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As you may have heard, there has been a brouhaha building over the last 4 months due to 12 satirical images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad that the Jyllands-Posten printed in September, 2005. As Wikipedia reports:
The newspaper was accused of misusing free speech by Muslim groups - as well as groups of progressive Danes, and the resulting controversy led to the withdrawal of ambassadors by Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as consumer boycotts of Danish products in several Islamic countries. The newspaper has apologised for offending Muslims, but maintains it has the right to print the cartoons (and whatever else it likes), saying that Islamic fundamentalism cannot dictate what Danish newspapers are allowed to print. The newspapers' headquarters was subject to several bomb threats. (Article on Jyllands-Posten)

A large consumer boycott was organised in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Arabic-speaking countries. Recently the foreign ministers of seventeen Islamic countries renewed calls for the Danish government to punish those responsible for the cartoons, and to ensure that such cartoons are not published again. The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League have demanded that the United Nations impose international sanctions upon Denmark. (Article on the cartoons and the controversy surrounding them)

Both European newspapers and the Islamic Society in Denmark have come under criticism for "adding fuel to the fire"; the former for reprinting the images and the latter for escalating the controversy through calls for hate speech trials, international sanctions, repudiation of diplomatic relations, etc.

Here is my personal opinion on the issue.

1. As always, and as with many other rights, free speech is a right that comes with the obligation of responsible use. The crux of this debate seems to be more about what people feel the extent of this right is, meaning whether the consequences of irresponsible use extend as far as the revocation of the right. I have seen many opinions posted by Muslim critics of the cartoons that assert: "if you do not use free speech responsibly, then that right must be taken away from you". Immediately the response comes, mostly from non-Muslim North Americans and Europeans, that the writers are unclear on the concept of free speech. Is it really that simple and clear-cut? Actually, I don't think it is. For example, there has been a broad and rather significant boycott of Danish products in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and lately Kuwait. Whether one has the right to curtail another's free speech does not actually account for whether one has the ability and will to do so. Thus, boycotts can also become weapons, for good or ill.

2. The compulsion to control others runs rampant in controversies of this type. On Tue 31 Jan 2006, I was editing the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy article on Wikipedia, just to correct some simple errors of grammar, style, and usage, and right before my eyes it was edited and reverted several times. Several times, the image was replaced by Islamic POV editors with "racism is prohibited by international law" GIFs (in an act considered vandalism by most other Wikipedia editors). In fact, this happened so often that the cache got poisoned with that text-only GIF!

3. Love the complainer, hate the complaint; love the ignorant, hate the ignorance. By this, I mean that if a complaint is legitimate, it should be heard and addressed, but as jereeza noted here, the object of the complaint usually has deeper roots. We should attack the ignorance, prejudice, and apathy at the root of this divisive struggle, and tear down their defenses, rather than simply humiliate or provoke those who hold opposing views.

I do think it was a pretty damn stupid and moreover odious thing to to do, because it was deliberately, obnoxiously provocative, as many have noted. I would go as far as to call Clinton's POV relatively neutral or at least uncolored by fanaticism in any relevant regard here, and as you may have read, he denounced the cartoons as irresponsible and appalling. While it may be justifiable to go looking for depictions of the prophet Muhammad in pop art for the purpose of documenting some perceived attack on free speech, soliciting them or collecting the (IMO relatively harmless and) neutral ones with the really obviously offensive editorial cartoons is just incitement.

As many cartoonists have noted, not everything is funny to everyone; but when something is deliberately calibrated to enrage a huge number of people and is not particularly amusing in its own right to any, what are we to make of the motives of the publisher? Ratings and publicity whoring is perhaps a charitable accusation.

4. The middle ground is important. Islamic tradition varies on the topic of respectful portrayal of its prophets. Wikipedia notes: "Many Muslims have believed, or do believe, that any pictorial, or sculptural, representation of religious figures, or sometimes human figures, or even any living creatures, is wrong. However, the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, does not directly prohibit the depiction of human figures; it merely condemns idolatry." In other words, the latter is a latter-day, perhaps transient, conservative tradition, a point of doctrine accepted only among some, but not all, sects. As is often the case with fundamentalist religious beliefs, however, it is so often and throughly propounded by the more conservative or extremist practitioners and elders of the religion that it is adopted by the mainstream believers. Thus, while you simply would not see an image Muhammad's face in a mosque, neither does the mainstream Muslim heed calls for violence against the authors of the cartoons.

"Gasoline on the fire" cuts both ways. It's telling that though many centrist imams have accepted the Danish PM's apology, and have urged calm, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait have continued to push for sanctions. Without defending the cartoons themselves, I think that while activism can be a good thing, provocation is almost always less than beneficial.

5. Analogies can be specious, and often are. You can't really judge a person without walking a mile in his or her shoes, and that's not technically feasible here. I've seen the analogy: "Well, I don't mind if you draw Jesus Christ/the Buddha/the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so why should you..." and I've seen "What would you say if I depicted Jesus/the Buddha/the FSM killing a child?" Why should either analogy apply? Why does there have to be an analogue?

An illustration of Muhammad's face is not the same to a Muslim, as it risks idolatrous context. That's hardly the issue here, but it's not at all the same as an illustration of Jesus' face, or Christ on the cross, since we Christians do view those as images of the divine. As for cartoons featuring Christ, we see and laugh at those all the time. Does that mean that the same standard should apply to Muslims? Of course not. What is impious to one culture is not necessarily so to another, and it is very unreasonable to impose one's standards on another when it comes to what is funny, acceptable, or blasphemous. IOW, if you do it, then be aware what you are doing, and be prepared to receive criticism and protest.

Conversely, there are definitely those Muslims who have no room to talk if we are comparing standards on editorial cartoons. Many people who are familiar with graphic depictions of Jews in Arabic newspapers report extreme vilification. These are of generic Jews or sometimes political leaders, so I'm not many an analogy or comparison, but it is a two-way street.

