C . A . G . E .
Citizens Against Government Encroachment -- Citoyens Anti Gouvernement Envahissant
 

 

 

 

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

There are times when we have to act, to get go out there and do something for what we believe in. On February 11th, a group of some 250 Montreal Muslims joined Muslims world wide in protests against the Mohammad cartoons published in Denmark. They acted on their beliefs.

I joined them at the protest – but for very different reasons. My goal was not to provoke or insult anyone, but rather to assert that I, as a non-Muslim Canadian living in a free country, am not subject to Islamic law. I stood in the middle of the crowd of protestors, with a nice sign featuring a very respectful and dignified image of Mohamed (drawn by a Central Asian Muslim artist a few hundred years ago), and the words: "Mohamed was a great prophet, and he founded a great religion."

I got more than a few pleasant nods and smiles from protestors reading that statement, until some of them noticed that the drawing on the sign seemed to be of Mohamed. "Yes, that’s a drawing of Mohamed from a Muslim Central Asian collection," I answered. That satisfied most people at the protest who asked. It took about fifteen minutes for some of the protestors to decide that even a respectful image of Mohamed was unacceptable. They conferred on the issue as the Imam who organized the protest spoke about Islamaphobia, respect, and unfair media portrayals of Muslims as violent, aggressive and intolerant people.

After about fifteen minutes of speeches about peace I realized that the art critics around me were not wandering off any more and were becoming more forceful in their requests that I take down my poster. Although they asked politely at first, they did not accept my polite refusal, nor did they care to hear my explanation of my purpose there. Within one minute of the imam’s last speech about being non-violent, the men crowding around me were pushing and pulling me from all sides while speaking angrily. Since the efforts of the men in front were often neutralized by the exertions of those behind me, I mostly ended up just staying in one place.

After about half a minute of this tussle, a CTV journalist and cameraman noticed the commotion and came over to film me. The men around me immediately let go and backed off, arguing with me from about a foot’s distance. This relative peace only lasted about 20 seconds, and this is the clip that made it onto the news that evening. I was impressed that CTV had the courage to air the image on my sign, as most other stations and newspapers did not. Despite the presence of the camera, the men around me were angry and began to get physical again. At one point, I must have had four or five pairs of hands (or six or seven, it’s hard to count under such circumstances) all trying to push or pull or pry the sign out of my hands. The CTV journalist had the microphone pointed toward me and was asking me "Aren’t you provoking them? Isn’t this provocation? So you admit you are provoking them?"

Provocation? I am the one being provoked when people in my own country tell me what I can or cannot draw, or print, or look at, because it is counter to their religious precepts.

The most important part of my counter demonstration was that my sign was highly respectful, and so was the image of Muhamed that I was portraying. So much so, that it took the less tolerant members of the crowd a full fifteen minutes to decide that it was unacceptable according to their particular interpretation of Islam, on that particular day. Once they made that decision, however, it was definite and there was no room for negotiation. My sign had to come down, by force if necessary. Right here in Canada, within minutes of announcing to the journalists that they believe in peace and non-violence. I just do not buy it.

I also do not buy the hypocritical position that this is all a reaction against blasphemy and hurt feelings about seeing the Prophet’s image reproduced. What hogwash! If that were the case, why were Muslims not reacting when God was portrayed in satirical comedies starring George Burns in "Oh God", "Oh God II" and "Oh God, You Devil"? Or how about the humorous portrayals of God and other prophets in the movie "Dogma"? Isn’t Allah even more important than Mohamed, if we abide by a strict religious hierarchy? Why are these hypocrites not calling for a repainting of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, where there is a famous image of God and Adam reaching out and touching finger tips? Why have they not been reacting to the caricatures of Jesus over the past 50 years? Why have they not reacted to the hundreds if not thousands of legitimate paintings of Mohamed that actually exist in Muslim literature and have existed since the dawn of their religion?

The best comment said to me at the protest was: "We Muslims are not violent! It’s you who make us violent!" Another gem was stated more eloquently: "I ask you peacefully and with respect to honour my religion, but if you do not, how can you expect me to react?" I gathered from this that what these particular individuals mean when they say they are "peaceful" is that they are peaceful as long as they are not provoked, and as long as you respect their religious mores, and as long as you do as they wish, and as long as you don’t cross them, and as long as…. ad infinitum.

