Don't let religious authorities decide what can and can't be published!

Submitted by AWL on 4 February, 2006 - 10:31

Praised for it (and probably pressurised) by the Blair-Brown government, the British press has unanimously refused to let its readers see the "Muhammad cartoons" in the row which fills its front pages. We do not believe that religious authorities should decide what can or can't be published, and so republish the cartoons.

To see the cartoons, click here.

To Muslim workers and young people who are not admirers of the Saudi hierarchy or of the political Islamists like Al Muhajiroun (who have organised the anti-cartoon demonstrations in London), we say: free speech is vital for democracy, for social change, for the possibility of challenging what has been laid down by established authorities.

It is also vital for clearly-defined minority opinions of any sort.

Freedom, as Rosa Luxemburg put it, is always and exclusively the freedom of the one who thinks differently. Freedom only for those who think much the same as the authorities - or freedom only for those who do not offend, annoy, and irritate entrenched authorities - is no freedom at all.

We protest against the suppression of these cartoons on the same grounds as we protested against the suppression of the play Bezhti (written by a Sikh, but offensive to conservative Sikh authorities) or the attempts of some Christians to suppress "Jerry Springer - the Opera".

By publishing these cartoons, we are not by any means endorsing their content, certainly not the content of all of them. Some of them are from a reactionary viewpoint, and at least one of them - the image of the turban/bomb - suggests that all Muslims are terrorists, a vile view which can only fuel racism. We want to make it very clear that we strongly reject the notion that all Muslims are somehow responsible for Islamist terrorism, and that we militantly oppose anti-Muslim racism. But we are printing the cartoons in order to reiterate the basic idea that freedom of expression must include freedom to be offensive - and our conviction that, in refusing to reprint them, the British press is undermining free debate on these issues.

We defend the freedom of Muslims to practise their religion. We oppose any persecution of Muslims for being Muslims.

Only, we demand the same freedom for all religions, and for the anti-religious too.

To return Europe to the times when Christian authorities had a very big, sometimes decisive, say in what could be said and published, would be very bad (for Muslims, too!) In many countries those times are not so long ago. In Britain, where the hold of the religious authorities on politics has been weakening for centuries, there is still a law banning "blasphemy" against the Christian religion.

It would scarcely be better to have the big religious authorities in each country - Christian, Muslim, maybe Hindu - helping each other get sufficient power that they can jointly prohibit whatever is uncongenial to any one of them, thus marginalising minority religious views and the anti-religious.

We recommend readers also to look at:

Maryam Namazie's blog.

This blog by a secular-minded Saudi, in which he argues that the whole "scandal" is a beat-up by the corrupt Saudi authorities. (Images of Muhammad are offensive? Then why aren't the boycotts directed against... the Islamic Republic of Iran, where pictures of Muhammad are commonplace).

Article in the Guardian explaining how the row has been deliberately built up by conservative Islamists and the Saudi authorities since the cartoons were published last September (and why they were published in the first place).

Wikipedia's detailed account, with many links.

Nico Dessaux's site on the controversy (mostly in French).


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 22:43

1) It was extremely offensive to publish the cartoons and i would not have done so.
2)Islamists have made it into the issue it is by spending 4 months trying to raise the temperature , inserting several false cartoons.
3)The reaction against the cartoons in terms of its threat to freedom of speech etc has been totaly beyond anything reasonable.
4) I've just seen the cartoon of Hitler in bed with Ann Frank that's doing the rounds and it makes me sick.
5) If it wasn't the cartoons that Islamists had hijacked it would have been something else

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/02/2006 - 11:23

I am amazed that some people who claim to be on the Left claim that cartoons against islam are racist.

The journal of the Soviet League of Militant Atheists published a number of anti-religious cartoons. Such as

Would anybody seriously call that racist?

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 13/02/2006 - 13:54

[From Anja Partanen on Sweden]

Thanks for very good article and specially thanks for publishing if those cartoons.
In Sweden, the country where i live, one website which published cartoons has been shut down yesterday (without any legal proceeding !)
by coward swedish authorities.

It's remind me political opression in former USSR.
Is new worldwide religious GULAG will be our future?

I wonder why no similar outcry and apologies have come after viciously anti-Semitic cartoons are published on an almost DAILY basis throughout the Arab world.
The Palestinian Authority State Information Center regularly posts ugly anti-Jewish cartoons, including this reiteration of the anti-Semitic blood libel that Jews kill non-Jewish children.

Where is violent protest?

Not just in the Arab world. We still have Radio Islam, blatant jew-hating website, which run by far-right winger Ahmed Rami.
There are thousand and thousand neo-nazi sites, which never shut down.

Even in some swedish mainstream newspapers I can read that Jews 'run swedish media', they are 'christ.killers', 'wealthy and powerful' etc etc.

When Jews demonized - this is a 'free speech' (or 'Israel critic') , (there wasn't any violent protest with embassy-burning , deadthreating etc)
When Muslims demonized - this is 'racism' and 'hate-speech' + violent demonstrations all over the world...
Why double standard ?

