Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Draw your own conclusion

Draw your own conclusion, by Rod Liddle

Why bother to draw Mohammed at all if it offends people and doesn’t really reveal very much? The Danes are mulling this over at the moment. Their largest circulation daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, invited a bunch of cartoonists to depict Mohammed and went ahead and published their efforts. One of the cartoons showed the Prophet with a bomb under his coat, which I suppose one might deem provocative. But this wasn’t what led to riots in Aarhus, protests outside the Danish Parliament, demands for an apology from the Prime Minister and a whole bunch of Islamic countries lodging protests through their embassies and even threatening to withdraw diplomatic relations. It was the mere act of depicting Mohammed at all, bomb or no bomb.

The paper insists that it did not want to cause trouble. Its journalistic editor, Joern Mikkelson, told me that he was ‘sad’ that people were offended. They decided to commission the cartoons when it was revealed that a book critical of Islam and due to be published in Denmark had trouble finding a translator, and even more trouble finding an illustrator: people were too scared to do it. ‘We felt the need to bring this to public discussion,’ said Mr Mikkelson, ‘and this is what we did. We didn’t want to annoy anybody.’ Really? I don’t believe that. Or, at least, I suspect that they knew full well it would annoy Denmark’s 200,000 Muslims but decided to go ahead and publish anyway. The intention may not have been to offend, but they knew it would offend, none the less. And, you have to ask, why shouldn’t they?

British newspapers and broadcasters have reported this story, but they have done so without replicating any of the cartoons which the Danish newspaper published. In other words, they censored the crucial bit of the story. They didn’t show us what it was that so offended Denmark’s Muslims. Was this out of sensitivity to our own Muslim population, or merely because of utter cowardice? Or a bit of both?

Far more than in France, the controversy in Denmark epitomises the problem of Western, liberal countries that have a growing and increasingly confident and, you might argue, vociferous, conservative Muslim population. There is no easy consensus between the two sides, no matter how loudly government ministers and (largely) self-appointed Muslim community leaders insist otherwise. We believe in profoundly different things and you can paper over the cracks only for so long; there is a gulf, and it is widening. Sooner or later one side will have to give ground, a lot of ground.

The recent government proposals for a law against blasphemy, an edict against ridiculing the beliefs of other people, leads me to suspect that over here, at least, it will be the secular democrats who cede territory. Which is why you have that inept drawing of someone who might be, and might not be, Mohammed peeking out at you from the pages of The Spectator. Hope you enjoyed it.


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