6. Not all cartoons are created equal, whether they are doodles, jests, or insults. (Edit, 10:00 CST Sun 05 Feb 2006) The 12 images (whose legible versions are here) vary greatly in degree of disrespect and in apparent intent. Does "running the spectrum" make it good journalism? I disagree that it does, because in deciding how far to go with that spectrum, Jyllands-Posten seems to have made little or no consideration of Muslim mores, but only of Danish law (if that). If your answer to that is "so what?", I think we've reached an impasse.
1. Of the 12 images, the only one I personally thought was funny was the one of the fearful-looking cartoonist with Muhammad on his drawing board. This also happened to be one of the only two (including the "relax, guys" one) that made a direct statement about free speech. I suspect that any protests would have been very muted and would never have escalated to violence if this had been the only one printed. It's important to understand why Muslims may refrain from even an illustration such as this one, but IMO it alone would not have required any apology from the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten or from the Danish prime minister. (The headdress seems a little anachronistic, though I'm not sure.)

Five of the images seem to me to fall under the rubric of "unnecessary insult to a religious figure".

2. The image of the prophet with crescents forming devil's horns seems to be an anti-Islamic statement straight out of Dante's Inferno. What is it doing in the 21st century? It's one thing to make others aware of such demonization of other religions by documenting it, but isn't knowing better than to perpetuate it part of being enlightened (if we dare claim such a thing)?
3. The knife-wielding Arab with eyes blocked out, flanked by wide-eyed women in black burqas, makes some kind of a statement that might be interesting (if stereotypical) in a generic context, but is rather egregiously disrespectful when the knife-wielder is identified as Muhammad. If the artist or editors think that that contextual effect is clever, they need to get out more.
4. The "lineup of holy figures" may seem to be general good fun, but it's actually a bit disingenuous IMO. "Others don't take such offense; why should you?"
5. As with the devil-horned caricature of Muhammad, the stylistic one, with star-and-crescent faces and an insulting caption, seems completely unnecessary.
6. The bomb-in-the-turban one seems calibrated for maximal outrage. Of images that are not outright obscene, I can't think of any that demonize their object much more, considering recent history. That one has rightfully incurred the most censure for inflaming prejudices and criticism as hate speech, subtle though it may be as such. Moreover: why?

Four of the others are intended to be funny but don't succeed, IMO. Of course, you could argue that editorial cartoons are supposed to be thought-provoking first and amusing second, but are they supposed to be incitatory first and throught-provoking second? It goes to motive.

7. The one with Muhammad greeting Muslims killed by violence at the gates of heaven, who are implied suicide bombers or martyrs (depending on imputed POV) makes a statement, but it is still very divisive and as a caricature of militant Islam seems to exploit the worst stereotypes. From a "Western" POV, this one is not quite the same as the ones that directly poke fun at Muhammad, but it's a fine line as the insinuated premise is that violent jihad (especially homicide bombing) really is martyrdom and that the (apocryphal) promised reward of 72 virgins is genuine.
8. Similarly the one with Muhammad looking at the cartoon, addressing armed jihadists coming up next to him: it may not insult the prophet, but painting his followers as reactionary dim bulbs doesn't serve much useful purpose, either. That one, OTOH, doesn't actually label the figure under the star as Muhammad, so it's largely a matter of context. I found it unfunny more because of the punchline, which is probably too regional to mean anything to me.
9. One of these things is not like the others. The boy named Muhammad at the chalkboard is clearly not the Islamic prophet, and as you can see from the caption, it's actually poking fun at Jyllands-Posten. My take on this is: what is the point of this kind of humor? Whether it's self-deprecating or a surreptitious jab at the editors, it's a little too subtle - perhaps because of the ambiguity between those possibilities.
10. The "PR-stunt" one has a similar idea, though the stick figure of Muhammad is intended perhaps as silly humor. I have the same critique of this one as the chalkboard one.

11. The camel sketch seemed almost inserted almost to provoke. Presumably the artist gave approval for the image to be included in a collection of cartoons featuring Muhammad, but I've read that some were done before; was this one even supposed to be Muhammad?
12. The stylized star-and-crescent framing Muhammad's face looks like a linoleum print done by a child who doesn't know any better. It doesn't offend me at all, but why should it? If any Muslims are offended by it, I suppose it might be for the shoddy quality rather than any apparently intentional disrespect. Of course, this image points out a property of print media that I wish jereeza would comment on: namely, that context matters. If that same image were done in neon green with a Nike swoosh over it, or if, say, this were reprinted with large Warholesque dithering - that would say something commercial and perhaps negative in and of itself. I mention this because the actual stylized image is already green, for no apparent reason.


7. It does go to motive. (Edit, 11:10 CST Sun 05 Feb 2006) I think the body of 12 cartoons as a whole goes to what bqggz is calling "Jyllands-Posten's motives" (and is an undercurrent in Denmark and perhaps most nations of Europe and the world that are not predominantly Muslim). That is, when a caricature includes Muhammad alongside other religious figures, the artist is obliquely pointing out: "most people of other religions don't take offense, and of the few who do, they swallow that offense, nor do they call for boycotts or even violence - see how silly these believers are?". bqggz and aristeros are both right: between militant jihadists and militant advocates of "freedom without consequence", there are "equally silly" beliefs being propounded. By this I mean not Christianity, Judaism, atheism, etc., but the Golden Calf of Free Speech - complacency about malicious speech, stereotypes and sacrilege should be met by responsible speech.

This reminds me of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade: my Chinese students could not be dissuaded from the notion that it was intentional, and not only so, but intended to make the Chinese back down and lose face. This is actually an insidious feedback loop of distrust, and I think that the provocators, where there are such, are primarily to blame. IOW, some reactionary Muslims are proving their detractors and mockers right, they were goaded into it, and I think the goading is incredibly irresponsible, lethally so.

There are many places in the world where such goading is morally, if not legally, tantamount to incitement and negligent homicide. The lesson this incident is teaching us is that globalization tends to erase the qualifier "there are many places in the world". Denmark is now such a place, Norway is, etc.

8. Lest I lapse into hypocrisy, let me state my personal view. (Edit, 10:50 CST Sun 05 Feb 2006) I respect the religious rights of people of faith, including Muslims, and of people of no professed faith. I think it's important for us to respect those rights - the right to believe what they choose - whether or not we share those beliefs. Part of that respect is forbearance from insulting certain beliefs, and that includes sacred figures, icons, principles, and insofar as we are able to, we should be considerate.

