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Agreeing to disagree

Robin Koerner of Watching America thinks that the whole ‘Satanic Cartoon’ issue needs to be resolved with the straightforward notion that people must agree to disagree

Gulliver’s Travels is a satirical story about two factions that face over how to eat boiled eggs. The first maintains that boiled eggs should be cracked at the smaller end. Their opponents maintain that they should be cracked at the larger end: and they are all set to go to war over it.

With the ‘offensive’ Danish cartoons, we have the modern equivalent: the large-enders (Western apologists) are apologizing to the small-enders (offended Muslims) for making a joke out of small-ending!

This entire furor is premised on the assumption that we can not dignify people by giving them responsibility for the way they choose to react to the things in their world – and especially things that they do not like. Just as I have the responsibility not to choose to get angry at all every Muslim when a few damaged individuals commit such evil acts as beheading of innocents.

No one can insult me or offend me unless I choose to be insulted or offended. In denying that, I deny my own power over myself. I understand that people may not have arrived at that understanding, but since I have it, I cannot in good conscience withdraw my own free expression when no hurt was intended.

Did all these politicians and pundits not learn this very basic lesson when they were five and got upset at a hurtful remark in the playground, and their teachers told them, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”…?

While I am the first to expound openness to those who see things differently from me I also expound my own need to be who I am. We have a right to do our truth as individuals, and as a culture, just as do all Muslims and the culture of Islam. While I will always respect the right of someone to disagree with me, and respect the equal humanity even of those who disagree with me violently, I never have to deny my own truth.

Voltaire’s famous line, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” will only make for a better world if we add to it, “You disapprove of what I say, but I will defend to the death my right to say it.”…

In the instance of the ‘offensive’ cartoon, no one needs to defend anything to the death. We need only politely apologize for causing unintended upset; politely explain that we do not require that the cartoon be read by anyone who is in any way upset by it, and that we respectfully disagree that our culture is worse for protecting freedom of expression where it is not imposed and does no physical harm.

Then let it drop and let the fire burn itself out. It is called “agreeing to disagree” and is the very manifestation of treating everyone with equal respect.

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25 comments to Agreeing to disagree

  • Whilst I agree with the essential points of Robin’s article, where I disagree is that this should be allowed to just fade away. I think that if a vocal section of Muslim opinion wants to escalate this into a full blown cultural confrontation, we should be more than happy to comply.

    The enemies of liberty (not to mention secular values) have just made a serious mistake by revealing not just their intolerance but their complete lack of comprehension for the idea that tolerance means tolerating things you find offensive.

    Moreover, we need to use this action by outraged Muslims to draw (for want of a better term) the Chomskyite left into this intellectual killing ground.

  • And as Perry pointed out in an earlier comment on this topic in another article, to tolerate someone does not require you to respect them.

    I find most of what muslim “spokesmen” say utterly repugnant and I have no respect for them nor for their antics and ghastly beliefs, but that does not stop me tolerating them. Tolerance they get from me, but respect? I don’t think so.

  • Daniel

    ‘Respect’ – the rallying cry of the new totalitarianism.

  • ‘Respect’ – the rallying cry of the new totalitarianism.

    No, I think that is rather off target, at least with regard to this article. It does not strike me that Robin is being an apologist for intolerant Islam at all. In fact he clearly states we must be true to ourselves and express our views.

    If Robin’s article has a flaw it is that I think he assumes more ‘reasonableness’ on behalf of the other party that the evidence suggests is really appropriate.

  • You disapprove of what I say, but I will defend to the death my right to say it.
    And against Islam we may have to do just that, they do have a nasty tendency of initiating violence over almost anything. I agree with Old Jack Tar that I will tolerate their bigoted medival attitude, so long as it does not interfer with the freedom of myself or anyone else not to live by their bigoted medival creed. But I will never have any respect for their position.

  • hm

    Sorry if this hurts, but your piece had naivety written all over it even before I got to the real whopper, i.e.

    Then let it drop and let the fire burn itself out.

    Sadly, Perry at #1 is right.

  • llamas

    The author wrote:

    ‘We need only politely apologize for causing unintended upset . . . ‘

    Not bloody likely. There is no ‘need’ or requirement to apologize for ANYTHING that is mere expression of opinion. No matter how offensive or insulting.

    To apologize – however formalized and ritualistic it may be – is to insinuate, on some level, that there is something wrong with free speech – something that needs to be apologized for.

    No apologies. No self-censorship or snivelling asking-for-forgiveness. Free expression of non-violent opinion is a bedrock principle of Enlightenment values in a free society. That is the principle which these whining, snivelling crybabies who can’t take a joke need to have pounded into their skulls – that if they want to get along with the rest of us, who have moved beyond 7th-century mores, they have to accept this without a murmur. No appeasement. No compromise.

