Images of Mohammed

This is an image of the Muslim prophet Mohammed:


Mohammed

Via AINA; first published by Jyllands-Posten September 2005

So’s this:


Mohammed

Via AINA; first published by Jyllands-Posten September 2005

And also this:

I bring this up because, as you might have guessed, free speech and Islam are again in the news. Last month, over a dozen Danish newspapers reprinted one of the twelve drawings of Mohammed that caused such a furor after they were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. The artist of this particular cartoon, Kurt Westergaard, has been under police protection, and recently the Danish police arrested three Muslims whom they alleged were plotting to murder him. The republication of the cartoons was to show solidarity with Westergaard and to demonstrate the newspapers’ commitment to free speech in the face of threats from violent fanatics.

The response from the Muslim world was predictable:

The militant Palestinian group Hamas attracted thousands of protesters to a rally in the Gaza Strip last night, when a speaker urged them to bomb Danish embassies and kill the country’s ambassadors, Danish broadcaster TV2 said on its Web site today.

The threats from these deranged, bloodthirsty lunatics were to be expected by now. However, I’m disappointed with the response of the Danish prime minister:

“The Danish government respects all faiths and their religious feelings,” Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in his weekly press meeting at his Copenhagen offices, broadcast live by TV2. “When a long line of independent media decide to reprint the pictures, it’s not with the intention to insult religious feelings, but to document the background for the murder plans that police have unfolded.”

Who cares if the intention was to “insult religious feelings”? That is one of the rights of the press in a free society. It’s ludicrous to ban the publication of anything that hurts people’s feelings, religious or otherwise. To do that would eradicate free speech altogether by creating a heckler’s veto for the most thin-skinned members of society to censor anything that offends them. Is Prime Minister Rasmussen saying that we shouldn’t criticize any group that will react violently? Isn’t the violent response itself an indication that the group in question needs to be criticized?

It’s not just the Danes who’ve been targeted by religious aggressors who think that their dogma should be binding on everyone else. Wikipedia has been targeted by a flood of petitions demanding that it remove medieval Islamic depictions of Mohammed from its article on him. To their great credit, the Wikipedia administrators have refused, explaining their position clearly and concisely and reaffirming that they will not censor their encyclopedia for the benefit of any particular group.

Others have not been so lucky. The Turkish publishing house that translated Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is under investigation on a charge of “insulting religious values”. This even though Turkey is relatively secular, as Muslim-majority nations go. Fortunately, Turkey is also attempting to join the European Union, whose laws protecting free speech are much better (if not perfect). Hopefully, this will serve as a wedge that will persuade the Turkish government to lay aside the more regressive of their laws.

Another writer who’s clashed with fanatics is the French philosopher and atheist Michel Houellebecq, who was charged with inciting racism in 2002 for calling Islam a “stupid” religion. (He quite reasonably pointed out that you can’t be racist against a religion, only against a race.) Thankfully, he was acquitted, but the threat is far from over. As the more recent case of Ezra Levant shows, there are still plenty of Muslims who’ll seize every opportunity to use well-intentioned but horribly misguided “hate speech” laws as a weapon to shut down any criticism of their beliefs.

And, as Hamas’ anti-cartoon rally shows, there are many more Muslims who will gleefully call for violence at the slightest provocation. Western society needs to recognize – it should already be abundantly clear – that Muslim groups and individuals are not calling for the censorship of anti-Islamic speech because their delicate, fragile feelings have been wounded. No, they’re calling for censorship because it is their undisguised ambition to conquer the world and turn it into a brutal theocracy under their heel, where all dissenters and nonbelievers would be silenced or put to death. These measures are, in their eyes, just the first step in that plan. (I take pains to emphasize that I’m not including every Muslim in this condemnation, only those who seek to stifle criticism whether through law or through bloodshed.)

Since these groups haven’t gotten the message, we need to inform them more clearly that, whatever rules they choose to follow for themselves, we non-Muslims are not bound by those rules. The best way to do this would be for many papers and media outlets to rerun the above images and others. This would send a clear and uniform message of defiance, communicating a commitment to free speech that cannot be silenced by a few belligerent fanatics, and would leave them with no single target even if they did lash out.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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