Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cartoon Controversy II: this time in Holland; the tables are turned

There’s another “cartoon controversy” in Europe, a sort of Cartoons II, and this time the country is The Netherlands. The Dutch, supposedly the model for openness, suddenly take on the roles of oppressors of free speech.

It seems that Gregorius Neskot (a pseudonym, perhaps in the sense that “Bill” is for me, posted some unflattering or racy cartoon images of Muslims and perhaps members of other minorities on a personal blog. The URL is this. It still loads today. It is in Dutch and has some rather suggestive images to be sure, and has a banner in English “Graphic Images, Strong Language.” Curiously, the HTML does not have a title. In May, six plainclothesmen visited his Amsterdam apartment and arrested him. Previously, establishment publications had shunned him, and now he is a “hot” commodity, attracting a hundred thousand hits a day.

The cartoonist is critical of the Dutch government’s “political correctness industry,” which comprises state-funded groups that protect minorities from insult. In theory, the standards of speech regarding groups normally in opposition (say Muslims and gays) would be the same, but the practical problems are different.

Others, recalling the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy in Denmark, speak of a struggle of ideas going on in Europe. Some say that the native population birth dearth will lead to the loss of political freedom and loss of the continent to the new Muslim immigrants who do not assimilate. On the other hand, there is a good question as to whether a religious minority should be protected from “insults” in essentially broadcast media (including blogs – published in the open but not sent to specific recipients) when the terms of offense are defined by the minority itself rather than by the majority culture as a whole. Normally, in the U.S., privately owned ISP’s have their own “terms of service” that are generally based on generally held norms of social acceptability, not the quirks in sensitivity of one specific group or person, although generally accepted norms are influenced by history (such as with respect to race and more recently, religion and sexual orientation).

There is some speculation that authorities are trying to respond to anger over the Internet release of a short film “Fitna” (reviewed in my movies blog in March here. by former legislator Geert Wilders, who ironically seemed to support the arrest of Neskot.

The Wall Street Journal story by Andrew Higgins appears on p W1 of the Weekend Journal here and is titled “Why Islam Is Unfunny for a Cartoonist”. Nevertheless, a lot of other cultural niches may be unfunny for cartoonists in Europe now.

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