World of Pig
Friday Ephemera

The Guardian Position

Regular readers may remember the Danish journalist, Jakob Illeborg, and his rhetorical contortions. In February, following the republication of the Muhammad cartoons, while Muslim youths were burning down Danish schools on a nightly basis, Mr Illeborg went to enormous lengths to convince Guardian readers that,

The Danes could, with some justification, be seen as fire starters.

This claim is, it seems, based on a belief that to exercise and defend, even belatedly, the most basic values of a free society is actually to “rock the boat” and invite upon oneself a week of rioting, violence and murderous intimidation. When the 73-year-old cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was forced into hiding following a plot to murder him, several Danish papers republished Westergaard’s cartoon as both an affirmation of free speech and an expression of solidarity. This was, according to Illeborg,

A headstrong idealistic response.

Given Mr Illeborg’s articles appear on a website named Comment is Free, one might find this disapproval a tad peculiar. Though perhaps not quite as peculiar as his willingness to denounce as “headstrong” a perfectly legal activity, while carefully avoiding any such pejoratives when referring to those making death threats and setting fire to schools. Mr Illborg is, however, quite skilled at double standards and juggling contradiction, as demonstrated by his dual assertion that,

The fire starters are frustrated young Muslim men who claim that their action is sparked by the re-publication of one of the prophet cartoons –


although it probably has little to do with religion.

Illeborg’s most recent article, titled Denmark Loses Tolerance, once again demonstrates a craven doublethink that has come to define much of the Guardian’s commentary on the subject of Islam. In an attempt to illustrate “how far Denmark has moved from the liberal values it was once proud of,” Illeborg highlights, of all things, Monday’s suicide bomb attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad. Just pause for a moment. Think about that. A claim that Danes are “losing tolerance” is illustrated with an Islamist attack on a Danish embassy in which 6 people died and burned body parts were left strewn across the road.

Ever since the prophet cartoon crises of 2006 and 2008, Islamist extremists around the world have been threatening bloody revenge on Denmark.

Ah, bloody revenge. For a cartoon. Note that the intolerance which most troubles Mr Illeborg is that of “headstrong” Danes who wish to retain a freethinking culture, and not the rather more emphatic intolerance of men so vain they blow off people’s limbs and burn them to death. At this point one might reflect on how it is that some among us have come to accept the idea that an unflattering cartoon is a comprehensible “cause” of death threats and dismemberment. The cause is not, it seems, lunatic pride cultivated in the name of piety.

Monday's attack is, of course, indefensible,

Wait for it.


There we go.

it raises questions about the wisdom of the much-debated cartoons and Danish reactions to Muslim wrath. Not because anything about any cartoon - no matter how provocative - justifies such acts of violence, but because the cartoons ended up playing into the hands of extremists who could utilise it to “prove” how badly the west behaves towards Muslims.

Having previously made quite a few excuses for Islamic violence and its accommodation, Illeborg goes on to say,

Denmark has now become a target, and while [this] should in no way be excused, we ought to have known better.

The claim that “we ought to have known better” implies a great many things that Illeborg takes care not to state too clearly. Apparently, it’s okay to have certain rights provided we don’t actually use them or defend them against assault. Or, as Illeborg previously chose to word it, rather coyly:

Most of us agree that the Danish newspapers have the right to print the cartoons, but they don’t have an obligation to do so.

Likewise, in order to believe that publishing the cartoons constitutes being “headstrong” or “behaving badly” one would first have to forget the series of violent events that prompted them and on which they passed comment. Then one would have to imagine that backing down in the face of threats and intimidation will not invite more of the same. One would also have to believe that even the most ludicrous religious vanities, including fantasies of dominion, are deserving of respect. Not just tolerance, mind, but respect, which is not the same thing at all. And, by implication, one would have to believe that the taboos and ticks of Islam should, as a matter of liberal courtesy, extend to non-Muslims, even those who find Muhammad an absurd and contemptible figure.

One might deduce from such thinking that the values of a free society - on which Mr Illeborg’s livelihood depends - are best defended by an unending accommodation of Islamic neurosis and supremacist posturing. Indeed, one might suppose that “liberal values” are actually best affirmed by their abandonment, and that being “tolerant” means touching one’s toes and hoping no one takes advantage. Behold The Guardian Position™, dutifully assumed: cowardice masked as compromise, tarted up in moral drag.


Horace Dunn


I think you’re mistaken on this one. I mean you keep going on about this, but no less a commentator than Yasmin Alibhai-Brown tells us that:

“Local election results show the country lurching right, in some parts even embracing the BNP. Instead of condemning the scum, Britons are instructed to "understand" why these voters are "driven" to vote for neo-Nazis. We are simultaneously warned to show no such understanding of young Muslims who are seduced by hate-filled Imams. White resentment of "foreigners" is no more respectable than Muslim hatred of Westerners. Yet in our unequal world it is.”

