Suppressing Anti-Religious Speech -- an Emerging International Law Norm?

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Resolution 2005/3 ("Combating defamation of religions") states, among other things:

The Commission on Human Rights ... [u]rges States to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination through political institutions and organizations of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence ...

So harsh criticism of Scientology should be outlawed (unless somehow the government is empowered to decide that it's not a "real" religion). So would harsh criticism of Catholicism — which may well urge hostility to Catholic teachings and the Catholic hierarchy — on the grounds that it supposedly oppresses women or homosexuals. So would harsh criticism of militant Islam. Religious ideas and religious institutions, which are often among the most important and influential ideas and institutions, would thus be legally protected from strong condemnation, condemnation that in many instances (though of course people disagree on which instances) is entirely merited.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has recently publicly condemned a Danish newspaper that published a dozen drawings of Mohammed, some of which were pejorative and all of which were seen as blasphemous by many Muslims (since at least some strains of Islam prohibit depictions of Mohammed). Arbour said that she "deplore[d] any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people's religion," and "appointed to UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter." The High Commissioner's office has "asked Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for "an official explanation," including asking "the Rasmussen government to respond to the question, 'Do the caricatures insult or discredit?'" If this were just the UN using its own megaphone to express its views, that would be troubling enough. But against the backdrop of the resolutions urging governments to legally suppress "xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to ... hostility," the call is even worse.

This also reminds me of my posts from 2003 and 2005 on how emerging "international law" principles can erode the Bill of Rights; as Prof. Peter Spiro, one of the leading U.S. international law scholars wrote in one of the leading U.S. law reviews, the President and the Senate can, in the long run, "insinuat[e] international law" that would create "a partial displacement of constitutional hegemony" (for instance, with "an international norm against hate speech ... supply[ing] a basis for prohibiting [hate speech], the First Amendment notwithstanding"). "In the short term," international norms would and should be "relevan[t] ... in domestic constitutional interpretation." But "In the long run, it may point to the Constitution's more complete subordination."

And the article was both defending the notion that treaties should be able to trump constitutional rights — "If some constitutional norms are more appropriately set at the international level" (and he believes they are), "that should justify a treaty power that, in some cases, overcomes even the Bill of Rights" — and predicting that treaties will over time do so. Courts, he acknowledges, would try to "maintain[] the formal hegemony of the domestic constitution," but "this formal hegemony may disguise a loss of domestic constitutional autonomy over the long run." "Constitutional rights 'adjusted' by treaty norms are changed by them. The Constitution is read to conform with the treaty."

What's more, I've heard international law fans urge that U.S. constitutional decisionmaking should be informed not just by express statements in treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified, but also by international practice outside treaties, by statements in treaties that the U.S. hasn't signed or hasn't ratified, and by actions of international bodies established pursuant to treaties that the U.S. has ratified. What U.N. commissions say and do may thus ultimately affect not just international politics, but the constitutional rights of Danes, Americans, and anyone else who has a broader view of free speech than the U.N. seems to endorse. That's reason, I think, to pay close attention to how international institutions are trying to establish norms that demand suppression of free speech.

Thanks to The Brussels Journal and for pointers to the Denmark controversy, which I otherwise would have missed.

Bush Cabinet Member Condemns Anti-Christian Blasphemy, and Points to Laws Restricting Incitement to Hateful Expressions:

Here's the e-mail from the official

I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in a leading American newspaper has caused upset among Christians. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offense by Christians, because they depict Jesus Christ in a sacrilegious context. Christianity is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Christianity has the right to be respected. Let it be clear that the American government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin.

Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of American society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.

Pretty appalling, no? Though the official makes a passing nod towards freedom of expression, surely the last sentence -- backed by the recent American trend towards restricting speech that's hostile to certain groups -- strongly suggests that the Administration is willing to suppress allegedly blasphemous speech.

Whoops, sorry, one important detail. This isn't the American government suggesting the possibility of suppressing speech that Christians find blasphemous; it's the Norwegian government suggesting the possibility of suppressing speech that Muslims find blasphemous, against the backdrop of a European trend towards restricting speech that's hostile to certain groups. Here's the BrusselsJournal report, which quotes (in translation) a Norwegian newspaper:

The left-wing government in Norway apologizes to Muslims worldwide for the publication of twelve Muhammad cartoons [see them here] in the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet. Oslo sent out instructions to all the Norwegian embassies on how to respond to queries about the cartoons. Unlike the Danish government, the Norwegian government is not concerned about safeguarding the right to freedom of expression. Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, a leading member of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Workers’ Party, wrote the following e-mail to the Norwegian embassies:

I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet has caused unrest among Muslims. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offence by Muslims worldwide. Islam is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Your faith has the right to be respected by us.

The cartoons in the Christian paper Magazinet are not constructive in building the bridges which are necessary between people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Instead they contribute to suspicion and unnecessary conflict.

Let it be clear that the Norwegian government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin. Norway has always supported the fight of the UN against religious intolerance and racism, and believes that this fight is important in order to avoid suspicion and conflict. Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue are the basis values of Norwegian society and of our foreign policy.

Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.

I've blogged more about this issue here; as I mentioned there, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has also recently publicly condemned a Danish newspaper for publishing the drawings. Arbour said that she "deplore[d] any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people's religion," and "appointed to UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter." The High Commissioner's office has "asked Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for "an official explanation," including asking "the Rasmussen government to respond to the question, 'Do the caricatures insult or discredit?'" As I argued, against the backdrop of the Commissioner for Human Rights' resolutions urging governments to legally suppress "xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to ... hostility," the call is even worse.

In any case, this puts me in mind of the quote attributed to French socialist Jean-Francois Revel, that the "dark night of fascism was forever descending upon America, but it touched ground only in Europe." Likewise, it seems to me, for the supposed suppression of dissent that people have been seeing, largely as mirage rather than reality, in modern America.

U.S. State Department on the Cartoons Depicting Mohammed:

Reuters reports:

Washington on Friday condemned caricatures in European newspapers of the Prophet Mohammad, siding with Muslims who are outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion. . . .

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question. "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."

"We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices," he added. . . .

A longer version also includes this quote:

"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

A Reason Online piece links to the shorter version, and condemns it as "a craven condemnation of an affair that is none of their business."

I'm glad to say, though, that the State Department response was a good deal more assertively pro-free-speech than the Reuters account suggests. I couldn't find the Kurtis Cooper statement, but here's the relevant excerpt from the Sean McCormack press briefing:

QUESTION: Yes? Can you say anything about a U.S. response or a U.S. reaction to this uproar in Europe over the Prophet Muhammad pictures? Do you have any reaction to it? Are you concerned that the violence is going to spread and make everything just --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen any — first of all, this is matter of fact. I haven't seen it. I have seen a lot of protests. I've seen a great deal of distress expressed by Muslims across the globe. The Muslims around the world have expressed the fact that they are outraged and that they take great offense at the images that were printed in the Danish newspaper, as well as in other newspapers around the world.

Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy — democracies around the world — and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.

We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may — like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.

Sounds to me like McCormack, at least, is repeatedly stressing that the cartoons ought to be protected from governmental punishment, but is simply exercising the government's right to speak out against them. Naturally, the Reuters story could only quote a small part of the comments, but it's unfortunate that the quoted excerpt seemed to understate the State Department's expressions of support for free speech.