[posted on Anja's behalf because she was finding technical difficulties with the website].

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/02/2006 - 10:42

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Let's not forget that a lot of the outrage around the cartoons was fuelled by 3 extra cartoons that some Danish Muslim extremist went on a tour of the Middle East showing. He made those up and claimed those were in the paper. That sounds fairly sinister. As the poster above points out, some islamists have been spending 4 months raising the temperature on this issue.

Fundamentally, as France Soir stated "On a le droit de caracaturer Dieu" (one has the right to caracature God). This is a right that must be defended - whether exercised by right-of-centre Danish newspapers or by the Left.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2006 - 20:48

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The subtext, and indeed on some occasions explicit intent, of several cartoons and caracatures in the Soviet Union were anti semitic under the cover of political arguments. These modern cartoons are similar to the extent that they purport to be funny while at the same time showimg a sterotyped arab including a turban, which as somebody has already pointed out is a mistake. The Soviet cartoon quoted has the same possibly racist overtones and could indeed be used by right-wingers to fuel anti arab feeling but only in a modern setting and without the associated text. The original 1924 context made this unlikely.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/02/2006 - 13:43

The phrase 'anti-Islamist cartoons' is a revolting piece of spin. In what way does a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad wearing a turban-bomb specifically attack "Islamism"? Answer: it doesn't - it attacks all Muslims and equates their entire corpus of historically evolved cultural/religious beliefs and practices with terrorism.

The purpose of the right-wing Danish publication that commissioned and published these cartoon was not to attack 'Islamism', but to attack and vilify Muslim immigrants in Denmark. So what is your purpose - to attack the racist media in Britain for being 'too soft' on Muslims and immigrants in not republishing this racist garbage?

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 08/02/2006 - 10:26

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I don't agree that the use of the phrase is "a revolting piece of spin", but I do think it is inaccurate and unhelpful.

The way in which the cartoons can be said to be 'anti-Islamist' is that they can be read as attacks on those who bomb in the pursuit of Islamist goals. However, but (a) 'Islamism' is much broader than that - the vast majority of Islamists, let alone of Muslims, do not support suicide bombing, and (b) they could also be read in other ways, including ways that the AWL does not endorse.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/02/2006 - 18:23

You say, 'We protest against the suppression of these cartoons'

I think you'kll find they weren't suppressed.

Are you protesting against the protests? That would be odd.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/02/2006 - 20:19

Isn't the third camp supposed to be for 'independent' working class politics? This article and in particular the decision to publish the cartoons takes the side, not of free speech as you somewhat disingenuously claim but of the right-wing Danish and Franch papers who have deliberately set out to provoke the reaction they got.
And the title is rich with irony. Don't let religious leaders decide what we publish is, as Gandhi said of western civilisation, a great idea. But you have published these cartoons only because religious leaders have said you shouldn't. It's the politics of the playground, attention-seeking anarchism not real third-camp politics.

Oh and Muslims don't wear turbans, that's Sikhs. Than again I suppose they all look alike from Copenhagen
Patrick Murphy (Leeds AWL)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 11:21

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

And the Little Green Footballs award for services to community relations goes to... the AWL for publishing the Jyllands-Posten cartoons and thus deliberately offending every practising Muslim who ever reads this site. Because you can, and because the Muslim community don't want them published. So nyah nyah.

How utterly bloody-minded and juvenile can you be? Republishing deeply offensive, borderline-racist cartoons, a) because it pisses off religious leaders, and b) In the interests of defending the "rights" of a rightwing Danish paper to publish said material.

What precisely do you suppose the reaction of an ordinary Muslim (especially a young Muslim who might on many levels be receptive to a civil discussion about the AWL's politics) will be? Do you think it will encourage any to engage in constructive discussion with the AWL on this issue, or any other? And all for the fact that you fancy thumbing your noses at the Imams.

Congratulations guys, you must be sooo proud of yourselves.

Alan Thomas


Submitted by Janine on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 11:37

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The title of your comment, Alan, is ironic? Or juvenile? Or what?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 11:52

In reply to by Janine

Answer his points janine, don't just go posting clever little remarks which don't relate to anything...

Submitted by Janine on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 16:53

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Even before you asked me too - look below.

Obviously, using a comment heading "For God's sake" *does* relate to the issue under discussion here.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 18:31

In reply to by Janine


Submitted by Janine on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 11:48

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I think that the AWL is right to publish these cartoons on this website.

As I type this, the Danish embassy in Lebanon is in flames. Yesterday, something similar happened to the Danish embassy in Syria. Last year, there were the demands that Bezhti and Jerry Springer: the Opera be banned. Religious censors are becoming more and more confident, and are mobilising not just to express their opinions but to silence others.

The AWL could have said: "OK, we'll express our opinions, but we won't go so far as to actually publish the things, cos that will get us into a row and it might offend people." That would have amounted to avoiding making a stand just when a stand needs to be made. The more that political organisations try to avoid a row about this sort of thing, the more confident the religious censors will get, the more they will mobilise, the more scared the media - any media - will get to publish anything that might offend.

