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Let's debate: Press freedom

Why did an editor choose to publish offensive material knowing fully that it will provoke the anger of millions of people? Can he be blamed for the innocent blood that was shed during the protests against the publication of the offensive cartoons?

Gulf News

Why did an editor choose to publish offensive material knowing fully that it will provoke the anger of millions of people? Can he be blamed for the innocent blood that was shed during the protests against the publication of the offensive cartoons?

These legitimate questions are on the minds of many. And should be debated, albeit in a civilized way, with the aim of reaching an understanding among cross-cultural intellectuals over what we believe is the central issue; where do the limits of freedom of expression lie? Should there be a limit to what can be published, particularly with regard to the sanctity of religious, cultural or social beliefs?

Gulf News has invited editors of newspapers from across the world, intellectuals and readers, to send their views and engage in a debate on the issue. Here is what they say:


The rage on the cartoon issue has gone so far beyond its boundaries its worth debating. I am a Buddhist who has resided in Dubai for over 15 years and had vast observation over discrimination of religions. Any human being on this planet earth has a freedom of expression. There is no doubt about it. Be humble. Let the religion be the religion. Avoid any kind of expressions over any religion. Let all the human beings practice their religion without any kind of discrimination. Then there won't be any rage. Then there will be peace and harmony among all communities on this beautiful planet earth.
Sisira
Dubai

Reprinting cartoons in other European newspapers despite seeing all the protests was wrong instead they could have published some positive cartoons showing some good about Muslims instead. That would have been a show of freedom 'see this is freedom, we also print good things.'
CK
By email

Now it has become an accepted norm that any one can provoke anybody's likes and dislikes. Some such statement was made by no less than the Iranian President when he said that Israel should be wiped off the world map. By these kinds of statements, we are no doubt going out of the way, but in the course of it we are also giving others an equal amount of freedom to trample our right to exist. Should we do it?
Publication of the cartoon by the Danish newspaper went beyond the limit of the press freedom. It was none other than a wanton act to provoke those whom they disliked. To avoid it, we should train ourselves to bear adverse opinions and live with them.
Chandran
By email

As a religious person, I can appreciate, in principle, that many Muslims feel recent Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Mohammed is an affront to their beliefs. Many Christians are regularly offended by the arts and entertainment media degrading, belittling, misrepresenting or otherwise sliming Jesus, their faith and values, in the name of free expression. In secular societies these days, a segment of the population seems to compete in violating moral codes, debunking beliefs, and de-sacralizing the sacred. On the other hand, the Muslim precept that no image of Mohammed should ever be made, in order to avoid idolatry, may be binding on Muslims but has no force for non-Muslims. The real issue is how images are used. If depictions were to ridicule Mohammad, Jesus, Moses, Buddha or other religious figures, they may be protected in the West as free speech but would certainly be offensive and invite protest. Ironically, when Muslim protesters burn embassies, attack Danes, and threaten death to the cartoonists-not to speak of all the Islamic terrorism that's already going on, they play into the hands of cartoonists who showed Mohammed with a bomb in his turban.
Eric
Schenectady, USA

It's obvious to everyone that ridiculing a great religious personality would provoke a strong reaction. Letters in the debate claimed their opinion of whether publishing the cartoons was a faux pas or a deliberate attempt to hurt the sentiments and sensibilities of millions of people around the world. Presenting the Prophet PBUH in a cartoon goes against very fundamental religious rights and beliefs. When given examples of Christianity suffering the same thing, one has to realise that pictorial depictions are accepted widely by its people.
Shehzeen
Dubai

Two hundred years ago this drawing wouldn't have made a difference at all, but we live closer to our neighbours now, through multinational television networks and the internet. The Norwegian prime minister rightly pointed out in an interview that this debate is currently being dictated by the extreme points of view on both sides of the religious spectrum. We need to reconsider how we deal with extremist forms of expression in our cultures. I believe it is of vital importance that the Western world shows commitment in dealing with this issue. Should we demand from the Muslim community that they control their extremist media and leadership, then we must do the same with ours in a manner that is visible to the Muslim world. The Muslim world needs us, as we need them.
Ola
Oslo

What happens to freedom of expression when someone in Europe wants to criticise Jews or doubt the holocaust in some way? We already see some people on trial in Europe because of these cases. But when it comes to other religions, especially Islam, there is freedom of expression and no limits. I personally support freedom of expression, but it comes with responsibility, maturity and certain red lines. I don't support racism/discrimination/insulting other beliefs, especially publicly. Bridges of communication must be built between cultures although I admit a minority of extremists on both sides (anti-Islam in the West and anti-Western in the Muslim world) have made things very difficult. Group gatherings held regularly for young people from all cultures and beliefs to discuss/share their views in a good way to start.
Mohammad
Dubai