European Reaction to anti-Semitic Cartoons:

Among the many ignorant things arising out of the Mohammed cartoon controversy is the claim emanating from many quarters in the Muslim world that if the target of the cartoons had been important to "the Jews," European governments would have cracked down on the individuals involved. There are many levels to this ignorance (e.g., those pushing this line can't seem to resist adding a little Holocaust denial into their spiels, and they of course completely ignore the many grossly offensive cartoons that appear in the Arab media), but here is one illustration. In 2003, an English newspaper published the following cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian child:

The cartoon invoked two of the most heinous and longstanding themes in European anti-Semitism: Jews lusting after the blood of non-Jewish children, and Jews as demonic beasts (the cartoon being based on the Goya painting below[the Goya painting is of Saturn devouring one of his children, but Saturn is portrayed as looking like a demon, and alluding to that painting in depicting Sharon brought to many minds the "Jew as demon" theme present for centuries in European art])

The cartoonist may not have been aware of how his cartoon picked up on anti-Semitic iconography. But he soon found out, and was completely unapologetic about it. And how did the the rest of the British press react? Well, the UK's Political Cartoon Society awarded it first prize in its annual competition for best cartoon, with full knowledge of the anti-Semitic subtext. The UK government failed to arrest the author, the newspaper, or the director of the Cartoon Society, or even denounce them. So much for the mythical power of "the Jews."

UPDATE: Nevertheless, I agree with Andrew Sullivan that the Europeans "would be in a stronger position to defend press freedom if they practised it more often," though I'm not sure I agree with all of his specific examples. And Sullivan links to a Gateway Pundit post that suggests that some of the furor is a result of additional, much more offensive cartoons inventing by the Danish Muslim group that is stirring the controversy.

Sorry I can't Join the "Buy Danish" Campaign

but I still remember that in 2002, in response to Israel (finally) taking decisive military action against a wave of terrorist suicide-murders, the Danish General Workers Union canceled an order from an Israeli company, and announced that "we call for the hundreds of thousands of members of the union to refrain from buying products manufactured in Israel." So forgive me if my heart doesn't bleed for the Danish workers whose jobs are at risk from another branch of Islamic extremism. Two wrongs don't make a right, and I certainly don't wish the Danes any harm; I just don't feel any urgent need to go out of my way to help them.

The Boston Globe on Speech Offensive to Different Religious Groups:

Here's today's Boston Globe editorial on the Mohammed cartoons controversy:

Freedom expression is not the only value at issue in the conflict provoked by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons satirizing Islam's founding prophet, Mohammed. The billowing controversy is being swept along by intolerance, ignorance, and parochialism. The refusal of each camp to recognize and respect the otherness of the other brings closer a calamitous clash of cultures pitting Islam against the West.

No devotee of democratic pluralism should accept any infringement on freedom of the press. But the original decision of the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, to solicit and publish a dozen cartoons of the Muslim prophet was less a blow against censorship than what The Economist called a schoolboy prank. . . .

Other European papers reprinted the cartoons in a reflex of solidarity. Journalists in free societies have a healthy impulse to assert their hard-won right to insult powerful forces in society. Freedom of the press need not be weakened, however, when it is infused with restraint. This should not be restraint rooted in fear of angering a government, a political movement, or an advertiser. As with the current consensus against publishing racist or violence-inciting material, newspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.

Just as the demand from Muslim countries for European governments to punish papers that printed the cartoons shows a misunderstanding of free societies, publishing the cartoons reflects an obtuse refusal to accept the profound meaning for a billion Muslims of Islam's prohibition against any pictorial representation of the prophet. Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance. . . .

There's actually much that I agree with here; that one is and should be legally free to say something doesn't mean that it's right to say it. And while religious ideas, like all ideas, should be open to vigorous debate, needless emotional provocation generally doesn't much advance the debate.

This editorial, though, led me to try to search for what the Boston Globe had said about past controversies involving high-profile speech that was offensive to other religious groups. I searched in particular for editorials referring to the controversies surrounding Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" and the Brooklyn Museum's display of the Virgin Mary covered in feces that was made up in part of feces and of cutouts of bare buttocks from magazines. I may have missed some — if I have, please let me know — but here are the ones I found. Nov. 3, 1999:

This week, US District Judge Nina Gershon sent New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a message he should heed: Stop trampling on the Brooklyn Museum's First Amendment rights.

Giuliani is furious about an exhibit, "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection." He called the art "sick," withheld operating funds, and started eviction proceedings against the museum. One object of his anger is a painting of a black Virgin Mary spotted with elephant dung. The mayor said: "You don't have a right to a government subsidy to desecrate someone else's religion." It's a passionate argument, but it ignores the facts and the law. None of the $2 million for the "Sensation" exhibit came from New York City. Serious allegations have been raised about the museum's fund-raising for the exhibit, but that is a separate issue. The city's contract with the museum calls for the city to pay for maintenance without, as the court says, "stating any conditions regarding the content of the museum's artworks."

Most damning is the court's finding that the city is violating the museum's First Amendment rights. Gershon quoted many cases, including the Supreme Court's 1989 ruling in Texas v. Johnson protecting flag-burning. "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."

But what about the 1998 Supreme Court ruling letting the National Endowment for the Arts use "general standards of decency" in its considerations? Gershon noted that this ruling was on awarding grants, not withdrawing operating funds. And the Supreme Court upheld these grant considerations as long as they did not permit "viewpoint discrimination."

Gershon issued a preliminary injunction ordering the city to stop withholding funds, end eviction proceedings, and refrain from retaliation or tampering with the museum's board. Too bad a judge has to remind Giuliani of his duty to do no harm to one of his city's great cultural institutions.

July 17, 1990:

The National Endowment for the Arts is a federal agency created 25 years ago to function as a friend and patron of the arts. It was never intended that the NEA should serve as a moral arbiter of the projects it considers funding.

But that role has been thrust upon the NEA by Congress, following the outcry of Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and a band of conservative congressmen and critics over the exhibitions of work by photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.

Last week, the NEA issued new guidelines that attempt to define obscenity, in response to a directive from the General Accounting Office. Helms had asked the GAO to investigate whether the arts agency was implementing restrictive language added last fall to its appropriation.

Grant recipients now are required to furnish "a written justification of the project" and an explanation of how it complies with the obscenity language in the NEA's appropriation legislation. Already, some prospective recipients have refused to sign such a pledge.

Critics of the pledge-signing requirement argue that imposing such guidelines has an intimidating effect and is tantamount to censorship.

Liam Rector, executive director of Associated Writing Program in Norfolk, is right when he notes that "the place where obscenity needs to be determined is in the courts — not in Congress and not by the NEA."

The New School for Social Research in New York and Bella Lewitsky, a California choreographer, have filed separate suits in federal courts, challenging the constitutionality of the congressional restriction on the agency's grants.

Congress should grant the National Endowment for the Arts the five-year extension it is seeking and allow it to go about its business without restrictions that hamper the agency and discourage artistic expression.

May 20, 1990:

In its 25-year history, the National Endowment for the Arts has become an invaluable friend and patron of the arts, funding an impressive array of institutions and activities. Now the hysteria generated by a small group of myopic arch-conservatives, led by Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, threatens the NEA's freedom.

Strong pressures are building on Capitol Hill to place limits on the way the NEA awards grants because of the misperception that it supports obscene or sacrilegious art. Supporters of the NEA are divided on whether to seek a one-year or five-year NEA reauthorization.

It would be unreasonable to expect unanimity of support for the many projects the NEA has funded over the years, given the subjectivity of creative expression. The NEA has been criticized often, and some have charged it with elitism.

However, until last year it had never been charged with underwriting smut, as it was when it financed a restrospective of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and made an award to photographer Andres Serrano. The art of these two men has been used unfairly by Helms and an organization called the American Family Association as a device to discredit the NEA, overlooking the important work the NEA has accomplished in fostering the arts.

Where does the public stand on federal aid for the arts? A survey conducted for People For The American Way indicates that Americans strongly support the NEA's role as a promoter and distributor of arts funding and do not wish to see the methods for granting arts awards changed.

Congress should approve another five-year reauthorization for the National Endowment for the Arts and allow it to continue making its cultural contribution to the nation — without any legislative restraints.

On their own, also eminently plausible arguments; I agree with parts of them and disagree with other parts, but they are certainly quite defensible.

