Saturday, February 04, 2006

Jack Straw, toadier-in-chief

Matthew Parris has a robust response to the apologists in the Times and Guardian who feel they should censor their own newspapers to avoid hurting the feelings of one religious group:

I am not happy that we should allow any group to define the terms on which we deal with their issues, however genuinely or deeply felt. They for their part should not suppose that the self-censorship they induce in the rest of Britain does them any favours in the end. It does not make us sympathetic, only wary of complaint.

It doesn't surprise me in the least to hear that the UK government, in contrast with other European nations, is condemning the publication of the cartoons:

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, denounced the decision to republish the cartoons, saying press freedom carried an obligation not "to be gratuitously inflammatory". Mr Straw, at a press conference in London, said that while he was committed to press freedom, "I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong". He praised the British press, which up to yesterday had not published the cartoons, for showing "considerable responsibility and sensitivity".

By contrast, Wolfgang Schauble, the German home minister, defended the decision by four German newspapers to publish the cartoons: "Why should the German government apologise? This is an expression of press freedom."

Jack Straw has never been known for his belief in freedom.


Rob said...

So how far do you think freedom of the press should be allowed to go? Isn't there anything you'd be offended at seeing made fun of? I personally think the response is way out of control but I can understand why they're upset. How would Christians feel if the saw a cartoon of Jesus masturbating or something equally nasty? Do you think the paper should print that?

Ian Brown said...

I don't believe that the right not be offended should trump the right to free speech :(

I also believe in the free speech rights of fundamentalists to complain bitterly. But expecting governments to censor their media, or torching embassies, or making death threats to writers and cartoonists, goes way over the line.

Word Mincer said...

i am with jack straw. see my other comments made today on your blog. I agree with you Ian, but we need to take a positive stance that will be helpful in the longer term to an issue which is just getting out of hand in a much bigger picture. we need to start building bridges and work something out together - the world belongs to all of us.

Calanish said...

This is religious intimidation.

Perhaps this poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller will resonate?

First They Came for the Jews

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

This is Free Speech under threat - we have little enough protection for it in Europe as things stand currently. To date there have been very few attacks on it, but this looks like a sustained attack from outside Europe on all of us.

As someone who spends part of my time in DK I take it as a direct attack my ability to express my opinions and hear others' opinions not just some abstract threat against a bunch of foreign cartoonists.

I hope someone will be around to protect Complexity Science when they come for it.


Word Mincer said...

i like that poem, and i am in tune with it. i am not against freedom of speech (see my other blog at, I think we need more of it, and also to free ourselves of PC-ness in the best way possible. I don't understand why you, Calanish, would feel attacked personally by this outrage against some cartoons. maybe I am missing something here, but i do think this is all getting out of hand. and all over some cartoons??? but it's not really about the cartoons, is it? It's about a situation which is in desparate need of some really good mediation and concilliation, conflict transformation (note: i didn't use the term conflict resolution - it's already beyond that), and cultural negotiation. i really condemn the storming of embassies etc (not that this doesn't make me stop and think that we wouldn't be so quick to condemn if embassies were being stormed over something *we* were in agreement with - we can be such hypocrits sometimes). My point is, if everyone would just stop a minute and think about what is happening here, maybe we would see that by taking sides and arguing a point that we were actually only going to harm ourselves more in the long run... and then, take your poem, and add to the end, that 'everyone was so busy taking sides that no-one was left to work it out and come to some new way of doing things'... what, calanish, would you suggest?
And by the way, complexity science isn't a religion - I would definitely not get offended if there was some weird backlash to it - lot's of people don't 'like' it in the academic world anyway. It doesn't define me or who I am - what do i care? everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think it's interesting to see what it may or may not offer to the world, but if human life were at stake and i had to choose between pursuing complexity science and saving someone, then i would probably choose life, not complexity science. otherwise, what is the point of complexity science to us as humans anyway???
complexity science doesn't need protecting, it's just a way of looking at the world by those who want to bother. if it really was 'under threat', then I'd be philosophical about it in the first instance. if lives were at stake then i'd say leave it off the table for a while until things have cooled down, and somewhere down the line, if it really is useful, someone will pick it up again if and when the time is right. if there was another way of bringing it to the table and asking those who were opposed to it to somehow compromise, then i'd probably try for that. and that is just what i am suggesting here. the point is, we haven't got to the point yet where we have identified a table to bring these issues to, let alone the people we would want to invite for such discussions, or the exact topics we would need to discuss. My point is, let's do this first and try and work it out from there... behaving like children from either side will not help.