Almost every nation in the world has freedom of the press written into their constitutions. But they also have duties which go side by side with the rights, which ask people to respect others religions, and to treat everyone as equal irrespective of their religion. Are the Danes exempt from these duties? I don't think it is right to continue to boycott and protest with violence. Have the Danes and people who support them learnt their lesson? No. Instead more newspapers are publishing the cartoons; an Italian minister is posing around in a T-shirt displaying the cartoons, and we are losing our brothers, sisters and loved ones who are protesting across the world against the publications of the cartoons. We should stop using violence as a means of protest. No more burning embassies and harming others. Who are we to punish others without even knowing how many innocents might suffer?
Hameeda
Dubai

The blasphemy committed by the Danes is unpardonable-at least not by us, earthly mortals. There's no revenge too but I believe Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) followers would expect us to stand and be heard. I'm irritated by fellow Muslims who ask for an apology and equally perturbed by those who have taken up destruction of property and life. While one can understand the acts of the ignorant who, while severely hurt will retaliate by obliteration, but we, the learned shouldn't be soliciting an apology. Who are we to accept their apologies for committing blasphemous acts?
Akber
By email

The most freedom-loving people in this world know that there is no such thing as unlimited freedom. If this was the case, there would be no laws of defamation, or libel. There would be no law against (as is the case in some countries) denying the Holocaust. The American government would not be asking for degrading photos showing their soldiers indulging in disgusting acts of sexual violence against helpless prisoners, not to be published because of potential reaction on the image of its armed forces and so on! If Flemming Rose was to stand outside his neighbour's house and loudly shout abuse about the neighbours' parents and children to test the limits of freedom of speech, or stand in front of Buckingham Palace and hurl abuse and curse against the Queen, what do you think the consequences would be? There are clearly limits to everything we do. If our actions cause hurt and offence to others. If you claim to be a civilised person Flemming Rose, then behave like one!
Imtiaz
Dubai

Why is it that a newspaper journalist in Copenhagen has to worry about who might take offence in Pakistan, when he writes for his readers and not to the whole world? If people in the Middle East, or Pakistan gets offended by an internal Danish article, so be it. Foreign groups of people should not be allowed to set the agenda or decide what can and cannot be published in Denmark. My point is that the job of the journalist is to inform, disseminate and debate information relevant to his or her readers, not the readers in Pakistan or any other country for that matter. It would be impossible to run any serious story about any important topic if you had to consider all the possible groups of people that might get offended by your story.
Lars
Copenhagen / Kuwait City

The paper Jyllandes-Poste doesn't in any way represent the Danish people - least of all the Danish state - and therefore it seems meaningless for so many people express their anger towards a whole country and in fact the whole of western Europe. Where would we be if Western Europe were to blame all our Muslim friends for the few terrorists who killed the innocent on 9/11? Where would we be if the whole world blamed all Germans for what happened 60 years ago?
Hans-Kristian
Copenhagen

Do we lose the right to focus on religion in a critical or satirical way only because we know it may cause offence? Is the safety of Islam threatened because a Danish newspaper carries a cartoon? Is Islam so weak a religion that a couple of cartoons can cause the world or society in general to think less of it? Clearly not. So, I'm not sure on what grounds we could abridge the right to free speech when it comes to religion. The only argument you are left with is the 'it has caused offence' line. And nearly all of the big ban-this-book, burn-this-cartoon, kill this man kind of demands have rested on the we-are-offended argument. But just because something offends you, it does not follow that you have the right to stop me from saying it. The problem with the people who think that their sense of offence gives them the right to curb your or my freedom of expression is that the basis of their value system is illiberal. Of course we should be sensitive to religious sentiments. Of course we should try and avoid giving offence. But these are not absolute rules. If we do cause offence, then we are still within our rights as citizens of a free society to do so. And the people who are offended should simply avert their gaze. In no liberal society does the causing of offence automatically give those who are offended the right to demand bans.
Vipin
Mumbai

The editor (of Jyllends-Posten) chose to publish those controversial cartoons due to his lack of understanding of the complexity of Muslims feelings towards Mohammad (PBUH). The matter is mostly lack of understanding of the other. For that reason he should not be blamed for what he did. On the contrary, he should be given the chance to learn more about the man he perceives as a source of terror. The message could have been much more efficient if Islamic organizations would have bought a page in the same newspaper and published quotes and incidents from Mohammad's (PBUH) human life. Nothing related to religious content but only the way he treated his wives, children, neighbours, friends and enemies. Hazem
Dubai