    I’d entertain the idea of some mollifying words, the day that I see Arab nations apologizing for the obscene, vile and hate-filled description of Jews and the State of Israel that appear daily in their media. The day, in other words, that monkeys fly out of my butt.



  • Pete_London

    In the instance of the ‘offensive’ cartoon, no one needs to defend anything to the death. We need only politely apologize for causing unintended upset …

    Apologise for what? For upsetting an easily upset bunch of petulant infantiles whose culture is increasingly, plainly incompatible with the West’s? Not a chance.

    Perry has it right –

    I think that if a vocal section of Muslim opinion wants to escalate this into a full blown cultural confrontation, we should be more than happy to comply.

    Oh yes please. As someone remarked elsewhere, this is a trap of their own making and one which only bites deeper the more they thrash about. Has anyone seen that bunch outside the Danish embassy today? “BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT THE PROPHET” “EUROPE IS THE PROBLEM, ISLAM IS THE ANSWER” EUROPE DON’T YOU REMEMBER 9/11″ “BUTCHER THOSE WHO INSULT ISLAM” yadda yadda yadda. Who doesn’t want a confrontation with these goons? How is it civilised and respectul not to bring on the clash of civilisations with these barbarians? I only regret is that they’re a bunch of girly-men whose banners and slogans and threats only come out under the protection of a policed protest in a civilised city in Great Britain.

    And I see Jack Straw has condemned the publishing of the cartoons in various papers across Europe. Shame on him and a pox on his houses. We are represented abroad by a spineless, unprincipled wimp.

  • One point of the Voltaire quote is that just because a particular expression of opinion is tolerated does not mean the tolerating person agrees with that opinion. The protesting Islamists have transgressed civilized norms by holding an entire society and culture responsible for the actions of a few. And their “multiculti” defenders insist that is exactly what we should not do in relation to the truly offensive idiocy emanating from a good part of the Islamic media.

  • J

    It’s funny isn’t it. We criticise the muslims for getting upset by the cartoons, and yet we live in a world where I can post even quite a mild opinion (e.g. Libertarians are all Rand loving fucking halfwits) and be sure to get someone on some message board upset. So, getting upset is sort of neither here nor there.

    We all agree that there should be absolute legal protection for my right to upset people. That doesn’t make me doing it a very important thing, or a good thing, or, really anything much. This right is entirely regardless of how reasonable anyone judges the upset to be.

    Personally, on the grand scale of upsetness, I’d say the muslims were fairly justified. You, viscious lampooning of someone’s deity is a fairly standard “This will upset people a fair bit” kind of activity. I think that’s fine. I guess it’s right up there with me saying “The Han chinese are murderous invading bastards who want to ethnically cleanse the muslims population of Kashgar”. That statement is probably going to upset all those cute capitalist girls in Shanghai, despite the fact it’s obviously true.

    Now, I’m pretty sure no media outlet in the Western world is going to start telling the truth about Tibet, or the fantastic human rights record of the Han people, because, quite frankly, they want to do business with them, oh yes please.

    So, all the posturing about buycotts and boycotts might as well stop now, because it’s a drop in the ocean if you look at the wider picture of ‘free speech’ caving in to financial incentives.

    Secondly, much of the furor is non violent, especially in this country. We have some muslim MP on the Today program saying things I think are garbage. That’s fine. More free speech that I disagree with and that might even upset me. Great. Happy with that.

    Likewise, I’m a big fan of legalising incitement to religious hatred. So some mullah banging on about how the Danes are the children of Satan and must be punished, is, as far as I’m concerned, another big old lump fo free speech. That’s just fine and dandy that we can all hear the stupid religious guy saying the stupid things. I’d hate his governemnt imprison him for it.

    Now, if people start firebombing Danish businesses, then I hope they go to jail. That’s just crime and punishment, business as usual.

    I’ve not yet heared any governernment in the West threatening action against a media outlet re-printing the cartoons. That’s good. It’s a lot better, for instance, than the way the British government silenced pro-Tibet supports a few years ago. That incident is 1000 times worse than the current one, in terms of threats to free speech.

    So, this is all a storm in a tea-cup. There’s been lots of people offending each other by speaking freely, and I for one think that’s great. There have been very few if any incidents of violence, and that’s great too. Yes, they got a bit carried away in Palestine, but hardly a surprise there, is it?

    So all in all, I hope the next time someone wants to offend a whole bunch of people, that they are free to do so. And I hope they actually stop and think about whether doing so is big or clever, or is financially sound, or is in their long term interests.

