Letters: Cartoon row

Cartoons row shows both Islam and the West at their worst
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The Independent Online

Sir: This whole debacle over the blasphemous satirical images of the Holy Prophet of Islam illustrates the worst of both Muslim and Western culture.

First we have the cartoons themselves and the decision of various European organs to publish them. A victory for free speech? Shall we rate the authors of these images, and the editors responsible for printing them, alongside the numerous people around the world who have been killed or imprisoned for exposing the truth behind corrupt and repressive regimes? To put these things in the same bracket, as some in the media are trying to do, is to demean the lofty ideals that underpin freedom of speech and conscience.

Many sacrifices have been made throughout history to achieve this freedom, sacrifices that Islam has also partaken of. One is sickened to hear the editor of the French newspaper say he is "proud" of the story, as if his paper were covering Watergate, or some secret genocide in Africa. It is quite obvious that the cartoons are just a means of some in continental Europe venting their deep-seated hatred and mistrust of a religion they see as depriving women of their rights, turning innocent people into terrorists and threatening to take away their freedom. Nothing of course could be farther from the truth.

However, there is then the characteristically Neanderthal response from the mullahs, and terrorists who imagine they have some link with Islam. Responses such as "The West has 48 hours to apologise or else" and "Behead those who insult Islam" that have nothing to do with the noble history and principles of Islam, and that only serve to reinforce the sort of apprehensions that probably led to the cartoon being dreamed up in the first place.

If there is answerability before God for the "insulting of Islam" then the terrorists and mullahs who have called for suicide bombings, murdering Salman Rushdie, and so-called "Jihad" against the West over the years, must surely share in that answerability.

And so the vicious circle continues.



Europe must adjust to the new Asia

Sir: European editors' stand over the issue of freedom of expression looks somewhat different from the outside. Rather than a brave defence of core civilisational values, the reprinting of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed looks more like a puerile and needlessly provocative action on the part of an increasingly insecure and defensive culture.

Since the advent of colonialism, the West has had an unquestioned sense of its cultural superiority. In the post-colonial world, things are beginning to change. The rise of Islamic militancy has its deepest roots in an Islamic culture which continues to resist the imposition of western modernity upon it. Less vociferously, but far more significantly, the new economic and cultural powerhouse of the world is Asia. The rise of India and China is fundamentally changing the world's balance of power.

If we are to avoid a new and dark chapter in world history then the West must quickly adjust to these new realities and understand that its values will not flourish through arrogant shows of defiance and imposition, but through a respectful dialogue with other cultures.



Sir: As a sociologist (if people are allowed to begin letters with "As a Muslim..." then why shouldn't I join in?) I cannot help feeling that, had the self-appointed leaders of the Muslim world read Erving Goffman's Frame Analysis (fat chance, I know) then the fuss about the cartoons in France Soir and Die Welt at least could have been avoided.

As Goffman would have pointed out, while a caricature of the Prophet published in a far-right newspaper is a provocation, the same caricature reproduced in a French or German newspaper as part of an article about the controversy which surrounded that caricature is an illustration, just as the same caricature presented at a blasphemy trial would be evidence.

Goffman believed that in describing the ways in which the "same" thing can take on varied significances he was outlining differences in meaning which all members of western societies understand, that understanding making our societies the interesting and intellectually sophisticated places they are. From this point of view, the most disturbing feature of the response from Muslim leaders is not its violence, but its lack of intelligence.



Sir: I don't think Andrew Denny was being ironic in saying it is "high time that Islam was dragged from the 15th century to join other religions in the 21st century" (Letters, 4 February). But the 21st century of course belongs to a calendar that one religion imposes on the rest of the world. For Muslims it is now 1427, and measured against the evolution of the Christian faith things don't look too bad.

After 1427 years of Christianity, how was European "civilisation" doing? The Catholic Church had recently ordered the execution of the early Reformist leader Jan Huss. In the Hundred Years War the English would shortly burn Joan of Arc as a heretic and witch. And it would be another hundred years before Europeans started violently imposing their religion on Aztecs, Incas and other native Americans. I know which 15th century I feel safer in.



Sir: On Friday a group of militant Muslims congregated in London to protest about cartoons they considered offensive, even though the British media had shown respect to the Islamic community by not publishing them. They openly threatened violence with chants that included "7/7 is on the way". There were no reports of them being troubled by police.

A few weeks ago a woman who stood beside the Cenotaph and peacefully read out the names of the British soldiers killed in Iraq was arrested under anti-terrorism laws. What a strangely skewed country Britain has become.



Sir: I must agree with Jack Straw that publishing cartoons is liable to upset Muslims and I'm glad we don't do that in this enlightened country. It would be as bad as if we had invaded two Muslim countries and slaughtered thousands of their citizens.



Showing respect in a shared space

Sir: The naked rambler has his right to freedom of expression too, but in our country it is felt that his expression of this in a shared space is not appropriate for our current cultural climate; some people get offended, and so the courts deny him it.

