02 February, 2006

Shying Away From Controversy

Nothing at UAE Community Blog about the cartoon controversy. We do shy away from controversial issues, don't we? Of course, the reasons for this are known. But it is regrettable. Some might think, "Why fan the flames of controversy anyway? Why not let things remain quiet and peaceful?" Well, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with discussing controversial issues, as long as people are disciplined and mature enough to limit their activities to discussion. The danger comes in when people start to advocate behavior that could harm people. So, can we in the UAE discuss controversial issues in a disciplined and mature manner?

By overly self-censoring ourselves, we risk losing out on the benefits that arise from mature debate. Those benefits include broadening our understanding of people and viewpoints that are different from our own. The truth is we live in a very multi-cultural environment in the UAE. It cannot be simply described, for example, as a Muslim culture with Muslim values. Although this may define segments of the population it doesn't in any sense describe the total picture.

Well, I myself am not prepared anyway to "throw the first stone," and I'm not trying to prompt anyone else to do so. But I am saying that it would be nice if the winds of "freedom of expression" blew a little more strongly across these emirates.

30 comments:

Keefieboy said...

Good point BD. I have drafted an article on this issue, but I probably won't publish it. Ironically, the whole issue was sparked by some Danish nitwits exercising their freedom of speech. They are legally allowed to do this in their own country, but look what's happened! We in the UAE do not have any legally- or constitutionally-protected freedom of speech so it's probably wisest to keep your head down.

Interestingly, other bloggers in the region (mostly Muslims) have expressed opinions along the lines of 'the Danes did a dumb thing, but the Gulf Arabs are doing an even dumber thing'.

UAE bloggers (generally) are avoiding the issue like the plague. Why? I guess we still like living here.

samuraisam said...

I wrote an article on it and deleted it;

discussing war (i.e. creating petitions against the invasion of iraq), discussing politics and quite a few other things are complete wastes of time; besides that, there are already hundreds upon thousands of debates already, creating a debate here would only increase tension over an already moronic issue, the newspaper shouldn't have published them in the first place, the cartoonist should've apologised, and the entire muslim nation shouldn't have reacted by blaming the Nordic and Danish governments, attacking their citizens, invading embassys and boycotting products.

It's a pointless debate that will just run around in circles, i'm sure (sarcasm) someone is going to be reading our blogs and be like "OH HELL YEAH THATS HOW WE SHOULD DO IT" and then entirely give up their boycotting campaign, don't expect the cartoonist to read something and go "IM GONNA APOLOGISE", he has already proven his point that he is a dick by not apologising when the issue was first raised. it's not going to happen, save your breath.
You won't stop war by protesting on your blog, or protesting in the street, Bob Geldof won't stop poverty by getting a bunch of low-IQ actors into a TV studio to snap their fingers, war/conflict and poverty have been happening for hundreds upon thousands of years, don't expect it all to magically change by writing a few words. The Internet is not the place for political discussion.

BD said...

To quote myself,
"By overly self-censoring ourselves, we risk losing out on the benefits that arise from mature debate."

To quote keefieboy,
"I guess we still like living here."

So, I guess the benefit of living in this modern, capitalistic, low-tax, multi-cultural, high-living society is worth forgoing a little free speech--no sarcasm intended. I think it goes the same way with things like free elections for the locals. With things generally going well for them as things are, why risk it for the right to elect one's leaders.

Freedom I guess is a bit over-rated, when what really matters to people is being comfortable materially.

BD said...

With regard to samuraisam's post...

"discussing politics and quite a few other things are complete wastes of time,"

I respectfully disagree. Any discussion on any topic can be fruitful as long as people refrain from immature behavior like flaming, verbally attacking or threatening one another. Sure, it is possible that regardless of how long the debate persists, some will not budge on their postion. But on the other hand, some will... some will truly find benefit in hearing or reading the sensible viewpoints of others.