Oh, and you would not have been able to even form an opinion that the cartoons are "deeply offensive", "borderline racist" or whatever, without having been given the chance to actually see them, would you? The opening of the article warns you that the cartoons are republished at the end of it, but you still clicked 'read more' and read to the end, didn't you?!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 12:34

In reply to by Janine

Yes Janine, my title was ironic and possibly a little juvenile. However I didn't conclude it with a picture of a swarthy-looking Arab with a bomb-shaped turban, so I think I still win in the gravity-and-moral-high-ground stakes.

Who do you *actually* think you're making a stand against? The people who attacked the Danish embassies in the Lebanon and Syria? They'll attack western targets on one or another pretext regardless of what some Danish tosser publishes in a magazine, or what the AWL republishes here. They, and such influence as they hold, will not be affected one way or the other by the publication of these cartoons, except possibly that many who would not previously have shared their clash-of-civilisations worldview, will begin to have second thoughts. At best on this count, therefore, the republishing of these cartoons is at best ineffectual, and at worst will drive people into the arms of extremism.

Further, the idea that you're standing up to "censorship" in the UK where in fact *nobody* has censored these cartoons in this country (and nor are they illegal), is the most incredible blind alley. Nobody's banned anyone from publishing these images in the UK - what has happened is that people have chosen not to do so, of their own volition. Show me a paper that makes any of its publishing decisions on the basis of "oi lads this'll piss off the (insert minority group here) and I think we can get away with it too" and I'll show you the lowest form of gutter journalism.

The reality is, the AWL did this just because it can, and if it pisses off a few Imams then so much the better, apparently. The fact that it is both alienating and offensive to ordinary Muslims across the UK and beyond, just doesn't seem to bother you or anyone else that I have talked to about this. Which is simultaneously juvenile, bloody minded and short-sighted, with a fair bit of self-righteous piety thrown in for good measure.

Quite an achievement by any standards.

Alan Thomas


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 21:32

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Surely Alan there are more ways of censoring these cartoons than by using the law (you're right- they are not illegal). What's going on in the UK is not about responsible journalism but about self-censorship. The cartoons aren't 'banned' in any formal sense but in practise the vehemence of the reactionary religious campaign against them makes self-censorship highly likely, hence the sacking of newspaper editors in France and Jordan for publishing. Death threats and so on (of which there have already been several) do have an impact!

Do you extend all the things you say above about the AWL for publishing to others (e.g. secularist and leftist individuals or groups) in predominantly Muslim countries? Should they be condemned for publishing?

In your earlier posting you question why we should want to defend the Danish right-wing press but this is about defending *everyone's* right to caricature and mock religions and religious figures. That's the thing about this freedom - either we defend it for everyone or we lose it for everyone.


Submitted by Janine on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 22:14

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not sure what you are getting at here, Alan. Cos the way I am reading it, you are saying:

1. The people mobilising the protests are (a) irredeemably anti-Western, and (b) beyond the reach of the AWL's argument, so therefore we shouldn’t bother with them. I don't really rate that argument. If we only argued against people who listened to us, then we would seriously narrow our range of coverage! Come on, the eyes of the world are on this issue. People way beyond the demonstration organisers are interested in what various political groups have to say.

2. We should not talk about 'censorship', because there has been not legal enforcement of censorship. But there has clearly been self-censorship by the media, and there is clearly a growing climate of fear to criticise religion. (There was never any direct censorship carried out under the auspices of Section 28; but there was a lot of self-censorship by local Councils.)

By they way, this accusation of being "juvenile" is beginning to irk me. Please accept that whatever view comrades are taking on this, they are taking after serious consideration of the issues.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/02/2006 - 00:26

In reply to by Janine

I'd refer you to the reply I sent you by email.

I'm not initially inclined to repeat it here, as I think both of our standpoints are perfectly clear. However if anyone has a burning desire for me to do so, I'll copy'n'paste it.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/02/2006 - 18:02

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

If I hadn;t been able to find the cartoons elsewhere then I would thank AWL for publishing them. Some are actually funny to me. That's not racialism. I'm a communist and believe in the workers running their own new society - I don't like religion (in fact I hate it) and I also think that some of the subject matter - suicide bombers is definitely up for mockery. In fact I think superstitions like God really are up for mockery and debunking and the cruekller the better to shake the slaves out of their bondage. There is no God. There are no miracles.

You should read the Koran and see what Islam is about. A thoroughly reactionary creed based on the merchants of the bazaar who historically dealt in...slaves as did the prophet Muhammed in his ealier days. Listen to the rantings of Hamza. Hamza and co happen to repeat the genuine ideas of the historic Islam and its completey anti-humanist fundamentalist offspring since the 15 century. Feudalism i.e the crassest oppression of the believer; Slavery and cruelty or death to those who do not believe. The Islamists were slave trading for 100 years before the Spanish caught on and for 1500 years after the fall of the Roman empire and until the west and largely the British put an end to their slave based empire.