Likewise, the sketches of Mohamed are satire for some, offence for others. In another time this would hopefully provoke an interesting debate; however in the current geopolitical situation, it could provoke far worse. Is it not obvious that the attacks on our troops in Iraq would intensify if our country's newspapers print these sketches? Would our troops want us to publish? I would listen more to the armchair pundits with their version of freedom of expression, which actually means "I can do what I like without regard to my fellow citizens", if they too were in Iraq. I applaud our national newspapers.

Civilised behaviour requires that we respect the views of each other and find a peaceful solution to usage of shared space; this requires tact from all civilised peoples of whatever religious or philosophical viewpoint.



Sir: So, The Independent did not publish the Danish cartoons because " there is no merit in causing gratuitous offence, as these cartoons undoubtedly do" (leading article, 4 January). Just so. That would explain then the cartoon on your facing page of a foul-mouthed God smoking a cigar.

To me and to several million more Christians in this country God is dear and precious beyond words. The fact that you know this perfectly well and still publish shows that it is not sensitivity that guides your decision not to publish the similar cartoons about Mohamed but fear of a violent reaction, a reaction you know you have no cause to anticipate from the Christian community. So cut the pompous explanations: the fact is you're running scared.



Sir: There is a major debate about the right to free expression. I am excluded: I haven't seen the cartoons so how can I comment? I guess censorship wins.



Issigonis and the birth of the Mini

Sir: Stan Ames's respect for Alec Issigonis ("Mini man's triumphs" 31 January) is short of a few facts. Gerald Palmer, Cowley's chief designer, and his director came up with the concept of a baby car with a sideways engine. The work was passed to Pat Reece to work up a quarter-scale drawing, and Ken Taylor and I drew up some arrangements, such as the gear-change system.

Six months later, Mr Palmer moved to Vauxhalls and was replaced by Mr Issigonis, who told us to roll up all our drawings and place them in the boot of his car. Final design was continued at Longbridge under his instruction.



We are not fit to look after whales

Sir: The response of Jun Koda from the Japanese Embassy regarding Japan's ongoing hunting of whales (letter, 3 February) is symptomatic of the appalling attitude which humankind has adopted towards the natural world.

He states that scientific research "is essential for the management of whale resources" and that therefore Japan is justified in continuing the annual killing of several hundred whales.

Is it not clear, in the light of global warming, the devastation of New Orleans, destruction of the rainforests and the imminent danger to anyone living near a coastline due to sea-level rise, that the time is well past in which we saw the bounty of nature as a resource to be exploited?

We are only a part of the life-cycle of the planet, and it has become clear that we are not capable of being its stewards. The sooner the Japanese and everyone else realises this the longer may be our continuing habitation of planet Earth.



Sir: Jun Koda protests too much about his country's whale hunting. We research many things in the world, mostly without killing them, and generally without eating the results.



Afghanistan grateful for donors' help

Sir: I am disappointed in the 2 February article regarding the London Conference on Afghan-istan, as the reporter misrepresented my statements on the financial outcomes and attributed her interpretation of the figures to me.

The Afghan Government and Afghan people are extremely pleased and frankly surprised by the generosity of donors which amounted to more than $10.5bn in international assistance to implement our Afghan National Development Strategy. In fact, this $10.5bn exceeds the outcomes of all previous Afghan pledging conferences.

Our strategy estimates that we need $20bn to fully realise our five-year plan, due to the budgetary regulations regarding appropriation of future funds in some donor countries, specifically our largest donor, the United States. We had set ourselves a conference target of only $4bn for the next financial year. In fact, we have met our financial needs for more than two years.

This illustrates the unwavering political and financial commitment from the international community. We are grateful for their support.



Iraq remembrance

Sir: Your front page (1 February) listing all the names of the 100 British soldiers killed in Iraq was very moving. For the sake of balance, I would point out that to list the names of all the Iraqi civilians killed since our military intervention would take at least 283 front pages of The Independent, and possibly as many as 319.



Cold reception

Sir: Although undoubtedly ingenious, Mr Engelbregt's solution to cold-calling (report, 2 December) , is, I would submit, a tad elaborate. My tried and tested method is to reply to the caller's opening with something along the lines: "No, but I'll fetch someone who can help ... " then put the call on hold or simply lay the receiver down and get on with whatever you were doing. Both methods have the disadvantage of tying your phone line up but at least you can carry on with your meal.



Left-wing Ming

Sir: Having pledged my support to Ming Campbell in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, I was surprised to read Andrew Grice's interpretation of his statement as moving the party to the right (report, 1 February). Addressing poverty, using the tax system to redistribute wealth and meet environmental aims, employing the planning system to achieve social objectives, giving more local control of both taxation and services and fighting for social justice are hardly keynote themes of a militant right-winger. Is Andrew Grice seeing everything through a mirror?



Mountain men

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote eloquently and with much insight on the merits of The Constant Gardener as a potential Oscar-winner (30 January). She describes its strength in portraying black African central figures that are full and deep, then says the "shagging cowboys" are likely to win the prize. She may not enjoy Brokeback Mountain, but to reduce gay men to nothing but their sexual act is all too easy, and an insulting characterisation.




Sir: While I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Rev Andrew McLuskey on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill (Letter, 2 February), I was surprised to read a letter from a man of the cloth which begins, "It is unforgivable...".