Archive for August, 2009

The Mail generates a “row” with call to Beyer

With “Massah” John Beyer stepping down as director of Mediawatch-UK at the end of September, it is left to us to sadly savour the last words of The Dail Mail’s favourite rent-a-gob, as we would savour the final drops at the bottom of a glass of fine malt whisky.

The latest “row” conjured up by a reporter’s phone call to the Sage of Ashford concerns the BBC’s choice of Martina Hingis as a contestant in the popular show Strictly Come Dancing (known to its fans simply as “Strictly”).

Hingis, you may remember, tested positive for cocaine in 2007 – although she has always protested her innocence. The Mail reporter, presumably short of a story during the silly season, spotted the chance of an easy 500 words and promptly rang our hero:

This is a family show that is targeted at a family audience.

One of the reasons lazy reporters love Beyer must surely be the sheer the word-count he provides with his tautologies and convoluted pseudo-officialese:

The danger is that this decision would tend to minimise the seriousness of her drug-taking, which resulted in a ban on her playing.

The BBC could have put in many other personalities who I’m sure would love to take part in the show and they could have chosen someone without that record. The question is whether it sets a good or bad example.

The real question is – who is going to replace John Beyer? The clever money is on The Boy Turtle, who has deputised for the Massah on several occasions. His appointment will not be to everyone’s taste. While his rent-a-quotes to date have displayed a satisfyingly Beyeresque facility with the English language, he appears to lack his master’s charisma.

MWW will, as ever, keep you informed.




Faulks baulks

The novelist Sebastian Faulks made some frank and accurate comments about the Koran in an interview with the Sunday Times, only to abjectly apologise for them in Monday’s Daily Telegraph.

To be fair to Faulks, he probably did not expect his comments to be picked up by controversy-hungry hacks at the Mail and The Express, always keen to write self-fulfilling predictions about Muslim anger. Then again, what has he got to apologise for?

Here’s what he said about the Koran on Sunday:

It’s a depressing book. It really is. It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.

There is also the barrenness of the message. I mean, there are some bits about diet, you know, the equivalent of the Old Testament, which is also crazy. If you look again at those books of the law, Leviticus or Deuteronomy, there’s a lot about who you are allowed to sleep with, and if a man had lost his testicles he wouldn’t enter into the presence of God, that is just terrible. But the great thing about the Old Testament is that it does have these incredible stories. Of the 100 greatest stories ever told, 99 are probably in the Old Testament and the other is in Homer.

With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.’ That’s basically the message of the book.

So far, so uncontroversial. Muslims have been kidding themselves about their “holy book” for centuries. A bit of candid criticism can only be a good thing.

But the very next day, in an article which some sarcastic sub-editor entitled “The book I really can’t put down”, Faulks cringes:

While we Judaeo-Christians can take a lot of verbal rough-and-tumble about our human-written scriptures, I know that to Muslims the Koran is different; it is by definition beyond criticism. And if anything I said or was quoted as saying (not always the same thing) offended any Muslim sensibility, I do apologise – and without reservation.

The Telegraph piece entitled “Sebastian Faulks risks Muslim anger after calling the Koran the ‘rantings of a schizophrenic’” has been removed from its website.

Did Faulks cave in to threats, or is he merely offering a pre-emptive apology in advance of them? Either way, this story is pretty appalling.




Indian artist threatened for sketches of elephant god

<b>Natty Ganapati</b>: One of Kerkar's sketches. (Click to see the full series)

Natty Ganapati: One of Kerkar's sketches. (Click to see the full series)

Indian artist Subodh Kerkar has received threats from radical Hindu groups because an exhibition of his sketches included pictures of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god.

The artist told AFP,

I have been receiving phone calls which threaten me with dire consequences. They told me that they will chop off my fingers for indulging in such acts.

The groups which took offence include Sanatan Sanstha and Jangruti Samiti, who informed the police, published the artist’s mobile phone number, and plan demos outside the exhibition today and tomorrow.

We intend to have peaceful protests, but we are not responsible for any law and order problem if it arises.

The threats of violence are as barely veiled as usual.