Good job most moslems are believers and not bigots because they have allowed enough contact with other cultures and with modernity to rub off that they are considerably more liberal than you, matey! I mean you are a socialist and you decry the assertion of post enlightenment thought over stupid backward superstition.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 13:47

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I can't see the cartoons on the site - is there a reason? I don't think we should publish the most offensive, yes, I'd say racist, cartoons. We have to represent all our politics; not just one bit, in reaction to the Islamists. We are allowing ourselves to be provoked as well, into publishing cartoons that incite hatred of Muslims (mainly brown-skinned people), or at least reinforce prejudices.

Lots of heat in this and not enough thinking. Too much reacting, too much 'how dare so and so tell us we can't do this or that', and not enough thinking about how we best serve the totality of our politics. If some newspaper had published 10 cartoons depicting what people think of Jews, and a couple of them had been anti-semitic caricatures - and they probably would be - and then there was a furore and the British papers were 'too chicken' to print them, would it be the best thing for us to do to publish the anti-semitic cartoons. No. Because not JUST our attitude to religious censorship is at issue here.

Vicki Morris, AWL (North London branch, personal capacity!)

Submitted by AWL on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 12:12

1. What's new here is not newspapers testing the limits of free speech, publishing things designed to startle, as they do routinely. What's new now is that Islamists - even if only after four months sedulously "working" the issue, and gaining the backing of the Saudi government - have gained enough power to set the limits. They have decided what the British press (probably shepherded by the British government) will print. When before have the British press unanimously, under religious pressure, refused to print something (which nonetheless they are all referring to lots in prominent articles)? Are we happy with this as a precedent?

2. So we are really to believe that the Saudi government here is, despite itself, the saviour of anti-racism? To reinterpret the objections to the cartoons as "anti-racism" is, surely, to act as rationalisers for the Islamists: "They express themselves badly, but what they really mean is that they object to one cartoon out of the 12 for good, democratic, anti-racist reasons. So really they are right".

3. By the way, some Muslims wear turbans too. Click here.

Martin Thomas

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/02/2006 - 12:16

...If you're going to 'publish' these things then the least you could do is actually have the guts to follow through on your (ill-advised) standpoint and ACTUALLY publish them rather than linking to an apparent European right winger who's published them instead.

I tried clicking the link and I get a URL starting with an IP address:

If you trace it through an IP address search such as urgent click or Sam Spade you'll find it's actually published to, apparently being a Dutch site which, on its front page has a great story linking the Iranian PM with two images from an 'anti-Zionist' conference. Niiiice. As someone who's spent a fair bit of time working with the AWL on certain things I'm well used to defending the group against the whole 'You're all a bunch of Zionists' argument coming from the other side. I don't actually think it's true, but stuff like this hardly helps your case does it?

So are you 'publishing' the pictures or are you not? Personally I think you shouldn't - yes you *CAN* and that's a good thing - but why piss off ordinary Muslims who have the same problems with our society as we do, and for whom Respect has become a ridiculous pseudo-fundo front with no real relevance to them? But if you're going for this pious po-faced stance then the least you could do is actually DO it rather than grandstand about it.

Narin Bahar

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 13:02

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The cartoons are now clearly on view here, on my browser at least. The reason they were not visible before was not about 'guts', but about the technical details of posting pictures.

Surely your point would be better directed at all the newspapers, TV stations etc which have run massive reports about the cartoons, but not had the 'guts' to print them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 16:04

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Anonymous

The newspapers, TV stations etc which decided not to run these reports made editorial decisions not to do so. Decisions which I actually agree with which concede this isn't about publishing whatever we like, even though legally we can. In the same way newspapers don't publish the goriest pictures of road accidents or the most horrific details of court cases, the vast majority (certainly all the UK ones) decided not to publish these cartoons, which are patently Islamophobic.

They certainly didn't say they would and then link to a dubious international site instead rather than actually following through. Although of course this is entirely academic since the AWL has now published them (although they hadn't at the time of my post), striking a blow for... right wing Danish newspapers and everyone who hadn't sought them out elsewhere on the web, meanwhile alienating any Muslim support they might have. Fab.

As a side point, are the cartoons going to be published in WL or Solidarity? I'm not being facetious, I'm just curious to know.

(not 'anonymous')

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 08/02/2006 - 13:41

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Narin, I think you've missed the point that Anonymous made. Namely: that the AWL intended all along to post the cartoons here, but found technical difficulties in doing so. Some people couldn't see the cartoons on their browser, and while the techies tried to sort this out, a link was put up instead.

It's not a matter on "no following through", or "not having the guts" or whatever. It was a technical glitch.

