Anonymous Norwegian v Mohammad

An anonymous Norweigen, using the alias John Smith, recently asked if the ALS could publicise his request for help. Following the controversy about Danish caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammad, “John Smith” wants to up the ante by introducing more caracatures. His request is below:

1001 caricatures of Mohammad

What should the answer of the freedom loving peoples of the west be ageist the fascist forces in Islam who threatens with violence to stop critical opinions and caricatures of Islam?

If you are one of many who share my beliefs that we have to fight this totalitarian ideology, you now have the possibility to participate. I am writing a book called “1001 caricatures of Mohammad as a defense, for the right to ask the critical questions and make caricatures”. As you understand from the books title, I need contributions in the form of 1001 caricature drawings of Mohammad.

I am writing this book under a fictional name because of the dangers combined with expression critical views of Islam. Any contribution will be protected in the same manner as my self.

Make history; defend the freedom too many take for granted. With a pen you can stand up and fight for the right to be free in the battle of liberty for all the peoples of the world.  Send your contribution to: 1001.muhammed@gmail.com.

I’m not so sure about this. I agree with freedom of speech, as one example of the general freedom to do what you like with what you own as long as it’s peaceful and voluntary. I don’t think the government should stop John Smith from publishing his book.

However, I’m not sure about the morality of publishing a book that intends to offend, simply to make the point that it should be legal to offend.

Likewise, I don’t think the government should prevent art works like “piss christ” (a picture of Jesus covered in piss)… but I’m not sure that it is in good taste. According to my moral radar, it’s inappropriate to offend people, unless you’re making another necessary point. The only point of piss christ and mohammad caracatures is “ha ha… I am allowed to offend you”. It would be like calling somebody an asshole simply to prove that you’re allowed to call them an asshole. Legal? Sure. Friendly? No.

On the other hand, there have been death threats and absurd over-reactions by some people regarding the Mohammad caracatures. It would be a shame if this coercion was successful. Perhaps it is appropriate for somebody to repeat the caracature episode simply to show that threats and intimidation will not be tolerated or respected in a free (well… relatively free) society. This is unfair to peaceful Muslims, but perhaps it is necessary.

I am not publishing John Smith’s request because I want people to participate. Personally, I won’t. Instead, I want to use this debate to spark a debate about when it is morally appropriate to be offensive?

34 thoughts on “Anonymous Norwegian v Mohammad

  1. Pingback: Media Districts Entertainment Blog » Anonymous Norweigen v Mohammad

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  3. Of course it is. *Everything* you do is offensive to somebody because of some (probably stupid) view they hold.

    And counter to that, every time you’re offended, it’s because of *your* worldview. Whether you’re being perfectly reasonable or not (we won’t get into the meaning of that), every time you take offence at something, it’s because something has happened that goes against your beliefs. It’s always the “offendee” causing the tension.

    Has anybody ever been killed by being offended?

    I’m offended by idiots with their pants round their knees, but I don’t think it should be illegal. I simply yell in my best Dennis Leary voice, “Pull up your pants!” and half the time they even do, before they realise what’s going on. I get a laugh, the idiot gets to feel validated by being “counterculture”, everybody wins.

    Nobody has the right to “freedom from being offended”. Threatened perhaps, but not from being offended. We should hover all have the right to free speech.

  4. People take people too seriously. If we let ourselves be constantly swayed by the feelings and opinions of others we just becomes slaves to conformity. A great freedom is being able to speak your mind and not have to watch your back. That is slowly being eroded in our world.

    So there Temujim, I can think like a libertarian, even if only in a patchwork frame of reference.

    Thanks,

    Freak in Hiding.

  5. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. In that spirit, let’s also have some libertarian jokes!

    Q. How many libertarians does it take to change a light bulb?

    A. A Libertarian should not need a light bulb, but should be able to light up a room by her/him-self!
    OR
    A. None- a libertarian would let the light bulb change in it’s own good time!

  6. I am not publishing John Smith’s request because I want people to participate. Personally, I won’t. Instead, I want to use this debate to spark a debate about when it is morally appropriate to be offensive?

    I would also not participate, There is no point in being gratuitously offensive.

    The only time I post caricatures of these people is when highlighting things they have done that are offensive to me. For example I used the ‘bomb turban’ cartoon to express solidarity with the principle of freedom of speech, when a group of islamofasist dropkicks planned to murder one of the Danish cartoonists.

    This was a part of a worldwide protest, which included some of the mainstream European press, and a worldwide blogburst featuring that cartoon. In doing so I was aware of the fact that it was likely to also offend moderates, however moderates should be offended more by the actions of the extremists than our reaction to it and take the matter in context.