Calanish said...

Go back to why the cartoons were originally drawn.

It was because a book illustrator in DK was afraid to illustrate Allah. Your statement that you are with Jack Straw ie in favour of religious intimidation is what prompted me to post.

I want to be able to able to express my point of view without worrying about whether my son in DK is likely to be burnt out of his house by his muslim neighbours. ( There is a seperate discussion to be had about how integration of refugee communities has worked in DK, it is not the obscure happy liberal world that you might think. However this blog is absolutely not the place for it. )

Complexity Science is something close to your heart; communism, trade unionism, sexuality are not religions but have been attacked by religions over the years. I was using it as a parable.

I do not want to live in your version of a free world - you are willing to kowtow to religious intimidation, I am not. In the misquoted words of Matthew Parris I prefer to fart in the face of it.

We will have to agree to disagree - but we can do that can't we :-)


Word Mincer said...

You've got me wrong Calanish, you really have. You have also misinterpreted/misunderstood the reason why i said i was with Jack Straw on this one. Principally, I am with him because his response seems measured, responsible, and mature, as opposed to rash, knee jerk, irresponsible and adolescently immature.
I respect the fact that he:
"denounced the decision to republish the cartoons, saying press freedom carried an obligation not "to be gratuitously inflammatory". Mr Straw, at a press conference in London, said that while he was committed to press freedom, "I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong". He praised the British press, which up to yesterday had not published the cartoons, for showing "considerable responsibility and sensitivity"."
I believe he is right, and that the British press are.

I do not believe Jack Straw's stance is a form of religious intimidation. I'll repeat this a few times just to emphasise my point:
I do not believe Jack Straw's stance is a form of religious intimidation.
I do not believe Jack Straw's stance is a form of religious intimidation.
I do not believe Jack Straw's stance is a form of religious intimidation.

And, the other count on which you have me wrong, is that complexity science is somehow supposed to be close to my heart... where on earth does this assumption come from? Just because I have spent the last few years studying it and it has formed the basis of my PhD? Sorry to disillusion you, but I didn't choose to get involved with complexity science, I just kind of fell into it, and by now I know quite a bit about it (goes with PhD territory). But by no means would I say there is any connection with my heart there. It would be silly of me now to give it up unless I had to as I know a lot about it, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if I somehow saw it was prudent to do so and it made sense, and that yes, I risked sparking off international incidents because of it - how selfish and immature would that be?
In ref to your wanting to feel free to express your point of view... fair enough, but if you knew something would upset your mother or someone close to you, would you insist on throwing it in their face if there was a history of upset in relation to a particular theme? probably not - your fellow feeling and kindness and maturity would probably stop you, wouldn't it?
I agree with Straw in that it would show a bit of insensitivity to republish the cartoons... note, 'republish'... which, as a repeat, would add insult and as he said, be inflammatory. There is just no need.
And, re death threats... yes, it's not nice, I've had a few... but you learn to live with it and get over it... I'm still alive aren't it? The sooner we can resolve this issue, and the bigger ones which make it a social incendiary, the better. We should stop wasting *our* time being offended and start wondering what we could intelligently do to improve situations like this sparking off again, where thousands of people become enraged - irrespective of whether we agree with them or not.
I do not agree with provocation. I propose adult communication and conflict transformation. Let's make the world a better place to live in, and yes, one where none of us receive death threats.

Anonymous said...


All this discussion made me thing on 3 things: appropriateness, scale and context (and momentum)

In one hand there is a discussion around freedom, and on the other hand there is a discussion about the usage of such freedom. Which for me are 2 different discussion, very complementary, but one is looking to it from a higher level. – Which lead us to SCALE. If we see freedom as a single issue, then yes, lets continue be free no matter what.
Freedom is such a precious thing, and I come from a country that not always was ‘free’. And is fantastic to be able to express opinions and that there is space for diversity.

If we see freedom in a broader SCALE, we can see that freedom is in fact a network of RELATIONSHIPS and CONTRASTS or OPPOSITIONS. It interrelates and correlates with different elements. Those elements are changeable, so does its connections, and what makes it changeable is the CONTEXT: social context, environmental context, political context, economical context, and so on….until arriving to individual context.
So, freedom by itself as no value (free of what? from what or from who?), so you need the OPPOSITE, and therefore is the relation in a context which connects all the important elements on such momentum.