In fact, I think your point works (unintentionally, I'm sure) in favour of publishing the cartoons. Surely, anyone who reports on the furore should "follow through" and actually show what they are talking about.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/02/2006 - 18:02

In reply to by Janine

Hi Janine,

I appreciate this is academic now and the issue with the initial non-publication was a technical problem with the link put up in lieu. But reading the site on Sunday morning that wasn't the impression I got. Maybe that was a misinterpretation on my part (it was Sunday morning, and I don't work well without coffee!) but there you go. My point was simply if you're saying you're going to publish, then publish the things - I was irked by the 'we're going to publish because we're the only people brave enough to do so' grandstanding which didn't follow with your linkage. That's all. You've clarified it was a techie problem (which is unfortunately par for the course sometimes) so fair enough. C'est fin.

As for reporting the furore but not showing the cartoons - in newsrooms of difference sizes across the country decisions are made every day on how far to go in reporting things that are racist, homophobic, etc or otherwise disturbing in some way. Yes legally we could publish all the explicit details of a court case about an horrific sexual attack, or reproduce verbatim the dialogue of people involved in a racially motivated murder, we have the freedom of expression to do that. But we don't because some things can be paraphrased or explained in a way that will not cause offence or distress. As far as I'm concerned these cartoons are racist (this isn't an issue of blasphemy). As such, describing them to give people a sense of what they're about seems to make sense in the context of the wider story, but I simply don't think republishing them is right since it's giving the racism a new (and wider) platform.

To be honest I didn't want to get fully into the raging to publish or not publish debate, mainly because I don't read here often and I knew this would be a fast moving and prolific discussion. So much for that eh? ;)


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 09:33

Interesting to note the following story in today's Guardian:

'Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons

Gwladys Fouché
Monday February 6, 2006

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.

The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.

In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten.

Zieler received an email back from the paper's Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: "I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them."
The illustrator said: "I see the cartoons as an innocent joke, of the type that my Christian grandfather would enjoy."

"I showed them to a few pastors and they thought they were funny."

But the Jyllands-Posten editor in question, Mr Kaiser, said that the case was "ridiculous to bring forward now. It has nothing to do with the Muhammad cartoons.

"In the Muhammad drawings case, we asked the illustrators to do it. I did not ask for these cartoons. That's the difference," he said.

"The illustrator thought his cartoons were funny. I did not think so. It would offend some readers, not much but some."

The decision smacks of "double-standards", said Ahmed Akkari, spokesman for the Danish-based European Committee for Prophet Honouring, the umbrella group that represents 27 Muslim organisations that are campaigning for a full apology from Jyllands-Posten.

"How can Jyllands-Posten distinguish the two cases? Surely they must understand," Mr Akkari added....'


These are the kinds of racist provocateurs the AWL has now climbed into bed with. They are fully aware of the potential of cartoons lampooning religious figures to cause massive offense to those with religious beliefs - but chose to do so only to Muslims. The motive -- bigotry. Whether this bigotry is theorised around 'race' or religion is somewhat academic - my suspicion is that both were involved.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 11:19

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Is that actually the moral of the story? I don't doubt that the management of the Jyllands-Posten are hypocrites and probably bigots too, but the real issue will be made clear by a quick counterfactual.

Imagine that the Jyllands-Posten HAD printed the cartoons of Jesus, and that there had been an international campaign by radical Christian fundamentalists to condemn the decision to print, boycott Danish goods etc etc. Now imagine that no British newspaper had printed the cartoons on the basis that to do so would offend Christians. If a socialist group then decided to print them on its website to uphold freedom of speech against the religious right upsurge, would anyone on the left have batted an eyelid?

Why is this fundamentally different?

One last point, incidentally, is that if the Islamist campaign against the freedom to mock religion gains speed, it will also strengthen the Christian right, contracting the currently fairly large space we have to mock Christianity in countries like Britain.

Also, the fact that Jyllands-Posten had far-right associations 70 years ago is hardly decisive here. Let us fight the actual far-right (Islamist) threat in this case.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 12:27

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

As someone once said, "If my auntie had bollocks, she'd be my uncle". In the places where these cartoons were published, Muslims are a minority, on the recieving end of bigotry, including bigotry from liberals like the publishers of this website. Christians, on the contrary, are the majority culture and remain so even if most nominal Christians are not observant. In that context, to call 'Islamists' the 'actual far right threat' is do demonise ethnic minorities as 'alien' to 'our' (supposedly) liberal culture. This is the kind of slippery slope that led the likes of Pim Fortuyn from gay rights activism to far right activism.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 12:44

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

If a newspaper published 12 cartoons criticising the Jewish religion and a number of them showed caricature hook-nosed Jewish babyeaters (and they almost certainly would) would you be so keen on printing those?
The objection from many here is that some of the Danish cartoons uphold bigoted stereotypes of Muslims. I don't think many here are in favour of the cartoons being banned: let people go ahead and say what they think and print what they like. The Danish newspaper did just that.
I don't think many here support violence against anyone who prints the pictures (I sure as hell don't).
But is free speech so much in danger here, now, that we, AWL, need to print racist pictures we don't like, in a society where racists are trying precisely to whip up hatred around the ideas expressed in some of these cartoons? I don't think so.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 11:28

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Interesting also that the Danish publication concerned, Jyllands-Posten, is listed by Wikipedia as having been historically pro-fascist and pro-Hitler. Not a small matter, particularly in a country that was occupied by Nazi forces during WWII, and which by the way had a record of protecting its Jewish population from persecution and helping many to escape.