Yet where in those editorials are the admonitions about the need for "respect" of religious groups? The condemnations of the juxtaposition of bodily excretions with religious figures as "schoolboy prank[s]"? The denunciations of the art as undermining the "ultimate Enlightenment value" of "tolerance"? The condemnations of the artists, and of those NEA and museum decisionmakers who used their discretion to judge the work artistically excellent, as "obtuse"? And, of course, the suggestion that the works are "no less hurtful to most [Christians] than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance"?

Why the difference?

UPDET: Reader Matt Lister pointed out that the Virgin Mary painting was not "covered in feces," as I wrongly reported above, but contained elephant dung as part of the display, and also contained what seemed to be cutouts of naked buttocks from magazines. I've revised the post accordingly; I don't think the details affect the overall analysis, but I'm pleased to be able to correct them.

The Catholic Church and Free Expression:

The Church (I'm not speaking of individual Catholics, just the church hierarchy, or at least its authoritative voices), still seems not to have accepted free expression about religion, or for that matter religious freedom. Here's a Reuters report:

The Vatican on Saturday condemned the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad which have outraged the Muslim world, saying freedom of speech did not mean freedom to offend a person's religion.

"The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religion," the Vatican said.

"Any form of excessive criticism or derision of others denotes a lack of human sensitivity and can in some cases constitute an unacceptable provocation," it said in a statement issued in response to media demands for the Church's opinion.

The seat of the Roman Catholic Church said it deplored violent reactions to the cartoons. "Real or verbal intolerance, from wherever it comes, whether as an action or a reaction, is always a serious threat to peace." . . .

The Vatican said the institutions of a country should not be held responsible for the actions of a newspaper, but said governments "could and should intervene according to (their) national legislation".

This is not just an admonition about what's right, decent, productive, or in good taste -- rather, it's a claim that the law ought to have a relatively free hand in restricting speech that "offend[s] religious feelings of the faithful," which apparently includes some unstated amount of "excessive criticism or derision of others" that "denotes a lack of human sensitivity." May we still publish the works of Martin Luther? How about of Christopher Hitchens? The Last Temptation of Christ? The religious works of the Jehovah's Witnesses? A historical film in which some actor plays Mohammed? How about linking to the cartoons themselves (as I've done before)? Seeing the cartoons is , yet surely some who believe that any depiction of Mohammed is blasphemy can be offended even by a republication that's aimed at exploring the controversy.

This is not a marginal issue; it is at the core of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. Under the position the Vatican sets forth, large zones of religious debate, political debate, and art would be outlawed.

I realize this is just a press account; I've searched for an English-language version of the Vatican statement itself, but couldn't find it. I would love to learn that this is all just a misquote; if that's so, please do let me know. But if the account is accurate, it speaks pretty badly of the Church.

Thanks to Tim Cavanaugh at Reason's Hit & Run for the pointer.

"Not an Issue of Free Speech," says the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

CAIR's statement ont he matter "reiterate[s] the Muslim community’s strong belief that the controversy is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over hate speech and incitement."

"Not an issue of free speech." Newspapers' rights to publish cartoons, some of which simply portray a religious figure (albeit in a way that many adherents of the religion find blasphemous) and others of which link the religious figure to violence as a way of making a political statement about the violence practiced in the religion's name, is "not an issue of free speech." I certainly hope that CAIR's views of what constitutes "free speech" don't make much headway, though I'm sorry to say that others and still more others — who are fortunately not in America — seem to agree with them.

CAIR does "condemn all violent actions by those who are protesting the cartoons." I'm glad that CAIR doesn't belong to the camp that believes in street violence as a means of suppressing political and religious expression it finds offensive. I'm not glad that it belongs to the camp that believes in governmental suppression — fines? prison? — of political and religious expression it finds offensive.

CAIR describes itself as "America's largest Muslim civil liberties group." Too bad that its view of civil liberties is so cramped as to fail to recognize the liberty of speech involved here.

UPDATE: Some commenters asked me to clarify why I see the CAIR statement is a call for legal punishment, and not just for denunciation. Sure; "incitement" is a classic example of speech that's constitutionally unprotected, and thus punishable even in the U.S. It's also a classic example of punishable speech in international discussions of the matter. When someone says that a "controversy" about the publication of certain materials "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over hate speech and incitement," it seems to me that it's saying that the materials aren't protected as free speech, but punishable as incitement. Likewise, many people have urged a creation of a new "hate speech" exception to First Amendment protection (and I've seen plenty of casual statements, though generally not by First Amendment lawyers, that assume that such an exception exists); that is likewise consistent with my interpretation.

If someone had said that a controversy about some statements "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over libel," or "obscenity," or "fighting words," we'd easily recognize, I think, that the person is urging that the speech be punishable (since libel, obscenity, and fighting words are the names of categories of punishable speech). The same applies when people say that a controversy about cartoons "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over . . . incitement." In fact, this speech does not fall within the recognized First Amendment incitement exception, but I take the reference to "incitement" to be a call for treating the speech as constitutionally unprotected.

Questions regarding the Danish Cartoons:

Since last week, the Rocky Mountain News website has included a link to all 12 of the controversial Danish cartoons. The link currently resides in the lower-left column on the home page. Have any other U.S. newspaper websites published a link (or republished the 12 cartoons directly)? Comments are enabled for answers to this question.

Comments are also enabled for answers to some questions about Islamic law. Please comment only if you have actual knowledge of the answer to at least one question:

1. Is the ban actually based on the Koran, or is it based on clerical interpration?

2. My understanding is that the clerical/legal scholar stance on the question has not, historically, been unanimous. Is that correct?

3. To the extent that Shari'a does prohibit depictions of Mohammed, is the prohibition part of a general prohibition on the depiction of any prophet? BTW, Bahrain banned "The Passion of the Christ" because of what was said to be a general prohibition on depicting prophets (including Jesus).

4. To what extent, if any, does Shari'a law claim to be applicable in a non-Muslim country? Only to Muslims in that country, or does Shari'a claim universal jurisdiction at all times?

Of course citations of legal sources, and links, would be welcome.

I Demand a Fatwa:

Several seemingly reputable press accounts (NPR, New York Times, and The Observer (U.K.)) report that, when the 12 Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed were distributed in many Muslim countries, they were distributed alongside three other cartoons that were much more offensive. One of the extra cartoons showed Mohammed as a pedophile demon, another showing him with a pig snout, and a third apparently showing a praying Muslim being sexually mounted by a dog. The accounts report that the cartoons were in a packet distributed by some radical Danish Muslim imams, who are apparently not saying where they got the cartoons.

Now the first two cartoons, if they purport to be depictions of Mohammed, would presumably be at least as blasphemous as the original ones (if not more so). What's more, anyone who distributed them as the work of the Danish cartoonists, knowing that this wasn't so, is guilty of bearing false witness against others — potentially in a way that threatens others' lives. I take it that Islam takes a dim view of that.

Is there an attempt to bring this heinous blasphemer to Islamic justice? To punish him for his sins against Allah and his fellow man? If there is, please let me know about this.

More on Danes Boycotting, and Being Boycotted:

[Circa 2002-2003] many Palestinian groups, left-wing political parties (such as the Socialist People’s Party, the Unity List and the Communist Party) and NGOs (such as the International Forum and the Anti-fascist Association), together with trade unions, launched a nation-wide campaign to boycott Israel. The boycott, which includes farm produce and manufactured goods, as well as cultural and scientific exchanges, is specifically aimed at the preferential trade agreement between the EU and Israel. Despite a huge propaganda campaign the boycott has not had a great impact in Denmark.

As part of this campaign, attempts were made to boycott a friendly football match between Denmark and Israel on 17 April. When, nevertheless, 30,000 people showed up, violent demonstrations ensued outside the stadium and about 150 demonstrators were arrested.