The key is for the debators--or posters if it's a blog--to respect one another and debate in a civilized manner.

samuraisam said...

Yes, but at the end of the day it's still a debate, like discussing "getting a job" (like I do regularly), one can talk about it all day, and not actually do anything.
If people really disagreed with America invading Iraq they'd be on the first flight over there to jump into the warzone and kick American soldiers in the face. If they agreed with the boycott, they pretty much wouldn't buy anything modern because of multinationalism and the cross-culture projects that go on today, I doubt any of Microsoft's products are free of some Danish dude or some Norwegian programmer.

sheikha cheryl said...

Many of the Danes are bitter about Muslim Immigrants living in their country that are getting wellfare from the government. So the resentment runs long and deep. Personally, I think it's the Danish government's fault for not remedying the situation in the first place.

sheikha cheryl said...

I'm surprised that profit hasn't dominated over a boycott. It's GCC companies that are also taking the hit on this one.

sheikha cheryl said...

...and about Bob Geldof. The poverty campaign is aimed at all the dimwit, self-absorbed Americans that can't see past the **ow job they are getting by their elected Republican officials. It's embarrassing how stupid and centric they are.

secretdubai said...

I was steering clear because I just couldn't bear to have a load of semi-literate, indoctrinated cretins spouting their misplaced, exaggerated anger all over my blog. I also thought Mahmood.tv and the Religious Policeman covered it brilliantly - they also restored my faith that there is some sense (albeit it buried beneath an angry mob of placard-wielding peasants) in this region.

Now, I don't care, because the extremists have so obviously lost. And this is just the start: expect to see further moves in European countries to restrict and limit any attempts by Muslims there to impose their islamic values on (historically christian) democracies.

If they think banning Lurpak was a "victory" - by god it was a pyrrhic one. At ground level, any employer in Denmark, or France that was (unfairly) "nervous" of hiring muslims employees is barely going to consider it now. We even see Bush embracing technology and alternative energy to de-power the Middle East.

How very, very sad for Muslim people that were trying to integrate properly as European citizens, to have a load of halfwit Saudis ruining the road to tolerance for them.

Keefieboy said...

BD:
'Freedom I guess is a bit over-rated, when what really matters to people is being comfortable materially.'

No, what really matters is being free. I will be leaving these shores in 18 months' time, and I do not have plans to spend any of the intervening period enjoying the hospitality of the 'Corrections Department'. Nor do I wish to be bundled onto an aeroplane at short notice, never to return.

These things happen, BD.

John B. Chilton said...

The danger of being misunderstood is simply too great.

I found it interesting what the Jordanian paper had to say, as quoted here:

Mohammed Cartoon Conflict Gets Even Hotter Europe Deutsche Welle 02.02.2006

Anonymous said...

Freedom of expression seems to only apply when people insult Muslims. By the way, in France there are laws against hateful and racist messages. So it's not only wrong but it's also illegal!

John B. Chilton said...

anonymous -

Seems, perhaps. But not true. See, for example,

1. Piss Christ.

2. Cruci'fixins.

The list is long. The reaction is different.

Anonymous said...

It's an exceedingly hard issue to even begin to approach especially when living in this part of the world. It's such a fundamental misunderstanding and disagreement between cultures and religions that one doesn't really know where to begin bridging the gap.

I think it wasn't the smartest thing of the Danish paper to publish the cartoons but I think they have every right to do it. I can understand Muslims being upset about it but blaming the Danish government, and Danes and Scandinavians in general is just not very smart.

What's missing from the whole issue is the wide-spread perception (real or not) in "the west" that much of violence and terrorism today is muslim in origin. I think many in "the west" would like to see the muslim world take more responsibility for what is being done in the name of their religion today, but that's not something you can bring up.

I also think many "westerners" would welcome a debate with the Muslim world about values like freedom of speech and expression since it obviously means something very different to the different cultures, but they don't really know how. And I hope many Muslims would welcome that debate but again, how do you go about doing that?