Fortunately, Kerkar (who is actually quite a fan of the elephant-headed deity) has vowed to go ahead with the exhibition, even though there is actually a law in India which prohibits “hurting religious sentiments.”

I am going ahead with the exhibition. It took me eight to 10 hours to draw one sketch. I am Ganesh Bhakt and whatever sketches I have drawn are inspired by the Lord himself.

This reminds us of an old Jesus & Mo cartoon, which is not quite so reverential:
jmganesh

UPDATE: (21 Aug) The Telegraph has more, including a great quote from Dr Gareth Price, head of the Asia Programme at London’s Chatham House:

These extremist Hindus feel they have to keep up with radical Islamists in order to appear strong. Most Hindus are very moderate, but there are a few who think that if someone degrades an image of one of their gods, they must react as Muslims would do if it were Mohammed.

And there are also a lot of people who just want to get their name in the paper, and will always find something to complain about.

Amen.




Yale University Press official statement on Motoon book

Thanks to Tom at CR briefings, here is Yale UP’s official statement.

Yale University Press will publish The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, this November. The Press hopes that her excellent scholarly treatment of the Danish cartoon controversy will be read by those seeking deeper understanding of its causes and consequences.

After careful consideration, the Press has declined to reproduce the September 30, 2005 Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that included the cartoons, as well as other depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that the author proposed to include.

The original publication in 2005 of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad led to a series of violent incidents, and repeated violent acts have followed republication as recently as June 2008, when a car bomb exploded outside the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing eight people and injuring at least thirty. The next day Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing, calling it revenge for the “insulting drawings.”

Republication of the cartoons — not just the original printing of them in Denmark — has repeatedly resulted in violence around the world. More than two hundred lives have been lost, and hundreds more have been injured. It is noteworthy that, at the time of the initial crisis over the cartoons in 2005–2006, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe declined to print them, as did every major newspaper in the United Kingdom.

The publishing of the book raised the obvious question of whether there remains a serious threat of violence if the cartoons were reprinted in the context of a book about the controversy. The Press asked the University for assistance on this question.

The University consulted both domestic and international experts on behalf of the Press. Among those consulted were counterterrorism officials in the United States and in the United Kingdom, U.S. diplomats who had served as ambassadors in the Middle East, foreign ambassadors from Muslim countries, the top Muslim official at the United Nations, and senior scholars in Islamic studies. The experts with the most insight about the threats of violence repeatedly expressed serious concerns about violence occurring following publication of either the cartoons or other images of the Prophet Muhammad in a book about the cartoons.

Ibrahim Gambari, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and senior adviser to the secretary-general, the highest ranking Muslim at the United Nations, stated, “You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published. It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria.”

Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, dean of the Under-Secretaries-general, under-secretary-general of the United Nations, and special adviser to the secretary-general, informed us, “These images of Muhammad could and would be used as a convenient excuse for inciting violent anti-American actions.”

Marcia Inhorn, professor of anthropology and international affairs and chair of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale, said, “I agree completely with the other expert opinions Yale has received. If Yale publishes this book with any of the proposed illustrations, it is likely to provoke a violent outcry.”

Given the quantity and quality of the expert advice Yale received, the author consented, with reluctance, to publish the book without any of these visual images.

Yale and Yale University Press are deeply committed to freedom of speech and expression, so the issues raised here were difficult. The University has no speech code, and the response to “hate speech” on campus has always been the assertion that the appropriate response to hate speech is not suppression but more speech, leading to a full airing of views. The Press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, Yale University Press has printed books in the past that included images of the Prophet. The decision rested solely on the experts’ assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims.

Yale’s mistake seems to have been in choosing consultants who were poorly qualified for the job. There is no reason to believe that any of those mentioned above knew nearly as much about the subject as the author herself – so why take their advice over hers? It seems particularly egregious to have asked Ibrahim Gambari – the “highest ranking Muslim in the UN” – as it is highly likely that he would object in principle to any disrespectful portrayal of his prophet, and do what he could to prevent it. His claim – that “You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published” – is demonstrably false. Yet it is this false assertion that prompted the “I agree” response from Marcia Inhord. Isn’t it bad protocol to allow readers see others’ reports before submitting their own?