By contrast, the "right-wing" Danish People's Party "demonstrated its support for Israel by defying an anti-Israel boycott and serving Israeli produce at its annual convention in October." I suppose Denmark can take limited pride in the fact that neighboring Norway's attitude toward Israel is even worse. But a country in which a boycott of Israel can thrive, if not necessarily succeed, because a large chunk of the public was angry at Israel for retaliating against Islamist violence in 2002 is one that is, in a sense, getting a reality check when it gets boycotted. Denmark is actually in a relatively favorable position--it is being boycotted for having freedom of speech; Israel is attacked for merely existing on "Muslim" land (i.e., Israel).

And while on the subject of the Mohammed cartoons, with regard to Islamist claims that Danes would never dare say anything offensive about the Holocaust:

Although most writers were careful to avoid comments that might be construed as antisemitic [in opposing male circumsion], Finn Nielsen, in Jyllands Posten[!--same newspaper that printed the Mohammed pictures], stated, for instance, that the practice of circumcision was "barbarian," but that there was no hope of abolishing it since any criticism led to "a chorus crying 'Holocaust!'"

And regarding Jews more generally: "Under the headline 'The World’s Strongest Lobby,' a man called Kjeld Poulsen wrote in Jyllands Posten[!] on 8 March [2003] that no American president with an anti-Israel position could be elected because Jews 'control a very large percentage of the American press as well as… radio and television.'"

The Three Extra Cartoons May Be Forgeries.--

In an earlier post Eugene Volokh demands a fatwa against anyone bearing false witness in the Danish cartoon flap. As detailed below and elsewhere, at least one of the supposed "cartoons" is a hoax.

Gateway Pundit points out that the Danish clerics who spread the 15 Muhammed cartoons have been awfully evasive about where they got the three extra cartoons that had never been published by Jyllands-Posten or media in any country, at least before the dispute arose:

The first of the three additional pictures, which are of poor quality, shows Muhammad as a pedophile demon.

The second shows Muhammed with a pig snout.

The third depicts a praying Muslim being raped by a dog.

BBC World also aired a story showing one of the three non-published images, on 2006-01-30, and wrongly claimed it had been published in Jyllands-Posten.

On the tour, the group claimed to represent 21 different Muslim organisations in Denmark, although many of these groups have disclaimed any connection.

Akhmad Akkari, spokesman of the Danish Muslim organisations which organised the tour, explained that the three drawings had been added to "give an insight in how hateful the atmosphere in Denmark is towards Muslims."

Akkari claimed he does not know the origin of the three pictures. He said they had been sent anonymously to Danish Muslims. However, when Ekstra Bladet asked if it could talk to these Muslims, Akkari refused to reveal their identity. These images had however never been published in Jyllands-Posten.

The second extra "cartoon," supposedly showing Muhammed with a pig snout is a crude forgery, not even a picture of Muhammed at all. As NeanderNews revealed (tip to Powerline), it is:

a photo of Jacques Barrot, a pig squealing contestant at the French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise’s annual festival. NeanderNews discovered this photo, taken by Bob Edme of AP, posted on an August 15, 2005 AP story seen here on MSNBC’s website.

The photo of Barrot in a pig snout appears merely to have been photoshopped with a black and white screen to make it appear to be a cartoon.

Original AP photo (click to enlarge):

Fake "cartoon" (click to enlarge):

I wish there were some way of holding the perpetrators of this fraud responsible. Did the Danish clerics organize the fraud themselves, or were they duped? And how clear were they during their tour that the three most offensive cartoons had never been published?

He Said "Jehovah"!

The Philadelphia Inquirer's story about the cartoon controversy included the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. The story noted,

This cartoon and others have inflamed many Muslims since they were first published as a group in a Danish newspaper last year and reprinted in Norway last month. Islam teaches that any portrayal of Muhammad is sacrilegious. Some Muslims accept respectful representations but object to the cartoons' portrayal of Muhammad as a terrorist or as a caricature of Muslims or Arabs.

The Inquirer intends no disrespect to the religious beliefs of any of its readers. But when a use of religious imagery that many find offensive becomes a major news story, we believe it is important for readers to be able to judge the content of the image for themselves, as with the 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix in urine. On that basis we reprint this cartoon.

This strikes me as quite right: People need to see the cartoons to really understand what the controversy is about. Nonetheless, the Inquirer was then picketed, and an "umbrella group for mosques in the Delaware Valley" is "calling for a boycott of The Inquirer until it issues a public apology to its Muslim readers."

Now here's my question: As I understand it, many Muslim critics of the cartoons are themselves distributing (and presumably reproducing) the cartoons, precisely because they believe it is important for Muslims to really understand what the controversy is about. Are they too committing blasphemy? Should they too face boycotts and protests?

One possible response is that actually expressing sentiments as if you endorse them (even if you're just presenting them as a bunch of works that you've commissioned, which is something of an endorsement) is different from quoting material. This might explain why some people would be upset by the original publication, but not by publications that reprint the cartoons to illustrate the controversy. Yet this would mean that the Inquirer's position is proper, just as the position of those Muslims who quote it in order to show other Muslims how they're supposedly being abused is proper.

Another possible response is that even if you quote the cartoons as part of a sincere attempt to report the news, that's still offensive and still blasphemy. Yet I take it this would cover republication in Muslim countries aimed at informing Muslims as well as republication in the U.S. aimed at informing Americans.

Another possibility is that some Muslims think such quotation of the cartoon is OK when done to inflame Muslim sensibilities, but not when done to inform non-Muslim readers. Yet that seems to be a position that's hard to defend, and I see no obligation (even a good manners obligation) for American papers to accede to it.


A commenter (Porkchop) raises a great point:

Republication of the cartoons boils down to this: Depicting Mohammed in violation of Muslim tenets strikes a blow at the very heart of Islamic beliefs, and and such sacrilegious desecration of their beliefs is so offensive and hurtful that it simply should not be allowed, even under the guise of "free speech."

Personally, I don't buy into that, but here's a question for discussion: Isn't this the same argument advanced in the United States by those who want a constitutional amendment (and implementing federal and state statutes) to ban the burning or other desecration of the flag of the United States? Can one support the right to publish the cartoons and also support a flag-burning amendment? If so, how does one distinguish between the two?

One can naturally come up with some distinctions — among other things, banning all depictions of Mohammed burdens a wider range of speech (e.g., pretty much any film biography of Mohammed) than banning flagburning would — but I think that on balance these distinctions are unpersuasive. If you want to credibly say to Muslims that they have to tolerate offense to their sacred symbols, you have to tolerate offense to your own sacred symbols, too.

Conversely, as I've argued before, allowing flagburning bans seems likely to help stimulate what I call "censorship envy": If my neighbor gets to ban symbols he dislikes, why shouldn’t I get to do the same? This kind of misplaced desire for equality of repression is a powerful psychological force.

One risk, then, is that banning the desecration of one symbol will help lead to bans on desecration of the other — allowing flagburning bans will change swing voters' views about freedom of offensive speech, or will trigger their concerns about equality, and will lead to bans on desecration of religious symbols.

Of course, it's quite possible that this slippage will be resisted — that even if there's not much of a good logical distinction between flagburning bans and bans on insults to religious symbols and figures, American politics will lead to the adoption of the former but rejection of the latter. But that itself, I think, will be harmful: Right now, when American Muslims are deeply offended by pejorative depictions of Mohammed, we can tell them: "Yes, you must endure this speech that you find so offensive, but others must endure offensive speech, too. Many Americans are deeply offended by flagburning, much as you are deeply offended by depictions of Mohammed, but the Constitution says we all have to live with being offended: We must fight the speech we hate through argument, not through suppression."

