January 13, 2015

"Tout Est Pardonné" - The Charlie Hebdo front cover and Christopher Hitchens on cartooning the prophet


In 2006 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and the people of Denmark were subjected to a coordinated campaign of intimidation, sabotage and murder following the publication earlier in 2005 of the image of the prophet of Muhammed. Christopher Hitchens wrote in response, ‘The case for mocking religion’:
"There is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general."

He also said:
"You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken."
The statement from the US State Department read, "Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief." In response to the US denouncement of the cartoons, Hitchens wrote:
"How abysmal that a “spokesman” cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second)."
And he also said:
"The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death."
In February 2006 Christopher Hitchens also wrote, 'Stand up for Denmark! Why are we not defending our ally?' He said:
"The incredible thing about the ongoing Kristallnacht against Denmark (and in some places, against the embassies and citizens of any Scandinavian or even European Union nation) is that it has resulted in, not opprobrium for the religion that perpetrates and excuses it, but increased respectability."
On islamophobia:
"The silky ones may be more of a problem in the long term than the flagrantly vicious and crazy ones. Within a short while—this is a warning—the shady term “Islamophobia” is going to be smuggled through our customs. Anyone accused of it will be politely but firmly instructed to shut up, and to forfeit the constitutional right to criticize religion. By definition, anyone accused in this way will also be implicitly guilty. Thus the “soft” censorship will triumph, not from any merit in its argument, but from its association with the “hard” censorship that we have seen being imposed over the past weeks."
In response to Mary McAleese's condemnation of the Danish cartoons, Hitchens said:
"This is not new. I’ve written about this many times. It’s reverse ecumenicism. It first became obvious to me when the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989. The reaction of the official newspaper of the Vatican was that the problem wasn’t that the foreign leader of a theocratic dictatorship offered money, in public, in his own name, to suborn the murder of the writer of a book of fiction in another country, who wasn’t an Iranian citizen. The problem was not that. 
You and I may have thought, bloody hell, this is a new kind of threat. But it’s an old level of threat. Blasphemy is the problem. That was also the view of the archbishop of Canterbury. The general reaction of the religious establishments to that and to the Danish case—and, by the way, of our secular State Department in the Danish case—was to say the problem was Danish offensiveness. A cartoon in a provincial town in a small Scandinavian democracy obviously should be censored by the government lest it ignite—or as Yale University Press put it, instigate—violence.”
He continued:
"These people are saying the grandfather and granddaughter were the authors of their own attempted assassinations. These are some of the same people who say that if I don’t believe in God I can’t know what morality is. They’ve just dissolved morality completely into relativism by saying actually, occasionally, carving up grandfathers and granddaughters with an axe on New Year’s Eve can be okay if it’s done to protect the reputation of a seventh century Arabian man who heard voices."
He wrote in Vanity Fair in 2009, 'Assassins of the Mind':
"I went on CNN to defend the Danish cartoons and found that, though the network would show the relevant page of the newspaper, it had pixelated the cartoons themselves. And this in an age when the image is everything. The lady anchor did not blush to tell me that the network was obliterating its very stock-in-trade (newsworthy pictures) out of sheer fear. 
Sometimes this fear—and this blackmail—comes dressed up in the guise of good manners and multiculturalism. One must not wound the religious feelings of others, many of whom are poor immigrants in our own societies. To this I would respond by pointing to a book published in 1994. It is entitled For Rushdie: Essays by Arab and Muslim Writers in Defense of Free Speech. Among its contributors is almost every writer worthy of the name in the Arab and Muslim world, ranging from the Syrian poet Adonis to the Syrian-Kurdish author Salim Barakat, to the late national bard of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Darwish, to the celebrated Turkish writers Murat Belge and Orhan Pamuk. Especially impressive and courageous was the list of 127 Iranian writers, artists, and intellectuals who, from the prison house that is the Islamic Republic, signed their names to a letter which said:
 “We underline the intolerable character of the decree of death that the Fatwah is, and we insist on the fact that aesthetic criteria are the only proper ones for judging works of art.… To the extent that the systematic denial of the rights of man in Iran is tolerated, this can only further encourage the export outside the Islamic Republic of its terroristic methods which destroy freedom.” 
In other words, the situation is the exact reverse of what the condescending multiculturalists say it is. To indulge the idea of religious censorship by the threat of violence is to insult and undermine precisely those in the Muslim world who are its intellectual cream, and who want to testify for their own liberty—and for ours. It is also to make the patronizing assumption that the leaders of mobs and the inciters of goons are the authentic representatives of Muslim opinion. What could be more “offensive” than that?"
Kenan Malik wrote "What is really racist is the idea that only nice white liberals want to challenge religion or demolish its pretensions or can handle satire and ridicule."


Here above is Salvador Dali's depiction of the prophet. Christopher Hitchens rightly clarified the matter of drawing Muhammad:
"The original intention of limiting the representation of Mohammed by Muslims (and Islamic fatwas, before we forget, have no force whatever when applied to people outside the faith) was the rather admirable one of preventing idolatry. It was feared that people might start to worship the man and not the god of whom he was believed to be the messenger. This is why it is crass to refer to Muslims as Mohammedans."
Christopher Hitchens said there's a menace and moral blackmail to the cry of "you've offended 1.2 million Muslims":
"When you go on the air and you debate with some whining, self-righteous, self-hating, self-pitying Muslim and you tell him what you think of his Koran and his prophet, you’re told "You have offended a billion Muslims!" Have you noticed this? There’s a slight tone of moral blackmail here I sometimes think… The idea of a billion is clearly intended as a threat, there’s a menace to it."
He wrote more about this in 2009:
"Now we have to say that the mayhem we fear is also our fault, if not indeed our direct responsibility. This is the worst sort of masochism, and it involves inverting the honest meaning of our language as well as what might hitherto have been thought of as our concept of moral responsibility"
More from Hitchens on the 2006 cartoon controversy:
"If we have to use this stupid word "offensive", those of us who believe in the enlightenment and and the constitution and the First Amendment are very much offended by this mad babyish conduct."
A last rejoin from Hitchens:
"If it’s going to make such claims it has to drop the demand that it be immune from criticism and especially from satire. To many of us the claims of the prophet Mohammed or his claim to be a prophet are absurd and of course we have the right to do that just as we have the right to represent unchased nuns and child-raping priests and the other people who also claim a special right because they claim that their own bigotry is divine."
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