Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Yale University Press & Freedom of Expression

Christopher Hitchen’s latest article for Slate entitled, “Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammad from a book about Danish Cartoons?’ is a well reasoned piece that points out some ominous facts that if left to run their course, will result in not only the watering down of the medias effectiveness, but further the erosion of free speech and open inquiry.

Cast your mind back to 2005 and the controversy surrounding the Danish newspaper Jylland Portem that hosted a competition for cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. This caused a media shit storm that reverberated around the world, consequently resulting in the deaths of at least one hundred people.

I thought this particular issue had been laid to rest, but recent events have placed it firmed back onto the political agenda. Yale University Press has decided to publish a book called “The cartoons that shook the world” by Danish –born Jytte Klausen, who is professor of politics at Brandeis University. It tells the story of the horrid and preplanned campaign of “protest” and boycott that was orchestrated in the closing months of that year. The publication will see the removal of the twelve original caricatures that caused the initial hysteria. On one hand, this could be seen as expedient maneuver considering the related murders and threats carried out by Muslim extremists; on the other hand, a question has to be asked:

How far can the religious push this kind of censorship, and where will it end?

We can already hear Mullahs in the West shouting from their minaret tops for the banning of innocuous children’s fairy tales like “The Tree Little Pigs” and nonsensically lambasting fictitious television character like Miss Piggy. Laughably, one of the twenty centuries most revered novels, George Orwell’s profound and powerful “Animal Farm” has been banned from Muslim curriculums because of the central character is a pig.

The decision taken by Yale University is a momentous blow to all who believe that free speech is necessary and healthy within a functioning modern society. As Hitchens states, “According to the Yale logic, violence could result from the showing of the images-and not only that, but it would be those who displayed the images who were directly responsible for that violence.” This kind of logic creates all kind of problems and complexities. In theory an individual or group could be seen as the aggressor and perpetrator when in actual fact, they were upholding their right to freedom of expression.

During the first calamitous episode in 2005, those vehemently against the cartoons exclaimed that they would result in the “instigation” of violence. As Hitchens points out, “If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it.”

The ramifications of this type of misinformation prove to be fatal, as the religious continue on their sadistic and sectarian crusade, against rationality and secularism. This particular masochistic bending of the rules by the religious can not go on if we are to maintain a level of decency and modernity in our world. Media outlets and the population writ large must have the confidence to stand up to these socio-religious bully boy tactics.

Sam Harris, one of the spearheads within the so called, “New Atheist Movement” postulates that religion should not be given such an elevated position within society, as it is merely a belief system, on a par with political allegiance. By this assumption, religion is given an artificial position within our society; one that can and should be challenged.

Hitchens surmises about the possibility of his own life being threatened or put in danger by his high profile polemics. He imperiously states, “Who’s to say a homicidal theocrat won’t decide to be offended now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on his hands.”

I take my hat off to Mr. Hitchens, and feel like him, that it is time for the media and people to stop sound biting democracy, and face facts that there is an encroaching beast at work - organized religion, that is not content to keep its views private; but insidiously attempts to force them upon others.

One would think that the religious would be overjoyed with the fact that they have uncovered the truth and discovered the dark and wondrous secrets of life to which, the rest of us are ignorant, but this is not the case. The religious with their tele-evanjelist conmen and their apocalyptic Mullahs continue to peddle fear, lies and damnation to the credulous, playing on peoples’ innate fear of death, and need for simple answers to life’s difficult questions.

A lot of blood has been split in attaining things that we now take for granted, such as free speech, which has undoubtedly accelerated our development as a race, and enhanced the lives of millions of citizens. It’s important to remember these undeniable facts, and not let the zealots dilute the effectiveness of progress made.

The monotheisms written as they were, by men sitting round iron-age campfires, have little relevance today and their majestic mutterings now look frail under the microscope of modern science and philosophy. These ‘great’ religions were probably our first attempt at understanding the big questions in life, of which some still baffle people today; but the point is that out first attempt at philosophy, has now been overshadowed and overtaken by sober, rational inquiry.

Evidence and facts, have felt their way slowly to the mainstream, and there they will stay.

The Yale University happenings are not the way forward for a democratic society and set a macabre example to all those who want to further their own fraudulent agendas. As Hitchens concludes, “What a cause of shame that the campus of Nation Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.”

I will conclude by saying that we all have the right to free expression in any form, and Yale University Press has provided a copybook example of what can happen when rationality is pushed a side in favour of a capitulation to the demands of opportunistic dogmatists.



mikethepikey said...


where do i start. images of mohammed are as offensive to muslims as tiocfaidh ar la is to protestants. it is like someone shouting in your face that your missus is a slut. would you put up with that? i know i would not. it is very hard for non muslims to understand just how offensive depicting the prophet is. we have the right to freedom of speach and i would defend that to the death. But to run a competition asking for people to do something which a vast proportion of the worlds population find offensive is rediculous. The newspaper really should have thought about what it was doing before it did that. In my eyes, they are respnsible for the deaths that occurred. we really cannot walk around the place saying what we think all the time. do you tell everyone you see who is ugly that they are ugly? no. the same goes in this case. just because you dont agree that depicting the prophet is offensive, you really should bear in mind that a lot of people think it is and to do so will cause trouble. freedom has to be balanced with responsibility.


mikethepikey said...


I wholeheartedly disagree.

By your reasoning you are saying that we should keep all of our opinions private, on the off chance that we might offend someone. I think this is a very dangerous place to go. In actual fact it sounds a bit like living in North Korea.

Religious cartoons in a Scandinavian country may cause some offense to radical elements, but we have to defend this right to free expression. Where will it end if everyone takes such an attitude.

"I am devoted to that football team and I'm deeply offended by that newspapers comments, in fact I am going to burn down your office if you don't listen to my demands."

In reality, this kind of childish bickering results in the capitulation to those who use violence and the threat of violence, to silence those who are doing nothing more than exercising their legal right to free and open speech.

This is the age of 'the image' and images there will be, like it or not.

The original Muslim ruling for not allowing images of the prophet, was so that the pious would not worship images of the messenger at the expense of Allah. These ruling or Fatwas do not apply outside a group of believers and furthermore, should not see the non-believer silenced as a result.

It seems that from what have said the age of satire is dead and gone.

The rot needs to be stopped.


Intaki said...

"In theory an individual or group could be seen as the aggressor and perpetrator when in actual fact, they were upholding their right to freedom of expression."

I quote this from you and reply that, yes, indeed, this is how things are being viewed in this era. Rationality has been thrown out the window with the dirty bathwater and all that remains is insidious madness.

Indeed sir, to quote you again, "In reality, this kind of childish bickering results in the capitulation to those who use violence and the threat of violence, to silence those who are doing nothing more than exercising their legal right to free and open speech."

This is exactly what certain groups want to do to free-thinking, freedom-loving peoples. They have infiltrated our societies and destroyed them from within.

I personally stand with President Reagan's policy: We do not negotiate with terrorists.

Because, as you said, when you capitulate to violence it validates their violent methods. And of course, this means they'll use their methods again, because it works.

mikethepikey said...

I can agree only until it was someone I loved with their eyes piercing the screen of my TV, reading an auto-cue written by men with masks. The game changes shape then.