They might as well asked Secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeliddin Ihsanoglu, for his opinion.




Swedish MP to challenge Irish blasphemy law

<b>Karl Sigfrid</b>: The Swede standing up for the right to blaspheme

Karl Sigfrid: The Swede standing up for the right to blaspheme

Karl Sigfrid, a Moderate Swedish MP, has filed a complaint to the European Commission about the controversial Irish blasphemy law.

His grounds for complaint, which he sets out in an article in the EU Observer, are twofold:

Countries with strong free-speech laws, such as Sweden, have reasons to worry about the Irish blasphemy legislation. The immediate concern is that Swedish citizens, while traveling within the European Union, can run into legal processes and be punished for merely expressing a view on a religion or religious symbol.

The less direct but more serious concern is that bad legislation has a tendency to spread. Once a restriction is in place in one European country it will quickly be legitimised, and politicians in other countries can point to it as they take away fundamental rights from their own citizens. The argument will be that if a developed Western society such as Ireland does it, it surely cannot be incompatible with democratic principles.

He argues that the blasphemy law contravenes Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which covers free speech.

Last week, he told the Irish Herald

Free speech is a necessary condition for scientific debate and is the best way to rational conclusions about what the truth is.

It’s a very dangerous thing to replace open debate with violence from the Government when someone opposes what the conventional truth is.

It seems like a huge step backwards

Well said, Mr Sigfrid!




Hell Avoidance 2.0

God may be all-seeing, all-knowing, and carry a temper which is more than a tad tempestuous at times – but any child intent on enjoying life will find a way around a parent’s rules, no matter how strict.  And Orthodox Jews are no exception.

Those of you who have watched the masterpiece that is Bill Maher’s Religulous will already be aware of Rabbi Shmuel Strauss, an Orthodox Jew whose company – the Institute for Science and Halacha – he describes as:

A unique research and development institution interfacing between Halacha modern technology and science

(Read: Exploiting loopholes in scripture and hoping God doesn’t notice)

The Institute’s ingenious gadgets play a crucial role in accomodating those who wish to live in the 21st Century while still being constrained by ancient Jewish law.  Need to make a phonecall on Shabbat, but don’t fancy the eternity of damnation and hellfire* which normally ensues?  Then invest in a $300 Shabbat Phone: instead of buttons, it has twelve holes with a black rod sticking out of one.  The phone is designed so that the circuits are constantly attempting to dial each number, but there is a mechanism in place which interferes with those circuits.  When you stick the black rod in the number you want to dial, it

interferes with the interference and you actually dial that number without transgression

In other words, instead of dialling a number, you rescue an oppressed number using a stick and it thanks you by dialling itself.  Take that, God!

Now, this is all great news for Jews who aren’t quite ready to cast off their shackles and sexy hats, but have started to have an inkling that maybe it would be nice to live their own lives occasionally.  But it left one glaring question unanswered: “What if I want to use this new-fangled interweb thing?” Browsing the web is all but forbidden to Orthodox Jews, who may not use search engines due to the risk of being exposed to a breast or two – not to mention far greater evils like sites advertising televisions or pork sausages.

Well their days of dilemma are now over thanks to the newest name in overbearing internet censorship: Koogle, the kosher search engine.

As the Telegraph reported, Koogle

…omits religiously objectionable material, and has gained approval from Orthodox Rabbis.  The search engine links to Israeli news and shopping sites but the results are filtered to exclude items deemed unsuitable.

My searches for ‘MediaWatchWatch’, ‘Atheism’ and ‘pork’ all came up empty, but there are some good links to hats.  Just don’t use it on Saturday as the site will crash, although I’m sure Rabbi Shmuel Strauss is already designing a workaround.

(On a related note, if you’d like to peruse the catalogue of ‘Contraptions That Let You Do Naughty Deeds Without An Omnipresent And Omniscient Deity Noticing’, email halacha@isdn.net.il – I’ve already sent in my request for a Shabbatmobile. ^^, )

At the time of writing God has not interjected in the production or use of the aforementioned devices, so presumably He either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t exist.

