Chomsky on Muhammed caricatures

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I’m sure you are aware of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. What is your opinion on this debate?

Chomsky: just take it from the Danish press. One of the main newspapers, Information, I think, published on 15 February a background of what had happened. They reported that the Minister of Culture in Denmark

gave a speech at a conservative conference, where they quoted some abusive, vicious, racist speech attacking the Muslim minority for not being truly Danes, and not conforming to Danish culture, and virtually called for an attack on the Muslim minority, which I think is seven per cent. And a couple of days later Jyllandsposten printed the cartoons. They regarded it as a consequence; they said, yes, it was a consequence of the Minister of Culture’s decision to wage an ideological war on the Muslim minority. It was no issue of freedom of press; it was no issue of freedom of expression. This is just ordinary racism under cover of freedom of expression. And, yes, they should have the right to. The New York Times should have the right to publish anti-Semitic Nazi caricatures on the front page. That should be a legal right. Are they going to exercise their right? No. So if you do it is another reason. In fact Jyllandsposten, as you probably know, a couple of years earlier had turned down cartoons caricaturing Jesus, on the grounds that it would create a public uproar. I mean, this is just pure hypocrisy, quite apart from that fact that in Europe freedom of speech and freedom of the press is barely
protected, in fact barely understood, including even in England which has terrible laws and practices regarding freedom of the press. In fact this is one respect where the United States really stands out. It is the only country I know of which there is real judicial protection for freedom of speech. I don’t know Norway that well, but the main countries in Europe don’t have it. And even the concept is not understood, literally, it’s not understood. One example, which is far from the worst: the British passed a law, it hasn’t been implemented yet, there is some debate about how to formulate it. But the Blair government is going to push a law making it a crime to glorify terrorism. When a Muslim cleric was imprisoned recently on charges of having glorified terrorism, the London Guardian had a lead editorial praising the judicial decision because people shouldn’t be permitted to spew hatred and to glorify violent acts, they should be stopped. Under that law virtually all the British press and publishers should be closed down. Do they incite hatred and violence? Yes. Do they support invading Iraq? Yes. That is supporting hatred and violence. I mean everyone agrees that even how awful terrorism is, aggression is far more severe than terrorism. So therefore if glorifying terrorism is a crime and inciting popular support for terrorism is a crime, then glorifying aggression, and helping incite popular support for aggression is a far more severe crime. Why don’t we put them all in jail? Do you hear anybody talking about that? No, and the reason is that nobody cares about freedom of speech. What they care about is using state power to shut down the kind of speech they don’t like. Even Stalin would have agreed with that.

Yes. It’s part of European culture to have racist attitudes toward the Third World, including us, we’re part of Europe in that respect. Naturally the Jewish community shared the attitudes of the rest of Europe, not surprising. There certainly are such things inside Israel. My feeling is they could be overcome in time under a situation of peace. I think they’re real, but I don’t think they’re lethal, through slow integration they could probably be overcome. The one that probably can’t be overcome is the anti-Arab racism, because that requires subjugation of a defeated and conquered people and that leads to racism. If you’re sitting with your boot on somebody’s neck, you’re going to hate him, because that’s the only way that you can justify what you’re doing, so subjugation automatically yields racism, and you can’t overcome that. Furthermore, anti-Arab racism is rampant in the United States and much of the West, there’s no question about that. The only kind of racism that can be openly expressed with outrage is anti-Arab racism. You don’t put caricatures of blacks in the newspapers any more; you do put caricatures of Arabs.

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