    On the other hand I do not feature that cartoon on my sidebar which seems to be very popular among the blogs I regularly visit, as I feel this is pointless, although I sympathize with the feelings of the Americans who do.

  7. Cradle of Filth (a crap metal band) produced a rather popular t-shit in the 90s that stated on the back “Jesus is a c**t.”
    I was 15 when I saw this shirt and thought it was great because I had this belief that some intangible Christian authority was behind the horrid beast of censorship and that shirts like this could change the world… or something.
    Now I realise the shirt is purely driven by the angsty teenage demographic market. I figure let shirt be sold while the rest of us can laugh at the kids wearing them.
    Now, if a band (or anyone really) was to make a shirt with “Mohammad is a c**t” would it be fundamentally different? I think not. But the reaction I’m sure would be. From the Jesus shirt you’d get wankers like Fred Niles publicly condemning it, while I’d imagine Islamic leaders would be a little more vocal about the Mohammad shirt.
    At the end of the day the right to free speech includes public lampooning and satirizing everything in the public arena which is a fundamental feature that makes Western society pretty nice to live.

    Like the shirt I think this book is a bit silly and I can’t imagine many book stores would stock it.

  8. I’m offended by spelling errors. That includes Norweigen (Norwegian), caricatures (caricatures) and mohammad (Mohammed). I am offended that my taxes funded an education that failed to prevent them. I am offended that John’s mother didn’t spank him until he stopped smoking down the back of the school and applied himself to learning how to spell.

    The ‘real Mr. Funk’ puts it well. Everything is offensive to someone. It is the offendee who chooses whether to be offended. There is nothing involuntary about it and no coercion involved.

    Given that, being deliberately offensive is not coercive and shouldn’t be morally condemned per se. It might not be friendly, as John says, but nobody is friendly to everyone. Sometimes being unfriendly can have a productive purpose. It’ a choice as well.

  9. Whilst I probably wouldn’t publish something like this some people will and their right to do so should be defended without qualification. Likewise, violent retribution in response to any form of peaceful expression that has created offence (deliberately or otherwise) should be condemned without qualification. Negative rights trump positive rights.

    From a strategic perspective, and assuming that sensible precautions are taken, I don’t think that publishing this book is necessarily a bad idea – it’s a way to peacefully continue the fight against a large group of people who don’t understand or accept the importance of personal liberty.

  10. Temjun

    While I agree with your point re the state, I would also say you qua individual citizen/blogger are absolutely justified in finding this Norwegian’s project obnxious, unhelpful, and one you have no intention of promoting.

    However, to make this decision on the basis it is “inappropriate” to offend people is a mistake. Whenever I hear the word “inappropriate” I reach for my revolver. It has become one of those Luvvie weasel words increasingly used inappropriately.

  11. Clinton, I thought the “Jesus is a C#nt” T-shirt was actually illegal in Australia. Because one of the band members wasn’t allowed to wear it if I remember rightly. But I agree, imagine the reaction to a Mohammed version – World War III.

    I’m not sure what I think about drawing faces of Mohammed for no other reason than to offend.
    But I do know that I am very much in favour of making fun of fundamentalist Muslims and ridiculous religious ideology generally. Humour via mockery. Aspects of life in countries like Saudi Arabia are appalling and wrong, and I think it’s good to make fun of these things.
    I’m reminded of the atheist comedian Pat Condell. He’s often quite funny and has videos on his website. Like Dawkins I don’t agree 100% with all of his views but overall he’s very good. Here’s a sample of a more serious rant from him:
    http://www.dotsub.com/films/moredemands/index.php?autostart=true&language_setting=en_1618

  12. There are a lot of dismaying signs of submission creeping into discussions of Islam and Muhammadans in general. These people must be given the full Enlightenment treatment just as Judeo-Christian fairy tales have been under the torch for well over a century. To argue otherwise is to concede their tantrums and TNT have forced us into submission.

    People need to start to wake up that we now live in an Australia where unsavoury foreign forces are trying to determine how Islam is studied in even in the universities.

    And even those who are here already are plotting to censor academic critical inquiry into matters not just Islamic but also about the Arab world in general.

  13. when it is morally appropriate to be offensive?

    Just because something is offensive does not mean there is necessarily any moral issue involved. However being offensive is often disfunctional in so far as it does not cause anything useful to happen. And clearly some things are offensive because they are immoral.

    eg Murdering small children on Thursdays is offensive because it is immoral. Eating a large bowl of spagetti with your fingers in a restaurant is offensive but not immoral.

