Index on Censorship mag quarrel over Danish ‘toons


9:30 am - December 19th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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Index on Censorship magazine is mired in controversy again after a refusal by its board to publish the controversial Danish cartoons over an article.

The new edition of the magazine carries an interview with Jytte Klausen, a Danish academic at Brandeis University in the United States, about the decision by her publisher, Yale University Press, not to publish images of the racist caricatures themselves in her book.

Index on Censorship did not publish the cartoons during the original controversy four years ago.

This time its board overruled the editor Jo Glanville and refused to publish any cartoons with the interview.

According to chief executive John Kampfner:

The board met on 27 October. After a detailed discussion, it decided reluctantly to recommend that the images not be published. One member of the board, Kenan Malik, who was unable to attend the board meeting, subsequently took issue with the decision. In response, and in keeping with Index’s commitment to free expression, the chairman, Jonathan Dimbleby, and other trustees agreed to publish the reasons for their decision, and to publish Malik’s dissenting view alongside.

Index on Censorship’s chair Jonathan Dimbleby has put the the decision to overrule the editor down to security concerns.

The board’s main concern was both for individual members of the Index staff and those who worked for the seven other organisations which share our Free Word premises in Farringdon Road, and who would have been equally on the receiving end of any attack aimed at Index.

I consulted the Index editor and established that, in her view, publication of the cartoons — though very desirable — was not crucial to an interview which did not focus on the cartoons themselves but on the process by which Yale decided against their publication.

Against that background, I consulted every colleague (including those who had not been able to attend the relevant board meeting). With the exception of two board members (one of whom was content to abide by the overwhelming majority view) my colleagues argued strongly against publication.

Writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik has argued against the decision, saying:

The safety of Index’s staff is, of course, hugely important. But where was the threat? Index certainly received none because no one knew that we were going to publish. Nor is there any reason to believe that there would have been danger had the cartoons not been pre-emptively censored.

Islamic scholar Reza Aslan, describing Yale’s original decision as “idiotic”, pointed out that he has “written and lectured extensively about the incident and shown the cartoons without any negative reaction”. And, as Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship, observed in an article in the Guardian earlier this year critical of Random House, pre-emptive censorship often creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. In assuming that an “offensive” work will invite violence one both entrenches the idea that the work is offensive and helps create a culture that makes violence more likely.

The actual interview with Jytte Klausen is available to read here.

Index on Censorship has posted all the articles on its website.

Although one could argue that the magazine has a special duty not to shy away from self-censorship, should the decision solely be that of the management?

And is a threat from Muslims likely anyway since not a single British Muslim took part in a violent act over the original controversy?

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Derek Pasquill

The credibility of the IoC is badly damaged. The Board, with the exception of Kenan Malik of course, should resign now.

If they’re refusing to print the cartoons because they’re afraid then it just goes to show that the terrorists have won. Pathetic.

If they’re refusing to print them to avoid hurting peoples’ feelings then I could understand the justification, even if not agreeing with it.

Either the board should go or Malik should.

I’m a regular reader of Index and a fan (if I can use that word) of Malik. The magazine has championed and encouraged people to speek out who live in far more precarious circumstances than the editors: it is hypocritical to encourage others to risk their lives and safety while cowering away themselves in a country which is (relatively) safe.

Of course this issue would never have arrisen if the rest of the press had published the cartoons from the very start. There’s safety in numbers. Worse still are the excuses given about ‘responsibility’.

Malik calls it ‘the internalization of the fatwa’ and I can’t come close to topping that.

‘If they’re refusing to print them to avoid hurting peoples’ feelings then I could understand the justification, even if not agreeing with it.’

They’re not in the business of sparing feelings, they are supposed to champion free speech even if it is grossly objectionable.

That includes pornographers, supporters of terrorism, Holocaust deniers and even – shudder – climate change skeptics.

@4 don’t be an idiot. The fact that you’ve written an article opposing the banning of pornography doesn’t mean that you need to illustrate it with photos of cum-loving hos taking it in every hole.

RichardJ’s point stands.

If you are talking about specific cases it does.

Idiot.

