Keep Hands Off Merchandise!

Monday, March 11th, 2013

He’s a controversial figure. He has made many a wacky pronouncement in the past. He’s the lightning-rod for most of the opprobrium that currently heads Iran’s way over its alleged plan to gain a nuclear weapons capability – even though, as most commentators seem to miss, he holds quite limited power himself, even as President of the Islamic Republic.

Still, one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tasks in that capacity is representing Iran at public events outside the country, including most recently the funeral of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. You could well imagine that that was an occasion at which the Iranian president truly wanted to be present – not a happy one, to be sure, but one celebrating the life of another political leader with whom he often made common cause in an anti-American capacity.

So he was there, alright. But he got into trouble:

Aux funérailles de Chavez, Ahmadinejad choque les conservateurs iraniens http://t.co/FHClQpUWkh

@lemondefr

Le Monde


What trouble? After all, all you can see by way of illustration if you click through to the Le Monde “Big Browser Blog” article is Mahmoud tearfully consoling some lady (who turns out to be Hugo Chávez’ mother).

But that’s just it – you don’t touch women in public if you’re a good Muslim! Indeed, some devout Muslim functionaries in the Netherlands (for example) even refuse to shake women’s hands, which can lead to awkward problems when they are supposed to meet with female cabinet ministers. So Ahmadinejad has gotten considerable push-back about this from back home, including angry denunciations from a couple members of the Iranian parliament, one of whom accused the President of “losing control” at the funeral.

The only response so far from the Ahmadinejad side is from his spokesman, who denies that the President embraced Chávez’ mother. I guess it all depends on your definition – calling Bill Clinton!

BTW to give credit where it is due, this Le Monde piece specifically credits a Le Huffington Post* article as its source. Yes, Arianna has expanded her empire there, but also to the UK (no-brainer), Italy, and Spain! Sharp-eyed EuroSavant fans will have noticed by now how I have incorporated pieces from those sources (but not the UK) into my Twitter-stream. Anyway, it says on its site that Le Huffington Post works “in association with the Le Monde Group,” so that sort of borrowing is perfectly alright.

* Special note for francophones and francophiles: Who knew that the “h” in “Huffington” would be aspirated?

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Here We Go Again . . .

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Don’t look now, but the controversy of the Danish Mohammed cartoons has sprung back to life. This time it’s in Norway, where last week the newspaper Aftenposten decided to republish the twelve controversial drawings – not out of any idle curiosity as to what would happen next, but as a sort of tribute to the Dane Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists originally involved and the lightning-rod for the entire group who you might remember was the subject of an attempted assault on his home back on New Year’s Day. (This is reported by Jens Ehlers in the Danish paper Jyllands-PostenHas Norway gotten its own Mohammed-crisis? – which, appropriately enough, was the one to originally publish the cartoons, and which still pays Westergaard for his work.)

Of course, no curiosity is needed as to what happened next: the Pakistani Foreign Ministry condemned the newspaper’s action, and demonstrators materialized in the Pakistani city Lahore, burning Norwegian flags. But this time, according to Ehlers, they numbered only a “two-figured number of persons,” i.e. in the tens. The editor-in-chief of the Norwegian paper, Hilde Haugsgjerd, was not particularly upset at seeing her country’s colors go up in smoke (then again, I think few Norwegians would be, just because they are laid-back): “They should have their freedom-of-expression in the same way that we have our freedom-of-expression. That doesn’t change anything in our judgment.”

Nor should it. Frankly, the cartoons should really published anew on a regular schedule, not just in reaction to some new event. Yes, they are supposedly insulting to some aspect of Islam, but by this point they could be a key symbol of Western-style freedom-of-expression, one of our fundamental freedoms, which holds that anything and everything should be allowed to be ridiculed, and if anyone doesn’t like that, then that’s just too bad. Remember that the reason the Jyllands-Posten editor decided to commission and print them in the first place back in late 2005 was his fear that implicit threats of violence were leading to de facto self-censorship of any writings or drawings concerning Islam, in effect a creeping, furtive denial of that freedom-of-expression. It’s to fight that sort of craven self-denial, by means of clear, repeated examples of refusing to be intimidated, that I feel these cartoons should be republished on a regular basis.

(And is there no aesthetic consciousness out there in the Muslim world – somewhere? anywhere? – that would interpret a rendering of Mohammed’s head fused with traditional Islamic half-moon-and-star iconography as a clever piece of art, as even a tribute and compliment to the Prophet and those who follow his teachings?)

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Does God Hate Women?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

That’s the title of a book, by Jeremy Stangroom and Ophelia Benson, due to be published this week, in English, by the London-based academic publishing company Continuum. Spoiler alert: the authors conclude that the answer must be “Yes,” since according to their analysis most of the world’s major religions are anti-women.

So far, so provocative, but the explosive element in this mixture – as you might expect – is the inclusion of Islam in this scrutiny. In fact, an examination of Islam’s attitude towards women, and the Prophet Mohammed’s in particular, makes up a large part of the book. This raises the prospect of another worldwide boiling-over of Muslim rage in reaction, such as that which followed the publication in late 2005 of the infamous “Danish cartoons” and the earlier release, in 1988, of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Interestingly, I don’t see any treatment of the new book anywhere in the Danish press – save in an article by Tobias Stern Johansen (New book: Prophet Mohammend was misogynistic) in the Danish Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad.

But yes, even in Johansen’s brief treatment there is plenty of inflammatory material about Islam forthcoming in Stangroom and Benson’s book. It examines especially closely the Prophet’s relations with his third wife, Aisha, who reportedly was only nine years old when they married, and goes on to report modern-day incidents of supposed contempt by Islam towards woman such as the infamous girls’ school fire of 2002 in Saudi Arabia, when the students were not allowed by the religious police to flee a burning building because they could not do so while continuing to keep their entire bodies covered in public, as religious law demands. Johansen’s piece does also include a link to the fuller treatment of the book’s publication in the London Times, including a more-thorough description of how Continuum knows that it is courting the usual threats and danger by publishing it, but is determined to go ahead and do so anyway.

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