But what would we say when flagburning is banned but other offensive symbols are allowed? "We in the majority get to suppress symbols we're offended by, but you in the minority don't"? "Our offense at flagburning is reasonable but your offense at depictions of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban is not"? If you were a Muslim citizen of America, would you be persuaded by these arguments? Would you feel better about America because of them?

The First Amendment was drafted and interpreted by people who intimately understood cultural, religious, and political conflict, and who knew how calls for censorship could launch the most bitter of culture wars. The First Amendment is a truce: "I won't suppress your ideas, and you won't suppress mine." And a ban on flagburning would undermine this truce.

A New Cartoon of Mohammed Printed in French Paper:

BareKnucklePolitics quotes Reuters:

A French satirical weekly reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday and published one of its own on its front page, further angering Muslim groups which say the caricatures are blasphemous.

French Muslim organizations tried to prevent Charlie Hebdo reprinting the 12 cartoons, which were first published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, but a court rejected their suit on Tuesday on a technicality. . . .

The new cartoon was on the front page, "depicting the Prophet Mohammad burying his face in his hands and saying: 'It's hard to be loved by fools.'"

More Stifling of Dissent (in Canada).--

At Judeoscope, a Canadian website, there is a story about a Canadian professor who has been ordered to remove the 12 cartoons from his office door:

Philosophy professor Peter March was ordered by the administration of St. Mary’s University in Halifax, to take down cartoons from his office door. The cartoons in question are copies of the 12 Danish drawings of Mohammed manipulated by Muslim Brotherhood clerics and embattled regimes to whip up Muslim anger at the West and send infuriated Muslims on a path of death and destruction for the last few days.

The Canadian Press reports that "the administration told March to take down the cartoons because the space outside his door is considered a public place and caricatures are considered very disrespectful by many members of the Muslim community".

That these doors are considered "public space" will come as a novelty to anyone who’s ever set foot in a university building; it has become a university tradition for professors to post on their office doors political cartoons dealing with the hot issues of the day or questions their research examinates. As to the question of disrespect, universities should not even go near there, if they want to remain, as they should, to uphold the principles of freedom of thought and free debate.

In response to this nonsense, Professor March argues he should be allowed to show the drawings to his students and added he would probably show them in his class on Thursday. "There’s a great deal in my collective agreement that says that what I am doing, which is engaging public discussion using my skills as a philosopher, is part of my job description," he said. Indeed it is!

Judeoscope also reports that the student newspaper of another Canadian university, the University of Prince Edward Island, printed the cartoons, an offense that prompted the university administration there to "pull the paper out of circulation."

More on the Canadian Professor and the Cartoons:

The Canadian Press reports:

An outspoken professor who was forced to remove incendiary drawings of the Prophet Muhammad from his office door now plans to display them in his classroom to prove a point about freedom of speech. . . .

"I probably will take them into the classroom tomorrow morning," [Peter March] said in an interview Wednesday.

"There's a clash between (the university's) perception of protecting health and safety and my perception of what my job is. My job is, I think, to take risks."

A university spokesman said while March is free to discuss the drawings in class, displaying them is another matter.

"It would be up to the professor to decide whether that would be appropriate and necessary," said Chuck Bridges, the university's vice-president of external affairs. "I can't speculate on that. We have to wait and see what would happen if it happens." . . .

March was confronted Wednesday outside his university office by three Muslim students.

"I will say what I want . . . this is a university, this is a university," March told the students.

"That was a little bit disrespectful for the Muslims who are here," one of the students said to March, who told them he respects their rights.

"But I don't believe in your faith," he said. "I believe your faith is a pernicious thing - the same as Christianity, the same as Hinduism."

March said later that he was confronted in his office by another group who told him to apologize or face the consequences.

"The leader said, 'We're going to get you,'" said the professor, adding he notified police.

The controversy was also being felt in Charlottetown, where the student newspaper at the University of Prince Edward Island published the 12 cartoons.

The university moved quickly to stop about 2,000 copies of the newspaper from being distributed on campus.

"When we realized that they were in circulation, we acted to round up the copies that were in circulation," said UPEI president Wade MacLauchlan.

"We see it as a reckless invitation to public disorder and humiliation."

Ray Keating, editor of The Cadre, said he was disappointed by what he views as censorship by the university.

"I see this as an issue of freedom of expression and freedom of the press," he said.

Meanwhile, March said he plans to launch a union grievance against Saint Mary's, which ordered him to remove the drawings from his door Tuesday.

"There's a great deal in my collective agreement that says that what I am doing, which is engaging public discussion using my skills as a philosopher, is part of my job description," he said. . . .

Paul Bowlby, chairman of religious studies at Saint Mary's, is another who was bothered by March's actions.

"I find it very offensive that academic freedom is being used to defend an act of posting those cartoons in a public space, on a university campus," he said. . . .

Another Possible Hoax of a Cartoon; Call for Graphology Expertise.—

1. Background.

The Danish clerics who spread the 15 Muhammad cartoons have been evasive about where they got the three most offensive ones, ones that had never been published by Jyllands-Posten or media in any country, at least before the dispute arose.

As NeanderNews revealed, the second extra "cartoon," supposedly showing Muhammad with a pig snout, is a crude forgery, not even a picture of Muhammad at all. It is rather an altered photo of a “contestant at the French Pig-Squealing Championships” in France. In the comments to an earlier post on the Volokh Conspiracy, a poster who identified himself merely as “K” raised an interesting issue:

I am not a graphologist, but a student who had a chance to attend very interesting lecture two years ago — a part of it was about the fact that whatever alphabet you learn to write the first influences the way you write in all the other alphabets you later learn. Hence you can identify, if sometimes with difficulty, that an individual learned to write Cyrillic or Arabic before they learned to write Latin [Roman letters].

Such individuals often never receive any instruction in writing in the “new” alphabet, and so they are:

1. Drawing the letters and not writing them

2. Maintaining the habits they have acquired when learning their first alphabet. – eg. the letters have their normal shapes but look as though the have been written backwards (someone has started to write the letter from the wrong end)

Now look closely at the writing on the caricature that shows Mo[hammad] as a pedophile, and ask yourself doesn’t it look a bit strange?

The more I considered K’s comment, the more troubled I became. These extra three cartoons were presented as evidence of what non-Muslim Danes thought of Muslims, but what if all the cartoons were created by Muslims themselves, just to garner sympathy or to inflame anti-western sentiment? The pig “cartoon” has already been shown to be a hoax, though the perpetrator of the hoax has not been determined.

Maybe the manner in which the letters in the “demon pedophile” cartoon were written would reveal whether they were most likely written by someone who first learned to write in Arabic.

2. Analysis of Lettering in the “Demon Pedophile” Cartoon.

From the following picture, I deleted the actual drawing of Muhammad as a demon pedophile, retaining just the caption above the crude drawing:

(click to enlarge)

I was struck by two letters that seemed (to my untrained eye) to have been drawn in an unconventional way. The first was the first “M” in Muhammed. In writing a capital “M,” it is common to start with a downstroke at the left side of the “M,” then go back to the top left of the “M” and complete the rest of it without a break. It appears that the person who composed the demon pedophile cartoon did much the same thing, but instead started with a downstroke on the top right, and then returned to the top right to complete the letter “M” without a further break. In other words, it appears that he was writing that capital “M” from right to left, not from left to right as most westerners would have done. The first website on Arabic writing that I went to, not only confirmed my understanding that Arabic letters are written from right to left, but showed that there is a standard Arabic letter (alif) that consists of a single downstroke, so such a downstroke may well have been a natural movement for an Arabic writer.

