Archive for February, 2006

What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence

15 February 2006

It is true that Wittgenstein’s proposition (see title) means something else altogether, but taken very literally one can still read it as a lesson politicians and commentators should take at heart more often – be it in words or even in actions.

Take the ‘freedom of speech’ row, which was started by Jyllands-Posten, allegedly, in order to defend free speech (and the potential illustrators of a children’s book on Muhammad) against attacks by fanatic muslims. Did Jyllands-Posten achieve what it wanted? I think not. Be it in the eyes of fanatic or of moderate muslims, if the publication and what followed has set a lasting example this is not as convincing proof of the benefits of free speech, but of its drawbacks.

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Ceci n’est pas Mahomet

5 February 2006

Persian or central Asian illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching

Sickos. That is the overwhelming feeling I have while watching the pictures of furious muslims besieging Scandinavian embassies and consulates in Syria and Lebanon because of a few cartoons. It is not the first time we see pictures of furious muslim masses rioting against something “the West” did to them. But the disturbing thing is that most of those previous times I could understand at least some of their anger by picturing myself in their situation. This time I just feel completely alienated from a major part of the world population.

That is not to say that they don’t have a case at all. The cartoons are not funny and are, considering their context, perhaps rightly understood as racist. But by turning onto everything and everyone Danish or Norwegian instead of just the newspapers concerned, so is the response.

VoltaireAnd no, ridiculing the holocaust as the symbol that is as holy to the West as Muhammad is to the East is not the equivalent thing. First of all, it was not Muhammad but the extremists pretending to follow him who were ridiculed in the Danish cartoons. Secondly, it is not forbidden to picture the holocaust in the west, only ridiculing it is (at least in most countries). Thirdly and most importantly, there is a huge difference in terms of good taste and moral righteousness between ridiculing mass murder and ridiculing those who commit it.

Had the Danish cartoons ridiculed muslim victims of western violence, the protesters would have found most of western public opinion on their side. Now, despite having a point on western racism and discrimination, they are just bad PR for their case.