|Sent on:||Tuesday, June 10, 2008 12:59 PM|
Well, that's 50 euros down the drain then... I took out a subscription recently to a magazine called Opinio, which had the doubtful privilege of being sued by our prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende.
In India, the elephant god Ganesha is widely
revered as the deva
of intellect and wisdom
Opinio had published a satirical piece purporting to be by Mr Balkenende, and he decided to litigate because - I quote - "certain parties abroad" might not twig it was satire. Well, this week the troubled magazine went belly-up. "So who's running the Netherlands these days, the Taliban?" has been the reaction of some friends.
Understandable, especially if you add up the demise of Opinio and the arrest of cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot last month. But for all the beautiful symmetry inherent in the notion of the Taliban running this country while we're bombing the bejaysus out of the place they like to call home, there is such a thing as protesting too much.
The reason Opinio went bankrupt isn't censorship but the fact that the rich businessman who bankrolled it wasn't happy about the number of subscribers. And whenever people start saying things like "Well, I'm not sure I can even think that anymore without getting arrested", you can bet that actually they're not the least bit worried.
In fact, I've rarely heard more extreme things being said about the Dutch government than in the past few weeks. So does that mean there's no threat to free speech? On the contrary. But that's all the more reason to separate the men from the boys. Or rather from moaning minnies like the cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot.
So he was in jail for thirty hours and his home was searched. Big deal. When you hear him talk about it, you'd swear that two Sudanese torture dwarves had hung him upside down by the ghoulies. The only commentator so far to point out there's a discrepancy has been a politician by the name of John Leerdam. But he's been vilified for allegedly defending censorship.
What Mr Leerdam said was that if Mr Nekschot likes to play hardball with his extreme, anti-religious cartoons, he shouldn't be surprised if the justice authorities decide to play hardball with him. In other words, if he can't stand the heat he should get his delicate behind away from the cooking utensils.
The cartoonist himself has been saying that it's all just for laughs. Which strikes me as a rather pallid explanation of cartoons such as the one in which Anne Frank is having doggy-style intercourse with the prophet Muhammad, over the caption "Make love not war." Although that may have them rolling in the aisles in Tehran... I don't know.
I'm more sympathetic to Mr Nekschot's other argument, which is that he's an equal opportunities offender who likes to poke fun at any religion or ideology that takes itself too seriously. Okay, but then where are his offensive cartoons about the smuggest bunch of the lot - and being one myself I should know - atheists?
That's not fair, you might say. Because if people don't have religious feelings, those feelings can't be hurt either can they? Well, that's my point exactly. In terms of vulnerability, setting an atheist loose among the Christian and Muslim faithful is about as exciting as watching Superman kick a ball around in a porcelain shop.
I've a very good bottle of wine here - or a pot of very good tea if you prefer - for the first person who draws a cartoon that manages to offend my smug atheist sensibilities. It does have to be funny though, and I'm warning you that just saying "You're not going to get into heaven" doesn't cut it.
Fascinating stuff, hurt religious feelings. Because they're not divine at all but very, very human. And don't argue that God or Allah or whoever is hurt whenever someone says something nasty - that's not just silly, it's blasphemous - or that these supreme beings demand that offenders be drawn and quartered.
That's what the murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh suggested in court; that it was all written in the Qur'an and he was a mere instrument. Well, if he was so keen on being somebody's instrument, he should have just shoved a mouthpiece up his bum and let Miles Davis blow him. It's all a big load of rubbish: hurt religious feelings are a sign of very human weakness and imperfection, no more and no less.
So if someone like Gregorius Nekschot comes along, maybe it's not so strange that particularly weak and imperfect specimens such as our justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin see no way of levelling the playing field except to reach for their proverbial or literal gun.
If there's any proof that art, literature, words matter these days and are no longer the hollow post-modern constructs that poor brain-fried students like me studied in university, then surely this is it. But don't come crying that they can't treat you like that and it's 'only' words or 'only' cartoons. As a wise man once said: if you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Radio Netherlands.