Calling someone idiot – nice way to win an argument. Especially when you are wrong (In My Opinion of course).

Yeah well, I know you are but what am I? And at least john b’s Dad is harder than your Dad.

Bloody idiot.

Just five minutes ago, I came across a picture on this blog series depicting Joseph and Mary in bed, apparently disappointed because Joseph couldn’t compete with G-d when it came to sex. I am not Christain and yet I found this terribly offensive – I can’t imagine what Christian would feel.
The major difference here is that no one is afraid that offending Christains will result in violence and destruction because someone’s delicate sensibilities have been injured. The decision not to publish the Danish cartoon is the result of succombing to fear and blackimail – way to go Index on Censorship!

@6 that doesn’t make any sense. If I say “Larry Flynt should be allowed to publish double-rectal-fisting videos without going to jail”, under no sense does that oblige me to publish double-rectal-fisting videos to make my point, avoid hypocrisy, or whatever bizarre rationale you think applies here. If you criticise me for defending Larry Flynt while not republishing his videos, that simply and solely makes you an idiot.

@7 calling an idiot an idiot is an entirely reasonable thing to do when winning an argument. If I were wrong, the situation might be less clear-cut; luckily I’m not.

Censorship isn’t quite so easy to criticize even if you believe in free speech. For example, I have overheard many racist and sexist jokes and observed even more examples of that behaviour. But I would not repeat those jokes, or participate in those behaviours, in other words I have become my own censor. But there are others who would, but they cannot deny me the right to refuse to participate.
Index on Censorship have been quite consistent with their views (as I am with mine) and in my view this does not represent censorship because other magazines are publishing those cartoons, Instead, this represents a magazine being discerning about what it publishes, and I doubt if it would publish a MIlls and Boon novel if that was submitted, and I doubt if this would be labelled as ‘censorship’

@8 that image was produced and published by believing Christians, and distributed in the context of a majority-Christian society. If it offends you as a non-Christian, that’s a sign that you’re ridiculously thin-skinned and should probably grow a fucking pair.

Had it instead been produced by a Muslim bigot with no understanding of Christianity beyond that portrayed in the Arab media’s propaganda, primarily as a way of attacking Christians based on lazy stereotypes, and seized upon by conservative Muslims opposed to Christian immigration and the spread of Christian culture, then the context would have been rather more unpleasant. In that case, deciding whether to reprint the image would’ve been a tougher editorial choice.

And that’s the point here. Anyone who thinks that it’s right to ban the Mo’Toons (or the Marytoon) is wrong. Anyone who would refuse to reprint either cartoon for spurious, made-up fears of OMG THEY’LL KILL US IN OUR BEDS!!! is wrong. But anyone who makes the editorial judgement to refuse to reprint the cartoon because they see it as a lazy, ignorant attack on a minority group, whilst at the same time defending the legal and practical right for lazy, ignorant bigots to reprint it, has to be in the right.

Index on Censorship have been quite consistent with their views (as I am with mine) and in my view this does not represent censorship because other magazines are publishing those cartoons

Exactly. I buy Jonathan Dimbleby’s arguments:

First, even the editor agreed that printing the images were not central to the story anyway since the Yale Press was central to the story. So it’s not censorship. Printing them would be gratuitous.

Secondly, it’s easy for armchair warriors to say ‘print them or resign’ without working with people who don’t want to work in a workplace which may be attacked.

I know, if you want to see the cartoons to be seen so badly (even though polls showed most Britons thought publishing cartoons was wrong) – then why not walk around with a t-shirt with cartoons on them?

Show everyone how hard you are shatterface: do it yourself.

Violence against someone who satirises you is wrong.

Imposing censorship by threatening violence on those who satirise you is also wrong.

Succumbing to censorship because you are afraid of those who threaten violence is weak, particularly so when you are an organisation that exists to fight censorship.

Saying “security” is your reason is piss-poor, cowardly, and reinforces Islamophobic stereotypes. (For the record, at the time I opposed the publication of the images but also opposed censorship of them.)

And is a threat from Muslims likely anyway since not a single British Muslim took part in a violent act over the original controversy?