The cartoons hurt non-Muslims as well as Muslims. Publishing for the sake of freedom of press evoked anger. Freedom of the press doesn't give the right to insult any religion, and must be taken seriously as it can result in chaos around the world. The editor who published the cartoons must be blamed for the death of innocent people.
Ahmed
By email

The Danish authorities are weak; the newspaper just picked a topic which would make for a hot sale. Their justifications just don't seem strong enough to hold intellectual interest. Its not possible to use the words ?limit? and ?freedom? in the same line....that in itself is a controversy.
Nisa
By email

Being a Muslim in the west, I was not surprised at the cartoons that were published. Although I do agree with the freedom of speech act I do not agree that this freedom should be used against a religion or religious symbols or leaders. Saying something against peoples teachings and beliefs could spark riots.
Aisha
Winnipeg, Canada

If the Danish government rejects these things (terrorism), it should prohibit and fight such acts of insult and aggression against the Prophet of Islam rather than consider them part of the freedom of expression.  Freedom never means breaching the rights of others. Planting hatred and enmity with Islam and Muslims is far from sound thinking and behaving on the part of any government that claims to uphold justice.
Samer
Dubai

It is humiliating to depict a cartoon of a religious entity who is worshipped by Muslims across the globe. No religion should be condemned nor made fun of. See the kind of harm the cartoons have created for people all over the world, and who else is responsible for this other than the cartoonists.
Shobha
By email

When you offend someone, the logical and well-intentioned thing to do is express a full apology, not get extra publicity as the icon for "Freedom of Speech". It all comes to the fact that your rights have to be exercised with responsibility, care and caution as your freedom ends where the other person's begins.
David
By e-mail

Why not find legitimate ways to express our anger in words of comment and opinion against those who hold opposing views? Anyone who resorts to violence as a means of expression is acting of their own volition. Furthermore, when an apology is given, we should not curse the hand extending it. By allowing the rift to become so great, we all share responsibility for the deaths that occurred.  Most in the West are suspicious of Islam because they have no real understanding of it. The same can be said of Arab societies who see the West as completely foreign to their beliefs, when in fact; many Westerners share their cultural values. Let's respect one another enough to place the proper stop signs in place so that we avoid such a collision again.
DB
By e-mail

Having the right to print whatever you want does not necessarily mean you should do so. Who is hurt in case of the cartoons and why? Most people have not seen all the cartoons.  They feel hurt by them because someone has ordered them to feel hurt. That can hardly make the Danish newspaper responsible. "Who is insulted?", and "Who is responsible?" are very complicated questions. A legal trial would be needed to figure it out.
David
Copenhagen

There are two issues in this debate. The first is the depiction of the prophet. This is a religious and cultural issue and, although I respect this prohibition in Muslim lands, I would never vote for my government to have the ability to control such activity. My government does not have that power now and I would dread it ever acquiring the ability to control what is written beyond prohibiting the libellous printing of falsehoods against any living person. The second issue is the specific images that were printed. I understand them to be offensive. But to make them illegal, to prohibit them from being published, to punish anyone involved violates the very freedoms that allow me to worship as I choose, to read what I want, and to ignore that which offends me. Communication would suffer severely if everything printed needed approval by a committee.
Jim
Colorado

In Demark, the state and religion are separated. Religion is a private matter, however difficult that may seem. You may ridicule the Queen, the Prime Minister or Jesus - and it is done. People get offended and have their right to use the pen against the offenders, but never the sword. In the Muslim world, Denmark is regarded the offender despite the fact that they stick to the law of their land - however much I and many others disagree on deliberate offense. If the world agrees that you are never to touch the taboos of any religion, then the world is headed for trouble. This would mean that the far right or the far left would be able to live by the sword. And they are political and merely use religion to gain power and control. I am sorry, but Muslims should never be so naïve as not to see that. And neither should Jews, Christians or Hindus.
Lisbeth
Panama City

The cartoons are a clear, deliberate provocation and misuse of freedom of speech and is an indication of growing right-wing tendencies and Islamophobic acts in the West. There is a double standard in how the freedom of speech is practiced.
Obaid
Sharjah

Freedom doesn't mean hurting other people's feelings. In the current scenario, the publishers have misused their freedom and acted irresponsibly. I have seen the controversy going on for more then a month but I have never seen any newspaper or internet article explaining the position of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in Islam and what makes him so important for Muslims. If we criticise someone for his offence, then we need to make him realise his mistake. Just punishing him will not solve the issue. Islam also teaches us to forgive those who realise their mistake and apologise.
M.A.
Dubai

