Anthropologist Pnina Werbner on Muhammad-cartoons: 'Satanic Verses Taught us a Lesson'
No newspaper in Britain has published the Muhammad-cartoons. "There are some lessons (the British) learned from "The Satanic Verses" that I'm afraid others in Europe still need to learn", anthropologist Pnina Werbner says in an interview with Der Spiegel:
During the Rushdie affair, there was also a major discussion about the limits of freedom of speech. The debate made it clear that despite our invocations of freedom of speech, even in the West freedom of speech is not absolute. After all, limits are set on pornography, for example.
Freedom of speech today is to a large extent exercised through self-censorship -- not only through legislation, but by commercial interests, such as newspapers and publishing houses. They constantly make decisions about what should or shouldn't get publicized -- partly in response to audiences, partly in response to commercial interests, partially in response to the sensibilities of their viewers or readers.
You can say what you like in the privacy of your own home, but if you try to get it published, to get your voice heard in public, you will find that your opinions may be unacceptable for purely commercial or pragmatic reasons.
Their passionate belief is puzzling and alien to us. But we have to understand that, precisely because ordinary Muslims are also deeply offended, for that reason such apparently light-hearted satire will play into the hands of the extremists, the very people whom these cartoons were meant to criticize.
They are the ones who are benefiting most from the cartoons. For them, this is a huge PR coup, which enables them to recruit young people to the radical cause of Islam. In this sense the publication of the cartoons has backfired and that, I think, is the real indictment of the cartoonists. They've mobilized people all over the Muslim world against the West.
MORE ANTHROPOLOGISTS ON THIS ISSUE
Daniel Martin Varisco: Much Ado about Something Rotten in Denmark (My own view, even as a satirist who idolizes Montesquieu and Swift, is that the best public course is one of “freedom of discretion” at a time when there is such misunderstanding on all sides) og Loony Tunes: The War Draws On (It is bad enough that we have a war of bombs and bullets exasperated by a war of words. Do we really need to have cartoonists drawn into the fray?)
Erkan Saka: Danish Media's Representations of Islam by anthropologist Peter Hervik and A call for respect and calm (both posts have many useful links among others Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons and Trampling others' beliefs in defence of yours.)
Kambiz Kamrani: Cultural relativism meets freedom of speech with the Danish cartoons and Muslim protests (He reviews several blog comments and concludes: "With the publication of these cartoons, this distance of understanding and communication is further gapped because we're ultimately fueling an already burning fire.")
www.sorrydenmarknorway.com - Arab and Muslim youth initiative (The problem with media representation of such issues tends to be that the media only picks up the loudest voices, ignoring the rational ones that do not generate as much noise.)