In the context of Danish politics, there is nothing 'liberal' about the forces that are responsible for this provocation. They are of the same ilk as Le Pen or Vichy nostalgics in France. And the AWL is in a active bloc with them to vilify Muslims. It is no accident that one other British website that shares with the AWL the 'honour' of having published these cartoons is the BNP website. Sometimes bigotry bring strange bedfellows into close proximity. It this a miniature reprise of the Stalin-Hitler pact?

See this German-language link.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 14:32

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

So the Jyllands-Posten is listed on (German) Wikipedia (always an accurate source of information, obviously) as being "historically" (i.e. in the 20s and 30s) as being "pro-fascist and pro-Hitler". So what?

You'll be letting us know I suppose, when next time the Daily Mail starts a campaign about killing burglars or against travellers' sites, that it too was somehow "historically" attached to the fascists and Hitler in the 1930s.

And why go to the bother to use the German Wikipedia link? The English article is almost identical?

"In the 1920s and 30s the paper was, like many other European newspapers and political parties at that time, infamous for its sympathy for fascism and understanding of the German Nazi dictatorship. When Benito Mussolini in 1922 became the leader of a fascist coalition government in Italy, the paper wrote: "The very strong man, that Mussolini absolutely is, is exactly what the misruled Italian people needs"" Didn't Churchill say something similar about Britain?


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/02/2006 - 09:56

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Of course, it makes no odds that this is a paper that supported Jew-baiting in the past, and now engages in Muslim-baiting instead. Completely irrelevant, why mention it? .....are you serious?

And why this fetishism about the English language? What is the point of this baiting? I can read a bit of German and I came across the link first.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/02/2006 - 21:56

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

And why this fetishism about the English language? What is the point of this baiting? I can read a bit of German and I came across the link first.

It's not "fetishism", it's just that as this is a website in English, surely most people who read it can also read English, and there seems to be no reason to provide a link to a site in German when a 95% identical page exists in the English language, on the same website. I found the English page by the very difficult method of changing "de" to "en" as in ""

I can also read German, otherwise I might have been under the illusion that there was some knowledge on the German Wikipedia "hidden" from those who cannot understand the language. It's not so.

Jyllands-Posten seems to want to "make amends" and wants to print the winners of the (Iranian newspaper) Hamschahri "international holocaust caricature competition" (as does the French satire sheet Charlie Hebdo). see The Scotsman: (or in German, where I incidentally first read this: )


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 12:22

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

According to an earlier report by the Guardian (linked to at top of this page) the paper has in the past printed cartoons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

That is not to say that the editors and journalists don't have any double standards at all, but it is not as you make out.

In my opinion it is clear from reading about the background information that the paper was testing freedom of speech and, as they saw it, provoking a debate on that issue. They commissioned some cartoonists to give individual responses to a perceived issue of "self-censorship", a climate of irrationality engendered, as they saw it, by extreme/political Islamism.

Is that an intentional "racist provocation"? No. Did everyone on that paper have entirely good intentions? Probably not. It is a bourgeois publication, produced in a society where there are many racist and xenophobic attitudes. Does the AWL endorse every detail of their perception of what is up for debate? This issue of "self censorship"? Probably not, but we might agree with some of it. One criticism to make of the paper is that they were using very blunt tools (caricature) to provoke a debate on a very complex question. Not very clever. But then we don't particularly rate their intellectual merit. Nor do we endorse the approach that these cartoonists took to their commission, or the decision of the paper to publish every single cartoon. We understand how the cartoons have caused offence to a broad layer of relgious Muslims — beyond the Islamist crowds and demonstrations. Offence on grounds of race — and as we have said, that's bad. On grounds of religion to — which as atheists and secularists we believe is not always avoidable. As socialists we would not choose to criticise religion — and for us primarily it is religious institutions — in the way that the Danish cartoonists did.

But all of these considerations about what the Danish paper did, what their standards are, and what our standards are, are secondary and to a great extent beside the point.

One of our elementary duties as socialists is to defend the principle of free speech. There are many other things, but this is no small matter, no insignificant principle and cannot be given up on lightly — especially, not so incidentally, if you want to live in a society where minorities have rights. Free speech means nothing if does not mean the right to cause offence.

Asserting that right sometimes means acting, if you can, to guarantee that right. It means putting on "offensive"plays, selling "offensive" books, publishing "offensive" material. The British press did not do that here. There was no law stopping them from doing that, nothing at all but their own cowardice.

(Of course direct incitement to violence and harm is something more than merely offensive — and one would not chose to print, sell or stage something of that order or advocate somebody else did. But that is not the issue here, that is not what the Danish paper was trying to do.)