An ideology - be it a religious or political one - should be able to stand on its own and no amount of mockery, even persecution should be able to break its core values. Tolerance is a dual-path arrangement. When faced with criticism, violence is not the way out. Rather, it should have been seen as an opportunity to engage others in a dialogue. The term "Freedom of Expression with Limits" is an oxymoron. Either you have the freedom of expression or you simply don't have it at all - period.
Mohammad
By email

What does freedom of speech mean? Does freedom of speech imply hurting people's feelings? Words such as freedom of speech, extremism and terrorism are being used to portray Muslims in the wrong sense. In fact, people like Bush and Rose who use them should define these words properly. Then we shall know who are the real abusers of freedom of speech.
Muhammad 
Abu Dhabi

It's crystal clear that those cartoons were published just to provoke Muslims. The so-called freedom of speech in the west is a farce. Why did no European newspaper re-publish cartoons questioning the existence of the holocaust, which appeared in an Iranian daily? 
P.K.Niaz
India

Discussion about religion is free in Europe. If terrorists use Islam as an excuse for the killings of innocent people in Spain, London and Bali, should it generate critical opinion? It does in Europe. The American war in Iraq is criticised in Europe. Discussions about religion, political leaders, corruption and all kinds of views on issues are normal in Europe. And we have critical cartoons about everything.
Bjorn
By email

Mr. Rose seems to think that the idea of freedom of speech is the only one that seems to matter, rather than respect for all religions and cultures. And his argument that it is to stretch "self-imposed limits of that seemed to be tightening around" is hypocritical. If the limits were self-imposed, how could they possibly have "tightened around"? It seems the West thinks it is "in" to insult Muslims, as these cartoons and the so-called "freedom of speech" bugle being blown by Denmark clearly shows. 
Moiz
Sharjah

Cartoons, pictures or words that by themselves may cause an immediate breach of the peace or inflict injury or cause violence should be restricted. In my opinion, all democratic governments should issue orders to restrict the publication of any blasphemous cartoons, pictures or words or material in print or electronic media in order to protect the interest of the general public.
P.V.S.
Dubai

I respect freedom of speech and value it as a refugee, but every editor in the free world knows the limit. Every editor "edits" - the BBC does it, CNN does it... There is a limit to freedom of speech on certain subjects: abuse, discrimination, publication of pornography etc. That limits freedom of speech. The reaction to the publication in many Muslim countries was a shock for me: The threats and violence that followed was a shame: this is not the Islam I know. It was a shame and disgusting.
Muhammad
Oslo

First of all, denying the Holocaust is perfectly legal in Denmark. It is only illegal in some select countries such as Germany and Austria. Secondly, blasphemous cartoons of Jesus and insulting cartoons of the Danish prime minister really are published in Denmark. On the other hand, it is illegal to threaten a minority group, and a radio station ("Radio Holger") was closed down last year for threatening Muslims.
Espen
Copenhagen

All credit to Gulf News for publishing Flemming Rose's piece on why his paper published those cartoons. Your own response, however, seemed to miss the point. Rose's stated justification was that a climate of self-censorship driven by fear of reprisal is hampering debate in the west on anything to do with Islam. Since the Rushdie affair many writers, artists and journalists have been threatened and even killed for being deemed to have unacceptable views on the subject. Jylland-Posten's response to this was a tragic blunder but it's editor's point remains a valid one. Now, more than ever, we need an open, honest debate on the place of religion in secular societies. We are hardly going to get it if one side is scrutinising every image and utterance for real or imagined offence and the other is nervously minding its p's and q's for fear of death threats and trade boycotts.
Peter
By e-mail

The phrase 'freedom of expression' does not mean that one can say whatever one feels about anything without having a proper understanding. Moreover, one should have sense and understand the sensitivity of the issue before hurting the beliefs and feelings of a religion. When cartoonist/editors/journalists ignore all these aspects in the name of freedom of expression, it forces us to believe there is something behind it. May be a conspiracy, or a hidden agenda?
S.S.
By e-mail

I am a Danish citizen and I find the published drawings insulting and distasteful. However, freedom of speech allows me to choose what to say and when to listen. It allows others to decide when to listen and when to speak. I find it hard to understand that believers in Islam can get angry from utterings or drawings made by non-believers. In my culture the response to such an offence would be to ignore it.
Michael
Frederiksberg, Denmark

Freedom of speech is not a license to inflame hatred. The newspaper claims that it published the offensive cartoons just for the sake of integrating Muslims into Europe. What a lie! The press certainly does not have to insult beliefs to integrate people within a society.
Nibras
Quebec

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