* – I have been informed that Jews do not believe in Hellfire and Damnation, and that their motive for engaging in such strange behaviour is actually to detach themselves from reality until they are so far from it that they are on an equal plane of rationality as their God.  As it has been suggested I did not show adequate respect to the Jewish faith, I hereby apologise and wish to take this opportunity to thank Judaism for its crucial rule in fighting Swine Flu.  ((Please click on the link, it’s hilarious! deeply moving))




Dutch websites not prosecuted over Motoons publication

Good news from Holland, where the prosecution department has decided to dismiss the cases against the TV show NOVA, and politician Geert Wilders. Both had reproduced the Motoons on their websites.

In a statement today (link to Googlish translation), the prosecutor said,

The cartoons are about the prophet Mohammed, not about Muslims as a group. None of the cartoons are offensive to Muslims or incite hatred, discrimination or violence against Muslims. Because the cartoons are not illegal, publishing and distributing them is also not illegal.

Gee, thanks.

Unfortunately, according to the same report, the pro-Arab Arabische Europese Liga is still in trouble for a Holocaust-denying cartoon it published on its website. And the case of Gregorius Nekshot is still being considered.

UPDATE: (20 Aug) The Arabische Europese Liga is upset with the decision that the Motoons are “not punishable” and yet their Holocaust denying cartoon is, and they have republished the cartoon on their website as a direct challenge to the prosecutor.

Here it is:
omstredencartoon2.jpg

While anti Holocaust-denial laws are unnecessary and counter-productive, we do find the AEL’s claim that the Dutch prosecutor’s decision is “incomprehensible” displays a woeful lack of basic comprehension skills. The judgement was explained quite clearly: the Motoons targeted Mohammed, not Muslims, whereas the above cartoon attacks Jews as a group. The logic is quite valid, even if you disagree with the premise.




Finnish Christians object to Christian rocker

Religious groups who use the Tampere Areena in Finland have forced Alice Cooper to cancel his show because it conflicts with the venue’s “Christian-based policies.”

The promoter said:

[Several religious groups] and others use Tampere Areena for their events, so the venue’s management did not want Alice Cooper appearing in the same hall. The contract which we received from Tampere Areena specifies that no artists may perform there who ‘incite evil and the power of darkness’

The objectors are apparently unaware that Alice Cooper is himself a zombie-worshipper of the fundamentalist variety:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiH0P4vNhq8[/youtube]

UPDATE: (11:40) Similarly, Polish Catholics have branded Madonna a “crypto-satanist” for daring to perform on the same day as the Feast of the Assumption (the day when the Holy Virgin Mary mother of God was rocketed up to heaven).

At the concert, Madonna thanked God for giving her such a great job.




Breaking News: Christians Offended

While it may seem hard to believe, reports have confirmed that a group of Christians in Iowa have recently been offended.  While initially dismissed as a hoax (due to the almost unheard of notion of a religious group taking offense at something) reporters at the scene found overwhelming evidence to suggest that a number of Christians including some who wield considerable political power had been offended.

The culprit responsible for this devastating event was identified as a bus which, in a deliberate attempt to cause fear and suffering amongst the citizens of Iowa, rudely dared to acknowledge the existence of atheists.

Does the existence of atheists offend you?  Let us know, and we will gladly take this image down before it hurts you further.

Does the existence of atheists offend you? Let us know, and we will gladly take this image down before it hurts you further.

The banners, sponsored by Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, went up on buses in the Des Moines area earlier this month but were quickly removed after the transit company was allegedly flooded with complaints.  Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) issued a statement to the DesMoinesRegister, explaining that the agency’s board “had not approved the signs” and “that they were put up by mistake.”

Of course, taking even a brief glimpse at this atheistic advert explains why the otherwise calm and collected Christians felt compelled to break out of character and feel offended: they were clearly provoked.

Governor Chet Culver said of the matter:

“I was disturbed, personally, by the advertisement and I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent.”

While offending Christians is not yet considered a federal offense in the state of Iowa, it is understandably taboo as the resulting onslaught of angry letter writing and overblown media attention can cause numerous health problems to the general public, most notably earache.

