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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Editorial: Islamist Steam Roller Attempts To Flatten European Free Speech – It Must Not Succeed

The controversy over the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which has been smouldering since last September has now burst into flames. It has all hallmarks of another Rushdie affair. It also looks very much like a clash between two worldviews that seem totally incompatible – almost inevitably it will become lethal.

Europeans, raised on a diet of free expression, vigorous debate and constantly developing ideas find it difficult to understand the Muslim hysteria over the depictions of their prophet. The Arab world finds it incomprehensible that a culture can tolerate such disrespect for their supernatural ideals. The Danish Prime Minister explained on Arabic television this week that he does not have the power to control the press. The Islamic regimes that he was speaking to were completely uncomprehending of such an idea.

But these cartoons were published in Europe, where European values still have a precarious toehold. Surely we are not yet in the position where we have to ask permission of the Saudi clerics before anything about Islam can be said or published, lest their hair-trigger sensibilities cause yet another explosion of hysteria?

Those who have attempted to import the values of Islam into our culture, and who constantly try to change the law to enforce those values (see leading story), are bewildered that westerners can be so casually “disrespectful” of their beliefs.

Many Islamic countries hold and enforce laws against blasphemy – complete with executions and other cruel punishments for offenders. In Europe we have allowed such medieval concepts to atrophy, and we must not permit them to be revived. It is a great achievement that such repressive stuff has been reasoned out of our culture. Many people in Britain are offended by many things — as recent examples of critical comments about homosexuality by Iqbal Sacranie and Lynette Burrows have shown — but the NSS defends their right to express these opinions, and also defends the rights of others to argue back in equally robust terms.

We therefore support the newspapers around Europe that have re-printed the offending cartoons. We wish there was a newspaper in Britain that had similar guts. The idea in reprinting them would not be to cause offence, but to stand in unity with those who want to reinforce European enlightenment values. It would give the message loud and clear that our culture, with its hard-won freedoms, is just as valuable to us as Islam is to those in the Middle East and other parts of the world where it holds sway. We must be as determined and angry as they are. We must stand our corner and love our liberty, just as they love their religion.


To indicate how synthetic this storm is, look at these images of Muhamed, created over the centuries, and seemingly unnoticed by the rabble-rousing politicians that call themselves mullahs.

The permanently outraged mullahs obviously haven’t come across this one yet.

Upsetting Muslims the French way

Anger grows at Muslim cartoons

The Newspapers that have published the cartoons

The new “blasphemous cartoon – “Everyone is caricatured here”
And another one…

Picture ban comes from word of the prophet

Should ‘anti-Islam’ cartoons have been published?

Europe has blasphemy laws, too

Threatened with death for TV interview

The freedom that hurts us


Published Fri, 03 Feb 2006