That said, I personally would look at a cartoon featuring Muhammad and laugh if it was funny. Some of these are sacreligious to Muslims, no doubt about it. That doesn't mean that I would go drawing, printing, or defending cartoons that I know are offensive stereotypes. I am not a Muslim and I do not believe that a ban on depiction of Muhammad, even in jest (if we take that to be "worse" than a serious reverent depiction), pertains to me.

--
Banazir

Comments

( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
poovanna
Feb. 5th, 2006 12:56 am (UTC)
Nice!
A fair and balanced analysis.
banazir
Feb. 5th, 2006 01:10 am (UTC)
Re: Nice!
Thanks. I just spent dinner and a half hour after dinner discussing the boycotts with my dad.

It's telling that though many centrist imams have accepted the Danish PM's apology, and have urged calm, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait have continued to push for sanctions. Without defending the cartoons themselves: "gasoline on the fire" cuts both ways.

You can't really judge a person without walking a mile in his or her shoes, and that's not technically feasible here. I've seen the analogy: "Well, I don't mind if you draw Jesus Christ/the Buddha/the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so why should you..." and I've seen "What would you say if I depicted Jesus/the Buddha/the FSM killing a child?" Why should either analogy apply? Why does there have to be an analogue?

Conversely, though, there are definitely those Muslims who have no room to talk if we are comparing standards on editorial cartoons.

--
Banazir
kaseido
Feb. 5th, 2006 01:01 am (UTC)
Really quite reasonable!

I confess to being an extremist on the subject, and just got through taking a knife to the arguments of someone else on my flist - but I think your treatment was morally clear, respectful and firm. Very, very good!
scionofgrace
Feb. 5th, 2006 02:15 am (UTC)
I think you hit all the right points there, 'specially the bit about "Love the complainer, hate the complaint; love the ignorant, hate the ignorance." The call should be for more respect on the part of the cartoonist, not a declaration of war.
dankamongmen
Feb. 5th, 2006 08:37 am (UTC)
a fair and balanced (tm) analysis, enumerating points i'd have hoped generally agreeable. thanks!
banazir
Feb. 5th, 2006 05:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
I've added three points (6-8), including a cartoon-by-cartoon exigesis of the piece. Please feel free to repost the link to this essay and any points you agree with.

--
Banazir
bqggz
Feb. 5th, 2006 01:44 pm (UTC)
I think the two most important questions are: 1) What should caricatures be allowed to do, generally? 2) What were Jyllands-Postens motives, specifically?

I disagree strongly with your statement "free speech is a right that comes with the obligation of responsible use". Because I think the very core of caricaturizing something is to balance on the border to the overdone, even boldly stepping into the realm of irresponsibility, to expose underlying contradictions and problems. Caricatures, and satire in general, have therefore much more liberty than, say, a leading article on the same page of a newspaper. "Deliberately calibrated to enrage"? Yes, please!

So the first thing I did was, of course, to take out Photoshop, make a doodle of Muhammad myself and post it in Noel's blog. I'm rather disappointed no fatwahs have been declared yet.

But it also shows what satire should not do: while rightfully tearing apart one ridiculous belief, at the same time teaching another equally ridiculous belief. And I think this is the trap Jyllands-Posten fell into.

As I already wrote somewhere else, Jyllands-Posten stands on quite shaky ground itself. Supporters of right-wing governments, with a history of bootlicking fascism in the 1930s.

"The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, which first published twelve caricatures of Mohammad on September 30, supports the right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen—a government that includes in its coalition a rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim party. In the 1920s and 1930s, Jyllands-Posten was infamous for its affinity for Italian fascism and the German Nazi dictatorship. In 1933, it argued for the introduction of a dictatorship in Denmark."

So are their actions a statement for free speech or is Christian bigotry raising its ugly head again (which is not more and not less ugly than that of political Islam)?
banazir
Feb. 5th, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC)
Enrage - to what end?
OK, let's examine that: what is the purpose of a caricature? "To skirt and step over the line", perhaps "to test the line" or "to push the envelope". Fine. Why? I'm asking as a "westerner", more specifically as an Asian-American who may perhaps be familiar with the concept of pushing the envelope when it comes to offensive or tasteless publications.

Humor: All right - yours was funny, it (and the accompanying comment) was no less impious than a couple of the JP ones. I looked, I chuckled, I commented (arguably blasphemously). But is there a time and a place? Sure! What purpose would it serve to fly Noel's image over the Kaaba? (I'm sure Noel can think of one, but those of us who are nominally sane probably can't come up with a good, rational one.)

Similarly, Al-Jazeera wouldn't run your cartoon, nor would I cross-publish your cartoon from your blog to, say, the K-State Collegian. It belongs where it is, and if some Muslims come and posts that it's sacreligious, that's their right. You can ban such hypothetical people if you like, we can debate whether you are abusing private ownership of a communications channel, they can flame you in public fora and in their own blogs, etc. If one of them really beat you up in a back alley for it, then I will argue that their violence is unjustified, Qur'anically or otherwise. All no-brainers.

But what was so funny about most of the JP cartoons? I added a case-by-case critique above that says why I personally found most of them unfunny, if not simply boring.

Documentary purposes: When we claim that something serves purpose P, we should ask what aspect of P is really being served. What exactly is being documented? "That Muslims get angry if you defame their prophet" would not seem to be news, and doing it as an object lesson is journalism as irresponsible as shouting slurs in a public house of some race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and then running outside where a camera crew is waiting. Baiting is pizdarija, as jereeza might say, or "cockness", as mirabehn did.

To strike a blow for free speech: As Mister Eko said to bebenapping Charlie on Lost last week, this is not the way.

To strike a blow for other fascisms and bigotries: I don't know JP's history as well as you do, but it's more plausible than the humor, documentary, or free speech advocacy angles, isn't it?

--
Banazir
(Deleted comment)
banazir
Feb. 5th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC)
Fair enough
If you do, I hope you'll actually submit it for publication in the near future, and should hope the preprint and reprint policies of your field are reasonable enough that you can give us a citation.