Someone in a paper in the UAE the other day said something like what would the Danes think if Muslims would do the same to them? My guess is that most Danes would disagree but think it was "fair enough" and that they had a right to do it (do a cartoon with Jesus or Queen Margaret perhaps). That's something many Muslims don't understand, that Danes value that freedom and welcomes the expression of it. But that freedom arguable comes with responsibility as well, and in this case a responsibilty to be understanding of how another religion feels about the portrayal of their prophet. So again, it's such a deep misunderstanding once really don't know where to begin.

John B. Chilton said...

The cartoons were shown this morning on Orbit News which is available by cable throughout the UAE.

Is that different from them being printed in newspapers?

BD said...

One thing that troubles me is that religious extremists are allowed to cast fear in people that in effect stifles debate and free expression. This is clearly the case in Muslim countries (countries with majority Muslim populations) as is evident within our own blogging community. These people in Europe are reacting against this by saying extremists have no right to threaten us or tell us what we can say or publish.

Perhaps those who feel offended should try to see that this is not an attack on their religion. It is a statement against those who try to muzzle free speach.

Believers of any faith ought to be secure enough in their faith to not overreact at the words or thoughts of non-believers. How can you expect the non-believer to have the same sensibilities about your faith as you do? Nothing the non-believer says will tarnish the value of what you believe in if your own faith is well-grounded.

What extremists do, whether knowingly or not, is use the cloak of faith and religion to advocate essentially non-faith or non-doctrinal positions.

Anonymous said...

What is really funny about the freedom of speech in Europe is the fact that no one, and I stand here daring and double daring any one, can exercise there freedom of speech amendment and write an article or a cartoon about the holocaust in the same way the dansih cartoonist did the prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

John B. Chilton said...

Here's a thoughtful post from a member of the UAE community:
Jenny Foreigner: That infamous thing

Tim Newman said...

My blog's contribution to the discussion is:

For what it’s worth, I am fully supportive of the right of the newspaper to publish what they please (within the boundaries of libel laws), even if their doing so offends people; I am fully supportive of the Danish government for not bowing to pressure from foreigners to censor their country’s press; and I am disgusted by the lack of support other European nations have given Denmark over this issue, and equally disgusted by the actions of the UN and EU who have chosen to back totalitarianism over freedom of expression.

Many, many Europeans died fighting for the right to say what they like, regardless of whom it offended. I do not want them to have died in vain.

Tim Newman said...

What is really funny about the freedom of speech in Europe is the fact that no one, and I stand here daring and double daring any one, can exercise there freedom of speech amendment and write an article or a cartoon about the holocaust in the same way the dansih cartoonist did the prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

As far as I know, only a few European countries have laws banning Holocaust denial (laws which are wrong, IMO). It is pefectly allowable for myself or anyone else to publish an article denying the occurence of the Holocaust in the UK, for example. Whether anyone will publish such a work is another matter, but your assertion that nobody in Europe is allowed to present an alternative view of the Holocaust is false.

Tim Newman said...

Also, for what it's worth, if I were in a country which had greater freedom of expression, I would have published the cartoons on my blog along with a large banner saying "Support Denmark and Press Freedom".

But as someone said, I like living here.

BD said...

Anonymous said...

What is really funny about the freedom of speech in Europe is the fact that no one, and I stand here daring and double daring any one, can exercise there freedom of speech amendment and write an article or a cartoon about the holocaust...

Double Standard? Clearly there is lot of double standards in the case of some countries' foreign policy toward Israel via the Palestinians. But are there actually press restrictions? I doubt that there are. Would there be an outcry from some for anti-holocaust cartoons or editorials? Most likely, yes. But here is where I see one difference. As a citizen of one such Western country, I would not fear expressing a negative viewpoint on the holocaust--that is I would not fear for my well-being or safety. This, I believe, says something about the freedom of expression that does exist in such countries.

