The ‘Jesus and Mo’ Cartoon and the Right To Offend

There has been some ongoing controversy about the decision by the Atheist Society at the University College London (UCL) to publish a cartoon of the prophet Jesus and prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) which depicts them drinking alcohol at a bar.

A number of organisations have stepped up to defend the right of the Atheist Society to cause deliberate offence including the Humanist Society, the well-known scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins as well as the usual anti-Muslim hate sites including Harry’s Place.

I certainly don’t like the cartoon. It seems to me that it is not making much of a point other than to be deliberately offensive. Still, I am sure that all those who are rushing to defend the right of Atheist Society to publish the gratuitous cartoon will also show their full support for the publication of the above cartoon which was the Winner of the 2006 Holocaust Cartoon competition in Iran. The above cartoon seems to me to make a far more serious point about the terrible injustice being perpetrated daily by Israel against the occupied Palestinian nation. And if the above cartoon does offend some people – well, that’s free speech for you, right?

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20 Responses to The ‘Jesus and Mo’ Cartoon and the Right To Offend

  1. Peter J says:

    I don’t recall much outrage over the Iranian cartoon competition. Besides, compared with the invective and genocidal threats against the Jews coming out of the Muslim world on a daily basis, it pales into insignificance.

    And it certainly didn’t provoke the mob violence and 200-odd deaths which followed the Danish cartoons.

    • Hi Peter: do you recall these same staunch defenders of freedom defending the holocaust cartoons. Also, as you may know, those who – foolishly – deny the Nazi holocaust are liable to prosecution and imprisonment in certain ‘modern’ European states. Institutionalized state thuggery, no?

  2. Peter J says:

    No one rushed to defend the Iranian Holocaust cartoon competition because the artists and the competition were not being threatened by anyone! They were actively promoted by real “state thuggery” (see crushing of Iranian democracy movements for example)!! People rush to defend free speech when it is threatened. Sure there are limits. The freedom of speech to incite hatred and murder is legislated against. But you wouldn’t be in favour of making images of Mohamed a blasphemous crime in this country, would you, however much it offends your private religious sensitivities?

    (And if certain European countries who were complicit in the Holocaust see fit to criminalise denial of what they perpetrated as nations, then that’s up to them – not you or I. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as “institutional state thuggery”. More like “sensitivity to historical truth so that it doesn’t repeat itself.” I imagine that’s part of the thinking behind it.)

  3. ADC says:

    “It seems to me that it is not making much of a point other than to be deliberately offensive.”

    Well try to exercise your imagination a bit. If you’re not a Muslim (or, for that matter a Christian) but an atheist, then these religious figures are just interesting historical personages with contemporary relevance. They may serve as ciphers for making wider points in debates around religion and society. Or it may just strike the atheist that the exaggerated respect accorded these historical personages by religious people is just a little silly. Either way, the cartoon isn’t aimed at Muslims (or at Christians). It’s aimed at fellow atheists, agnostics, humanists, sceptics and those of a satirical bent.

    It’s not about you, Inayat. It’s not for you. It’s for unbelievers. It’s a shared joke among unbelievers. It’s not trying to offend believers because it’s not intended (except accidentally, or by way of aggressive offence-seeking) to even be seen by believers. It’s not saying to believers, We want to offend your sensibilities. It’s saying to non-believers, Hey, this is funny.

  4. Peter: a number of European papers did republish the cartoons of the Prophet. Do you recall any of them publishing the Nazi holocaust cartoons? If they did, I would venture that they would have faced censorship threats too unfortunately. This is not me speculating wildly. You may recall that when the New Statesman published a rather anodyne cover story entitled ‘Kosher Nostra?’ back in 2001 they were rewarded with a sit-in occupation by some Jewish activists and the then editor had to publish an apology because as he made clear later, the publisher told him to apologise or face the sack.

  5. Peter J says:

    200 people died after the Danish cartoons, Inayat. Threats of violence and plots to assassinate the artists continue.

