was surprised that in taking issue with a recent
article of mine, Cowardice
on Cartoon Controversy, Mick Hall, who normally
writes on a range of issues, chose not to reply
in person but, instead, forwarded a piece, Unreal
Paradigms, by another author, Mike Marqusee.
I can only assume that the views expressed by Mr
Marqusee accurately reflect Mick's own.
From the outset, let us be clear about one thing:
Muslims are devotees of a religion and not
an ethnic grouping.
They come from a myriad of racial backgrounds.
Easily the most outrageous statement ever uttered
in my presence - and that's saying something - came
from a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Muslim of Anglo-Saxon
origin, who openly declared at a meeting in Belfast
that Israeli children were "legitimate targets"
because one day they would be drafted into the Israeli
I make that point simply because, increasingly,
those who dare criticise aspects of modern Islam
are erroneously accused of being racist.
Predictably, from as early as the second line of
his article Mr Marqusee lays this false charge by
describing the Danish caricatures as, "A witless
This crude attempt to muddy the waters gives an
early indication of something that soon becomes
apparent: the author has never seen the cartoons
upon which he attempts to pass judgement.
He talks, throughout his article, of "cartoon"
in the singular, seemingly unaware that there were,
in fact, a number of cartoons printed.
Even if he had benefited from actually seeing them,
his contention that, "It (sic) was devoid
of humour, irony, artistic or social merit
can, nevertheless, be dismissed as irrelevant to
Though, of course, he is entitled to his opinion,
those are mere subjective observations based on
As one peruses his article further, something else
soon becomes clear about Mr Marqusee: he is not
above indulging in a little racial stereotyping
This is first evidenced by his claim that British
commentators are, "
members of a notoriously
mono-lingual majority whose knowledge of other cultures
is often limited to the menu at an 'Indian' restaurant
(usually run by a Bangladeshi or Pakistani)".
Has he not noticed, then, that today's Britain is
a multi-cultural society?
Or, does he believe that each of the various communities
in Britain exists in its own hermetically sealed
little space and never interacts with, or learns
anything from or about, the other groups around
Moreover, how he squares an alleged British lack
of knowledge of other cultures with "
hundred odd years
" of western colonialism
he complains of later in his piece is never explained
- bearing in mind that during the period he alludes
to Britain was the foremost colonial power in the
A far more disturbing insight into the thinking
of Mr Marqusee, however, is provided by these few
lines: "Crucially, across Europe, the market
the media aim to capture is overwhelmingly white
and non-Muslim. In this market, coverage of jihadi
extremism takes on a prurient tinge. It's exotic,
it's threatening and it makes the white European
feel smug and superior. Producers and editors are
reluctant to admit it, even to themselves, but the
ingrained assumptions and festering resentments
of white supremacy make the story resonant for readers
and viewers and shape the way it is constructed."
Leaving aside obviously racist sentiments such as
"the ingrained assumptions and festering resentments
of white supremacy", Mr Marqusee is actually
making the ludicrous and perverse claim that there
is public demand in "white" Europe for
"jihadi extremism" because of its "prurient
tinge" and because it is "exotic"
He claims that the European media "aim to capture"
As though, when the Islamic extremists murder and
butcher innocents, they are merely supplying what
the (white) European media and its audience crave.
It has to be noted that it has only ever been a
few Arab television stations that have carried unedited
footage of beheadings and the like.
Should we read into that, then, something about
where a genuine appetite for "jihadi extremism"
It is the jihadi extremists themselves - seeking
to terrorise others and for the edification of an
audience of like-minded followers - and not the
European media that murder people live on the internet.
Another point before I leave Mr Marqusee: he claims,
the western media is cautious about
testing free speech, especially when it comes to
exposing government secrets or embarrassing rich
people who enjoy recourse to libel lawyers".
If the author really believes that, then he appears
to have as little knowledge of the western media
as he does the Danish cartoons.
False claims on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
and the torture of Iraqi prisoners (not to mention
the plight of prisoners at Guantanimo Bay) are only
a few obvious and pertinent examples of western
media exposure of secrets the British and American
governments would rather have kept hidden.
It is, thankfully, a mark of the western media that
they relentlessly pursue governments and powerful,
rich, individuals in their quest to uncover secrets
- British government minister Tessa Jowell and her
husband would, no doubt, readily testify to that.
Can the same be credibly said of the media in other
parts of the world?
Or, even more pertinently, can it be said that the
media is permitted anything like the same
degree of freedom to do their job in other parts
of the world?
But what of the actual issue of freedom of expression
and the Danish cartoons?
Do those who complain about publication of the Danish
cartoons believe, then, that all religions
should be above criticism and caricature?
If not, why not?
Why should the sensitivities of Muslims be elevated
above those with different, but just as sincerely
held, religious beliefs?
Could it be because certain Islamists tend to wreak
murderous retribution on those they deem to have
insulted their religion?
If that is the thinking, then what is actually being
argued is that we should only refrain from challenging
and questioning those who can harm us most.
If that were indeed to become the case, then God
help the weakest among us!
Besides that, it is the primary duty of journalism
to speak truth to power, particularly power with
If the argument is that all religions should
be above criticism, then why elevate religious belief
above, for example, political belief?
Why should one type of conviction be immune from
criticism and ridicule, and not another?
Importantly, if Muslims believe that all religions
should be free from ridicule and censure how then
to explain the fervent anti-Semitic, anti-Christian,
anti-Hindu and anti-Buddhist attitudes that prevail,
from top to bottom, in Islamic controlled states.
Where are the Muslim and non-Muslim voices of protest
at the denigration of those religions, the active
discrimination their adherents suffer and the often
brutal treatment they must endure?
When have the Muslims and non-Muslims who have become
so agitated at publication of the Danish cartoons
protested against limb amputations and beheadings
as state punishment, the subjugation and degradation
of women, forced marriages, rampant homophobia,
female genital mutilation and honour killings?
Are these practices, with their fundamental violation
of the human rights of hapless individuals, to be
ignored or, God help us, respected because they
form part of another culture?
On the broader issue, the whole notion that we should
always respect another person's beliefs is,
in itself, spurious.
What, of course, should always be respected, upheld,
and free from discrimination and threat, is a person's
right to hold whatever view they like.
But that is as far as it goes.
Ideas and beliefs, in themselves and of whatever
kind, once aired, have to earn respect in the hurly
burly of discussion, debate, ridicule and competing
views that together form the world marketplace of
As I stated in the article, Cowardice on Cartoon
Controversy, I believe the Danish cartoons to
be reflective of a widespread view of Islam within
Whether we like it or not, most people do associate
today's Islam with terrorism and brutality, and
that is something that Islam has brought upon itself.
Where, for instance, is the voice of "moderate"
Islam when so much carnage is being committed in
Why no demonstrations in Europe's capital cities
with placards saying, "Not in Our Name"
after suicide attacks by religious fanatics in,
to name but a few places, Casablanca, Istanbul,
Bali, Madrid, London and New York?
Why no protest by Muslims whenever kidnappings,
suicide bombings and beheadings are committed in
the name of their religion?
Also, why have Muslims only lately become so agitated
about portrayals of Muhammad?
Down through the years, numerous artists such as
Salvador Dali, Auguste Rodin, William Blake and
Gustav Dore have all made paintings of Muhammad,
without a squeak of protest.
From illustrations for Dante's Inferno to the television
cartoon series South Park he has been portrayed,
yet Muslims have had nothing to say about it.
Without rehearsing all that I said before, in my
previous article, I think it is worth repeating