head of Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law and the first Imam of Shi-ism.

As for images of other prophets, they run into millions. Perhaps the most popular is Joseph, who is presented by the Quran as the most beautiful human being created by God.”

Nor does Islam forbid laughter (any more, I suppose, than Judaism or Christianity forbids laughter, although you always find practitioners who consider that a mortal sin). Having read the delightful tales of Nasreddin Hadja in my childhood, I had always assumed that a strong streak of folk-satire ran through much Islamic literature but, perhaps, that was true only about Turkey.

Mr Taheri points out that the organizations that purport to speak for Islam are all political ones from Assad’s government to Hamas, Al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood.

“They are not the sole representatives of Islam just as the Nazi party was not the sole representative of German culture.”

Mr Taheri then lists a few examples from the “two great literatures of Islam” Arabic and Persian, that not only laugh a great deal but laugh at religion. The one that appeals to me most, and I do hope there is an English translation somewhere, is the tale in Rumi, “where a shepherd conspires with God to pull a stunt on Moses; all three end up having a good laugh”.

If reading such articles and trying to think through cultural complexities is beyond the tranzis, at the very least they might havd had a look at the fact that the Islamic world is not united in its “pain and grief”.

They might, if they had any principles, have seen that a number of Middle Eastern journalists and bloggers have rather courageously either reproduced the cartoons or called on their co-religionists “to grow up” and stop pretending that a dozen cartoons can destroy a religion. These people need our help and support. Instead our “leaders” side with their oppressors.

Should it not have been noted that the Lebanese government distanced itself from the riots, laying the blame on the Syrian government, who would be very happy to see another civil war on its neighbour’s territory?

What of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a somewhat more important personage than the self-appointed spokesmen dragged out by the BBC? According to the WSJE, he

“condemned the cartoons’ publication as a “horrific action”. But he aimed most of his fire at those “misguided and oppressive” Muslims – i.e., terrorists and their fellow travellers – who “have exploited this … to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods”.

It was they, he said, and not the cartoonists, who were chiefly to blame for “[projecting] a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood”.”

We can argue for ever whether those last words do describe Islam or, at least, part of it. What we cannot argue about is that the Grand Ayatollah has not sided with the rioters and thosed demanding beheading and annihilation.

Despite all this, our supposed leaders remain in denial about what is going on and display the worst cases of cowardly appeasement we have seen since the seventies when many of the same people or their predecessors sobbed about having to understand the very true peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union.

In the meantime, the tranzis concentrate on their own particular ideology and ignore developments in the real world in the vain hope that somebody somewhere accepts them as the spokespersons for somebody or other.


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