  14. Spelling, schmelling… :p

    I’m glad that the resident ALSers agree with freedom of speech. But I was hoping for a more general discussion about the morality of offending people, and when it is appropriate.

    It is important to distinguish between political discussions (ie should the book be legal?) and a moral discussion (ie what is the right thing to do?). The two aren’t the same. For instance, there is a difference between saying “cocaine should be legal” and saying “taking cocaine is good”. As a political forum it is not suprising that people have mostly given political answers… but I’d like to nudge you all on the moral issue.

    The Muslim angle is provocative. Perhaps another example might put the question in better context. We all agree that you should be allowed to say “asshole”… but when is it appropriate to call somebody an asshole?

    If somebody threats to kill anybody who says “all blacks are assholes”, should you then say “all blacks are assholes” just to show that you’re not going to surrender to death threats?

  15. If somebody threats to kill anybody who says “all blacks are assholes”, should you then say “all blacks are assholes” just to show that you’re not going to surrender to death threats?

    ———

    He who shoots first lives longest.

  16. I really don’t think it is a question of right and wrong but rather an issue of effective and ineffective. I don’t avoid calling people “assholes” out of some sense that it is wrong to call people “assholes” but rather I avoid it because I see it as ineffective. I generally have nothing to gain by unnecessarily offending people. I have a lot to gain by being well regarded. Perhaps if I enjoyed seeing people offended then I’d have something to gain from the process, however I usually don’t get any joy out of seeing people offended. I do get mild satisfaction out of seeing people surprised so I supose that is sometimes an incentive so long as the behaviour is unexpected.

  17. Terje — just to clarify, are you saying that you think it’s fine to go around offending people for no reason, as long as you like offending them? You don’t think there is any distinction between “good voluntary behaviour” and “bad voluntary behaviour”, except judged by how much you like your behaviour.

    That seems to show a remarkable lack of empathy towards other humans.

    Personally, I respect humanity and so I want humans to be happy (all other things being equal). Consequently I think it is wrong to try and offend somebody.

    Though of course, it may be necessary sometimes. Such as when the truth is important and it offends somebody. Or perhaps as a response to offence to create a dissincentive for future offense. Or maybe (as in this case) as an act of defiance against a threat of coercion.

  18. The French writer Camus stated:

    If men cannot refer to common values which they all separately recognise, then man becomes incomprehensible to man.”

    He was wrong. We don’t have to understand others, it is almost impossible to achieve common values, and it is largely a waste of time.

    All we need to do is make sure that whatever values we hold that the consequences of those values are not detrimental to the welfare of others.

    I agree with Terje and Temujin on the pointlessness of insults and hurts but I suggest a few others here could appropriate such a position. Perhaps they could take a lesson from Nietzsche,

    “And learning better to feel joy we learn best not to hurt others or plan hurts for them.” Thus spake … .

    The truth will set you free? Bollocks, Art and nothing but art, we have art in order not to die of the truth(Nietzsche again I think). If we did not lie to each other we would often be at each others’throat.

    Recently I was actually out there in the world and someone commented to me, “You really challenge peoples’thinking John.” That offended me because I know the social implications of that but it is also true. So I try to keep my mouth shut but oh well it is just the way I think about things and I long ago accepted the fact that my bluntness and honesty annoys a lot of people around me.

    It behoves libertarians to remember that continually insulting people can have a deleterious effect on them. There was a study released a few years ago that showed even an abusive email from a boss sent blood pressure soaring. There is a great book on this by a Harvard Economist, The No Asshole Rule. From his analysis he concludes that many organisations suffer significant losses(including theft by staff) simply because amongst the ranks there are assholes who make life painful for everyone around them. I suspect many of us have encountered such employment situations.

    If we truly accept the principle of not harming others then we must go beyond this antiquated notion of “harm”. The evidence is strong if not abundant, continually insulting people can be quite damaging both psychologically and physiologically, though in these days I consider the dichotomy a spurious remainder of the philosophy of Descartes the fucking stupid poncy stuck up French asshole.

  19. I forgot to add(hey its late and I just finished some long overdue work):

    Many entertain the opinion that hominids have progressively evolved to be more co-operative and empathic, hence a favourite word of mine is allocentric(other centred). The little we know of the relationship between neurobiology, hominid evolution, and behavior, supports the idea. There are some studies which claim that being nice, being altruistic, stimulates reward processes in our brains. I recall a very old Swedish study which found that one way to treat depression is to get the depressed involved in the welfare of others. Longevity studies suggest(carefully now!) that people who are actively involved in their community, who have an affable disposition and like helping others, tend to have better health profiles.