That’s only if you exclude soliciting murder from your definition of a violent act.

From BBC News:

Four Muslim men have been jailed for their part in protests at the Danish embassy in London, against cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

Mizanur Rahman, 24, Umran Javed, 27, and Abdul Muhid, 24, were each jailed for six years for soliciting to murder after telling a crowd to bomb the UK.

A fourth man, Abdul Saleem, 32, was jailed for four years for stirring up racial hatred at the protest in 2006.

16. Just Visiting

Sunny

Paulo 15 has caught you out making false claims in denial of Islamic violence.

Several times on LC I have asked you, in response to your comments such as ‘all organised religions are a concern’ , whether you think that different religions are of different levels of concern to you.

Can I ask you that question again?

To date you have never expressed your opinion in that regard.
Given what you have said in this thread, and in the absence of your responding, readers of LC may well come to the conclusion that the religions you defend here (Islam in this case), are ones you have less concerns over?

Maybe that’s a wrong reading of your position – but we’ll never know unless you give it….

17. Just Visiting

sorry, spelling – Paolo not Paulo

18. Just Visiting

John B

> But anyone who makes the editorial judgement to refuse to reprint the cartoon because they see it as a lazy, ignorant attack on a minority group,

Is that what you think the IoC’s position was, on not publishing the pictures?
It seems the only one of the cases you gave that is nt a “definitely does not fit” case.

But doesn’t seem like a great fit, IMHO.

The blog seems to attack for not having the guts to show the cartoon as part and parcel of a debate about the cartoon. I haven’t seen the cartoon – but I didn’t see it contained in this blog. It seems to be attacking one source for not showing it while at the same time not being willing to show it here.

By refusing to illustrate the interview with the Motoons for “security” reasons, IoC are guilty of Islamophobia in the most literal sense of the word. Even though there was very little evidence to suggest that violence would follow the publication (and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary), Jonathan Dimbleby and the board are perpetuating the stereotype of the violently touchy Muslim who cannot bear the slightest mockery without reaching for a can of petrol and a match.

It was a stupid, shameful decision in more ways than one.

@ 19

The blog seems to attack for not having the guts to show the cartoon as part and parcel of a debate about the cartoon. I haven’t seen the cartoon – but I didn’t see it contained in this blog. It seems to be attacking one source for not showing it while at the same time not being willing to show it here.

Here they are.

zombietime.com/mohammed…/jyllands-posten_cartoons/

Sunny’s not scared !!!!!

‘I know, if you want to see the cartoons to be seen so badly (even though polls showed most Britons thought publishing cartoons was wrong) – then why not walk around with a t-shirt with cartoons on them?

Show everyone how hard you are shatterface: do it yourself.’

I have one of these:

http://www.cafepress.co.uk/jmoshop.232500611

Does that count?

Having read both, I think Kenan Malik has much the better of this argument and exchange with Dimbleby.

The argument is not that Index have some particular responsibility to publish the cartoons, and would be guilty of censorship if they chose not to do so. But we have a case where the editor decides that it would make sense to do so, and the question is whether a board – and the board of an organisation with index’s mission in particular – ought to intervene and prevent that. I can’t see why they should.

* I am not at all convinced by Dimbleby’s argument that the decision naturally became one for the board, while acknowledging that it would not normally intervene in editorial decisions, but set broad strategy and policy. It seems to me this should have remained an editorial decision; moreover, that it seems rather difficult for the Board to make its position compatible with overall strategy and advocacy.The board’s decision does seem to me to at least risk undermining Index’s usually steadfast public position in such cases, as Malik suggests convincingly. Certainly it seems difficult for Index to criticise Yale, or the board of any academic or cultural institution which accedes to pressure (real or imagined) in any case which appears similar in future.

* while there might be various good or bad reasons for Index to publish or not publish the cartoons, the “threat of violence” argument seems to me not convincing on its merits, and very badly put. Both Malik’s point about “the internalisation of the fatwa” and the point in this thread about Islamophobia seem to me well made. There was no threat made. And the idea that Yale/Index should give veto power (pre-emptively!)to what would, I think, be a very narrow and fringe view, particularly among British muslim organisations is odd.

