6 February 2006

Who's talking?

The blogger Xymphora calls it “the cartoon conundrum” and it seems to me that he and my other fellow-blogger and good e-friend Helena Cobban have nailed the Danish cartoon provocation question fairly well (see linked document below). Which leads to wider thoughts about public debate. For example, the communists and the organised working class in South Africa are admirably quick to comment on any question affecting them. They are experienced enough to know that opportunities for comment must be taken without delay and that second chances are hard to come by in the bourgeois market place. But what are the others saying? What are liberals and those semi-detached intellectuals who have the privilege of the public prints grappling with, if anything? Here, linked below, are a mixed but representative bag of three pieces of writing from the South African bourgeois Sunday papers on the election, the succession, and the arms deal fallout. And what does it amount to? In my opinion, it shows for one thing at least, that the persecution and suppression of Jacob Zuma has not succeeded and will not succeed in altering the fundamental contradictions within the South African polity at this time. Links: Xymphora and Helena Cobban on the cartoons (609 words) Voters are being hoodwinked, Khathu Mamaila, City Press (743 words) Mistake to keep succession under wraps, Gumede, Sindy (718 words) Manuel must account for arms deal, Crawford-Browne, B Rep (530 words)


  1. I am a little puzzled by these black and white contributions from Xymphora and Helena. It is a little more complex than they make out. Firstly, accepted that freedom of speech comes with responsibility. Accepted also that the Danish newspaper probably had dodgy motives.

    However we need to explore this a wee bit more: In the UK,. Prime Minister Blair was defeated the other day in his pursuit of laws which would have criminalised, among other things, criticism of faith. It was a problematic assault on free speech and is pertinent to the Danish debate. The context briefly is this: On the one hand Blair has pursued a war which has inflamed muslim opinion (amongst others) and on the other he is trying to appease certain sections of muslims in the UK and claim the moral high ground. He is desperate to be seen to be sensitive to islamophobia and is trying to develop an agenda which claims that Islamophobia is rife and that something needs to be done about it. And in the interests of multiculturalism and diversity he wants to curtail free speech. Is islamophobia rife? Where is the evidence?

    The Muslim Council of Britain (mcb), one of the bodies baying loudest for this bill to become law, has a self-serving understanding of multi-culturalism. This is multiculturalism where ideas about tolerance and respect are not as innocent as they are made out to be. The MCB (along with others) are keen to locate discussions about it in terms of "diversity" Everyone but the fascists agree that diversity is wonderful and necessary, surely? This understanding of diversity stops where Helena does - that we "should respect the feelings of others."

    Kenan Malik last year wrote (will find link and post here later):
    Diversity is important, not in itself, but because it allows us to expand our horizons, to compare different values, beliefs and lifestyles, and make judgements upon them. In other words, it allows us to engage in political dialogue and debate that can help to create more universal values and beliefs, and a collective language of citizenship. But it is just such dialogue and debate, and the making of such judgements, that contemporary multiculturalism attempts to suppress in the name of “tolerance.”

    Xymphora wants to keep schtum cos there are retards out there. (The Danish cartoonist did't call anyone a retard. Xymphora did). And Helena in her generalisation about what is sacred has managed to throw the baby out with the very hot bathwater.

  2. sr, I don't know where in xymphora's or Helena Cobban's pieces do they say they want a change in the law. I certainly am not asking for changes in the law. In South Africa, some Muslims have got a judge to issue an inderdict (injunction) against newspapers who were not even intending to publish. That sets up and argument between editors and judges which could be fun to watch, but is a bit pointless. So far as I know, there is zero chance of legislation resulting.

    No, xymphora is right to say this is nothing to do with "free speech" and everything to do with discourtesy. The sooner things return to the (thankfully) normal level of human public restraint, the better.

    I agree with you about the hypocrysy of so-called "diversity" and I regard Kenan Malik highly as a defender of humanism in the spirit of Frantz Fanon and C L R James.

    As for cartoonists, like other artists and racing drivers, they try to be as close as possible to the limit all the time. They have a keen appreciation of the limit because they are always thinking about it. These cartoonists knew exactly what they were doing.

  3. You misunderstand my point. Multiculturalists in Britain have just tried and thankfully failed to muffle free speech in the UK by using exactly the sorts of arguments employed by Cobban and xymphora. I guess I am a fundamentalist on this one. It doesn’t matter if the cartoons are “discourteous” (or provocative, misjudged etc). That is the whole problem about certain understandings of “tolerance” and diversity. If these cartoons have created a fuss and editors consider the fuss newsworthy – they should publish. There is only one reason not for doing so – the retards running around posing and threatening and celebrating 7th of July etc.

  4. I find that argument similar to the argument for "opposition" - opposition for its own sake. I find it abstract.

    I make editorial decisions all the time and I would not publish these cartoons. Not because they are "newsworthy" or for any other reason. I just think they are vulgar and in bad taste and not worth defending.

    Free speech such as blogging on the Internet and for a humanist purpose, I can fight for. I would probably refer to Christopher Caudwell's essay on Liberty - A Bourgeois Illusion if pressed on this one.


Post a Comment