Archive for January, 2006

Victory for free speech in UK

A remarkable result in the commons today meant the government lost their attempt to overturn the Lords amendments to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

MPs voted by 288 to 278 to back the Lords amendment.

Evan Harris, Lib Dem human rights spokesman said

The government just failed to understand that they can’t take liberties with freedom of expression.

This has showed tonight that we will stand up for freedom of expression.

Crack open a bottle of what you fancy. This is a great day.

(Thanks to Eric in the comments for the tip)

Religious hatred – decision time

As this bill goes to the commons vote today, an alliance of humanists, Muslims, Christians and secularists publish a letter in the Daily Telegraph urging MPs not to water down the Lords amendments.

Sir – We, as leaders of some of the main organisations representing the views of Christians, Muslims, secularists and humanists in this country, are calling on MPs to vote tonight to reject the Government’s proposals for a wide-ranging new offence of religious hatred and instead support the cross-party Conservative-Labour-Liberal Democrat amendments.

As people with strong views on religion, we know how easy it is to offend those with whom you disagree and how easy it is to resent what others say, and see insult in it.

But we also recognise that a free society must have the scope to debate, criticise, proselytise, insult and even to ridicule belief and religious practices in order to ensure that there is full scope – short of violence or inciting violence or other criminal offences – to tackle these issues.

The amendments that we hope will be supported will deliver the Government its election pledge of a new law, but one that would cover only threatening words or behaviour, would be restricted to intentional offences only and would have a clear statement in law that protects legitimate free expression.

Tonight’s vote is the last chance to protect this precious liberty that we all enjoy.

Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society
Hanne Stinson, British Humanist Association
Colin Hart, Christian Institute
Don Horrocks, Evangelical Alliance
Dr Ghyasuddin Siddiqui, Muslim Parliament
Manzoor Moghal, Muslim Forum
London WC1

Colin Hart of the Christian Institute doesn’t want to let you see Jerry Springer: The Opera, but we’ll let that pass. For now.

Jyllands-Posten: “Sorry you were offended”

Carsten Juste, editor of Jyllands-Posten, makes a largely symbolic effort to calm the growing toon rage of Islamic zealots:

On 30 September last year, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten published 12 different cartoonists’ idea of what the Prophet Mohammed might have looked like. The initiative was taken as part of an ongoing public debate on freedom of expression, a freedom much cherished in Denmark.

In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.

Yeah, that should do it, Carsten.

Meanwhile, the MCB – who only two weeks ago were stoutly defending their right to free speech – has joined the chorus of condemnation:

These newspapers have printed extremely offensive caricatures of the beloved Prophet of Islam and this case, worryingly, reflects the emergence of an increasingly xenophobic tone being adopted towards Muslims in parts of the Western media. Newspaper editors must exercise due care and restraint when dealing with issues like this.

To their credit, they do add that they regard violent threats against Danish and EU citizens as “completely unacceptable”.

Danish boycott – Mandy to the rescue!

The AP reports that EU trade commissioner Peter Madelson has warned the Saudi government against supporting the trade boycott of Danish goods. He made it clear that any action against Denmark would be regarded as action against the EU, and would result in the matter being brought before the World Trade Organisation.

Yay for Mandy.

‘Toon rage grips Gaza gunmen

Gunmen in Gaza have issued a warning that Danes and Norwegians visiting the Gaza strip will be in danger of attack if their governments do not apologise for the Mohammed cartoons.

Ten Palestinian gunmen rallied outside the EU headquarters in Gaza city and fired their guns in the air in a manly and frightening manner.

We warn the citizens of the above-mentioned governments against not taking this warning seriously because our groups are ready to implement it across the Gaza Strip.

(From Reuters)

‘Toon rage update: Iraq enters fray as Norway apologises

(AFP via Yahoo) Both Shiite and Sunni clerics in Iraq have joined the chorus of righteous condemnation against the Mohammed cartoons published first by Jyllands-Posten in Denmark, and then by a couple of mags in Norway.

Raging in his mosque in a Shiite district in Baghdad, Sheikh Hazem al-Aaraji described said,

They want to disfigure Islam and this we cannot accept. These cartoons directly attack the personality of the messenger of God. We say to them: they cannot attack Mohammed, nor any of the prophets […]
Mohammed is the symbol of humanity. He is not dead, he lives always among us through his teachings and through the sacred book

After the sermon, a crowd of about 100 charged through the neighourhood chanting “there is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet” and “Jews, the army of Mohammed and Ali will return.”

Meanwhile, an email memo to Norwegian embassies has been leaked which reveals that Norway’s government is trying to make amends by “apologising”:

I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet has caused unrest among Muslims. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offence by Muslims worldwide. Islam is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Your faith has the right to be respected by us.

The cartoons in the Christian paper Magazinet are not constructive in building the
bridges which are necessary between people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Instead they contribute to suspicion and unnecessary conflict.

