Cartoons: the numerous issues involved in a crisis

Press release
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The publication of the cartoons of Mohammed by a Danish newspaper has given rise to multifaceted international controversy, as illustrated by numerous demonstrations all over the world, which in certain cases resulted in violent incidents and mortalities, in the suspension of certain Arabic newspapers along with the indictments of their officials, in diplomatic crises and a vast, worldwide debate.

If certain published drawings (particularly the one with the prophet of Islam wearing a bomb instead of a turban)contribute in an indisputable manner to the reinforcing of prejudice regarding the Islamic religion and its faithful, both similarly associated with violence and intolerance, it is equally obvious that the response to such excesses may in no way introduce limits on freedom of speech, apart form those which prohibit the call to violence and racial hatred, and even less the adoption of new laws excluding religious and philosophical convictions from the field of criticism, creative work and public discussion. On this subject, it must be hoped that democratic governments will resist vigorously any attempts by Islamic States to persuade the United Nations in particular to adopt resolutions which would undermine this fundamental right of free speech, on the pretext of protecting religions from ‘defamation’

However, and by reason of the multiplicity of issues uncovered, this affair requires further light to be shed which might help to calm the exchanges between social groupings and societies.

The publication of these cartoons and their reprinting by other journals with the intention of defending ‘freedom of speech’, ‘secularism’ or indeed ‘democratic Muslims’, took place in European societies where the immigrant populations had become settled and where cultural diversification was becoming stronger. Everywhere, States and public opinion were confronted by a double challenge: the promotion of active policies of equality between nationals and foreign residents or those of foreign origin, and the peaceful management of diversity and cultural pluralism. These two problems are at the centre of the political and social debate and give rise to divisions, argument and political exploitation which cannot be ignored. In this context, it is part of the responsibility of all those involved in public and private life as well as in the media to contribute to a democratic solution to these challenges..

Likewise this crisis is taking place in a geostrategic context marked by policies of super-powers who are ignorant of the essential foundations of international law, particularly those of the near East and in the setting of the so-called ‘global war against terrorism’. Similarly it is taking place in the context of the development of ideological currents and political movements which, in one way or another, uphold the theory of cultural incompatibility and their unavoidable confrontation. On the one hand, pressure groups enjoying the capability of exerting a real influence on the agenda of the American government call for a "clash of civilizations" and an extension of the imperial political model. On the other hand, without thought of fundamental rights, politico-religious groups mount a frontal attack with terrorist acts and hate-filled propaganda. Relying on an essentialist approach to societies and cultures, these movements afford each other mutual strength in their Manichean view of the Other. Civilian populations who, with an overwhelming majority, aspire to a peaceful and dignified life, are taken hostage in this way; and it is in this context also that the reactions against the publication of the cartoons must be interpreted. Neither excusing nor supporting them, these reactions reveal a wide and deep feeling of injustice which the individual demonstrator scarcely comprehends, and also a rejection of a world order which appears unjust and illegitimate. It is in this fertile soil that the exploitation of terrorist groups flourishes. If the machinations of these groups, which must be condemned unreservedly, undermine without question fundamental principles, the politics of power and the ‘intellectual’ pseudo-arguments which legitimize them, seriously erode any possibility of a humane community emerging with a sense of solidarity, benefiting in its diversity from universal rights. International relations cannot support, except by becoming resigned to an uninterrupted cycle of incomprehension and violence, the application of International Human Rights and democratic principles, where different criteria are used from one case to another, as practised by certain powers headed up by the USA. This selectivity compromises just as seriously the necessary mobilization of the whole body of the international community against terrorism.

Once again, the publication of these drawing has illustrated the ability of many governments of Moslem countries, as well as theologians and politico-religious groups, to seize the slightest opportunity to place further restrictions on the range of freedoms which is already very limited. Apart from the legal actions against the journalists (in Jordan and the Yemen) and the violent suppression of demonstrations (as in Libya) the authorities of these countries have mobilized the religious institutions under their control with the aim of preventing any possibility of enhancing freedom of speech or creative activity. Faced with the radicalism of groups which claim to represent political Islam, these governments are consciously or unconsciously being dragged onto a course of establishing religious legitimacy, holding back in the same measure the creation of a space for reasoned criticism of Muslim dogma and history. At this level also, the population as are caught in the stranglehold of overstatement.