--
Banazir
(Deleted comment)
auriam
Feb. 7th, 2006 05:00 am (UTC)
The 'points' I see being made:

1. "Don't poke the bear" - if you know someone will react badly to some speech, don't speak. Spurious. Their actions are their responsibility, and to believe you control their behaviour is paternalistic and a greater insult than saying what you have to say. People are not bears - and to believe that Muslims have so little brain that they are unable to stop themselves from committing violence over political cartoons is to infantilize them and keep them from ever being treated equally.

Thus, your comment "I think that the provocators, where there are such, are primarily to blame. IOW, some reactionary Muslims are proving their detractors and mockers right, they were goaded into it, and I think the goading is incredibly irresponsible, lethally so." Provocation only works on the easily provoked, which was the point.


2. "Freedom of speech is an absolute value in the Western world. Violent responses are foolish and misguided, only giving ammunition to Islam's critics" -

Right on the money. There is no way the point could have been more effectively made - fascist Islamic governments use religion to incense the people against the West, going so far as to add extra cartoons of Mohammed being sodomized by a dog. The people doing the rioting are not blameless brainless zombies being controlled by their religious dogma. They're choosing to show their hatred of the West, calling for the deaths of those who merely look Danish (see several reports of Westerners beaten for "looking Danish", and in general letting their uninformed "righteous" indignation override their rational minds. Similarly, I would say, to all zealots. The point is made - the kind of religion which would kill over speech has no place in modern society.

3. "Freedom of speech comes with the responsibility for the consequences one causes" - true, but one must realize that when those consequences are others' actions, they are responsible for their own choices. The cartoons are not the equivalent, as some apologists for 'political correctness' have said, "the equivalent of shouting 'fire' in a theater." They're the equivalent of, well, making crude caricatures of religious figures to make a point about the religion. Moses, Buddha, Christ, John Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard have all been caricatured - I don't remember seeing riots, burning of embassies, and beatings by their followers (the Scientologists would sue, though).

I find your apologetics for religious zealots disturbing, and I feel they are based in a general collegiate climate of "Western guilt" and admiration of other societies' differences without judgment - nothing wrong with that, except when it leads to absurdities like justifying violence in the name of religious outrage.
auriam
Feb. 7th, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)
And finally... how can you possibly support those who would blame the speaker for the mob's actions? You support freedom of speech and truth, yet had you been the editor of the paper, you would have sent the cartoons to the circular file, not because you thought they were crudely drawn, not because you were able to grasp at straws to find offense in each one, but because you feared reprisals and repercussions. To hell with repercussions - publish and be damned!
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2006 10:02 am (UTC)
Fear has exactly zero to do with it, part 1 of 2
I personally see nothing to fear here, unless it were, as FDR said, fear itself. The problem is not that religious extremists possess the force to compel silence: it's that there was no good reason for publishing the cartoons. Whether the outcome would be impotent whinging or an ICBM first strike, the principle is the same.

"To show there are large numbers of easily provoked, violently reactionary Muslims" is either:

a) Valid, in which case your refutation of "don't wake the bear" falls flat, because if it is true, JP is escalating and sowing discord. To what end? There are better quests for truth and justice than goading your ideological opponent into committing violence. What, is the murder of Danish emigres going to galvanize its people, the West, etc. into supporting free speech more than we have?

Others have said this better than I, but there is a difference between forbearing to do something because you are afraid of reprisal and forbearing because it's charitable, considerate, avoids putting blood on your opponent's hands, etc. One can be responsible about peace even if the responsibility (i.e., blame) for aggression or escalation rests with the other.

IOW, if you know your enemy is prone to unreasoning violence, there are only a few explanations for provoking it.

1. You want to touch off that violence as a pretext - to retaliation, escalation, intervention by a superior military power "on your side", etc. Straight out of Sun Tzu, and hardly admissible at present, but if this turns out to be the case, I'll go on record as saying it's radical Muslim-baiting whose only plausible ultimate goal is incitement of (perhaps retaliatory) ill will and violence against Muslims.
2. You want a few good photo ops (Danish flag-burning, screaming Qur'an-thumpers, etc.) that casts Islam in a bad light and paints many more Muslims as violent extremists than actually are. You know as well as I do that a news media outlet, and more generally the collective news media of a culture, can exaggerate rather easily and effectively using sound bites. In short: subtler than the first possibility, but no less insidiuous.
3. It's what you really feel. In this case, prepare a convincing argument that JP is expressing the genuine (as opposed to wholly ironic) sentiments that Muhammad stands for terrorist bombs, etc., and I'm prepared to run with it.

b) Invalid, in which case the affair similarly comes down to ulterior motives. Ratings (i.e., the ironically self-accused PR stunt), an intent to goad a minority of violent religious extremists into doing something, wanting to make them look bad enough "on camera" - these are unworthy goals IMO.

Either way, I might ask how you could possibly not blame the both the speaker and the mob, if indeed the mob's actions were anticipated and this was the intent. But let's not get ahead of ourselves with assumptions: what do you think JP was up to?

To hell with repercussions - publish and be damned!
That's rather one definition of "irresponsibility". Again, I have to cite the difference between forbearance for the sake of peace, innocent victims, etc. and capitulation out of fear. Simply put: in the first case, you're refraining from some course of action that is entirely optional (according to strategic and moral criteria). Nobody's making you soliciting the cartoons, run them, etc. - just as nobody's making the angry Muslim picket, burn an embassy, or shout for blood. We can choose to forgive, or simply to forbear. There are reasons to forbear sometimes that do not amount to giving up some principle.

Take it from a cost-benefit optimization perspective: to me, freedom and peace are mutually non-dominating, but damaging peace when there is no gain (increase) in freedom, only the exercise of freedom to create nuisance and denigrate, is dominated by other gains (rhetorical, etc.).

(continued)
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2006 10:03 am (UTC)
Fear has exactly zero to do with it, part 2 of 2
BTW, you may have missed my point - I would not have sent them all to the circular file. If the one I listed first were a submission for a free speech article focusing on illustration of Muhammad, I'd have run it as relevant and meaningful, whether I personally agree with the message or not (as it happens, I do).