Most annoying was the persistent and repeated statement by many of my interlocutors that incitement to violence (a crime in Canada) and provocation (not a crime nor a valid justification for violence) are one and the same thing. The two are clearly different. To the people I was interacting with, it was clear as day and unarguable that if you provoke them and make them angry, no matter how innocuous your behaviour or how overly sensitive their sensibilities, then you are the one responsible for any violence on their part. To my chagrin, I know of at least one CTV journalist who seems to agree.

The Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons comes out of anger at being ridiculed, which we all feel at times, and protests remain a cherished and crucial part of our civil liberties. The violence and the threats that so many of these protests included take their perpetrators beyond the civilized pale, however. If the moral relativists amongst us don’t think that we should do anything in response, that we should not publish cartoons that have become the news story of the year, then the lesson is clear: riot, burn, kill, and threaten, and you’ll get your way. Not long ago, Canadian journalist Martin Himmel asked British cartoonists why they published so many offensive caricatures of Israelis and of Ariel Sharon, but not of Palestinians and Yassir Arafat. The answer was indicative: "Jews don’t issue fatwas, now do they?"

Denouncing those Muslims that think Islamic laws must apply to everyone can be done fairly and respectfully, as I tried to do at the protest. I suspect that moderate Muslims in Montreal or around the world would not have been offended. There are over 100,000 Muslims in Montreal. Only 250 attended the demonstration. To their credit, that means that over 99,750 Montreal Muslims who were certainly offended by the cartoons, nonetheless chose not to support a mobilization against freedom of expression. To their discredit, we do not know why they did not attend, because they have not spoken up. I hope that these more moderate Muslims are rolling their eyes at the continuing antics of their more extreme co-religionists and wishing that they would just grow up and become more civilized, but I cannot be sure. Silence conveys a vague message at best. In the world of ideas and political thought, if you do not say anything, if you do not do anything, and if you do not influence anything, then you simply do not exist. By these definitions, moderate Muslims are far fewer in number than extremists. Unfortunately, by these same definitions, Canadians who value their freedom of expression and personal liberties are even fewer. The Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten first published the cartoons in reaction to the self-censorship occurring around questions of Islam and Muslims. Will we now submit ourselves to even greater dictates and self-censorship?

Back at the demonstration, as I struggled to keep my footing amidst the angry art critics, I looked at the journalist and said "Keep the camera on me, … make sure that camera stays on me…". The television camera was the only ally I had in keeping things from getting uglier. For some reason, this footage does not seem to have been aired. All that our media showed was a very peaceful gathering with prayers and speeches about how the media is biased against Muslims, and how the demonstrators are non-violent.

Daniel Romano,

C.A.G.E. – Citizens Against Government Encroachment



Even this placard, with respectful message and a very dignified, Islamic portrayal of Muhamed, was deemed so unnacceptable by the demonstrators that they felt it justified trying to intimidate the holder and (equally unsuccessful) efforts to physically take down and destroy the sign.  This is not how civilized people behave.  Nor is this acceptable behaviour in Canada.  Nor is it acceptable that the media fail, or fear to report this sort of behaviour.


The following link summarizes the situation very well from C.A.G.E.’s viewpoint. Once again, congratulations are due to Western politicians, but not to Western media in general. What a shame!

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/735


This Letter was sent to the Montreal Gazette, which, as usual, showed its usual cowardice and adherence to the political correctness  ‘du jour’. We found the coverage by the Globe and Mail to be, although not as complete as it should have been, far more hard hitting and uncompromising in its defence of freedom of expression.

Dear Editor,

Khadija Carryl states that "Free speech doesn’t mean making fun or hurting someone to the extent that it angers them" (letters, Feb. 4). Others argue that free speech is not a license to blaspheme.

Free speech, however, means precisely that – the right to say something "offensive" (as long as this does not include any incitements to violence). Otherwise the principle is meaningless.

A few hundred years ago, many of the greatest thinkers of Western civilization were burned at the stake for uttering "blasphemous" statements about how the world is round, not flat. The West then went through a period called "The Enlightenment" to stop killing people for their opinions and statements.

Time to spread the word to Muslim countries. They can respond with caricatures of the Pope or Martin Luther, and none of their people need fear being harmed.

David Romano, PhD.