The second letter that struck me as odd was the placement of the capital P in the word “PROFET.” Note that the top of the P is not on the same level as the rest of the capital letters in the word or the note. I wondered whether there were any letters in Arabic that are commonly written with a tail below the line and a body that does not reach the top of the adjacent letters. In the second website I looked at, I saw this example of a font called “Hasan Al Quds Open Type”:

(click to enlarge)

Shockingly, not only did I find a letter with (1) a body below the letters adjacent and (2) a tail below the line, I saw that (3) the letter looked remarkably like a Roman “p” and (4) it was placed on the left edge of the word, just as in the “demon pedophile” cartoon. Note the first and last words on the first line both have a letter resembling such a “p” on the left edge of each word. A word on the third line has the same letter resembling a “p” on its left edge.

These two oddly drawn letters raise a question in my untrained mind whether the author of the "demon pedophile" cartoon was brought up writing some form of the Arabic alphabet.

3. A Call for Help.

Obviously, I lack the expertise to evaluate the evidence I have raised on any but the crudest level. We need graphologists or other experts on how Arabs who learned to write first in Arabic eventually write Roman letters in the West, particularly in Denmark or Scandinavia. I am calling for the help of “An Army of Davids,” using the “distributed intelligence” of the blogosphere to examine the questions that K raised in his comment to an earlier post of mine and that I have explored here. Much as in the CBS/Dan Rather forgeries, perhaps bloggers can contact the best experts in the field to determine whether the person who originally created this reprehensible cartoon was brought up writing Roman letters or Arabic ones.

Even if it should be determined that the creator of the “demon pedophile” cartoon was probably brought up writing Arabic, that does not necessarily mean that any Danish cleric forged the cartoon himself. It would still remain possible that some Muslim-hating person who was brought up writing Arabic created this cartoon, but it would definitely make it highly unlikely that these cartoons reflected typical Danish society (as they were originally supposed to do).

UPDATE: Because of the length of this post, I have updated it in a new post above. I found the comments below intriguing and highlight one of them in my update above. I also link some of the other bloggers who have spread the call for help.

A Second Look at the Second Extra Cartoon.--

In an earlier post, I asked for those with special expertise to examine the text accompanying the second extra cartoon of Mohammad, the one depicting him as a demon pedophile. I wondered whether the lettering suggested the possibility that the original language of the author of the cartoon was Arabic, not a Western language using the Roman alphabet. Andrew Sullivan, Betsy Newmark, Michelle Malkin, and ABC's Jake Tapper have spread the call, as have other bloggers here, here, here, and here.

From the following picture, I deleted the actual drawing of Muhammad as a demon pedophile, retaining just the caption above the crude drawing:

(click to enlarge)

Reading through the comments so far to my earlier post, no true expert graphologist has come forward, but several people with at least some knowledge of Arabic writing and calligraphy have weighed in. The most interesting comment so far comes from E.S., who says he/she is not a graphologist but has "a little experience in English and Arabic calligraphy and typography":

I noticed a few interesting things about the writing that may indicate that it isn't the product of a native speaker.

1) If you look at the lowest horizontal stroke on the first capital E, it is a curved or squiggly line. This is characteristic of the arabic character "sukkund" which is denotes a glidle (sp?) stop. These symbols are used extensively in old texts in the Arab world including the Quran.

2) Many of the letters have too many strokes, and are thus inefficient. Over time native speakers develop proficiency in writing quickly and use less strokes per letter on average. Looking closely at the first M of the last line it has four strokes. Most native speakers would make it with two or three. Also notice on this M that the strokes don't match up correctly. This indicates a lack of familiarity with the structure of the letter.

3) The cross strokes on the E's and F's seem to be drawn from right to left. The "ink clumping" you notice on some of the letters is formed when the author keeps the pen on the paper for too long without moving it. It often indicates hesitation in executing a stroke. If you look at the E and F in the word "Profet" the ink clumping is on the right hand side of the letter indicating that the person put pen to paper, considered the stroke momentarily, and then pulled the pen from right to left across the page. This is also inefficient in writing Roman letters because the movement across the page is from left to write, so cross strokes from right to left slow down the production of the letter. (Also interesting is the large amount of ink wasted on the beginning of the uppermost crossbar on the E in "Paedofile." It appears that this stroke went from left to right [note the ink clumping on the left of the letter]). This is consistent with the idea that the person is an Arabic writer since the long delay would indicate a discomfort with the left-to-right stroke.

4) The u in "Muhammed" appears a great deal like the Arabic Laam (one of the most common letters as it is part of the arabic AL meaning the). If you notice the right side of the letter is longer, this is what an individual Laam looks like, almost like a Roman capital J. Also note that a native writer of Roman based letters would not make the right side larger as it is inefficient in writing a full word. There is no need to bring the pen that high if you're going to move on to the next letter.

5) Finally as a general matter the letters do have a more "drawn" feel than usual native Roman-based letters. The cross strokes have the slant of calligraphy fonts, especially those used in Arabic. This is indicated by the sharp points on both ends of the cross which indicates that the pen was held at an angle. Most Roman letter writers without calligraphy experience hold their pen straight, which results in "block" letters and not angled letters. Finally the curves on the D's are tapered which indicates holding of the pen at an angle, and experience with "drawn" letters. These same curved shapes are common in the arabic letters Jeem, Haah, and one other that I am not even going to attempt to transliterate but comes from the back of the throat.

I hope that others — with even more extensive knowledge — will come forward to assess the evidence in the text accompanying the "demon pedophile" cartoon.

Reaction to the Cartoons Descends into Unintentional Self-Parody:

Here's a cartoon the Akron Beacon-Journal apparently published a few days ago:

Here's the response:

Several Northeastern Ohio Muslims and community leaders met Friday to express their concerns about the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have ignited outrage and violence.

At issue are the caricatures published in the European press — work that many U.S. newspapers decided against publishing. The group also took issue with a cartoon inked by Beacon Journal editorial cartoonist Chip Bok.

Bok said he did not draw his cartoon with intentions of offending Muslims and has defended his right to free press.

But Muslims on Friday said Bok's cartoon was disrespectful and demeaning.

The level of hurt, they said, was deeper since it was in the local paper.

"It pained me to know that the Beacon Journal printed its own editorial cartoons that sought to challenge the beauty of our community by bringing hate into its pages," said Rabbi David Lipper, of Akron's Temple Israel. . . .

The editorial cartoon has prompted several letters in response. Also on Friday afternoon, there was a demonstration outside of the newspaper's East Exchange Street building.

At Friday's news conference at the Islamic Society of Akron & Kent in Cuyahoga Falls, the speakers were passionate.

A.R. Abdoulkarim, Amir of the Akron Masjid, applauded newspapers that decided against running the cartoons, but condemned those who did. The Beacon Journal, he said, was in a class of its own.

"They take the prize for being the most ill-intended, irresponsible property group," he said. "Allah curses and condemns them and every Muslim in this community should curse and condemn them."

Julia A. Shearson, director of Ohio's Council of American-Islamic Relations, said they want the Beacon Journal to apologize for running the "unethical" cartoon and want the paper to publish their letters to the editor.

After yesterday's press conference, Bok met with several leaders. The cartoonist said he drew the cartoon to take a shot at CNN for "distorting a distortion" and not at the prophet or Muslims. . . .

Still, Muslim leaders said Bok's cartoon was disrespectful because the prophet should not have been depicted in such a way. In fact, they said, there are no pictures or statues of Muhammad because he should not be confused with God. . . .

So I guess it's not just that we aren't supposed to draw pictures of Mohammed as terrorist, or of Mohammed at all; we aren't even supposed to draw pictures that are obviously not of Mohammed, and that are meant to mock the inability to draw pictures of Mohammed.

Well, I have to admit: The folks who are offended by this have a First Amendment right to be offended. They should feel entirely free to be offended.

The rest of us should feel entirely free, as a matter of civility as well as of law, to say: Your decision to be offended by this particular cartoon gives you no rights (again, as a matter of civility as well as of law) to tell us to stop printing it.

