The Guardian Position
June 05, 2008
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.