The following letter was sent to Ezra Levant, editor of the Western Standard, in February 2006. We would encourage everybody to subscribe to those news sources that do not practice politically correct self-censorship, nor bow down to the unreasonable demands of primitive religious leaders in far off countries. We would also encourage everybody to ask their local magazine stores to carry the Western Standard.

Dear Editor,

Congratulations to the Western Standard for its courage and determination to publish these Mohamed cartoons. So far, this is the biggest story of year 2006, and it is shameful that so few other editors are willing to meet their professional and journalistic obligations to show their readers what all the fuss is about. If the cartoons were about Jesus, the Pope, or any other subject matter, they would undoubtedly have been published across Canada by now. The fact that they are not means that we are beginning to live under an invisible blasphemy law imposed upon us by a minority of religious extremists who have no respect for our own standards of law, democracy, and freedom of expression. To defend free speech, the most important time to speak up is when someone is ordering you, under threat of violence, to shut up. So thank you for speaking up.

Daniel Romano

C.A.G.E. Citizens Against Government Encroachment


The following video was taken from Al Jazeera television. We post it here as an example of unwavering courage and determination of a free individual’s willingness to speak her mind, even in the face of condemnation by her own community. The speaker is Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist from Los >Angeles. We would suggest watching it ASAP since we cannot be certain the how long the video link will remain active.

http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ai=214&ar=1050wmv&ak=null


The next link is to the website of another extremely courageous Muslim woman. We believe that such people dare to speak out because they have lived within the stifling confines of a deterministic theocracy and understand the value of the freedoms so many of us take for granted. We sincerely hope that many more of us will be inspired by their example and speak up early on, out of principle, rather than later on out of desperation. The author is Irshad Manji, a Muslim journalist of Iranian descent, now living in Toronto.

http://www.muslim-refusenik.com/index.html


The talk radio show "The Last Angry Man" on 940am, airing every Sunday from noon to 2pm, devoted its February 12th show to the current controversy between free speech and state faith. They asked whether the Islamists’ psychological terror is a second front in their campaign of homicidal terror. They also examined the effect on Canada, and indeed the liberal west in general, as we seem to be moving from the irritation of political correctness to the menace of mind control.

TO HEAR THE PROGRAM IN FULL PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW:

www.iapm.ca/media/lastangryman6.mp3

"Excessive caricature is preferable to excessive censorship"

~ Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior Minister

" In European countries there is a real fear that behind the demand for respect for Islam, hides another agenda: the threat that everyone must adjust to the rules of Islam."

~ Dutch newspaper editorial from NRC Handelsblad

"Islam is protected by an invisible blasphemy law. It is called fear."

~ Jasper Gerard, The Sunday Times, London


 


 

C.A.G.E.’s network of alert members were able to dig up a page from an Egyptian newspaper that published the Danish cartoons prior their problematic republication in Denmark. Predictably, this publication by an Egyptian newspaper did not spark world wide, or ANY riots. Taken aback by the hypocrisy, C.A.G.E. immediately forwarded copies to all of Montreal’s papers. Only one, the Journal de Montreal, dared to published the important story.


 


The following statement speaks for itself. 

Why I published the cartoons

Flemming Rose

Jyllands-Posten

Thursday, February 23, 2006

COPENHAGEN - Childish. Irresponsible. Hate speech. Critics of my decision to publish 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have not minced their words. They say that freedom of expression does not mean insulting people’s religious feelings. And besides, they add, the media censor themselves every day.

I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn’t mean you publish everything. Jyllands-Posten would not publish pornographic images or graphic details of dead bodies. So we are not fundamentalists in our support for freedom of expression.

But the cartoon story is different.

The above-cited examples have to do with exercising restraint because of ethical standards and taste; call it editing. By contrast, I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out.

In September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.

This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. Last September, a Danish children’s writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. European translators of a critical book about Islam also did not want their names to appear on the book cover beside the name of the author, a Somalian-born Dutch politician who has herself been forced into hiding.

Around the same time, the Tate gallery in London withdrew an installation by the avant-garde artist John Latham depicting the Koran, Bible and Talmud torn to pieces. The museum explained that it did not want to stir things up after the London bombings.

Finally, at the end of September, Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a group of imams, one of whom called on the prime minister to interfere with the press in order to get more positive coverage of Islam.

So, over two weeks, we witnessed many cases of self-censorship, pitting freedom of speech against the fear of confronting issues about Islam. This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show it, don’t tell it. I wrote to members of the association of Danish cartoonists asking them "to draw Muhammad as you see him." We certainly did not ask them to make fun of the prophet. Twelve out of 25 active members responded.