The fourth and last issue is that of the secularity debate itself, which in its turn is divided by the split between those who believe that ‘fundamentalism’, (a concept which is obviously a hotchpotch of ideas), is the principal danger on an international scale as well as within European societies, and the other camp who, without underestimating the dangers of certain religious tensions, analyses the current phenomena as basically revealing crises of a political and social order. This division which was evident at the time of the affairs of the ‘veil’, the Rushdie affair, the Algerian tragedy or, in a way, regarding Turkey’s entry into Europe, has once again manifested itself. Today there are two secular approaches, or at least claiming to be secular, which are developing on a long-term basis in France, and which no longer espouse the traditional political divisions of French society. They can even be part of the same association or political party.

In this way, the international debate launched a few weeks ago has alternately raised all these issues, sometimes in intended or innocent confusion, and all too often without distinguishing between the two. And whereas the crisis of the actual cartoons seems to be a long time ago now, all these challenges remain with us and will resurface at the first ‘affair’. The problem is to be able to distinguish between the levels of questioning ( which require analytical grids and different operating tools on each occasion), and to take an holistic approach with them, to articulate the national dimensions and the international approach, to defend tooth and claw those rights which cannot be infringed, taking into account at the same time the many groupings. In short, to re-invent a universalism for our time.

Driss El Yazami


Les réactions des organisations proches de la FIDH


Caricatures : Combattre l’islamophobie et défendre la liberté d’expression

Les caricatures de Mahomet ont été reçues par une partie de la communauté musulmane comme offensantes, insultantes et choquantes. En regard de certaines d’entre elles, la Ligue des droits et libertés estime qu’elles contribuent indéniablement au renforcement du stéréotype qui associe l’Islam à la violence et au terrorisme.

 LDDH : Caricatures Du Sacré : NON AUX MANIPULATIONS

Le 4 et le 5 févier 2006, la Capitale de République de Djibouti a été le
théâtre de manifestations de colère suite à la publication dans certains
journaux européens de caricatures considérées offensantes pour les
musulmans par tout croyant. Face à cette situation, la Ligue
Djiboutienne des Droits Humains () condamne sans réserve toutes les
formes d’intolérance d’où qu’elles proviennent et appelle les foules en
colère à la retenue.

 ACHRS condemns the attacks on foreign and
international institutions

The publication of the caricatures depicting the prophet Mohammad has
triggered a controversy which has culminated in violent attacks against
foreign and international institutions, diplomatic missions, civilians
and religious places.

 PCHR Strongly Condemns Attacks on International
Institutions and Citizens

In the past few days, Palestinian armed groups have attacked European
institutions and cultural centers in the Gaza Strip and threatened to
kidnap European citizens. These acts have been in protest to cartoons
humiliating the Prophet Mohammed, which were published in a Danish
newspaper and republished by newspapers in Norway, German, France and
other countries.

 Non à l’incitation à la haine religieuse /Non à l’atteinte à la liberté d’expression
Le CNLT observe avec inquiétude les effets de la crise provoquée par les
caricatures, publiées dans le quotidien conservateur danois Jyllands-
Posten, qui véhiculent une incitation claire à la haine de l’islam. Le
message qui assimile terrorisme et Islam est offensant pour la
sensibilité des musulmans.

 HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF PAKISTAN : Authorities responsible for street violence
Once more, ordinary citizens have been the worst sufferers of wanton
violence in the streets that erupted in several major cities on Tuesday,
and again, on Wednesday.

 REMDH : Caricatures : Combattre l’islamophobie et défendre la liberté d’expression
Les caricatures de Mahomet ont été reçues par une partie de la
communauté musulmane comme offensantes, insultantes et choquantes. En
regard de certaines d’entre elles, la Ligue des droits et libertés
estime qu’elles contribuent indéniablement au renforcement du stéréotype
qui associe l’Islam à la violence et au terrorisme.

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