Buses in Greek Orthodox Mythology

While this particular bus was valiantly defeated, it is unlikely to be the last we hear of these dangerous double-decker tanks of godlessness.  For centuries, buses have been deployed by Satan in an act to undermine the Christian faith, with each model carrying its own brand of provocative insults and disturbing philosophies.  Early incarnations have included outrageously dogmatic slogans, such as “There’s probably no God” a chilling glimpse into a Godless world where people are encouraged to “stop worrying and enjoy their lives.”  We urge all readers of this article to remain indoors, plug their ears, close their eyes and pray for those who have not been blessed with the great perspective on life God has given you.




Yale quails

The American Association of University Professors put it best:

<b>The Cartoons that Shook the World</b>:They certainly had Yale University Press shaking in its boots

The Cartoons that Shook the World: They certainly had Yale University Press shaking in its boots

“We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands.” That is effectively the new policy position at Yale University Press, which has eliminated all visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad from Jytte Klausen’s new book The Cartoons That Shook the World.

Yale University Press clearly took too much notice (you might need bugmenot) of foolish or agenda-driven advisors when they made the Alice-in-Wonderlandish decision to publish an academic work about the Danish Mohammed cartoons without either the cartoons in question, or indeed any other depiction of Islam’s inventor. Advisors such as Ibrahim Gambari who, despite a list of academic qualifications as long as your arm, is under the impression that

You can count on violence if any illustration of the prophet is published. It will cause riots, I predict, from Indonesia to Nigeria.

A statement which is demonstrably false.

Ironically, if the poor dunce had read Jytte Klausen’s book – or, indeed, had any knowledge of the Motoon affair – he would have known that riots and violence do not arise spontaneously on these occasions. They have to be painstakingly engineered and encouraged. It took over 3 months’ work by the Danish imams before the “Muslim world” reacted with the violence they were aiming for.

But, as Professor Klausen explained to MWW in an email

universities are risk-averse institutions and once Yale U had alarmist reports about what would happen there was little the university administration could do but not to publish the cartoon.

She is somewhat less sanguine about the removal of all the other illustrations of Mohammed, however, which

raises a whole other set of issues about the difference between an evidence-based risk assessment and an undefined concern with causing offense or perceptions of what other people may think.

Not only that, but in an action which the AAUP describes as “prior restraint of free speech,” Prof Klausen was denied access to the book reports unless she signed an agreement not to discuss their contents.

Outrage has not been as widespread as it ought to be. Author Reza Aslan, an admirer of the book, has withdrawn his favourable blurb in protest:

This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press. There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry. It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.

And Cary Nelson, President of the AAUP, who Prof Klausen says has “got it right about the principles involved”:

The issues are: 1) an author’s academic freedom; 2) the reputation of the press and the university; 3) the impact of these twin decisions on other university presses and publication venues; 4) the potential to encourage broader censorship of speech by faculty members or other authors. What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author’s words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence? We deplore this decision and its potential consequences.

So now we are in the annoying position of wanting to read the book and to support the author, but not wanting to add to the coffers of Quail University Press. Grr.

UPDATE: (17 Aug) The Guardian has more quotes, including one from an adviser named Sheila Blair who seemed to be very much against Yale’s censorship.

Sherry Jones, author of Jewel of Medina, weighs in with an impassioned plea for free expression on her blog.

UPDATE: (18 Aug) Oliver Kamm and Christopher Hitchens also take up cudgels.

Kamm:

For Professor Klausen to have her scholarly works abridged by her own publisher shows how far liberty has retreated in the face of theocratic bigotry. What a publisher. And what a disgrace.

Hitchens:

Last time this happened, I linked to the Danish cartoons so that you could make up your own minds about them, and I do the same today. Nothing happened last time, but who’s to say what homicidal theocrat might decide to take offense now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on any hands. He becomes the responsibility of our police and security agencies, who operate in defense of a Constitution that we would not possess if we had not been willing to spill blood—our own and that of others—to attain it. The First Amendment to that Constitution prohibits any prior restraint on the freedom of the press. What a cause of shame that the campus of Nathan Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.