Did you hear that? “We are simultaneously warned to show no such understanding of young Muslims”.

Pull yourself together, man. You're clearly making a fuss about nothing.

The full article, for those who want some – ahem – enlightenment, is here:


Muslims are killing Westerners. Westerners are not killing Muslims. I'd say that's unequal.



Heh. In the interests of a better world, perhaps it’s time Ms Alibhai-Brown was bricked up in a cellar. Ideally, with Mr Illeborg for company.


Horace: I share your pain. In the United States we have also seen a staggering increase in right-wing bigotry. For example, in 2006, anti-Muslim hate crimes reached a staggering ONE-SIXTH that of anti-Jewish crimes. Since anti-Jewish crimes are largely understandable and anti-Muslim crimes are always the fault of right-wing bigots, this trend is extremely disturbing. Here in Cincinnati,
police have resorted to enforcing the law EQUALLY when it comes to Muslim offenders. I fear for all of us.


At least Illeborg did join the comment thread to try to clarify his words. He only ended up digging a deeper hole for himself, it's true, but that's more than can be said for a lot of CiF types.

Incidentally, the CiF revamp is quite good.


What gives Illeborg’s articles their ‘through-the-looking-glass’ quality is the fact that he’s pretending to argue a brave and liberal position, while actually arguing for something illiberal, censorious and cowardly. He seems to think that liberalism means not upsetting people who are determined to be upset and determined to exploit whatever leverage that presents. If you read Illeborg’s earlier articles, you’ll see one “liberal” implication of his “liberal” arguments is the discouraging of unflattering commentary. Quite how such things are to be discouraged, and by whom, is never quite spelled out, but the implication hangs there nonetheless.

The freedom to hold (or abandon) religious beliefs is a liberal value, in the classical sense of the world; but the content and particulars of those beliefs cannot be exempt from criticism. The deference to Islam, which is what is being demanded, is an Islamic value, not a liberal one. There is, quite clearly, a conflict of values here, and pretending that there isn’t, or pretending that such things can be fudged without serious cost, is either idiotic or dishonest. Free enquiry, art and statements of fact would, by Illeborg’s logic, have to be curtailed in order to pacify – temporarily – the vanities and threats of a belligerent minority.


"Free enquiry, art and statements of fact would, by Illeborg's logic, have to be curtailed."

Looks like artists are doing that themselves: "Islam is off-limits for us, say brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman.",-say-brothers-Jake-and-Dinos-Chapman.html

Mark T

"Jake says they would not be prepared to touch Islam. "It’s a very difficult and sensitive issue and we wouldn’t see it in our remit," he said at the private view of If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy Would We Be at the White Cube gallery."

Right... Difficult and sensitive. Obviously Nazis aren't a subject that are at all difficult and/or sensitive. Obviously. He continues -

"This is especially because of the fact that there are 900,000 Iraqi citizens dead and we are bombing them."

Just to make sure they're dead, I presume.


slightly off topic, but Stephen Pollard has a couple of responses to the yazmoster

He doesn't mince his words. ouch!


Oh my. Best YAB quote: “I’m sorry, but I know I have influenced international politics.” Hear her roar.


"Just to make sure they're dead, I presume."

Great line. With their very own B2 bombers, too.

Why stop at 900,000? You're almost there. Go for it! Make it an even 1,000,000.

Horace Dunn


"Heh. In the interests of a better world, perhaps it’s time Ms Alibhai-Brown was bricked up in a cellar. Ideally, with Mr Illeborg for company."

Oh no! You brute, no! I once saw a film in which Joan Collins (I think it was) was playing the queen of some pharoah or other and at the end she was condemned to die in a pyramid with her King. He of course was already dead but his entourage was expected to be walled up with him. For the most part the entourage (old blokes with goatees like paint-brushes) were stoical about it but Joanie (if indeed it were she) rushed about in a dreadful panic as the great stones fell into place blocking her egress. Even to this day it gives me nightmares.

I wouldn't wish such a thing on my worst enemies. Oh, the horror. Far better that we let her roam free. But how should we address the problem of her being such a frightful tit?

Here's a possible solution. How about, every time she opens her mouth we take the piss?

Much better, I'd say. You horrible man.

Quentin George

I guess in Illeborg's mind a girl who goes out dressed up and is raped is a "firestarter" too?

Muslims are not children. They are human beings with as much capacity for rational thought as anyone else. There is no reason to suggest their precious feelings need to be protected from a cartoon and anyone who suggests otherwise is basically saying this:

Muslims cannot be trusted with freedom.