More on the underlying conceptual issue — the difficult but necessary distinction between (more or less) reasonable taking of offense and unreasonable taking of offense — later; I also hope then to talk in some measure about the distinction between this cartoon and others that I do think can reasonably be found to be offensive, and that probably shouldn't (as a matter of civility) have been published in the first instance, though it is proper to publish them now in order to explain the controversy. For now, it seems to me that this incident does plenty to illustrate the danger of the "it's wrong to publish any cartoons that offend people" attitude.

Many thanks to This Isn't Writing, It's Typing for the pointer.

Illinois Student Newspaper Editors Suspended for Running the Danish Cartoons:

A Statement from the Publisher in the latest Daily Illini says:

A student task force has been formed by the Illini Media board of directors and the company's publisher to investigate the internal decision-making and communication surrounding the publishing of The Daily Illini Opinions Page of Thursday, Feb. 9.

The student staff in The Daily Illini newsroom has questioned in print and in meetings the manner in which Editor in Chief Acton Gorton and Opinions Editor Chuck Prochaska produced the page. While the task force convenes for approximately two weeks, these two editors have been suspended, and Managing Editors Shira Weissman and Jason Koch will serve together as interim editor in chief.

The board and publisher reaffirm that final decisions about content in The Daily Illini rest with the editor in chief. But the board and publisher also recognize that journalistic norms regarding professional behavior dictate that it is the editor's obligation to engage other student editors and student staff members in rigorous discussion and debate of sensitive content.

Mary Cory
Publisher and General Manager
Illini Media Co.

The Daily Illini is an independent nonprofit in which the ultimate decisionmaking authority is in the hands of the publisher and an eight-member board, which consists of four students and four faculty members.

I'm pretty sure there's no constitutional problem here; the board of directors of a nonprofit publication is entitled to ultimately control what the publication publishes, and to control who gets to make the daily decisions about such matters. That some of the board of directors members are faculty at a public university doesn't change the matter; I don't believe they're acting in their official capacity, and, even if they were speaking for the university so that the newspaper were a university-controlled organ, the university would generally be entitled to dictate what is published in the media that it controls. (A public university is not entitled to dictate what is published in privately owned student newspapers; but here either the newspaper is private and controlled by a board of directors acting in its private capacity, or [less likely] it would be seen as being controlled by faculty members acting as public officials, in which case it's no longer really quite private.)

Nonetheless, one can certainly question whether the board of directors decision is sound. The cartoons are extremely newsworthy; to understand the worldwide events of the last several weeks, people have to be able to see the cartoons. They are indeed easily available online, but it certainly makes sense that a paper publication would want to make them instantly available to its readers, rather than providing a link that they hope their readers will eventually plug into a browser.

The strongest defense I can see of the Board's decision is if indeed the editor's decision violated traditional consultative norms of the Daily Illini editorial process. If the Daily Illini had indeed generally been run on a principle that, before any "sensitive content" (e.g., potentially offensive criticism of Christianity, material that some readers might find vulgar, and so on) is published, the editor must "engage other student editors and student staff members in rigorous discussion and debate" of the subject, then an editor's departure from this norm might be seen as an undue arrogation of decisionmaking authority. I don't think that there are any general "journalistic norms" requiring such consultation — a dictatorial editorial model is perfectly within journalistic norms, it seems to me (with some possible exceptions that are not applicable here). But if there are such norms at the Daily Illini, the Board may reasonably insist that the norms continue to be followed, to protect a decisionmaking process that it finds valuable.

I'd love to know more about this procedural justification that the Board is giving. Do any readers know more details on what actually happened here, and what Daily Illini practice has been? Has the Board made more detailed statements on the subject? Are the Illini's own "journalistic standards" available somewhere? Here is what one of the suspended editors says (I quote from a Chicago Tribune article on the controversy):

Acton Gorton, 25, said he believes he made a sound journalistic decision in running six of the cartoons because the public has a right to judge their content. He said he consulted with top staff members and journalism instructors before making the decision to publish them in Thursday's newspaper.
Here's the contrary view:
[O]n Monday, the paper ran an editorial apologizing for Gorton's decision and called the move "a blatant abuse of power" by a "renegade editor who firmly believes that his will is also the will of the paper."

The task force will study whether Gorton made his decision in a vacuum that was improper according to the Illini's journalistic standards, written in 1947.

Thanks to reader Mark Deming for the pointer.

Censorship Envy, Speech That's Offensive to Muslims, and European Law:

One recurring argument that I've seen from Muslims who want the cartoons legally suppressed is that European laws prohibit other kinds of speech offensive to other groups — for instance, Holocaust denial, which is often restricted chiefly because it's seen as implicitly or explicitly anti-Semitic — and that Muslims should get the same treatment. In practice, those laws don't get used that often, and European speech is actually more free than the laws would suggest. Nonetheless, the laws' presence does make possible the argument I describe; and I suspect it does make many Muslims feel even more aggrieved than they would be by the cartoons themselves, since they are also now aggrieved by what they see as discriminatorily enforced laws.

Consider, just as one example among many, Norwegian Penal Code secs. 135 & 135a (noted here; thanks to Rebecca Davidson for pointing to that article, and to Jill Fukunaga of the UCLA Law Library for finding the English text of the code sections):

§ 135. Any person who endangers the general peace by publicly insulting or provoking hatred of the Constitution or any public authority or by publicly stirring up one part of the population against another, or who is accessory thereto, shall be liable to fines or to detention or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.

§ 135 a. Any person shall be liable to fines or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years who by any utterance or other communication made publicly or otherwise disseminated among the public threatens, insults, or subjects to hatred, persecution or contempt any person or group of persons because of their creed, race, colour or national or ethnic origin. The same applies to any such offensive conduct towards a person or a group because of their homosexual bent, life-style, or inclination.

The same penalty shall apply to any person who incites or is otherwise accessory to any act mentioned in the first paragraph.

These belong to the family of restrictions on "hate speech" and "incitement to hostility" that Europeans (and some Americans) sometimes praise as a model "reasonable" alternative to America's speech protections. But look how broad they are: If you "endanger[] the general peace" by "publicly stirring up one part of the population against another," you can go to prison. If you disseminate a communication that "insult[s]" "any group of persons because of their creed," you can go to prison.

Of course publication of the cartoons would be covered. My providing a link to the cartoons (which I've done in many of my previous posts, since providing such a link is in my view necessary to helping people understand the controversy) would be a crime under Norwegian law: I would be an accessory to a communication that insults some Muslims because of their creed. And of course many Muslims would feel entitled to have this law enforced to protect their sensibilities.

Many Muslims are surely offended enough by the cartoons on their own; but at least in America we can tell them to join the club — American Christians have no legal protection from anti-Christian speech, American Jews have none from anti-Semitic speech, blacks have none from racist speech, Americans generally have none from anti-American speech. What can Norwegians tell them, other than (1) "Sorry, the laws don't protect you," (2) "OK, we'll enforce the laws to suppress this speech that insults you," or (3) "These are bad laws, we're glad that they've rarely been used, we're sorry they were ever enacted, and we are going to repeal them right away" (my preferred suggestion, though not one likely to be implemented, and one that would still be understandably offensive to many Muslims, since the laws' repeal would have been triggered by speech that's offensive to Muslims)?

Mohammed Cartoons in the Classroom, in the News:

The Colorado State University Collegian reports on what happened when Professor James Lindsey showed three of the Mohammed cartoons -- "includ[ing] a satirical sketch of the prophet wearing a bomb on top of his head and another that depicted him wielding a sword, surrounded by women" -- to his about 125-student Islamic history class. They originated from a Danish newspaper.

Zaki Safar, vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said the cartoons make the holy figure out to be a terrorist and a "sex maniac" who oppresses women.

"The one with the bomb on his head was the worst," the Saudi Arabia native said, still teary-eyed just after 2 p.m., when class let out. "I cried with tears in the middle of the class."