There may well be lots of shades of grey in such decisions. The decision of national newspapers not to publish the (widely available) images during the controversy can be defended as an editorial judgement, though a case could also be made for publishing them to the subject of a news controversy. (Splashing them on the front-page would have been a poor judgement). Their publication by Yale University Press (which seems to me a very poor decision) or Index on Censorship is something quite different.

I am not arguing it was necessarily incumbent on Index to publish in order to run an interview, though I think Yale ought to have done so in the circumstances of their book. But the reasons given for not doing so create more reputational risk than publishing would have done.

(It would also be interesting to know whether the board did anything to canvass mainstream British Muslim views, and whether they would have advised that they would peacefully protest a decision made in the context of Yale/Index)

24. Just Visiting

Sunder

> There was no threat made (to the IoC)

Nope. Nor was there a threat made in advance about the Danish cartoons, as far as I know.
Doesn’t the public reaction usually comes after publication not before!

> It would also be interesting to know whether the board did anything to canvass mainstream British Muslim views.

I think there’s probably plenty of public comments from mainstream British Muslims about the cartoons – what extra question could they ask? “S-cuse me – can you guarantee we won’t receive threats of violence or be on the receiving end of violence if we publish the cartoons in our serious, read by hardly anyone, analysis of censorship? You can’t? Ah, OK.”

25. Just Visiting

DavidMWW

> IoC are guilty of Islamophobia in the most literal sense of the word

So if they’d published, they would have been open to the criticism of the I word – and when they didn’t someone _still_ accuses them of it.

Methinks the I word no longer has any meaning, and the sooner it is dropped from sensible debate the better.

Just Visiting writes of Islamophobia: “Methinks the I word no longer has any meaning, and the sooner it is dropped from sensible debate the better.”

I agree.

27. Bruce Gorton

The editor in question shouldn’t have been over-ruled by the board. Editorial decisions should be made by editorial staff – had the decision been made at that level to exclude the cartoons nobody would be mentioning it.

Instead what it has come out to is outright commercial censorship of the magazine.

Further, given the nature of the magazine to start off with – it shouldn’t have been taken out due to security concerns. If Westerners in safe, first world countries which guarantee freedom of speech have to censor their magazine calling on people to fight for their freedom of speech due to the threat of violence, well any call from them to those of us in the rest of the world to fight for ours kind of comes off as the bleatings of comfortable cowards.

Whether showing the cartoons was gratutious or not, you should not be censoring the content of your magizine dedicated to the fight against censorship.

And lastly, as to what really bugs me here – imprecise language. Last I checked “Muslim” wasn’t a race, so to term the caricatures “Racist” seems to be utter nonsense.

The caricatures were print versions of internet trolling, designed to offend people and they were as most trolls are, in poor taste.

But what they attacked is a religious ideology. To proclaim an attack on this ideology “racist” strikes me as being basically racist in its undertone, it is as if you are claiming you don’t get Muslims of every racial background, as if in fact Islam is a “black” thing.

Jytte Klausen has commented on this sorry affair:

“A reasonable risk assessment would take into consideration that (a) the silly things have been reprinted many more times with no consequences than the opposite, and (b) the bad guys cited as the reason for not printing them already are already in prison […] The presumption that there is an endless supply of combustible Muslim terrorists ready to pounce on publishers is both false and malignant.”

29. Just Visiting

humm, why does Klausen use the obviously ridiculuous idea of an ‘endless’ supply of Muslim terrorists…. no one had sugested there was an endless’ supply.

Would anyone deny that there are muslim terrorists who have and continue to target those who publish what they don’t like?

Here’s a small, but very recent (yesterday) example: killings at a journalists’ press club in Pakistan

http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Suicide-Bomber-Kills-2-People-at-Pakistan-Press-Club-79883147.html

30. Just Visiting

And I guess even Palestinan childrens’ TV sometimes helps recruit future terrorists:

Suicide bomber “a role model for any Palestinian girl who harbors the spirit of self-sacrifice, national sentiment, and love of death for the sake of Allah and in defense of the homeland”.

At least accrding to Memri: http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2289.htm


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