From Justin Horton in Britain:
The curious case of the controversial cartoons that didn’t count
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
Some short time ago, some of you may recall, there was something of a controversy involving the publication of controversial cartoons in Denmark linking, shall we say, the Prophet Mohammed with terrorism. These cartoons caused a certain reaction, as they were intended to do. During the ensuing controversy, many people thought it best to express solidarity with the provocateurs, by reprinting the cartoons, by expressing sympathy with them, by marching in their support and by publishing a great number of articles and internet comments condemning people who had threatened the publishers – or even disagreed that they had a right to publish these cartoons.
It was a freedom-of-speech issue. There were no complexities here, no questions of provocation or offence and anybody who observed that it wasn’t necessarily so simple could be expected to be abused as an apologist for terrorism, a relativist and what you will. (It was, however, quite in order to abuse the cartoons’ Muslim opponents for thinking there was only one side to the question, a paradox I seem to remember noticing in a letter I wrote at the time to Private Eye.)
Anyway, that was then and this, apparently, is now. Yesterday, in the Western liberal democracy where I live, a High Court judge ordered a cartoon banned and all copies of the magazine that published it seized. Police were sent to raid newsagents and the editors of the magazine were ordered to reveal the name of the artist who produced the cartoon, so that proceedings could be considered against them, proceedings which could lead to a two-year prison sentence for all involved.
These cartoons did not seek to inflame ethnic tensions, nor did they imperil national security (assuming a cartoon could do so). Their offence was simply to lampoon the Royal Family, in a manner which was certainly rude but not destructive. Giles Tremlett reports in the Guardian:
“The cartoon on the front cover of El Jueves (“Thursday” – ejh)….showed Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia in the midst of an ardent session of love-making.
A speech bubble issuing from the prince’s mouth makes a joke about the amount of work done by the royal family and a government decision to give families €2,500 (£1,680) for each new child.
“Do you realise what it will mean if you get pregnant?” the prince asks. “This is going to be the closest thing to work that I’ve ever done.””
Not all that ardent, really, if you look, but leaving that aside, this is the sort of social commentary which surely falls a long way within the bounds of legitimate free speech – if free speech is to mean anything. Is Prince Felipe depicted as a terrorist? He is not. He is depicted having sex with his wife. We know they do this, because they had their second child just a few weeks ago.
I bother with the detail and the circumstances, by the way, because it is possible that this controversy has passed you by. This is because for some reason this case has not brought on the worldwide outcry occasioned by the other matter to which I alluded earlier.
Meanwhile, as I tried to access the web site of El Jueves, I failed. More censorship, including Internet censorship, by the Spanish state or other opponents of the publication?