    Being nice can work for both the giver and the receiver.

  20. I think people got the Jesus shirt directly imported, Tim.
    Speaking of direct imports, the government have refused to sanction R rated video games in Australia so we get the censored M version of GTA 4 released here… or we can import the R rated US version. Stupid jerkbags making us jump though unnecessary loops!

  21. John Humphreys (lurking under his new wog name Temujin) raises good points relating to the difference between morality and utility.

    As Terje says, it serves our purpose to be civil to each other. Sometimes even empathy works. But that’s not morality, it’s utility.

    The moral question is to what extent we might sacrifice truth, free speech or free choice to avoid giving offence, particularly when there is no utility to consider (ie we are neutral as to personal benefit).

    I am interested in this because many libertarians claim we live in a morals-neutral society. That is, they view morals as a question of personal choice, not to be imposed on others. Once you eliminate coercion (ie assault, theft and fraud), morals have a pretty limited role.

    As a libertarian myself I am sympathetic to that view. But I don’t see it as the complete answer. Morals are important. In particular, shared moral values are crucial to the success of a free society.

    A couple of examples might help explain my thinking.

    In our society, we view women as not fundamentally different from men. Thus we agree they are entitled to the same rights and entitlements except when unavoidable due to biology, size or strength (not always apparent in the case of New Zealand Prime Ministers).

    In some societies, women are seen as distinctly different. They are child bearers and nurturers, the source of future generations, to be guarded and protected. In that context, equality of political and civil rights is logically absurd.

    In a morals-neutral environment it would be argued that the second scenario is legitimate provided the women are not held captive. However, our society will not tolerate the treatment of women other than in accordance with our shared morals. The difference is due to morals, not utility.

    A second example.

    We all disapprove of cruelty to animals. However, animals are private property. In a society in which private property is absolute, cruelty to one’s own animals would be nobody’s business provided there was no coercion of anyone else.

    Because of our shared morality, we sanction the criminalisation of animal cruelty. If you starve or savagely beat your cow, you will answer to our moral values in the criminal court. Again, most of us have no problem with that due to morals, not utility.

    The point is, we generally find cruelty to animals or discrimination against women offensive. Further, if someone sets out to deliberately offend us by being cruel to an animal or discriminatory towards women, we would probably invoke the law.

    Although truth, free speech and free choice have obvious utility, they are also part of our shared moral values. Religious respect, at least at the level in the Islamic world, is not.

    We should not easily sacrifice our moral values in order to avoid giving offence to someone with different values, especially if we are unwilling to adopt their values as our own. If we really believe in the equality of women, non-cruelty to animals, truth, free speech and free choice, we should stand up for them.

    But if I was in a country that held different shared morals, or there was a risk of offending someone whose opinion I cared about, utility would also be a consideration.

  22. I think the argument towards animal cruelty is based on, whether animal rights activists would be glad to acknowledge it, but a similar theme to an Objectivist theory you hinted towards.

    It is moral to be utilitarian and seek happiness. Animal cruelty is not utilitarian and is therefore immoral.

    I don’t agree with objectivism, but I agree with them on this point and the general idea that morality and utilitarianism intersect.

    Actually I think it is a good red flag for future depravity against humans. That is one good reason to have the laws in place.

  23. It is moral to be utilitarian and seek happiness.

    That’s like saying it is moral to breathe. Morals are not about things everyone does automatically.

    Animal cruelty is not utilitarian and is therefore immoral.

    Setting fire to your own cat has no utilitarian aspects. It is immoral because of our moral values.

  24. Temjin (?)

    Firstly. Should we offend just to demonstrate that we can? Take an example;

    Sunshine and Peace both believe in the existence of a benevolent pixie who lives in a far-away land. This pixie oversees our lives and determines our future. They call their belief pixie-ism. Sunshine largely keeps her beliefs to herself and will only discuss them if asked. Peace is much more upfront about her views. She gets very angry when people laugh at her and has asked the school to ban her fellow classmates from teasing her. The head-teacher has agreed and pixie-ism is now on the curriculum.

    Should we go out of our way to offend Sunshine and/or Peace?

    I would argue that to offend Sunshine is pointless and offensive as she is not forcing her (odd) beliefs on anyone else. However, it is perfectly acceptable to offend and ridicule Peace because she is forcing her beliefs on us.

    Is it morally offensive to

  25. oops. forgot second point.

