Thursday, February 09, 2006

Context, context, context

I am not all clear why the BBC seems to want to discuss only HALF the cartoon story.

Here is their summary of events.

Note that it starts on the 30th Sept with the publication of the cartoons, not the 17th Sept - two weeks earlier, with the article discussing self-censorship that led to the publication of the cartoons:

On September 17, 2005, the Danish newspaper Politiken ran an article under the headline "Dyb angst for kritik af islam"[5] ("Profound fear of criticism of Islam"). The article discussed the difficulty encountered by the writer Kåre Bluitgen, who was initially unable to find an illustrator who was prepared to work with Bluitgen on his children's book Koranen og profeten Muhammeds liv ("The Qur'an and the prophet Muhammad's life"). Three artists declined Bluitgen's proposal before an artist agreed to assist anonymously. According to Bluitgen:

One [artist declined], with reference to the murder in Amsterdam of the film director Theo van Gogh, while another [declined, citing the attack on] the lecturer at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute in Copenhagen[5].

In October 2004, a lecturer at the Niebuhr institute at the University of Copenhagen was assaulted by five assailants who opposed the lecturer's reading of the Qur'an to non-Muslims during a lecture[6].

The refusal of the first three artists to participate was seen as evidence of self-censorship and led to much debate in Denmark, with other examples for similar reasons soon emerging. The comedian Frank Hvam declared that he did not dare satirise the Qur'an on television, while the translators of an essay collection critical of Islam also wished to remain anonymous due to concerns about violent reaction.

How can you discuss this controversy rationally if you are not given this background? It is insane to withhold this context as it projects only bad motive on the part of the Danes.

There has been a complete failure of the main Muslim lobby groups to perform ANY SEMBLANCE of introspection about the issues raised in these cartoons. Presenting this context makes their grievance mongering look petty and forces them to deal with the substantive issue:c creeping self-censorship for fear of violent reprisals.

The BBC is major part of the problem here.

Worse than that, have a look at this. The article is titled "Danish Muslims Split over cartoons" and nods in the direction that some think protests have gone too far.

Further down, we get this:
However, some of the strongest protests against the cartoons have come from imams who are part of the government's integration think tank.

"We want the newspaper to promise that this will never happen again, or this will never stop," said
... wait for it ...
imam Ahmad Akkari of the Islamic Faith Society.
That name rings a bell. Oh yes.

Oddly enough, the BBC does not seem to think that Mr Akkari's little holiday in Saudi Arabia or his cheeky embellishment of the cartoons merits a mention here. Indeed, it could be said that MrAkkari's actions played a large part in fomenting the violent flare up across the Middle East.

So, on the one hand, the BBC is reluctant to give us context that makes the Danes look reasonable and on the other, it is reluctant to give us the context that might alter our view of the Imam's position.

That is not unbiased reporting.

UPDATE: When I said
"Indeed, it could be said that MrAkkari's actions played a large part in fomenting the violent flare up across the Middle East."
What I meant was:
Mr Akkari is almost certainly responsible for the violent flare up.
Apparently the cartoons were published in Egypt in October, but nobody took any notice.
(via the Pub Philosopher)

The more you look at this, the more absurd the extremist Muslim overreaction becomes.

UPDATE: Welcome to B-BBC again. Sorry for being a total link-whore. Interestingly, the 1.30pm "context" programme has just finished. A couple of interesting points:
  1. It didn't give the correct context. GAAAH!!! It mentioned the book and the fact that no-one would illustrate it, (but NOT WHY THEY WOULDN'T), then skipped straight to the JP publication, not via the 17th Sept article and subsequent discussion on Self-censorship. I still think this is key. The reason he didn't mention is ...
  2. The presenter portrayed the rational for publication of the cartoons by JP throughout the whole programme as "a joke". These were not funny cartoons, nor were they commissioned as such. He has to ignore the entire self-censorship debate in order to do this. He also has to ignore the self-censorship debate in order to give any credence to the Muslim affront.
  3. Presenter skips very quickly to Muslim reactions. This is the first vox pop. The first guy interviewed makes clear that it is NOT wrong to draw pictures of Mohammed (oops - there goes half the BBC website) and he refers to drawings throughout history, but that these cartoons were wrong because they were offensive. Perhaps we now see why the presenter refrained from giving the correct context....
  4. There is a reasonable attempt to hold Abu Laban and Ahmad Akkari's feet to the fire which is good. I don't think they come out of it smelling very good at all.
  5. Some fascinating insights into some of the more gory background also emerges, which may also be uncomfortable for the BBC. Part of the problem in Denmark is that unemployment amongst Muslims is so high. The imams spend some time making out that there is an institutional islamophobia behind this. The programme investigates one other possible cause: Danish taxes are extremely high, partly to pay for an extremely generous welfare state. The Danish minimum wage is also extremely high. It is extremely high because Danish Unions have done a very good job for their members. Muslim immigrants are not members of Danish Unions and are mostly relatively unskilled (caution - I am repeating the programme here - I have no data to back this up. yet...) so Danish companies are reluctant to hire them at exorbitant cost, but [to quote the programme again] immigrants are happy with generous welfare support instead. That won't go down well with the statists... The only people who aren't very happy with the deal are -sit down: this may surprise you - the Danish middle classes who are having to pay for it. Guess what, the Socialists get thrown out of power.
But as regards the meat of the programme in terms of the Danish background, the topic was fumbled really really badly.


