August 15, 2013
Your Danish Cartoons Controversy Hangover Round-Up
A few notes on the story this week that former Imam Ahmad Akkari has recanted the severity of his position regarding the publication of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons in 2005
. I could be wrong about some of the specifics; Danish is not a language I know, and that's where a lot of the contributing material was initially run. But anyway:
1. As far as I can tell, Akkari was a key figure in but not the
leader of a movement working against the publication of those cartoons. He was definitely part of the group that traveled to several different countries in December 2005 preceding the violence that erupted in 2006, and a leading, public voice of that group. He was the co-author of the dossier that was presented on that trip. He was one of those who sought government censure of the newspaper throughout.
2. It's a tough call to what extent Akkari was directly responsible for the pig-snout image that was in the dossier and subsequently presented in media reports as one of the cartoons. He is certainly linked to it. It definitely seems like it wouldn't have been in there without him. It's in how it was received and interpreted that it gets a bit complicated, although maybe only a bit. What I can't tell if how much -- if at all -- the image was presented by the clerics as one of the cartoons. One version I've pieced together is that this image was presented in the dossier not as one of the cartoons but as another image showing Danish attitudes towards Islam. This, of course, was by itself a distortion: the image was based on a French photo and had nothing to do with Denmark at all, let alone that country's policies towards its -- I think -- 200,000 strong muslim population. On the other hand, that someone would offer up an image for one purpose and have it be taken a completely different way is kind of a recurring thing with the whole Cartoons Controversy.
3. I also can't help but think that one of the reasons a false image gained traction -- one of the reasons, anyway -- is that newspapers and other media weren't stepping up to publish the actual images when they became news and, in my opinion, the news-gathering and dissemination roles of newspapers and on-line publications demanded
they be published. I'm not interested in apportioning blame but I think what's fascinating about the Danish Cartoons Controversy is the way the use and
the refusal to use the media had consequences that were frequently not the ones desired by the person either using or deciding not to use the media.
4. Akkari's role does remind of the initial context of the publication, which wasn't solely about free speech and almost nothing to do with cartoons or even image-making specifically. There was a significant element about the worries of a significant minority population that cultural and political institutions had it out for them in some way, and that the publication of these images were proof that there was widespread hostility aimed towards that part of the population. I think that's likely a cynical construction, a rush to claim a certain status in order to use it as a launching point for complaints, but I would have to imagine some of these issues and concerns are genuine and without agenda for tens of thousands of those outside the core, agitating group.
5. I still don't like the thought of newspapers and other media engaging in free-speech stunts, and think there is plenty of opportunity to fully exercise the right to publish in a responsible way. I also think if you wish to start a discussion and the discussion is quickly taken over by a group a half-dozen people and your point is so lost on folks they end up in a murderous riot or twenty, you sort of suck at discussions.
6. That said, the violence involved was heartbreaking, and the intolerance expressed since, frequently through violence or the threat of violence -- including one incident where Akkari is caught on tape making a veiled reference to violence he has since said is a joke -- is heartbreaking and in many cases a flourishing of all that is bad in humanity. The newspaper certainly had the right
to publish those pictures, and to do so without lawless reprisal or threat of murder and property destruction. Nearly everyone else that published the image not only had the right to publish but was compelled to publish by their primary responsibility as journalists to educate and inform. These are not negotiable terms for a free society, and clearly not so in the way frequently presented to us by opponents of this kind of publication.
7. Akkari recanting his extremism from 2005-2006 isn't exactly new. He made overtures like this in just about a year following the riots and came out openly saying exactly what he said recently both last year and earlier this year. Again, it's one of those things where the ebb and flow of the way the media works holds sway over the actual timeline of events.
8. I do think it's reasonable to doubt Akkari's sincerity given his interest in keeping a teaching position that might prompt a more public, liberal view. I also think Akkari's history may indicate a tendency to dissemble and change his mind, including what some feel was an Akkari family turn-around on Danish nationalism when their ability to stay in that country was once in doubt. Like a lot of young men, Akkari also has some creepy misfires on his public record. His are extremely worrisome: hostility towards women in authority positions, strict conservatism regarding a woman's place in society, violence against other students when he was one himself.
9. in general, I feel that if Kurt Westergaard is willing to sit down and talk to the man, I think we can all run the news story without rolling our eyes in the direction of the dead.
posted 2:10 am PST
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