Yes, the implications of Illeborg’s arguments are a tad patronising and confused. And that’s the thing – he implies so much more than he says. We’re told, as we often are, that saying this or that “plays into the hands of extremists” or “pushes moderates into the hands of extremists.” But it seems to me that if a cartoon, a film or a statement of fact is likely to drive someone to violent radicalism, or solidarity with violent radicalism, then that person is hardly moderate to begin with.

The Danes are, apparently, to be chastised for taking “a tough position on Islam and Muslims in Denmark.” Well, I didn’t realise that affirming the reciprocal laws and rights of one’s country constitutes “taking a tough position” against anyone in particular, but there we are. Thus, it’s the Danes who are being conspicuously “intolerant” by not being sufficiently silent and apologetic when Danish citizens are murdered, cowed and terrorised by thugs and fantasists. For Danes (and the rest of us) to register the obvious conflict of values – between Islamists and pretty much everyone else (including quite a few moderate Muslims) – is, to Illeborg, a lack of sophistication or some kind of moral lapse. In Illeborg’s eyes, it’s the Danes, not the Islamists, who are “losing tolerance” and “rejecting consensus” along with “calm and reason.”

By much the same logic, we’re “moving away from liberal values” by not surrendering them politely.


The motivation for Illeborg's hypocrisy isn't difficult to guess: He doesn't want to be attacked and injured, or see property destroyed, by enraged Islamists. It's perfectly understandable, and perfectly cowardly. Not wanting to parade his cowardice in public, he dresses it up in liberal finery, since such finery is designed to fit any end result a credentialed liberal sets his heart on. I'd say he was putting makeup on a pig, but I won't since some Islamist might take offense and torch my car or something.



Reading his articles, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Illeborg thinks being liberal (in the classical sense) means always having to say you’re sorry – even, or especially, if the fault is someone else’s. More importantly, he seems to think that the members of a liberal society will never, ever have to defend the values and culture from which they benefit. In that sense, Illeborg’s stance is both cowardly and parasitic: “You do the grunt work to defend the things I take for granted, while I bitch about how reactionary and brutish you all are…”

Note the way Illeborg describes the Danes as “standing up against what is *perceived, by some,* as a threat to our democracy” - as if there’s no actual, ongoing threat to respond to. You know, the bombings, riots, death threats, murder plots – little things like that. Note also the way Illeborg disdains the affirmation of free society as “headstrong” and “hawkish” – and then associates those who prefer a free society with the (gasp) Bush administration, which is, of course, the symbol of Pure Evil™. Perhaps Illeborg thinks that a free press and satire are actually features of an *illiberal* society? As opposed to one in which criticism and satire are “discouraged” by… well, someone like Mr Illeborg.


Horace, Land of the Pharaohs.


"In that sense, Illeborg’s stance is both cowardly and parasitic: “You do the grunt work to defend the things I take for granted, while I bitch about how reactionary and brutish you all are…”"

Doesn't that just sum up so much of what passes for critical thought these days..? Both sides of the divide, too, I fear.


Illeborg's position over Islam, and that of the Guardian, is one of perpetual surrender. I don't know whether it is simple fear, or a self-hatred so deep that it drives them to support bona fide fascists, or perhaps even a sexual sado-masochistic desire to be dominated by men with uncontrolled facial hair. Whatever the underlying reason, the result is the same.


It’s possibly worth comparing Illeborg’s pseudo-moral pantomime with that of Fauzia Mufti Abbas, the Pakistani ambassador to Denmark:

“‘It isn’t just the people of Pakistan that feel they have been harassed by what your newspaper has begun,’ she said. ‘I’d like to know if your newspaper is satisfied with what it has done and what it has unleashed?’ The matter of the cartoons, she said, was something Danes needed to reflect on…”

I’m sure readers will spot the familiar supremacist assumptions and the consequent moral inversion. The deaths, riots and violence were, apparently, “unleashed” by infidels who drew (gasp) cartoons. Those actually *doing* the murdering, threatening and rioting are “harassed”. Poor them. Thus, the Islamists’ emotional incontinence and attempts to cow dissent become *our* responsibility and, conveniently, no-one else’s. And those who need to “reflect” on what has happened - and what will no doubt happen again - are, inevitably, non-Muslims. And, by the same logic, non-Muslims must learn to pacify and accommodate people who are malevolent and insane. Or else.


" the same logic, non-Muslims must learn to pacify and accommodate people who are malevolent and insane. Or else."

In other words, a version of the Mafia's 'Nice little shop you've got here. Be a shame if something happened to it...'.


Cow dissent? Moo!

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