    Secondly; everyone should read comment #1 by Mr. Funk.

    David – if you call someone a ‘wog’ in my home country, you could well end up losing your job. Here in Oz, it doesn’t appear so offensive. ‘Offence’ is in the eye of the offendee.

    Also, many people find you, Temjin and myself ‘offensive’ and rude. They don’t tend to think the same of TerjeP. Does this make TerjeP morally superior to us?

    There is an important difference between manners (the shared customs of a particular group of people) and morals (universal values). I live by the moral that i will treat people how i wish them to treat me.

    Talking loudly on your cell phone on a crowded bus is a sign of a lack of manners not morals. Striking that person is a sign of a lack of morals.

  26. One final point. If people of [insert belief] go around shouting ‘Death to those who insult [insert belief]’, then it is not only acceptable but it is morally imperative to insult [insert belief].

  27. John,

    I don’t think it is perfectly fine to go around offending people just for fun. And if somebody did this I’d be disinclined towards associating with them. Just as I’d be disinclined towards associating with somebody that swears excessively, smells, is constantly intoxicated or is clueless in conversation. However in my view the real question is what am I going to do about it? And beyond disassociation the truth is that I’m not going to do a whole lot. So agreeing that it isn’t fine to deliberately offend people needlessly isn’t really saying a whole lot. However it is my strong preference for people to be nice to eachother. Just as I prefer vegemite more than peanut butter.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  28. Comments 19, 21 and 24 all make good points. And I think this topic is an important one to deal with. Especially for those with an interest in politics. Politics may be about the application of coersion but that isn’t generally what the punters are thinking about when they vote.

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  30. John, I wanted to comment on your comment 19.

    I wanted to state that altruism is not the same thing as “being nice can work for both giver and receiver”. Good for giver and receiver is a trade. In economic terms its capitalism. Altruism is a sacrifice to the receiver at the expense of the giver.

    And while I am sure that being nice to people stimulates postive neurobiological responses, personally I would be careful placing too much emphasis on evolutionary based morality for two reasons.
    1) Proponents of evolutionary based morality often forget the volitional aspect of the human mind and usually conclude morality is subjective, or conversely some think it is largely innate – and I disagree with this, I think innate responses do not belong to the realm of ethics.
    2) Primitive peoples’ thought processes were probably quite different to ours. They would have had majorly diminished powers of abstraction compared to today, because they did not have advanced language. I would argue (perhaps controversially) that even as little as 3000 years ago, the levels of language could not have allowed for advanced abstract thought that we take for granted these days.

    Having said that, the basic underpinnings of our brain functions are evident in other animals. And the physical make up of our brain would have been the same as that of primitive humans, but as I said that doesn’t mean they were capable of abstraction, or that morality doesn’t involve free choice, or that morality is subjective.

    I agree that every person has different personal values and therefore different moral outcomes in some situations, but this doesn’t imply subjective morality it implies contextual morality. Also there are obvious moral principles such as “murder is wrong” that can be objectively known.

  31. Tim,

    I think the essence of community is the giving of gifts (or in the case where you don’t yet know your neighbours it is about asking if you can borrow a cup of sugar or a shovel). It isn’t about trade in the commercial sence but about building and confirming a stock of goodwill. To be sure commerce and trade are essential features of society but altruism towards your neighbour is not so one on one and not so calculated as a purchase at the corner store. Of course goodwill exists in the commercial sphere also and has real commercial value and community and commerce are interconnected in inseparable ways. However even if these things are all rightly called “trade” they are different forms of trade with notable distinctions and qualities. Anybody in business who completely forgets the distinction risks going broke. And anybody who treats ever engagement as a transaction risks being very lonely.

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  33. http://pajamasmedia.com/flemmingrose/2008/05/16/cartoonist-arrested-in-holland/

    Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot says ”People are afraid, but when you laugh you are not afraid, and if you are not afraid, you are free”.

    “Well, on Tuesday Nekschot’s freedom was encroached by the Dutch police. He was arrested as a suspect for having published ”cartoons which are discriminating for Muslims and people with dark skin”.

    The Brussels Journal quotes a spokeswoman from Xtra, Nekschot’s publisher about the circumstances of the arrest:

    ”He was arrested with a great show of force, by around 10 policemen.”

    Nekschot must be a dangerous man! A cartoonist at large!

    Nekschot was a friend of Theo van Gogh who was slained by an angry Muslim on the streets of Amsterdam, November 1 2004. His offense: a documentary about violence against women in Islam that offended the religious sensibilties of the young Muslim.”

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