Other students chuckled at the cartoons or were puzzled at the reaction, he said.

The professor, James Lindsay, said he presented the cartoons in response to student inquiries; several students told him they did not understand the logic behind the anger over the cartoons.

Normally, he said, he stays away from addressing current events in the history course, but this time he decided to take the opportunity to offer students some context....

He showed the Danish-drawn cartoons lampooning Muslims and Muslim-drawn cartoons satirizing Europeans and Jews, along with historical and modern Islamic texts and art....

What's worse is that these and other cartoons widen the gap between Islamic and Western cultures, Safar said, and that's exactly what his student group is trying to combat.

He said freedom of speech should be used responsibly and not give such a powerful voice to the most ignorant in each culture....

Students interviewed on campus Thursday afternoon generally supported the professor's decision, so long as the presentation was tactful.... But Safar was firm in his belief that the blasphemy should simply not have been shown.

"(Lindsay) made a huge mistake by putting up the cartoons," Safar said. "Not only that, he's making the gap between the three religions bigger and bigger.... Making chaos between people -- I don't think that's the correct way of achieving peace." ...

"My job is not to bring people together," Lindsay said. "My job is to teach history. History is not pleasant in many cases, and I made it very clear in class that this is America and you all have the right to offend but you do not have the right to not be offended."

11 Journalists in 5 countries arrested for publishing cartoons.--.

According to the New York Times, 11 journalists in 5 countries are facing prosecution for publishing Mohammed cartoons:

In a direct challenge to the international uproar over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani wrote: "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras, or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony?"

In Yemen, an editorial by Muhammad al-Assadi condemned the cartoons but also lamented the way many Muslims reacted. "Muslims had an opportunity to educate the world about the merits of the Prophet Muhammad and the peacefulness of the religion he had come with," Mr. Assadi wrote. He added, "Muslims know how to lose, better than how to use, opportunities."

To illustrate their points, both editors published selections of the drawings — and for that they were arrested and threatened with prison.

Mr. Momani and Mr. Assadi are among 11 journalists in five countries facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons. Their cases illustrate another side of this conflict, the intra-Muslim side, in what has typically been defined as a struggle between Islam and the West. . . .

"I keep hearing, 'Why are liberals silent?' " said Said al-Ashmawy, an Egyptian judge and author of books on political Islam. "How can we write? Who is going to protect me? Who is going to publish for me in the first place? With the Islamization of the society, the list of taboos has been increasing daily. You should not write about religion. You should not write about politics or women. Then what is left?"

What Am I Missing Here?

As Jim points out, the New York Times reports that "11 journalists in five countries [are] facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons." Maybe I'm going blind, but for the life of me I can't figure out from the article what the five countries are.

I saw the references to journalists in Yemen and Jordan -- but what are the others? (The article mentions journalists in Egypt who published the cartoons, but stresses that they aren't in legal trouble, because they "reprinted [the cartoons] in October -- months before the conflict erupted -- to condemn the drawings." What am I missing?

Pro-Denmark Rally, Lunchtime Friday in D.C.:

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, is organizing a rally in D.C. outside the Danish embassy:

Please be outside the Embassy of Denmark, 3200 Whitehaven Street (off Massachusetts Avenue) between noon and 1 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 24. Quietness and calm are the necessities, plus cheerful conversation. Danish flags are good, or posters reading "Stand By Denmark" and any variation on this theme (such as "Buy Carlsberg/Havarti/Lego"). The response has been astonishing and I know that the Danes are appreciative. But they are an embassy and thus do not of course endorse or comment on any demonstration. Let us hope, however, to set a precedent for other cities and countries. Please pass on this message to friends and colleagues.

It's only a short cab ride from the K Street corridor, and several blocks' walk from Dupont Circle or Woodley Park.

Hope you can make it -- if you're planning to, please note this in the comments, so that other Conspiracy readers will feel emboldened.

University of Chicago Threatening to Punish Student for Posting Anti-Mohammed Cartoon?

Does anyone have more information on this story from the Chicago Maroon, the student paper?

A student in Hoover House faces possible disciplinary action from the University after posting a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad on a dormitory door. The incident, which occurred early last week, follows the recent expulsion of two students from Hitchcock House after one wrote racist and anti-Semitic remarks on the other’s whiteboard.

The drawing in Hoover featured a crudely sketched figure accompanied by the caption "Mo’ Mohammed, Mo’ Problems," in reference to the recent worldwide protests of the Muhammad cartoons. It was drawn on a sheet of paper and posted on the outside door of the student’s suite facing the dormitory hallway.

The student who drew the cartoon did not wish to be named and declined to discuss the incident with the Maroon, citing the ongoing investigation by the Housing Office.

Those familiar with the situation said a complaint was raised shortly after the illustration went up. According to a first-year Hoover resident who also declined to be named, a neighbor left a written objection on the suite door, and Andrea Gates, Hoover Resident Head, was notified of the drawing. The student who drew the cartoon took it down after receiving the complaint and issued a written apology to the offended resident at Gates’s request. . . .

The student was "told [by the University's Housing Office] there’s a possibility he’ll get kicked out of housing," the first-year resident added. . . .

The Student Manual of University Policies and Regulations addresses this type of incident. It states that the University does "not attempt to shield people from ideas that they may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive. Nor, as a general rule, does the University intervene to enforce social standards of civility."

Yet some students feel that this incident goes beyond freedom of expression.

Hasan Ali, a fourth-year in the College and president of the Muslim Students’ Association, noted the difference between freedom of speech and freedom from responsibility. He compared the cartoon to the drawing of a swastika, noting that such an image "is free speech but is still wrong." . . .

So now every criticism of Mohammed -- or of Islam -- is comparable to a swastika? Or is it that every depiction of Mohammed is comparable to a swastika? Sounds like a reason to protect swastikas, not to suppress criticisms of a religion.

I hope that, despite the assertions reported in the story, the administration is not seriously trying to punish the cartoonist, or even insisting that students stop posting such cartoons. But, as I said, I'd love to hear more from people who know more about how accurate and complete the story is.

Thanks to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for the pointer.

Instructor at Minnesota State College Allegedly Ordered Not To Post Mohammed Cartoons:

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:

Karen Murdock, a part-time geography and earth science instructor who posted the cartoons -- surrounded by news articles about the topic and blank "comment" sheets -- said she simply wanted to spark discussion by allowing others to see the cartoons first-hand.

But the postings, first displayed Tuesday afternoon, were torn down at least once.

By Thursday, a senior faculty member instructed her to keep the cartoons off the social and behavioral sciences bulletin board, Murdock said. . . .

Administrators hope that a forum being arranged by many Muslim students and faculty members next week in light of the postings will help quell any hard feelings on campus.

The forum is meant to increase understanding of Muslim culture, said Mike Bruner, vice president of student affairs. "When students come to me who are hurt, it signals to me we're off course somewhere," he said. . . .

Does it ever signal that the students are the ones who are off course>

The newspaper also reports:

Whether or how the cartoons could be displayed might be resolved as part of the forum; officials want to leave that up to faculty and students.

What else would be left up to the students? Whether people should be allowed to blaspheme against Christianity? Use God's name in vain? Post anti-American items?

Thanks to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for the pointer.

Journalists Facing Prosecution for Printing Cartoons:

It turns out that the five countries alluded to in the New York Times story on the subject were Jordan and Yemen (which the Times named), and Syria, Algeria, and Indonesia, which for some reason the Times story didn't name. In more recent news, it turns out that India has also arrested a journalist for printing the cartoon. According to the story,

Alok Tomar, editor of Shabdarth, was arrested Wednesday after the government warned the Indian media not to publish anything that hurts the religious sentiments of any community.

I'm still not sure why the Times said there were arrests in five countries, but mentioned only two; I assume it was an editing error. But in any event, this is my attempt to fill that gap.