Anonymous said...

Muslims are so easily manipulated when their minds are so closed. The same can be said for any cultist grouping.

Anonymous said...

My first thought about this bbc programme is 'beggers can't be choosers'.It was one of the first 'objective'offerings. Yes, here and there Holzwege, but as you acknowledge:" There is a reasonable attempt to hold Abu Laban and Ahmad Akkari's feet to the fire which is good. I don't think they come out of it smelling very good at all." 'reasonable'? I thought they got a right good kicking! At what sounded like a press conference, it was this bbc journalist who acted like a paxmann pitbull with the Imam. I would be the first to condemn the bbc, but this reporting was in another league. It was investigative. Compare this style with Sarah Montague’s interview with the former Danish PM, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, this morning on Today!

Unity said...


To add further context, Flemming Rose, who commissioned the cartoons, appears to have a bit of previous 'form' for knocking around with fairly notorious NeoCons.


Admittedly the signal to noise ratio on this part of the story is bloody poor - way too much tinfoil helmet stuff of the 'is he Jewish or working for Mossad/CIA' sort kicking around but if you'll permit me a little reasonable conjectural thought then my take on this is that whatever the official editoral line of J-P, Flemming may have been trying to pull off an 'I told you so' stunt which got badly out of hand.

Given the background leading in to this and the all too predictable reaction of Muslim hardliners, than it seems reasonable to think that Flemming may have commissioned the cartoons not as an exercise in free expression but in the knowledge that it would provoke a bit of local shit-storm which would then justify a few Sun/Mail/Express-style 'look at these bastards' editorals - crossing the line from reporting the news to trting to make it - only for the story to go rogue on him.

Which all keys in to one of my main beefs with this whole sorry episode, which is simply that its pulling idiots out the woodwork on all side at a frankly alarming rate and that this has long since stopped being about free speech and turned into a wingnut free-for-all.

The one bit of good news is that the usual crew of rationalist bloggers; you, Longrider, Justin, Nosemonkey, Sunny and Al-Hack at Pickled Politics, Disillusioned Kid, Jarndyce, Tim Ireland and the others, are trying to make some sense of this an unpick what's really beeing going on.

I may write a wrap up piece in a few days, when the dust's settled a bit more, and try to pull together a bit of a 'collective' overview based on the better commentaries, just to see exactly what kind of picture emerges. However I'm pretty sure that there aren't going to be that many people coming out of all this smelling of roses

Bishop Hill said...


Bishop Hill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Your Grace,

Bugger. I'll fix this in due course. I do set my self up for this, don't I....


"The one bit of good news is that the usual crew of rationalist bloggers; you, Longrider, Justin, Nosemonkey, Sunny and Al-Hack at Pickled Politics, Disillusioned Kid, Jarndyce, Tim Ireland and the others, are trying to make some sense of this an unpick what's really beeing going on."

That is high praise indeed and I very much doubt if I am worthy of it. I do know that your posts on this topic are significantly more challenging to the extremists of all stripes - mine are incoherent rants by comparison.

I take the line that JP is probably somewhere closer to 70% genuine/30% shit-stirring or publicity seeking rather than the other way round.

The fact that the commission was to "draw Mohammed as you see him" is untainted: if he had wanted to create a shitstorm, I think he would (and certainly COULD) have been more precise. Equally, really only the bomb turban is remotely challenging from a Muslim perspective out of the 12. Now that we know that they were published on the front page of an Egyptian paper - during RAMADAM for goodness sakes.... - I think even the shitstorm raising didn't work....

And another thing: to a degree, it is good to get the idiots out so that we can see them and laugh at them.

Anon Chris at the top:
I agree that the programme was several orders of magnitude better than much of the rest of the handling of this by the BBC overall, but they still spun it wrong and this will be the impression left. They had a chance to get this right and they fluffed it. To present the cartoons as "a joke" is almost more offensive than the cartoons themselves.

(Statutory nod in direction of my rules on not taking offence, notwithstanding)

Still looks like al-Beeb are beginning to wake up to elements of this. Only 4 months late.

I expect a report on Egyptian reprints in early May ;-)

Lord Pasternack said...

Hrmm, if context is unimportant then that is to say that those cartoons are as vile as the types of anti-semitic cartoons seen in the newspapers of Nazi Germany and Iran currently.

Does context matter?

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


I think you have completely the wrong end of the stick.

My entire point is that the context is vital.

I'm not quite sure how you have managed to read this the other way.

Lord Pasternack said...

Ah whoopsy, where's the post where either ninme or dearime changes their mind and says that context doesn't matter.

I admit I skimmed breifly over the post (being lazy and pressed for time at the time) and assumed that it was that one.

Sorry for failing to read the thing properly before commenting. Trust that it's a rare thing for me.

Lord Pasternack said...

Right, give us over the question mark to I put it in that first paragraph. Gosh I'm being dozy...

But it's hormoooones. That's what it is...

You just don't understand.