    The cartoons were neither funny, nor clever, nor well drawn. I’m glad they got published, because it nice to see politically correct people squirm, but if the person who published them gets called a wanker by every muslim he meets, that would see entirely reasonable to me too. God knows, in the unhappy event I ever see Piers Morgan, I’ll be sure to tell him what a c*nt he is, but I’d never have wanted his rag shut down by force.

  • Ted

    Islamists believe in free speech as long as they are the only people free to speak.

    What I cannot understand is why you would choose to live in a place that makes you so unhappy. Why do they bother to live here, when so many preferable options are available? If you really detest the country you live in, the nearest airport is not far away. As an Islamist, surely you would be happier in the various freak nations that have been overcome by this cult’s ideology.

  • Isdor

    I read the Gulf News webpage. It’s an english language arab newspapers. They had a reader’s letters page.
    Most of the letters were from muslims who speak english well, and are most likely educated. A great deal of them went to school in the west or atleast spent some time in western countries.

    I can’t remember one letter that even understood the concept of freedom. They all seemed to think that the leaders of Denmark could have just throw the cartoonists in prison if they wanted to. Or shut down the newspaper. Or worst.

    Maybe this is not a cultural problem like everybody thinks it is.

    So many arabs marry their cousins. They’ve been doing it for centuries. Maybe that would explain it. Just a thought.

  • Ted


    Sorry but your post assumes that islamists respect the right of free speech. The whole point is that they want to censor that right in favour of their ideology under threat of violence. They dont believe that any person in a free society has the right to caricature their religious leaders , or religion.

    Hardly a storm in a teacup and I would suggest seriously worrying, especially as these people have indulged in mass murder across the world.

  • Pete_London

    Well, there goes the land of the free and the home of the brave. Sky News is reporting a State Department spokesman as condemning the publishing of the cartoons “because they are offensive to muslims”. So long, nice knowing you. If anyone’s in the DC area would you mind awfully popping along to the State Department and dropping off copy of the constitution?

  • Secondly, much of the furor is non violent, especially in this country.

    Trying to get the state to repress someone probably counts as non-violent in your books. And the bomb threats against Jyllands-Posten offices too I guess. And the placards threatening death to anyone who insults Mohammend too I suppose. Fair enough. Forgive me if I think you ‘do not get it’ in fairly significent ways.

  • cubanbob

    The Muslims have figured it out that being unreasonable is reasonable. And truth be told so far they have been proven right to our shame.
    Two can play the game. It’s time the West demands an apology for Muslim savagery. If Blair was a man, he would show them the door.
    I wonder how long it will be before the German’s rediscover and once again get in touch with their inner Nazi.

  • It’s funny isn’t it. We criticise the muslims for getting upset by the cartoons, and yet we live in a world where I can post even quite a mild opinion (e.g. Libertarians are all Rand loving fucking halfwits) and be sure to get someone on some message board upset

    Yes but none of those liberatarians will call for your death or that you be thrown into jail. So what if someone gets upset?

    The problem with Muslims is that they get upset and then call for your death. That is the fundamental difference.

    NB: At least the Foreign Sect has an apt name. His last name describes what his spine is made of…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    J, of course we crazed libertarians get upset if you call us by rude names. That is because we value liberty et al. If an important value is attacked, that pisses us off. And remember that private property is something to bear in mind: if I came around your house and started spraying “J is a pompous jackass” on the wall, I think you would have ample rights to kick me out of there asap. Well, in privately owned forums like this blog, we can and have ejected race realists, abusive NuLab supporters and plain ornery lunatics. That’s how private property works.

  • Anne

    Religious beliefs ought not be ‘off-limits’ to rational discourse and criticism. This week, angry Muslims are threatening a violent response to published cartoons they consider blasphemous. The response itself – the threat of violence against civilians – highlights the importance of the desperate need to criticize such a belief system – one whose very scripture condones violence as appropriate reaction to an insult. Let us not for a moment think that Christianity is any better. Those who murder abortion doctors similarly find their justification in the Bible. Belief systems that find justification and even commands to commit violent acts in their scriptures, not only should, but must be criticized publicly and often.

  • John Steele


    I emailed “my” State Department today (I suspect these go straight into the electronic shredder) with my thoughts on their statement:

    “It is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and resolve all doubt.”
    … Abraham Lincoln

    What can one say other than the immortal words of General Russell Honore — “stuck on stupid”

  • Millie Woods

    Everyone posting here has fallen into the trap of treating the Islamic reaction to the cartoons as something which can be explained reasonably. It can’t. These people are insane and delusional – end of story.