My main beef with the other cartoons was that there was no cause to run them in that particular article: not only were they provocative and sometimes insulting (as editorials are permitted to be in our culture, and often are), but a lot of them were entirely off-topic. Was "off-topic" my top criterion? No. Would I have rejected editorial cartoons for a similar but less culturally and politically charged subject just because they were off-topic? Absolutely, you bet!

I support freedom of speech and truth, as you said. What truth is there in Muhammad-with-a-bomb-in-his-turban? For whom does that represent an honest opinion? Whether you believe hate speech should be prohibited or censored, whether you believe that is hate speech, you'll have a hard time convincing me that a mainstream paper has any business promulgating it as an editorial. I hope you agree that Oprah documenting white supremacists and KKK members by interviewing dozens of them on a show is different from printing a column by a KKK member.

As for grasping at straws: you'll have to do better than the mere characterization. You've critiqued a lot of my points, which is fine, but I see little or no actual response to my specifics. It's your turn. Tell me what you think is contrived about any of my 12 critiques, because as I said, it won't work to just assess them pass-fail as a whole.

--
Banazir
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 10:49 am (UTC)
Re: Fear has exactly zero to do with it, part 2 of 2
The point of the only cartoon you "liked" was that artists are afraid to draw anything offending Muslims. The point of actually drawing something offensive to Muslims was, perhaps, to show that violence, fatwas, death threats, arson, etc, were an inevitable result of offending Muslims. You ask why it was necessary to prove something that's already known to be true - but perhaps there were still people, before this controversy, who believed that the only reason to avoid offending Islam was to be 'considerate', not because of actual fear. You're not afraid - are you? Yet you don't do anything offensive to anyone, if you can help it, because you're afraid of being labeled 'offensive' or 'hateful' by others, whether or not you think what you say is true. That's the way a lot of people censor themselves; that's why 'political correctness' is still so popular - because avoiding uncomfortable statements, whether or not they are true, is easier than taking a stand for your own principles.
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:31 am (UTC)
Tyranny of intent
Here's something I abjure: I categorically refute that I should be willing to "crunch harder on people's feelings" because everyone's walking on eggshells. That's tantamount to saying we need some good old-fashioned sexism and racism because political correctness has gotten out of hand!

Again, there is a difference between being afraid to do something and not wanting to. You seem to want to impute a "for fear of" here: OK, "for fear of being a jerk. Not "for fear of being called/treated like one". See the difference? The difference is that I actually believe that drawing Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is being a jerk (to no useful purpose).

The point of actually drawing something offensive to Muslims was, perhaps, to show that violence, fatwas, death threats, arson, etc, were an inevitable result of offending Muslims.
Perhaps. Being an Asian-American, I come from a culture where the obliqueness of that demonstration is considered subterfuge at best, a dishonorable entrapment at worst. As it happens, disingenuous dealing was not needed here: can't people read? Couldn't JP have said "if illustrations of the prophet meeting X descriptions were published, we would likely be under such-and-such attack"?

Compare some stereotypes: "Jewish people are litigious. Here, look at these anti-Semitic cartoons. Oh, watch them sue me." "Chinese people are too reverent towards ancestors. Let me denigrate some of their practices. See, see, they're getting mad! Progress!"

When did an insult by way of demonstration become necessary?

Yet you don't do anything offensive to anyone, if you can help it
Ha, ha, and furthermore, HA. I offend plenty of people deliberately all the time. Heck, I may be offending you right now! :-D But some offenses serve far less useful purpose that justifies the damage they do. I have yet to see or hear any cogent argument that the JP cartoons struck a blow for freedom of expression, enlightened witnesses to the mob violence and educated them about the merits of free speech, started a nonviolent grassroots movement, etc. On the contrary, I've heard some resentment over the editor-in-chief and Danish PM issued tepid apologies, from people who see those as cop-outs.

avoiding uncomfortable statements, whether or not they are true, is easier than taking a stand for your own principles.
What stand did you want to take? That flag-burning and militant (or even mainstream) interpretation of jihad, fatwas, etc. should not cow people who have a message? Then go and defend Salman Rushdie. Go and document heinous murders done under the orders of, or with the tacit approval of, some imams. Seek justice for their victims, reparations for their families, public encomiums for the survivors and censure of the tyrants who perpetrated the evils of forcible censorship.

Notice what I didn't suggest? How about we don't go out and provoke more violence? Gasoline on the fire lends more heat than light here. You echoed jereeza's thought that violent protests and boycotts are easier than actually changing the stereotype. Self-censorship is expedient. But then, so too is starting a ruckus. For a tabloid, it's the path of least resistance.

--
Banazir
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)
Re: Tyranny of intent
A couple of the cartoons saw it as what it was, perhaps, most clearly - a PR stunt and a chance to shore up its reputation as a nationalist newspaper not afraid to stand up to 'those terrorists.' I don't think their motives were 'pure' (just in defense of free speech), and I don't think the motives of those who photocopied tons of the cartoons without the article they accompanied, and slipped in a few 'extras,' were merely to 'defend the Prophet.' Everyone's got an agenda.

Still, I think the issue of self-censorship in the face of external pressure, whether the 'velvet glove' of PC or the iron fist of zealotry, is a valid one, and I wouldn't, were I Denmark's PM, try to lean on the paper to sack its editor. I would, however, point out that not all Danes agreed with the cartoons' individual messages, that freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from being called out for drawing on religious stereotypes, and that I didn't really find most of the cartoons all that imaginative.

All in all, this is an issue that's coming up more and more frequently lately - freedom of speech vs. people's feelings, and the criminal responses to 'hurt feelings.'

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me... or, at least, they won't hurt physically, or cause me to hurt others physically. But they can certainly sting emotionally and socially... but you can certainly bite back verbally and socially if you wish.

