Editorial: "Cartoons and Their Context"

February 3, 2006

Source: The Guardian


On February 3, 2006 The Guardian ran an editorial on the controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad first printed in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. The Guardian's editorial staff writes, "Context matters very much in the case of the cartoons of Muhammad... It is one thing to assert the right to publish an image of the prophet. As long as that is not illegal - and not even the government's amended religious hatred bill makes it so - then that right undoubtedly exists. But it is another thing to put that right to the test, especially when to do so inevitably causes offence to many Muslims and, even more so, when there is currently such a powerful need to craft a more inclusive public culture which can embrace them and their faith. That is why the defiant republication of the cartoons in some parts of Europe (some of them with far less good histories of intercommunal relations than this country) is more questionable than it may appear at first sight. That is also why the restraint of most of the British press may be the wiser course - at least for now. There has to be a very good reason for giving gratuitous offence of this kind. Yesterday's acquittal of two British National party officials on race hatred charges for attacking Islam - and the triumphalist scenes as the two freed men emerged from court - are part of the context that must be weighed in asserting any right to publish cartoons that offend Muslims. So too is the political situation in Denmark itself, where the cartoons were first published, and where a large and strongly anti-immigrant party provides part of the parliamentary coalition supporting Denmark's centre-right government. What is the message that is being sent, both in the BNP acquittal context and in the Danish context, by insisting on publishing such images? Those questions cannot be ducked - and nor can the answers."