  • Verity

    It astonishes and worries me that people like J do not understand what is going on. This isn’t a spat.
    These people are running around calling for the death of those involved in the Jyllands-Posten article. They’re shouting “Death to Denmark!” They kill people who don’t bow to their religion.

    Most of individuals in the ME have never even seen the cartoons because obviously, their papers wouldn’t publish them. I think these people mean us harm, as they meant harm to Theo van Gogh, as they mean harm to Aaryan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders. And the editors of Jyllens-Post. They want to impose their tribal law on the free West. They want to impose their intolerant religious leader on us, whether we like it or not and here is the nub of the problem – they take resistance to this idea as an insult to their prophet.

    There is absolutely nothing to apologise for. Jyllands-Posten was operating under Danish law. Outsiders are not able to place any additional strictures on anyone living in Denmark. But they cannot understand this. They honestly cannot understand it.

    But this incident tells us a lot about the insecurity of the Muslim world. Touchy, touchy, touchy. Unfortunately, it’s touchiness with a letha dimension.

    It is wrong to apologise even for giving offence. We have to live with other people giving us offence all the time. It’s childish and immature not just to shrug and forget about it. I think they honestly do not understand that their religion means absolutely nothing to us and their prophet is of no consequence. They think we are deliberately insulting them. (And if we were, so what? But we’re not.) They operate from such a tiny, narrow viewpoint, I really don’t see any hope. They are brainwashed from birth.

    I am certain that Iqbal Sacranie, who Guy Herbert finds so genial, is in total agreement with the actions of his co-religionists. If he has been interviewed on TV, I guarantee that he will have not have made an unequivocal statement of condemnation.

  • Doug In Colorado

    I will respect and tolerate Islam when, and to the extent that, Islam respects and tolerates my religion and my freedom of speech. It is a mark of the insecurity and immaturity of these people and their interpretation of their faith, that they react violently to an insult, taking hostages who have no connection to the cartoonists, or their publishers, boycotting companies that happen to be from the same country, threatening bombing and death for something that every other religion on earth must put up with in order to preserve freedom of speech…Is their faith so immature and unattractive that it cannot bear to share the world stage with other faiths that are older, and cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas with other religions? Apparently so. Ownership of a Bible or Torah is illegal in Saudi Arabia…shouldn’t ownership of a Koran, or its use for anything other than a doorstop be illegal in every non-Muslim country until this is corrected? And recalling the Taliban destroying the gigantic Buddha statues in Afghanistan, what religious and historic monument woud the Islamic world like to see the free non-Muslim people of the world destroy in retribution?

  • I tend to agree with those who say that the jihadists can’t be reasoned with.

    Let’s face it, the situation is this:

    We are told it is against Islam to depict Mohammed.

    We are told it will insult or offend Muslims to do so.

    We are told not to do it or else face death.

    We are thus in a situation where some people who claim to follow a particular religion are demanding that we non-believers must adhere to one of their religion’s tenets, on the grounds that it is allegedly insulting to all adherents of the religion and that if we defy this, we face death or at least death threats.

    These people are thus threatening our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion — they would impose their religious beliefs on us.

    What worries me most is the weak responses from many of our politicians and much of the British media to this stuff. Channel 4’s special report treated the issue as a conflict between two morally equivalent sides for example… whilst filming the protestors who call for beheadings, massacres and even in one case who carried a placard saying “Prepare for a real holocaust”.

    These weak responses can only embolden the likes of those protestors to make further demands.

  • tazde

    If the West followed the islamist logic:
    -After 9/11 Riad would have been nuked as 18/20 terrorists were Saudis
    -After the prime time beheadings of western civilians Egypt would have been under embargo as al-Zawari is an egyptian.
    -After the Lockerbie incident, instead of framing Gaddafi, all ties with Syria and Iran should have been cut and their representatives harrassed.
    -Whenever a youth of Maghreb origin sets a car on fire in the French suburbs, teargas and molotov coctails should be thrown at halal foodshops.

    Fortunately this is not the case. The westerners DO NOT follow the arab islamist logic. They cannot, as the societies they are running require very complicated and eloquent thinking that is beyond the reach of the poor people deprived of the chance to ever get to execise theirs.

    The islamist world-view and logic do not support a moder high-tech society and nor will it ever do. If one’s life is devoted to religion and one’s head drilled to run on circular arguments -well, the material world or its mathematical modellings just cannot ever be comprehended.

    Islamism is breeding a violent breed of parasites.
    I have hard time to see why I should defend their freedom of speech as they lie and provoke. No to MY death at least.