Right here, right now, the issue which is most important is that the British newspapers — for all their fine words about respect for free speech — backed down in the face of political intimidation by a reactionary campaign. When it mattered they were not prepared to defend free speech with action. With the exception of the BBC's Newsnight not one major media outlet printed or showed the offending images. Never mind lofty ideals about free speech. Nobody (apart from the BBC) were even prepared to print a single image "in context", a perfectly normal way of presenting a news story, so that people can see and understand what the controversy is about. Not one of them chose to act in a rational way in the face of organised hysteria — that is what the demonstrations and the campaign against these cartoons has been about. Indignation and dismay on the part of individuals is not what I am talking about here and that was not primarily the problem for the British newspapers... The organised campaign by organised reactionaries endorsed in some cases by reactionary governments, got the British press to shut up.

It does not bode well for the future.

The AWL? We print the images only because we can hardly criticise the British media and then fail to do ourselves what we wished they had had the backbone to do. It is part and parcel of our attempt to explain the basic case for freedom of speech and why it is so important. Apparently many otherwise reasonable people cannot see that is what is at stake here.

Cathy Nugent

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 15:26

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

...that a picture of a swarthy Arab with a bomb on his head *is* a racist stereotype, whether someone says it's meant to be Muhammad or not, or indeed whether Al-Muhajiroun are demonstrating about it or not. And that images perpetuating a stereotype of Muslims as peasants, savages or terrorists, *do* feed into a very real, and very modern racism that exists here in the UK - and possibly even more so in mainland Europe.

The comment that has certainly been true in the liberal press is this: the right to publish is categorically not the same as the obligation to publish. And I think Vicki's point above is well made - nobody outside of the far right fringe would be rushing to publish these cartoons if they portrayed another minority in a bigoted way, for instance (as she says) Jews as hook-nosed baby eaters. Not even if it was supposedly a satire on the prophet Ezekiel. People would rightly refuse to publish them, not "because they're scared of 'the Islamists', not because they "lack backbone", but because they're racist crap.

The same is (or should be) true of these images.

Alan Thomas

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/02/2006 - 11:09

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

People in this thread seem to be making a strange analogy between anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice. Yes, it is true that racists in Europe [like the FN, the BNP etc] express both.

But anti-Jewish prejudice [in its modern European form] is nearly always prejudice against a _race_ rather than a religion. Anti-semites often hate secular Jews as much as religious ones. In fact, of course, a key aspect of European anti-semitism has been accusing secular people of Jewish origin (like Marx) of trying to allegedly undermine European society.

Judaism has not been a missionary religion for centuries. Membership of the community is defined by descent and so they are regarded as a 'race'.

In contast, Islam has spread rapidly through out the world from its base in 7th century Saudi Arabia. There are 200-300m Arab Muslims, 400m South Asian Muslims, 200m Indonesian Muslims and many millions of African Muslims. these people are _not_ all of the same ethnic/racial background. Islam has been a 'missionary' religion just like Christianity, keen to spread its religious beliefs to non-believers. Therefore, adopting Islam is supposed to be a voluntary act, not based on descent from a mythical figure such as Abraham or Issac. As such, because its a voluntary belief system, it is acceptable to criticise Islam and such criticism need not be seen as racist.

Although people equate certain ethnic groups (Arabs in France; South Asians in Britain) as "Muslim"; that is not really the case. After all, they are Christian Arabs and there are Hindu South Asians and Sikh South Asians and Buddhist South Asians. Thus, a criticism of islam is not an attack on the Arab or Asian ethnic groups [although of course some racists do both - i.e. attack a religion and an ethnic group]. But the 2 don't inherently go together like they do in anti-Jewish prejudice.

Submitted by Janine on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 13:24

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

If anyone can send us the cartoons of Jesus rejected by the Danish paper, then I'm sure we will post them here on this website.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/02/2006 - 19:07

I think we are in danger of losing our position for independent working class action in defence of minority rights. The furore over a few cartoons is a godsend to the likes of the BNP whose defence in the recent court case, I think, was one of religion not race.
This misses the point. If the cartoons were of jewish people or of rabbi,s we would, quite rightly, be furious and vocal in our condemnation. While defending the right to publish we also must acknowledge that the majority of people who are muslim are also asian/ arabic and that attacks on their religion are usually a front for racism.
We would decry the BNP as racist if they had a go at judaism as a cover for anti-semitism.
It is up to us to show the failure/delusion of religion but in a manner which attains progress not hysteria.
As for publishing the cartoons, I think it's a bit of a pissing up the wall contest.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 02:59

This disgusting decision to publish these cartoons on your websote is yet another example of the hypocratical and zionist stance of your despicable organisation.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 11:48

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

In a climate in which conservative religious forces of all shades are on the march against free speech and secularism, of course it's true that socialists and even any sensible democrat has a duty to defend the ideas that no-one's beliefs are above criticism and that no-one has a perfect right not to be offended.