Whether it's most psychologically beneficial for someone who's been insulted to take out his anger physically, verbally, or not at all, I don't know... some schools of thought say that getting angry may be beyond your control, but doing something angry about it certainly isn't. Sometimes it really does feel better to be the 'bigger man' and just shrug, acknowledge the insult, but refuse to respond in kind.
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 10:55 am (UTC)
Re: Fear has exactly zero to do with it, part 2 of 2
And you still don't seem to understand that sometimes it's necessary to provoke someone to prove the point - that they are too easily provoked, and are keeping others in a state of fear due to their unreasonability. I wouldn't stand for anyone I knew threatening to beat me up or kill me over any statement I made - I wouldn't associate with people like that, because I believe in freedom of speech and expression. The controversy is the same, on a larger scale - if you're willing to kill over words, you're not civilized. Yes, perhaps many people are being unfairly characterized as being more radical and violent than they are, because the protests are getting so much attention. But the protests were instigated by the deliberate circulation of the cartoons far beyond their original audience by those who wished to cause violence and confrontation, by presenting them outside their original context, without the article explaining their creation. You want to blame someone for violence, how about blaming those who deliberately misrepresented them as being drawn merely to incite anger, rather than as a demonstration of the supremacy of freedom of speech over cultural taboos?
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:55 am (UTC)
The Tree of Idiocy must be watered from time to time with the blood of provocateurs?
And you still don't seem to understand that sometimes it's necessary to provoke someone to prove the point
Oh, I understand quite well. I come from a long line of people who did that, and whose family members suffered and died for it. But they knew what they were doing, and they did it because they believed in the actual message, not because the message was calibrated to elicit an oppressive or violent response. For me it comes down to basic honesty: cheat here, and what can we believe of what you say?

I wouldn't stand for anyone I knew threatening to beat me up or kill me over any statement I made - I wouldn't associate with people like that, because I believe in freedom of speech and expression. The controversy is the same, on a larger scale - if you're willing to kill over words, you're not civilized.
Absolutely! So, challenge it. Draw what you genuinely believe. If there are such anti-Islamic artists as to really depict bomb-in-turban-Mohammed or the "dumb prophet" and mean it, they deserve (as you said below) the indignant criticism, angry letters, and counter-editorials that they deserve.

Fight speech with speech, idiocy with intelligence, dullness with wit. Not even boycotts: hit them where they live and point out the sheer lies behind what really is, at its heart, Christian bigotry. I'm not sure what to make of your "art critique" suggestion. Some of it is lousy artwork, I agree, but from a purely critical perspective it's the least of my concerns. The humor is weak, the editorial message is weak if not altogether contrived (and yes, that is a "crime" in my book, because it points to either the fundamental incompetence of the JP cartoonist or, more likely, to the editor's fishing for material). Stupid, stupid, stupid.

You want to blame someone for violence, how about blaming those who deliberately misrepresented them as being drawn merely to incite anger, rather than as a demonstration of the supremacy of freedom of speech over cultural taboos?
Now you're putting the cart before the horse. Where exactly does the supremacy of free speech get demonstrated? After Muslims brush off the insult and let it go unchallenged because it's "just a cartoon", or after they react and "prove that free speech remains inviolate" because their demands for sanctions against the cartoonists went unmet? A Catch-22, and that's all well and good, but there's no misrepresenting an act that creates that trap. IMO, that's altogether disingenuous and hence wholly dishonorable of motive from the start.

If you want to point some valid blame, point at the Islamic Society of Denmark, who exaggerated its membership, went to the Middle East to incite more anger and escalate the situation, spammed the cartoons out to imams in many Islamic countries, and allegedly added more illustrations that were not ever published in JP to confound and exacerbate the issue. Point at those extremist imams (a small minority in Arabia and Palestine, the second epicenter of the debate, more in Afghanistan and Syria) who refused to leave it at Rasmussen's apology and that of the JP editor. For those people I have the same "dishonorable" label, not for those who thanked Rasmussen for his statement.

You may not agree that discouraging (as opposed to outlawing) insults and relatively pure abuses of free speech helps protect legitimate uses thereof, but IMO it really does.

"Lighting a fire" has its time and place. If you knowingly light a fire where it has the potential to kill not just you or your opponent, but innocent bystanders, you're just being an ass.

--
Banazir
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 12:12 pm (UTC)
Re: The Tree of Idiocy must be watered from time to time with the blood of provocateurs?
Hmm. I guess it comes down to whether the Ends - of proving a point about freedom of speech and self-censorship - justify the Means of insulting a lot of people's beliefs and being an ass.

I'm not sure whether it was 'worth it' to them personally - that's their call - but it's a controversy that's been brewing for a while, and the two value systems will probably continue to clash until they come to some kind of equilibrium.

The overall conflict is inevitable; the values are polar opposites. Whether this particular battle should have been fought over these particular cartoons during this particular time, I can't say, but the eventual outcome I hope to see is that of more respect from the Eastern/Islamic culture of individual freedom of expression, more reasonable and moderate people of both Islamic and other faiths, willing to speak and listen without violence or censorship.

This may not have been the best way to go about the debate between cultures over values, but I think the Western culture is - gasp - *right*, in my view, to hold freedom of individual expression over and above the freedom to have one's culture's taboos 'left alone' - and the oppressive religious fundamentalists are - gasp again - *wrong* for trying to silence expression, no matter how offensive.

So I'm subjective in this - I have my own beliefs, same as everyone else, and I'll defend them.
auriam
Feb. 7th, 2006 05:11 am (UTC)
I'd say that if you enjoy the freedoms to say what you want and believe what you want, which are enshrined in the culture you inhabit, you might be more upset over the attacks on those freedoms themselves, both at home and abroad, than over their "misuse." Multiculturalism is all well and good, until a more aggressive culture decides monoculturalism - their culture - is better. Would you defend their rights to take away your rights merely because their beliefs are "religious" (ie, conforming to traditionally-held 'absolute truth' without evidence) and therefore above reproach, while yours are merely based on observation and knowledge?
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2006 10:41 am (UTC)
Attacks are as attacks do
For the record: I wrote my assessment several days ago, before any stupidly violent extremists launched any physical attacks on the property and persons of others. There was only flag-burning at the time, and I thought that was quite excessive and stupid already.

My response to those attacks is exactly what jereeza wrote: it can only hurt the cause of any ideology to prove its critics right. Here we could identify the cause as that of faithful Muslims seeking redress of an insult by unbelievers, but I don't actually think it's tied to faith at all; certainly there are secular ideological causes enough, even in this case, to warrant generalization of the situation to "don't prove them right or sink to their level".

So, as for attacks: I condemn attacks and violent reprisals on both sides, and I unequivocally condemn any attempt to enforce silence at weaponspoint. Nobody should shut up because a gun is being pointed; however, some people should shut up because they are being assholes.