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals, they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers.

The cartoons do not in any way demonize Muslims. In fact, they differ from one another both in the way they depict the prophet and in whom they target. One cartoon makes fun of Jyllands-Posten, portraying its cultural editors as a bunch of reactionary provocateurs. Another suggests that the children’s writer who could not find an illustrator for his book went public just to get cheap publicity. A third puts the head of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party in a lineup, as if she is a suspected criminal.

One cartoon—depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban—has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent trait of the prophet.

On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings when we published those.

Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn’t intend to. But what does "respect" mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.

I acknowledge that some people have been offended by the publication of the cartoons, and Jyllands-Posten has apologized for that. But we cannot apologize for our right to publish material, even offensive material. You cannot edit a newspaper if you are paralyzed by worries about every possible insult. I am offended by things in the paper every day: transcripts of speeches by Osama bin Laden, photos from Abu Ghraib, people insisting that Israel should be erased from the face of the Earth, people saying the Holocaust never happened. But that does not mean that I would refrain from printing them as long as they fell within the limits of the law and of the newspaper’s ethical code. That other editors would make different choices is the essence of pluralism.

As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak. The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labelling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.

The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.

Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people’s beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue—in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV. We have had no anti-Muslim riots, no Muslims fleeing the country and no Muslims committing violence. The radical imams who misinformed their counterparts in the Middle East about the situation for Muslims in Denmark have been marginalized. They no longer speak for the Muslim community in Denmark because moderate Muslims have had the courage to speak out against them.

A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People’s Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.

This is the sort of debate that Jyllands-Posten had hoped to generate when it chose to test the limits of self-censorship. Did we achieve our purpose? Yes and no. Some of the spirited defenses of our freedom of expression have been inspiring. But tragic demonstrations throughout the Middle East and Asia were not what we anticipated much less desired. Moreover, the newspaper has received 104 registered threats, 10 people have been arrested, cartoonists have been forced into hiding because of threats against their lives and Jyllands-Posten’s headquarters have been evacuated several times due to bomb threats. This is hardly a climate for easing self-censorship.

Still, I think the cartoons now have a place in two separate narratives, one in Europe and one in the Middle East. In the words of the Somalian-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the integration of Muslims into Europe has been sped up by 300 years due to the cartoons; perhaps we do not need to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again in Europe. The narrative in the Middle East is more complex, but that has very little to do with the cartoons.

C National Post 2006


Professor Pierre Lemieux was among the first of the Canadian journalists to put links to images of Muhamed on his website, so that civilized individuals who wanted to know what all the fuss about could see what our press refused to print in deferral to the violence and threats of violence.

The Western Standard, the only Canadian Magazine to print the cartoons, also published an excellent article by Professor Lemieux on the meaning of civilization and potential for clash. To read his article in HTML, or to see the article with accompanying photos in PDF, please click on one of the following:

HTML text version: http://www.pierrelemieux.org/artwsdanish.html

PDF graphic version: http://www.pierrelemieux.org/artwsdanish.pdf


The following Christian-based web-page, formerly unknown to us, further highlights the hypocrisy of so many of our local media that will not hesitate to poke fun at or be downright insulting toward Christianity, but won't dare publish valid news that may offend Islamic extremists.

http://www.chp.ca/CHP-Communique/Comm_13_11.htm

Excerpt:     Last February in Montreal, Dan Romano was aggressively set upon by Muslim demonstrators because he was carrying a placard illustrated with a portrait of Muhammed - it appears, in fact, to be a reproduction from a well-known medieval Islamic tapestry! - and his placard praised Islam’s prophet and the religion he founded. But Wahhabi law says their prophet cannot be portrayed; the Islamists who hassled Mr. Romano were attempting by street violence to impose Islamic Sharia Law - in Canada. That’s unacceptable.


The following photos of a demonstration in Europe illustrate very clearly why it is extremely important to stand up and assert our right to freedom of expression.  If this sort of repression by threat of violence is condoned by our governments, tolerated by our citizens, and actually encouraged by our cowardly media, then the eventual trend is obvious:

 










 


For other important websites that represent views less popular and authors unafraid to express themselves please go to our "C.A.G.E. Recommends" page.