Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Monday, February 06, 2006
"The defence of a free society is the defence of its procedures, not its output." Obviously the reason that I couldn't find the right words to express that thought was that Oliver Kamm had just found them.

I've posted that line as a Samizdata Quote of the Day, but here I will say a little more. Over the last few days I've often found myself wishing that in order to make its original point (the newspaper wished to publicise the way in which the threat of Muslim violence had made a publisher unable to find an illustrator willing to picture Mohammed for a factual book about the Islamic faith), Jyllands Posten had chosen merely to depict Mohammed in a naturalistic style, rather than mock him. How much easier the task of defenders of freedom of speech would be if we could concentrate on defending the right of non-Muslims to breach the Muslim taboo on representations of the prophet Mohammed without having to deal with the question of insult, too.

It seems that the original intention of Jyllands Posten was indeed to simply depict Mohammed. See this Q & A page from the BBC on the affair. I don't know how it ended up with mocking cartoons. One can imagine a junior employee being told to commission some quick pictures, getting his instructions garbled, and, er, starting something. Maybe the Danes sometimes use the word "cartoon" in a way that is closer to its original meaning than we do, and that caused an ambiguity.

[ADDED LATER: A post by Jim Miller reminds me that one of the cartoons was just a straight depiction.]

So I wish the cartoons had just been pictures. But that ain't the way the cookie crumbled. That should be no surprise: cookies tend not to crumble neatly. Over on this Crooked Timber thread I quoted Bernard Levin's clear-headed statement that it is those whose free speech is actually being attacked whose free speech rights must be defended. The Jyllands-Posten cartoonists are the ones in hiding. That is why their cartoons should be on the front page of every newspaper in the Western world.

One urgent reason for doing this is that every new paper that publishes the cartoons reduces the personal risk to the cartoonists and other staff of Jyllands-Posten.

A more fundamental reason is that the dangerous belief is spreading that free speech rights are all very well right up to the moment when you actually use them. When held by the people this belief is nonsensical. When held (or purported to be held) by the governing classes it is nonsensical and repressive. When enemies of freedom see that the governing classes spout this belief (whether sincerely or not) they will use it as a lever to end our liberties.