The right to be an asshole, however sacrosanct, does not constitute an obligation to be one or a justification for being one.

Now, let's talk about that "taking away" of rights. I quoted a Muslim Wikipedian who commented in the discussion subpage for "Jyllands-Posten Muhammad pictures controversy" (just "Muhammad pictures" at the time). He and Qatarson, who was temporarily banned for vandalizing the page, asserted that if you don't use the right responsibly, you should have it taken away. Actually, no. It's a right, not a privilege, and its persistence and inviolability are what distinguish it as such.

So are we entitled to merrily exercise our rights? We are accountable for the intent and end effect of our actions. For instance, we have the right to use the transportation system, but doing certain otherwise-legal things could consitute negligent vehicular homicide. IOW, you can oppose censorshp (I do) and fight against imposition any rules about what is legally printable (I do), but still agree that there should be consequences for printing incitatory speech (I do). The onus of responsibility there is on the editor. To trot out the undead horse of "shouting `fire' in a crowded theatre" for a second: it's still murder, whether or not you think it should be squelched before or during the act.

To be unequivocal about respecting religious rights: I think that certain acts of disrespect merit punishment as discriminatory. Now, where you draw that line matters a lot. As a colleague of mine said, Israel should by all rights be happy and expect an endorsement from those Islamic nations calling for a UN resolution "mandating respect for all religions and creeds". This in particular is going to happen, and "mandatory respect" is unfortunately neither feasibly achievable nor enforceable.

Enter the ACLU. Whether you like them or hate them, they wish to impose some mandates and codify "respect" in the strictest terms of "groups and institutions cannot impose their will on individuals in matters of belief", hence "In God We Trust" and "one nation, under all" get challenged while individuals who (say) blaspheme any particular deity "get off scot free". I hear some incredulity about this, particularly from Christian far right (among whom I have some acquaintances and friends) and of the "be intolerant" persuasion (rare or unknown among people I personally associate with). Need we boggle? I think not. People want respect; it's human nature. People want control; ditto. Put it together.

Thus the ACLU is called a discriminatory organization by both sides.

Where do I stand? I'll be the first to slap my signature on a petition for a "Evolutionist/Scientist/Objectivist's Rights" bill. If someone wants to extend religious status to any secular belief system, from humanism to one of many flavors of atheism, be my guest.

Finally, I'll reiterate my challenge: you put "misuse" in quotes, so you must think at least some, if not all, of the cartoon was justified.

--
Banazir
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:16 am (UTC)
Re: Attacks are as attacks do
Speech is the attempted manipulation of others' minds and actions - that's evolutionary biology's model. It can be used to tell the truth, lies, fact or fiction. Whether a particular use of speech is 'good' or 'bad' depends on what you think those words mean; probably on what you were indoctrinated as a child into believing they meant (I use 'you' in general, not 'you' in particular).

Freedom of speech as a *right* means we supposedly shouldn't stop others from saying anything, in any way - speech is equated as less harmful than other action, and I quite agree - it's one's own choice whether to believe what one hears, and which motives to attribute to the speaker.

If someone's deliberate lies, say, cause a jury to wrongfully sentence a man to death, one country to attack another, a deadly stampede at a public event, etc, then yes, I would say that type of speech should not be allowed, because it has a great probability of leading to inevitable real, physical harm to others.

However, if the speech leads to physical harm caused not by another's legitimate good-faith actions, like running out of a supposedly burning building, but by another's lack of socially acceptable restraint - such as a man being killed for insulting another man's mother - then the one who acts on provocation is, according to most
laws, still guilty of the attack, only somewhat less so than if the attack were unprovoked.

Thus, freedom of speech is absolute, but as you said, you are responsible for the *reasonably expected* results of your speech. Reasonably expected results of a few crude caricatures and cartoons: angry letters to the editor, bad reviews from art critics, perhaps a protest march and a well-deserved "shame on you for insulting peaceful people with the assumption that we'd kill you for it."

The rest, that's on the mobs, and those who deliberately incensed them to gain political capital in their own countries - Iran's instigating protest and outrage to gain support for its nuclear standoff, Syria is always trying to prove it's the UN that's against its people, not their government, and Egypt is always willing to score points by playing off European Islamophobia.

And "justified"?... I'm not sure if there's any kind of objective justice, but it makes me a bit satisfied to see that more debate is being stirred up on how some groups have more "right to not be insulted" than others.

It's like being in high school - if you beat someone up when he disses you, you won't get dissed as much. Or you could be like some other groups, and 'complain to the teacher', ie, sue for 'hate speech.' Or you could try to ignore it like a good sport, which is often interpreted as weakness, leading to more ridicule and scapegoating. Is that really how we want to run the world, though, on the basis of 'face'?
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:59 am (UTC)
Re: Attacks are as attacks do
The ACLU is a good group, more or less, but they can be a bit two-faced on the freedom of speech issue... it's OK for an individual to offend others in some ways, but not in others? Speech that's against groups instead of individuals is somehow less protected (because it's inciting 'group hatred' - not a good thing by any means, but in trying to eliminate it, we're merely curing the symptom, not the disease), speech about sex is less protected when it's 'unwanted' (try determining whether someone wants to hear something before they've heard it)... everyone's got an agenda. If they think the content and effect of speech is 'bad' by their values system, they're going to oppose it, whether it's a 'right' or not. On the opposite side, groups like the American 'Family' Association try to remove sexual content from TV, the net, movies, and visual art, but are fine with 'hate speech' against gays, creationism in schools, etc.

There really isn't a "Total Neutrality Advocacy Group," for some reason... but if there were, I might join up.
auriam
Feb. 7th, 2006 05:18 am (UTC)
"I think it's important for us to respect those rights - the right to believe what they choose - whether or not we share those beliefs. Part of that respect is forbearance from insulting certain beliefs, and that includes sacred figures, icons, principles, and insofar as we are able to, we should be considerate."

Considerate, yes. Silent, no. There cannot be ideas which are inexpressible in any context, in any language, in any wording, merely for fear of "offense." To say that there are things that should never be said is to remove those ideas from the language and from people's minds.