    But I can understand how you might find it difficult to grasp this whole “freedom of speech” thing and its role in an enlightened Western secular liberal democracy.

    • Peter: Thank you for the condescending remarks. It is not me that has been denying the deaths caused by the cartoons of the Prophet. It is you that has been repeatedly mentioning them. I have sought merely to draw attention to the immense hypocrisy that surrounds these issues of ‘free speech’. You yourself have admitted you are not concerned by people being imprisoned for foolishly believing that the Nazi holocaust is a myth or an exaggeration.

      • Peter J says:

        I leave it to the moral conscience of the countries involved whether they consider Holocaust-denial to be a crime, whether they consider it to be one of the limits of free speech upon which they choose to legislate. What you call ‘hypocrisy’, the countries involved might consider to be ‘nuance’, one of the finer legal points which their democratically-elected Parliament has discussed in full.

        No one has ‘the right not to be offended’, but we do have the right to be protected from hate-speech. And sometimes, it takes lawyers and wise men to judge on these matters.
        People’s religious or political beliefs should not be protected from criticism, investigation, inspection, scepticism and satire.

        But I doubt anything I can say could change your mindset or world view – informed as it is by a totally different set of ethical/moral principles.

      • Peter J says:

        The fact that you equate political and social satire (cartoons) with Holocaust-denial is a revealing one. Your use of the word ‘foolish’ (twice) to describe holocaust-deniers is curious, too. Holocaust-deniers are usually sick people whose hatred of Jews comes before all reasoned thought. They’re not ‘foolish’. Or are they ‘foolish’ to risk holocaust-denial in a country where it is illegal? Perhaps that’s what you meant.

        But hey, you’re in the UK – you can flirt with it Inayat. Plenty do. Unfortunately you won’t be free from public opprobium, though.

    • aminriadh says:

      “I leave it to the moral conscience of the countries involved whether they consider Holocaust-denial to be a crime, whether they consider it to be one of the limits of free speech upon which they choose to legislate. What you call ‘hypocrisy’, the countries involved might consider to be ‘nuance’, one of the finer legal points which their democratically-elected Parliament has discussed in full. ”

      Sure… but if majority Muslim governments for examples have blasphemy laws – you really wouldn’t have problems with that. See – when it actually came down it – you side-stepped.

      I remember the Danish cartoons. The hypocrisy involved. The editor who published them had no problem turning down Jesus cartoons – as they would cause offense. But he published anti-Islamic cartoons.

      Yet no one was against the hypocrisy of the newspaper. Yet

      I saw no one claiming that Anjum Choudhry had the right for his [albeit disgusting] march. Freedom of Speech disappeared into thin air.

      Ahmad Deedat remembers freedom of speech… he says how the British Press clammed up after the Rushdie affair. He says – they would not even let us advertise – never mind express our views.

      This Freedom of Speech is simply a defense mechanism – and completely one sided hypocrisy. it simply is well suited to the arrogant Western lifestyle. When the debt man or China catches up….

  6. Will Perry says:

    Actually the Jesus and Mo cartoons are saying considerably more than just having a beer. They are saying that Islam and Christianity are really hypocritical, violent and racist. They make Jesus and Mohammed look stupid and vain – which of course they are. Generally this is by reference to much that is said in the Koran and Haddith and the Bible and often, when Moses is involved, the Torah. To Atheists these books are really really really offensive. We think they are brutal, bronze age nonsense that encourages murder and totalitarianism and the discusting subjugation of woman. We think if they are truly followed the world will be a terrible place for men and terrifying place for women. (We know this is true – because we can look at the various Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban to see that if you are not an Imam you life is worth nothing and you are poor because women are slaves. So we will keep going on and on about this horror but we will not burn your book nor will we threaten you will violence. We will just talk and write and draw until you come to your senses.

    • aminriadh says:

      To us the religious – Atheism is simply really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really offensive.

      It is that offensive – it should be criminalized.

      “They are saying that Islam and Christianity are really hypocritical, violent and racist.”
      This is simply factually incorrect. Else – how is Islam Racist?