But, even so we can see context in a bigger SCALE: we can jump form a specific social context and boundaries, to a bigger context that involves not only different societies, but as well the ecology (the relation of all with the whole)  This probably will allow us to gain a vision of APPROPRIATENESS  'fitness for purpose'

Even so, we are only humans and our capacity to see at long term is small. We are creativity, but we lack sensitivity to create with APPROPRIATENESS, SCALE and CONTEXT. And probably this is our learning path.

Now imagine your son/daughter; since they are born you educate them to enable then to make better choices. Education is not about giving information about the past and present, is about choices; about discern what is important from what is less important, what is correct from what isn’t so correct. And how you do this, by giving them the bases to judge by them selves according to a CONTEXT (context specific) and allow them to choose APPROPRIATE.
We all have in our minds that killing is bad, or that is wrong. But if you have your family all retain against their will in the hands of someone that is mentally ill, and this person as a gun pointed at you, and you have a gun as well, you probably will just shoot.
It is important to understand the BIGGER PICTURE to actually act according to the context.

DECISIONS are very important. And we decide according to our capabilities/knowledge/information access in that moment, and the external elements, which is the context and the momentum.

So the question form me is, rather then freedom of speech: according to the CONTEXT in which the world is, was APPROPRAITE to publish such cartons?

It is important to know how to use freedom……maybe in 2 to 3 years from now on, those cartoons will be a laugh and no one will care. But probably now wasn’t the right timming.

Word Mincer said...

Have just been recommended a book to read by a very influential UK person, but I can't reveal who as the Chatham House Rule applied ;-)

But, I can reveal the name of the book: "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism", by Karen Armstrong.

A quote from the review at Amazon ( hit me immediately in ref to my earlier comments made in this blog: "To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side", she pleads"

I intend to read the book.

The full review reads: "About 40 years ago popular opinion assumed that religion would become a weaker force and certainly less zealous as the world became more modern and morals became more relaxed. Yet, the opposite has proven true, according to theologian and author Karen Armstrong (A History of God), who documents how fundamentalism has taken root and grown in many of the world's major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions. Reacting to a technologically driven world with liberal Western values, fundamentalists have not only increased in numbers, they have become more desperate, claims Armstrong, who points to the Oklahoma City bombing, violent anti-abortion crusades, and the assassination of President Yitzak Rabin as evidence of dangerous extremes.

Yet she also acknowledges the irony of how fundamentalism and Western materialism seem to urge each other onto greater excesses. To "prevent an escalation of the conflict, we must try and understand the pain and perception of the other side", she pleads. With her gift for clear, engaging writing and her integrity as a thorough researcher, Armstrong delivers a powerful discussion on a globally heated issue. Part history lesson, part wake-up call, and mostly a plea for healing, Armstrong's writing continues to offer a religious mirror and a cultural vision. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition."

Word Mincer said...

An article just out:

Headline reads: "Denmark warns cartoon row could spin out of control"

Snippets from the piece: "Denmark's prime minister said on Tuesday violent Muslim protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad were a worldwide crisis spinning out of the control of governments.

We're facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and other authorities," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said as anti-Danish protests spread in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Accusing "radicals, extremist and fanatics" of fanning the flames of Muslim wrath to "push forward their own agenda," he repeated a call for dialogue with offended Muslims.

I want to appeal and reach out to all people and countries in the Muslim world. Let us work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance," said the leader of the country which first published the cartoons."


"Some Danes fear the row has heightened the risk of a terrorist attack in Denmark, which has 530 troops in Iraq.

In a poll by Epinion for Danish radio, about four in 10 people said publication of the cartoons meant there was now a serious risk of an attack. More than half said the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim Danes had widened because of the cartoons.

The cartoon row raised concerns for the safety of Danish troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq, though there are no plans to pull out."

Sounds like the Danish PM has it right.

Word Mincer said...

The link to that article should have been:

Word Mincer said...

sorry - link won't come out right in the comment... if you want it, i will email it to you.

Word Mincer said...

And another story:
Four die in fresh cartoon protests - Yahoo! News

"Afghan police shot dead four people protesting on Tuesday against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have unleashed waves of rage and soul-searching across the Muslim world and Europe... Tens of thousands of Muslims demonstrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the drawings, first published in Denmark, then Norway and then several other European countries. Some Muslim leaders urged restraint..."

and then:

"Iran's best-selling newspaper launched a competition to find the best Holocaust cartoon."

Where/when/how will it all end???