How would YOU have drawn a cartoon that made the point this newspaper was trying to make (and succeeded in making) - that Muslim intellectual immaturity, irrational anger, and religious zealotry make it impossible to draw an image and identify it as "Mohammed" in any way, anywhere, without fearing for your life?

There are some things that cannot be said without offending SOMEBODY, but that MUST be said. Or are you also in favor of banning the teaching of evolution, the publication of Scientology's misdeeds, the showing of pictures of American coffins from the Iraq war, the protesting of political figures, etc, merely because someone might get angry and throw a molotov or two?
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:06 am (UTC)
From hate speech to crimethink: fear versus forbearance
There cannot be ideas which are inexpressible in any context, in any language, in any wording, merely for fear of "offense."
Correct.

To say that there are things that should never be said is to remove those ideas from the language and from people's minds.
Nope. Should is a normative assertion. Thus it depends very much upon how you back it up. Do you have listeners in each community, reporting back to the government about your dissidence, ready to publically denounce you? (This is not hypothetical: as you may have guessed, it really happened in China leading up to, during, and for some time after the Cultural Revolution.)

Hauling the speaker away? Bad. Judging each case on its own merits - the people harmed or helped; the intent? Good.

So how do we mediate this? How about starting with how we do it now? Do you believe there is such a thing as hate speech? Is it too broadly defined at present, too narrowly defined, faulty in both regards at different points, or just right? Should hate speech be prohibited in certain settings (e.g., high school, universities)? If someone is charged and fairly convicted of promulgating hate speech, do we follow up with fines, jail time, or other sanctions? Or do we just let the speaker go and look for provable damages?

How would YOU have drawn a cartoon that made the point this newspaper was trying to make (and succeeded in making)
Please go back and see my list. I said #1 "was not that bad". I'll go on record as saying that as an editorial, it gets the point across. If I were the artist, I'd have made my point in a similar way. Editorial cartoons should provoke thought and discussion; going out there to make an object lesson is beyond the scope of a newspaper. It's just not responsibly journalism or edtiorial editing to do this, IMHO.

Succeeding in making that kind of point is a failure of diplomacy (arguably not JP's function) and legitimate documentary journalism.

There are some things that cannot be said without offending SOMEBODY, but that MUST be said. Or are you also in favor of banning...
I'm not in favor of banning anything, but you get the Inigo Montoya Deluxe Treatment for that "must". The examples you give must be said, yes. Show me, if you can, how you think Muhammad's various depictions in the JP article must have been drawn and published. If you won't or can't, then "must" isn't at issue here.

In that case, it's just individual artists being insensitive and who should personally apologize. That's not because their multinational food conglomerate is being boycotted or because the lives of their countrypersons are threatened, but because they are decent people and don't want to give their country a bad reputation as a nation of boors.

--
Banazir
auriam
Feb. 8th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
Re: From hate speech to crimethink: fear versus forbearance
OK, so at least we agree that there shouldn't be absolute limits on freedom of speech - but 'should,' still, is a value judgment. Political correctness tries to tell us what we 'should and shouldn't' say or admit to feeling, and punishes by telling us that if others say or feel these things, they aren't 'considerate,' and therefore their thoughts or speech aren't to be listened to, and they should be socially ostracized. It's a conspiracy of 'tolerance' which manufactures conformity and stifles intellectual and emotional honesty, at the same time building subconscious resentment of the 'protected' classes.

No, I don't think there should be any such thing as 'hate speech' laws - if you hate someone, you should have the right to say so, whether or not you're provably right - and others should have the right to say you're an idiot for saying so, and to try to convince those who listen to that hate to see things differently.

If the individual is an authority, such as a teacher or a political leader, or god forbid a scientist, I'd say allowing 'hate speech' starts to become less clear-cut; there are many who take what authorities say at face value, stupidly or not... and kids in school, well, they're supposedly there to learn, and being taught unprovable lies by their teachers isn't what I'd want my (hypothetical future kids) to encounter. Thus, I'm against the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design as scientific fact in public schools. I'm also against teachers telling the black kids in the class they can't be scientists, or white children that they can't be basketball players, or anyone of any group that they should or shouldn't have certain personal characteristics as a member of that group.

The guiding principle in my beliefs on free speech is that there should be as much self-expression and as little internal or external censorship as possible. The more ideas, the more testing of ideas, the more debate, the more possibility of real truth being found.


If someone doesn't like something someone else says, they can either prove it wrong, prove that it's unprovable, or make their own unprovable statement of opinion. If someone with great ability to influence others' beliefs makes a statement, that statement should be held to a higher standard of proof than those who have less influence - but who does the holding? Hard to say. Governments and corporations should have to prove they're telling the truth, because the consequences of their lying could hurt many people - so we have the SEC and the GAO, to name a couple of oversight organizations. But there's always someone who isn't being watched, because our system is a pyramid, with those with more power knowing and seeing more than those with less power.

Thus, perhaps it's impossible in any hierarchally-arranged system to have full oversight and transparency. Maybe that's one reason not to have such systems...
asakiyume
Feb. 9th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)
Banazir-Aurian debate
You folks discuss many interesting points. Here are a couple of things to consider--they're tangential rather than directly related.

On the topic of incitement: The Islamic rationale for having women cover themselves up is that when women wear revealing clothing (and as we know, revealing to some means anything at all) is that it arouses men, who might then--what? Do something naughty or think bad thoughts. Somehow the onus seems to be on women to keep men from being tempted or acting badly, and they're to do this by dressing modestly. How much respect should we give to this opinion? Politeness (and commonsense) would suggest that a woman visiting an Islamic country shouldn't wear miniskirts and a halter top, but what do we think about the logic behind the requirement to cover up? It's probably a justification a posteriori for what the culture feels is correct, but taking it at face value, what do we think?

On the topic of pointless proving of a point: It does seem wise to me to avoid pointless and painful experiments whose results prove things we pretty much already know--like testing to see if monkey babies prefer a cuddly mommy doll that provides milk or a spiny spikey mommy doll that doesn't. Surprise! The monkeys prefer the cuddly doll and get messed up when they have the spikey one. Who couldn't have guessed that outcome? What did it prove, and what was the point of the experiment, except to make animals miserable?
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