Consistency

I have to disagree with my friend Wallace, who claims that Paul Henry is defensible in terms of freedom of speech. Paul Henry has not been locked up, beaten or gagged. He’s lost his job. He lost his job by behaving in a way that would cause me to lose my job, if I said similarly offensive things in the execution of my job. I expect that most New Zealanders would be in a position to be given verbal warnings, written warnings and dismissal if they were similarly offensive.

If Henry had told a Fijian-Indian coworker that they “didn’t look like a New Zealander” and then repeatedly pressed the point, there would have been consequences. If he had mocked the facial hair of a female coworker, there would have been consequences. If he had, bizarrely, told an Indian coworker that her name should be “Dick-in-Shit” because she’s Indian, there would have been consequences.

If TVNZ’s response had been based on these principles of conduct, he would have been given a verbal warning, written warning and dismissal in due course. Instead, they acted as little as possible at each step, with Henry only resigning because of public pressure, not due to simple breaches of acceptable conduct.

Paul Henry can continue to express his bigotry as much as he like, and he will not be arrested.

If you are employed to gather elderly extras together for a big film shoot, you can be fired for producing a collection of young-20s nudists. That’s not a breach of freedom of assembly; you just weren’t doing your job right.

The Funny Pages

 

Well, the Iranian “Holocaust cartoon” competition is over, and the results are in. As you no doubt remember, there was an amount of madness at the beginning of the year over “offensive” cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper – and subsequently a whole bunch of other newspapers. After all of that, an Iranian newspaper had a much better idea than rioting, and held a competition to make cartoons about the Holocaust.

The logic is not immediately apparent. Some Muslims get violently angry about some Danish cartoons – many more non-violently angry – therefore… mock the Holocaust. Doesn’t really seem to follow, until you consider that the Holocaust (and I am referring, of course, to the Nazi holocaust, not the Armenian one or any of the others) is one of those few remaining things in proper Western society that is sacred enough not to make jokes about. It’s in a delightful little group along with child molestation and, if you’re American, the military.

But what were they hoping to prove? According to al-Jazeera, when the announcement was made:

[The graphics editor] said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.

“The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,” he said.

The spelling mistakes there are not mine, of course.

The original reason for Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was to highlight the troubles writer KÃ¥re Bluitgen experienced when looking for an illustrator for his children’s book about the Qu’ran and Muhammad. Three illustrators declined his offer, citing events like the murder of Theo van Gogh by offended Muslims. At that point, the issue was self-censorship, not freedom of expression – that these artists refused to produce particular kinds of art for fear of violence against their person.

It quickly became about freedom of expression, however, when the ensuing violence became a kind of challenge to editors and publishers – “If you publish, we get violent. Therefore, if you don’t publish, it’s because we scared you into not publishing.” And because sane people don’t want a world where violence decides who gets to say what, a lot of people published. The original cartoons themselves really weren’t all that offensive – and yes, I do get to decide that – but the fires were fuelled by very offensive cartoons that hadn’t been published making the rounds and stirring up more anger.

Anyway, enter Iran’s biggest newspaper, Hamshahri. They say, “You want freedom of expression? Fine. We’ll publish cartoons that mock something sacred to you – the Holocaust.” And to my knowledge, there have been no riots or violence as a result. Some of the cartoons are pretty good, though.

Here’s one. (The images are links back to the site.)

And here’s the winner.

And another.

See the recurring theme there? They’re really not even trying to be offensive. None of the ones I’ve seen so far (there are many I haven’t) are saying anything like, “How do you fit a hundred Jews in a mini?” Most of them are saying, “The Palestinians are getting fucked over, and the world – especially the United Nations – is doing nothing to help them, because they’re too busy sighing about the Nazi Holocaust.”

It’s interesting that the original brief was “a cartoon about the Holocaust”, trying to make a point about freedom of expression. Presumably, it was expected that a bunch of really offensive submissions would be made. Instead, artists across the world have used it as an opportunity to make compelling points – some mistaken, in my opinion – about certain political situations. While Hamshahri missed the point a bit when they started the competition, it would seem that the artists did not.