I think Islam, Christianity and Judaism (plus every other religion) are backwards and reactionary. A lot of Jews, Christians and Muslims might find that statement offensive; that's unfortunate but to suggest that I therefore don't have a right to express that belief is anti-democratic in the extreme.

But this situation is not at all of a similar nature to the upcry around the play 'Bezhti' or the nonsense about 'Jerry Springer: The Opera', where the right to criticise religion - even to the point at which that criticism caused 'offence' - had to be defended.

These cartoons aren't critiquing religion on any level beyond arguably having a crude dig at the obscurantist superstition within Islam that forbids depicting the prophet Mohammed. They're just crass charicatures, not designed to make any substantial political point but merely to provoke a reaction.

There's a difference between material that makes a political case that happens to offend some people (which has to be vigorously defended) and bluster that doesn't have anything progressive to say about anything and is apparently designed *solely* to provoke and offend.

We're in favour of "the right to offend" because people's views shouldn't be censored just because some other people find them offensive, but I don't think we have to be in favour of the right to offend just for the sake of being offensive.

We were wrong to reproduce these cartoons.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 14:25

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

Good on Daniel and Vicki for rejecting this disgraceful stunt by those who really should have known better.

I trust the AWL membership were properly consulted before these cartoons were published on the site?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 14:32

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

Freedom of expression is a core, non-negotiable, aspect of democracy. Without it, we cannot properly communicate our beliefs and ideas, let alone properly take part in debate about how beliefs and ideas might become laws and regulations that govern us.

Intrinsic in the concept of freedom of expression is the sense that one person's expression may offend another person's beliefs. This is one of the down-sides of democracy...but we must choose: are we democrats? Or are we more concerned with erecting barriers to democracy based on freedom of expression no-go areas?

Every time a politician starts a sentence "We support freedom of expression, BUT..." and then goes on to list a series of qualifications, I realise how precious yet fragile freedom of expression is.

I support totally the right of those who print cartoons in a free society - whether it is Workers' Liberty or the Arab European League - even when I vehemently disagree with the content of the cartoons.

Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a vigorous defender of human rights - particularly freedom of expression - made the film "Submission" in the Netherlands in 2004. The film also offended some Muslims' sensibilities and outraged those who do 24/7 outrage over anything less than total submission to Islam: the Islamists. Since the film was released, Ms Ali has needed 24/7 police protection and her collaborator, Theo van Gogh, was murdered.

This is the sad reality of the battle in Europe in 2006 between freedom of expression critical of Islam and the intimidation of reactionary Islamists who want to snuff it out.

In such a context, I fully support publication of the cartoons. Extremists, who wish to censor through intimidation cannot intimidate every media outlet and every country where these cartoons are published....but they can focus on a few, like the Danes.

I am not sorry for "offence" caused to Muslims, anymore than Muslims should be sorry for "offence" caused to me when an imaam describes me, as a homosexual, as a "dirty pig". I would regard the act of censoring such comments as a greater evil in a free society than giving open airing to them. At least we know where we stand.

However, I do believe that incitement to violence or murder should remain a crime.

But, the incitements to violence and murder in this polemic are coming only from one direction: those who don't believe in democratic values and want to extinguish genuine freedom of expression.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/02/2006 - 10:10

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

I think you're missing the point here Dan. I'm really not sure the Jerry Springer Opera or Bezhti were making strong political points any more than these cartoons, and even if they were thats not exactly why we defended them. We defended them because we defend free speech when under attack. They were both attacked by organised religious groups who wished to have a veto over what others could and couldn't say and see. I think the cartoons thing was a non-issue until this dimension was added to it.

I'm not sure these cartoons were designed solely to offend. Some of them possibly were, some of them seem like they definately weren't. Mostly the reason they make no strong political point is because they're a bit crap. But does that mean we oppose free speech for mediocrity, and only support it for things we judge to have a strong purchase on the situation? Being Marxists, and therefore at present in a small minority, this means we're not really going to support free speech for anyone other than those we already agree with, which means it's not really "free" at all. Plus I think the Jerry Springer Opera in particular was designed not necessarily to offend but to at least be as outrageous as possible, which is almost the same thing. I don't think our judgement of the quality of political point made should really determine our defence of free speech. We either defend it or we don't.

Also, what is the cartoons issue about now? I think currently, if you look at this from the point of view of trying to cover the story journalistically, we simply had to publish the cartoons. The campaign against these cartoons can't be ignored and must in some way be discussed and analysed. Buildings have been stormed and burnt over this. People have died! In order to understand and form an opinion on that I think we need to see the cartoons for ourselves. Because no one else is publishing them I think we needed to.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/02/2006 - 13:23

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Could you explain what this has got to do with Zionism?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/02/2006 - 21:53

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

How, poster, do you *know* that these cartoons - and the AWL - are "despicable"...except because the AWL have published them? would you be able to reach a judgement? But of course you would...because you are the sort of person who does not need so-called 'evidence' in order to indict Jews and Americans...and - of course - you are an anti-racist, aren't you?

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