Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The double standards over free speech

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The Independent Online

This staged clash of fundamentalisms now has an audience of billions. The climax is likely to be grisly. European journalists have got the show fight they wanted, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, sought out controversial cartoonists to create caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed, not because they had something bold and compelling to say, but simply to enrage, like bullfighters goading a bull. Other newspapers have reprinted the cartoons in a supposed act of solidarity. What they have done, in fact, is belittle freedom of expression. They have taken something precious and turned it into a licence for the intelligentsia to behave like yobs.

These liberal warriors, high on conceit, want to demonstrate that Muslims can never be a part of Europe, because, well, they are too backward to hoot aloud when their revered prophet is shown with a bomb for a turban. I am not amused either, so should I pack the bags? Many of these countries were infamous for their state terrorism against Jews. Since then they have systematically mistreated generations of Muslims.

Right on cue, out came the dishcloths, Bin Laden surrogates with murderous banners and belligerence. A sweetheart baby is held aloft wearing a snug cap with a red heart proclaiming love of al-Qa'ida. Is their faith so uncertain that a few ink lines can shrivel it? Threats and deaths for stupid pictures; what kind of morality is that?

Muslims live as abject prisoners of their dictatorial states. They flee to places where they can breathe easier and speak. Then, a minority turn into the vicious thought-dogs they left behind. Most of us Muslims detest them more than whites ever could.

In an Arab coffee-shop this weekend, emotional arguments raged. I agreed with those who said neither publications nor writers should be harassed, but equally, that Muslims can protest, boycott goods, refuse to be defined by extremism, and question iniquitous double standards.

Muslims are not the only enemies of free speech. Go to Singapore and speak with an unrestrained tongue. I have had death threats from from Americans and white racists who, like Nick Griffin, cherish their right to hate.

And freedom of expression stands aside for money. Google capitulates in China, and Denmark will too, once the boycott of its goods cuts in. Where are the impassioned arguments against the Serious Organised Crime Act that stops people of conscience quietly protesting outside Parliament?

Judgements are exercised daily by newspapers on what should be published. There are internalised restraints of decency and civil duties of care. A media lawyer wouldn't let me criticise Lord Winston because, I was told: "He is very powerful, and also Jewish. It could be taken the wrong way." She won the argument.

In 2002, the New Statesman printed what was viewed as an anti-Semitic cover and the editor was deluged with protest. A cartoon of Ariel Sharon in this newspaper caused similar outrage. The Daily Mail caused offence when it printed a cartoon of the 58 Chinese immigrants who suffocated in the back of a truck. We do not abuse fat people or walk into pubs and announce to the gathered: "Wogs and niggers stink."

Ordinary Muslims have convincingly argued against gratuitous provocation. Now they must reassert as powerfully how they value the freedom to be and to speak in the way Europe allows them to. That should confound and silence their liberal enemies.

Prepare to be hated, Joanne

She is the most famous children's writer on the planet, earning enough money to run a couple of smallish countries, but remains much her own person and keeps the scavenging media at bay.

Why then, you wonder, would JK Rowling, right, choose to enter a world of such unspeakable cruelty and degradation it would unsettle a veteran war reporter? She was already involved with several charities: the relatively generous rich have endless calls on their goodwill and their cash.

But now she's launching her own campaign in some of the old Communist countries where mentally ill and physically disabled children are caged and healthy orphans tied to beds, neglected and driven mad. Rowling is taking on the cultural values of societies where such maltreatment is normal. She expects tempers to flare "like grenades".

Like Bianca Jagger, Rowling could change the lives of the worst off and give fame a good name. But it will be some test for a woman used only to global adoration.

* Just when we thought we had finally seen off those noisy, horrid, selfish chimps jumping on and off buildings, Fathers4Justice are making a comeback - in all their costumed glory.

A film is to be made about their many sorry tales of love and loss. Harbour Pictures, which gave us the sentimental Calendar Girls, is to make the movie. It starts, apparently, with the spirited story of a founding member of the group battling for custody of his children.

And so audiences will weep with him and laugh with the others, and these whingeing, sometimes ruthless errant fathers will achieve validation in fiction for their cause, their rights, their pain, their needs and their endless self-regard.

All in beautiful soft focus, of course.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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