Let it be clear that the Norwegian government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin. Norway has always supported the fight of the UN against religious intolerance and racism, and believes that this fight is important in order to avoid suspicion and conflict. Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue are the basis values of Norwegian society and of our foreign policy.

Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.

(from Brussels Journal)
Denmark made similar noises last month, but that clearly wasn’t enough for the Saudis, Jordanians, and Iraqis who are continuing to pursue the matter. Many regard both the Danish and Norwegian apologies as examples of spineless “dhimmitude”, but in fact it is the minimal diplomatic response they could give. Simply wafting a few apologetic-sounding platitudes (we’re sorry you were offended) does appear to appease the hotheads temporarily. Indeed, the Danish apology was greeted with a certain amount of triumphalism by Turkish newspaper.

However, it is not enough to calm them indefinitely. Neither Denmark nor Norway have actually done anything concrete in response to the protests. As this fact dawns on the fundamentalists, their demands become ever more shrill and unacceptable. In this respect, even the apologies were probably misguided.

(Hat tip: The Pub Philosopher)

UPDATE: Now Libya has closed its embassy in Copenhagen.

Plymouth Archdeacon joins chorus

The Archdeacon of Plymouth, Tony Wilds, has joined with two former mayors to condemn JS:TO, which opens at the Theatre Royal tonight. In a statement bafflingly entitled “Freedom, not hate in Plymouth” (comments open on the Plymouth Herald site) they say:

Though we understand and accept that there is a role for art to shock, we do not accept that in the case of this production the form and degree of shock is justified.

But, Arch, you need not see the production is you don’t want to.

To those who say that those who may be offended need not see the production, we say yes.

But unfairly they have already had to pay for it in very considerable public subsidies at both national and local levels.

But the fact that public subsidies have already been paid into the production is not an argument to close the it down now. You are confused, Arch. Go and lie down.

(From The BBC, via Andrew in the comments)

JS:TO Producer: “Christian Voice are winning”

According to Reuters, producer John Thoday believes that Christian Voice have already hurt ticket sales for the Jerry Springer: The Opera tour.

Despite having a show which has won all the best musical awards and critical praise, I would say that it looks to me like (lobby group) Christian Voice are winning the audience battle. […]

I would hope there is the opportunity for it to be shown in other countries, but the truth is, the protests haven’t helped.

The tour opens tonight at the Plymouth’s Theatre Royal, where it will run until the 4th Feb. Anti-Springer demonstrations are expected.

They are likely to be outnumbered, as tickets for the first two shows have sold out at the 1,296-seat venue.

Dawkins defends his doc

The New Stateman has Richard Dawkins’ diary this week. In it, he confirms again that the letters about the show sent to Channel 4 have been running at two to one in favour. The “antis” complained mainly that he only interviewed “extremists” and that he failed to show “both sides” of the argument. He deals with the both complaints in a single paragraph:

The balance is (over-) provided by Thought for the Day, Prayer for the Day, Songs of Praise, the Daily Service, Faith to Faith, Choral Evensong, Sunday Half-Hour, The Story of God, Belief, Beyond Belief, and others. Mine was a brief opportunity to put the other side. As for my “extremist” interviews, would that Pastor Ted Haggard were extreme. In neo-con America, he is mainstream. President of the 30 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals, he has a weekly phone conversation with Bush.

There is also an anecdote about a university candidate who had been taught at one of the Accelerated Christian Education schools featured in the second program.

She turned out to be the worst candidate they had ever encountered. She had no idea that thinking was even an option: her job was either to know or guess the “right” answer. Worse, she had no clue how bad she was, having always scored at least 95 per cent in exams – the National Christian Schools Certificate (NCSC).


Muslim ‘toon rage rises

Just as it seemed that things were calming down on the Mohammed cartoon controversy, this week saw an upsurge in Muslim ‘toon rage.

Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, called for the Danish government to punish Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet:

It should impose a penalty as a deterrent on those who took part in provoking this subject. That’s the least Muslims demand

he said.

In a move condemned by Reporters sans frontières the Jordanian parliament also called upon the Danish and Norwegian governments

to express their condemnation and disapproval of this hateful crime and to punish the perpetrators and instigators.

Finally, according to Jyllands-Posten, a text-message campaign in Saudi Arabia has led to a consumer boycott of Danish-based Arla Foods products. The company, one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products, fears that the boycott will spread. Partners of the company in Saudi summoned Arla representatives to meeting and, according to Finn Hansen, a department head

They have attempted to make us denounce the drawings. The situation is critical because the Saudi consumers react collectively. We’re afraid of being hit by a wave of consumer anger.

We wonder what they’d make of the latest Jesus and Mo cartoon?

(Hat tip to Gagwatch)

UPDATE: Now Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Denmark “for consultations in light of the Danish government’s lack of attention to insulting the Prophet Muhammad by its newspapers”. FFS.