      “Generally this is by reference to much that is said in the Koran and Haddith and the Bible and often, when Moses is involved, the Torah.”

      Care for an actual example maybe?

      It is brutal and responsible some leading despots like Hitler, Saddam and Stalin etc. It encourages disgusting subjugation of women – by allowing exploitation od reducing them to “objects of sex”.

      “We think if they are truly followed the world will be a terrible place for men and terrifying place for women. (We know this is true – because we can look at the various Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban to see that if you are not an Imam you life is worth nothing and you are poor because women are slaves.”

      Yet Yvonne Riddley a hard-nosed female journalists still converted. As many Western females still do. I really think you need to get out a bit more.

      “So we will keep going on and on about this horror but we will not burn your book nor will we threaten you will violence. ”

      Really… yet any chance Atheists get they forcibly remove religion. The recent council decision – pandering to Secularism. If Dawkins had armies – he would be at war. It is evidence from his view. He call for forcibly removing rights – to indoctrinate with Atheism.

  7. Peter: You have moved on from being condescending to misrepresenting my views. If you reread my blog, you will see that I have not called for censorship. My views on the right to offend are on public record:

    m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/29/publishing.civilliberties?cat=commentisfree&type=article

    The point of this blog was to demonstrate how ‘flexible’ certain advocates of free speech actually are about their supposed values. You too demonstrated this very well right here in your rather casual dismissal of those whose liberty is taken away from them because they disagree with conventional views on the Nazi holocaust. A bit like a thought crime, is it not?

  8. Peter J says:

    What do you think, Inayat? Do you think Germany and Austria are wrong to criminalise holocaust denial?

    Yes or No?

    • Yes, I think they are wrong to criminalize holocaust denial. What happened to your support for the right to offend? A bit flexible, eh?

      • Peter J says:

        I don’t care either way. But if they do, I can understand their reasoning. They clearly see it as a form of incitement to hatred and that as such it outweighs questions of freedom of speech.

        What are your reason against criminalising it? An unswerving commitment to freedom of speech, thought and expression that spares no one and nothing? If so, I applaud you.

  9. Gene says:

    I don’t think the Jesus and Mo cartoons or the “Holocaust” cartoon should be banned. But you do understand why the latter cartoon is antisemitic. Don’t you?

    • aminriadh says:

      Gene – obviously the cartoon is anti-Jews*. But do you get why the other cartoon is offensive to Muslims?

      * The Jews are not the only Semitic people. Antisemitism the term to apply to Jews only is wrong.

  10. Pingback: UK Islamists and the Arab Uprisings « Raffaello Pantucci

  11. J says:

    I think it is wrong to make holocaust denial a crime. I totally disagree with holocaust deniers, but it is wrong to make it a crime or to ban the airing of the views of holocaust deniers. What holocaust deniers say can easily be refuted and must be refuted. Some people will not listen to or believe the refutation, because they do not want to. Because such people are not really interested in evidence, even if you ban holocaust denial, they will still believe that the holocaust did not happen.

    However, people who are interested in getting at the truth will only be able to get to it after considering the evidence presented from all points of view. If you ban holocaust denial, rather than refuting it, you just make it look like you’ve got something to hide, that maybe the evidence doesn’t support you anyway. I guess I can understand some of the motiviations that have caused Germany and Austria to criminalise holocaust denial, but they are still wrong. Free speech is always best. Most western countries realise this and so have not criminalised holocaust denial.

    I don’t like the Iranian cartoon (by the way, it seems to me to be a matter of interpretation whether it is anti-Jewish; it certainly seems to be anti-Zionist), but I don’t think it should be banned either. It’s making a point. The precise nature of the point it is making, and whether that point is valid, is a matter for debate.

    I quite like the Jesus and Mo cartoons. Precisely what points they are making, and whether those points are valid, should also be a matter for debate. If you don’t think they’re making any point worth discussing, then there’s plenty of other stuff you can read or look at instead. But don’t try to stop other people looking at them.

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