That being said, I should probably add that we're talking about matters of degree. There probably isn't absolute freedom of speech or expression anywhere, just different degrees. Take one hot button issue in the US--society and the press. Let's say that someone came out openly defending the rights of a child sex offender. I could see that individually potentially facing the wrath of some irate "self-righteous" members of the public.

So, my point is, there is a degree of relativity here. The UAE is relatively more open than a lot of other countries in this part of the world I would say. That's a good thing. We need only to see that increase more.

Anonymous said...

Well, It is not a matter of relativity. Expressing your thoughts of the holocaust will end u spending some time in Jail according to the LAW of some EU countries if not all.

One major differnece I can see between us, as a muslim nation, and the west is how to interpret the word freedom of speech. In the west freedom of speech means say whatever you want and I respect that, but at the same time I demand that my interpretation of freedom of speech is well respected. We have a freedom of speech in way that it is hard for the west to understand.

We extract our freedom of speech from the Quran. Although in some regimes Quran is not the legislator. Here where the mix up occurs between freedom of speech that is supressed by a regime and the balanced freedom inspired from the Quran.

BD said...

And the "balanced freedom" of speech inspired by the Quran is... (if you can express in 100 words or less)?

John B. Chilton said...

Recent U.S. story....

Workplace Prof Blog: Dismissed Neo-Nazi adjunct professor claims just doing research.

Anonymous said...

"We extract our freedom of speech from the Quran. Although in some regimes Quran is not the legislator. Here where the mix up occurs between freedom of speech that is supressed by a regime and the balanced freedom inspired from the Quran."

Perhaps this is at the very core of this issue. I'm a westerner and I have never thought that my country has a "freedom of speech that is supressed by a regime". How is it "supressed" may I ask, when it's the law, and the law is set by duly elected officials? Not as in many muslim countries, where power is inherited, or just plain grabbed? In my, perhaps narrow view, I would say that most muslim countries are "supressed" much more than western democracies.

Something that is not understood in this part of the world that in countries like Denmark it's okay to, for example, draw a caricature of Jesus, and it may even be appreciated as funny. And to me that doesn't mean that someone is less religious than a muslim who cries foul over these cartoons.

So there's a lot of misunderstandings going on here. To me the question is how do we get the cultures talking to one another?

BD said...

^^ Good closing point, Anonymous above. Can I suggest that this is one forum where people with different views as such can dialog?

A forum such as this has its strengths:

(i) It is open to participation by anyone.

(ii) It is drawn from a community that appears to be both local (as in geographically based within the UAE) and multi-cultural (as in including people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds).

(iii) It is organic. There's no one with a heavy hand directing the forum--although the rare post can and has been deleted by those with administrative rights. That being said, almost anyone who requests may become an administrator.

(iv) It is popular--having it seems a relatively large audience. This adds a degree of relevance to any debate that takes place.

A forum such as this has its weaknesses:

(i) There is understandably a tendency for posters to self-censor their comments.

(ii) Related to the first point, there is no explicit protection of free speech in this environment. Though I would add that this is as good as it gets in this part of the world.

(iii) Expression is naturally dominated by English speakers, which will of course present a bias toward viewpoints such a community carries in contrast to the viewpoints an Arabic speaking community might tend to have.

These are a few of the merits/demerits of making use of the UAE Community Blog as a forum to not only chat and share thoughts and images, but also a place to carry on mature dialog and debate.

On balance, I would say that this is a good forum--it offers a good starting point if nothing else.

Tim Newman said...

Expressing your thoughts of the holocaust will end u spending some time in Jail according to the LAW of some EU countries if not all.

No, it won't. The above statement is false.

Keefieboy said...

OK, I gave in, here's my post...
Lurpak

Anonymous said...

As John B. Chilton said:

The list is long. The reaction is different.

"Call your local NBC affiliate and ask them not to air the...episode.....also...send a letter of complaint..."

(Perhaps they should have burned down the local NBC station...)

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