The Modoggies are back in the news. Our Swedish correspondent Carpenter sends us this brief report:
Blekinge Läns Tidning, local daily of Blekinge, Sweden, reports today on an upcoming Muslim protest in Karlskrona. It will take place on Monday, and will be attended by some 300 Muslims
Once again, the reasons for this are the roundabout dogs of blasphemy. Only this time they will not protest against one particular publication. The organizer Junaid Naseem is interviewed in the article, and tells us:
“We’ve followed the occurrences of the publications carefully, and it has been a topic of discussion among us Muslims in Blekinge. But it never seems to end and that’s what we are against.”
“I don’t understand why we should be insulted, again and again. To us, a dog isn’t always a cute animal.”
The protest is not aimed at the media in Blekinge, though:
“It is a protest against the publications as a phenomenon. We want them to cease.”
On a free press:
“[Freedom of the press] is good. But at the same time the media have a responsibility not to insult. For instance, you never write about suicides, out of consideration for the relatives.”
Lars Vilks has even made it into the political heart of the mainstream American media. We’ve been known to mock The Washington Post from time to time in this space. It is, after all, the in-house trade journal for the Democrat Party. It carries water for the Washington liberal establishment, and can be counted upon to toe the party line on everything from homosexual rights to the dangers of trans-fats.
But it doesn’t always get everything wrong, and it’s willing to publish occasional editorials that stray from orthodoxy.
Take, for example, this morning’s piece by Paul Marshall, “Muzzling in the Name of Islam”. Mr. Marshall uses Lars Vilks and his drawings as the jumping-off point for an analysis of political repression in Islamic countries:
Some of the world’s most repressive governments are attempting to use a controversy over a Swedish cartoon to provide legitimacy for their suppression of their critics in the name of respect for Islam. In particular, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is seeking to rewrite international human rights standards to curtail any freedom of expression that threatens their more authoritarian members.
In August, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew a cartoon with Mohammed’s head on a dog’s body. He is now in hiding after Al Qaeda in Iraq placed a bounty of $100,000 on his head (with a $50,000 bonus if his throat is slit) and police told him he was no longer safe at home.
A minor factual quibble: Mr. Vilks actually drew his Modoggies sometime in July — or earlier — since the exhibition which rejected them opened on July 20th. Mr. Vilks continued to draw Mohammed in various canine guises throughout August and September, and presumably will continue in October and November and onwards, until the fatwa is carried out and he is slaughtered like a lamb.
But we’ll let that go, because otherwise Mr. Marshall’s summary of the crisis is accurate and complete. I’ll skip the rest of it, because it’s very familiar to regular readers of this blog.
He goes on to make this important point:
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These calls [for limitations on freedom of the press] were renewed in September when a U.N. report said that Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be reinterpreted by “adopting complementary standards on the interrelations between freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination.” Speaking for the OIC, Pakistani diplomat Marghoob Saleem Butt then criticized “unrestricted and disrespectful enjoyment of freedom of expression.”
The issues here go beyond the right of cartoonists to offend people. They go to the heart of repression in much of the Muslim world. Islamists and authoritarian governments now routinely use accusations of blasphemy to repress writers, journalists, political dissidents and, perhaps politically most important, religious reformers.
Mr. Marshall follows this with extensive examples of journalists and dissidents in various Islamic countries who have been arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for blasphemy or “insulting Islam”. He concludes with this:
Repressive laws, supplemented and reinforced by terrorists, vigilantes and mob violence, are a fundamental barrier to open discussion and dissent, and so to democracy and free societies, within the Muslim world. When politics and religion are intertwined, there can be no political freedom without religious freedom, including the right to criticize religious ideas. Hence, removing legal bans on blasphemy and ‘insulting Islam’ is vital to protecting an open debate that could lead to other reforms.
If, in the name of false toleration and religious sensitivity, free nations do not firmly condemn and resist these totalitarian strictures, we will abet the isolation of reformist Muslims, and condemn them to silence behind what Sen. Joseph Lieberman has aptly termed a “theological iron curtain.”
The theological iron curtain is draped over every country with a majority Muslim population. Wherever the Muslim faith predominates, political repression and despotism are the rule. Afghanistan and Iraq are no exception: any pluralism which is now tolerated in these two countries would recede quickly if the encouraging presence of the United States military were withdrawn.
Turkey is often cited as an exception — the exception — to Islamic despotism. But secularism in Turkey is enforced from the top down. It has shallow roots, and requires repeated interventions by the military in order to survive. Indonesia and Malaysia also used to be relatively tolerant places, but as European colonialism recedes further into history, these countries have become more and more Islamized and repressive.
Looking at fourteen centuries of Islamic history makes one wonder whether non-repressive government within a majority Muslim country is even possible. In the tenth century the differences between Islamic polities and European ones were not so stark, but Muslim countries have, by and large, remained in the tenth century, while the rest of us have moved on.
The big question remains: when Islam becomes the majority religion, does political repression inevitably follow?
Is Islamic despotism an accident of history? Or does the despotism always follow the religion, as thunder invariably follows lightning?
For previous posts on Lars Vilks and the Roundabout Dogs, see the Modoggie Archives.