Livingstone and the Danish Cartoons - Jews vs Muslims

I did a search and was surprised to find no coverage on the dope about Ken Livingstone’s recent suspension as the Mayor of London due to supposedly “anti-semitic” remarks. I thought the contrast between the handling of this case and the recent flap over the Danish cartoons was quite interesting. Now, I understand that these are two completely different issues happening in two completely different countries with different moral codes and the specifics mean they can’t be directly compared.

Ken Livingston compared a certain Jewish reporter to a Nazi while the Danish newspapers drew pictures of Mohammed with a bomb strapped around him. I think we can all broadly agree that, while both should be allowed under free speech, both were in poor taste and were offensive to the groups in question. Still, it seems it seems that the instinctive response when a jewish group is offended by something is that the speaker must be in the wrong. However, when a muslim group is outraged, the fault somehow lies on the muslim group for being oversensitive.

I don’t particularly see one offense as being more or less offensive than the other, not being an expert in either religion but I find the attitudes towards the transgressions interesting.



Livingstone’s remarks were spurred by his dislike for the newspaper the reporter worked for - the London Evening Standard. Livingstone dislikes the Standard because he sees it as a right wing reactionary rag (Livingstone himself being very left wing).

The fact that the reporter was Jewish is incidental. Livingstone would have said the same thing to any Standard reporter. He was just using the old technique of comparing someone to the Nazis.

A very tired, Godwinesque style of arguing but it was late, he was just leaving a party (and may have had a drink or two) and the reporter rang him up out of the blue.

The cartoons, on the other hand, are islam-specific so a different kettle of fish. People compare other people to Nazis all the time on this message board and no one calls them anti-semitic.

Also, the two things are qualitatively different things. Saying Mohammed was a terrorist, or inspires terrorism, is an opinion that is actually held (rightly or wrongly) by some people. Saying a Jew is a concentration camp guard is just silly since (obviously) no jews were concentration camp guards. And in fact Nazi concentration camp guards are the opposite to jewish.

One is an opposite whereas the other is (potentially) the same. Anyway, the High Court has now frozen the suspension pending an appeal.

You might add David Irving’s jail sentence for Holocaust denial as another example.

The things I’ve read on both those cases have criticized both the punishment and the crime – which is much like the reaction to the cartoon controversy in its early stages. But as the riots against the cartoons got out of control and people started getting killed/embassies started getting torched, the criticism naturally – and IMO rightfully – started to focus on the rioters. I think if Jews reacted in a similar way to Livingstone’s remarks there’d be a similar criticism.

If someone working for a government, any government, drew and published those cartoons they would be quite rightly fired. If the Danish newspaper were owned by some conglomerate (I assume it isn’t, never hearing anything about it) the owner might have been fired also. If I said something like Livingstone, against Jews, Muslims or anyone publicly, I’d probably get fired for being a jerk. So, I don’t think the situations are comparable.

As for Irving, while I personally am against any such laws, the special status of Austria and Germany might excuse them. Might.

BTW, the cartoons are almost certainly not saying Mohammed is a terrorist, but rather having him stand for the type of fundamentalist Islam that seems to support terrorism. That’s the only way the cartoon makes sense.

Of course the Arab countries have a lot more censorship than any part of Europe, and state run media airs the most vile anti-Semitic programs long before the cartoon situation, so I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

I don’t understand why Liverstone’s remark is considered anti-semtic.

He is using a simple insult: compare the person you wish to insult to a ‘bad’ thing.

  1. Nazi guards are considered bad because they killed Jews.
  2. The journalist is as bad as that Nazi

If the journalist wishes to complain that insulting him was wrong, that is fine, but to call it anti-semitic seems wrong and illogical.

No. The cartoons were actually quite tame by Western standards and not outrageous at all. The real tragedy in that whole sorry business is that so many Western political and media leaders caved, and a handful of desert barbarians are now allowed to dictate what can and can’t be published in Western media.

The really disgusting thing here is that people who sprang to the defense of The Last Temptation of Christ and *Piss Christ * claim that these cartoons are somehow unacceptably offensive. It’s sickening.

The point I think you are missing is that the journalist who Livingstone insulted is himself Jewish – it’s way over the top (IMO, and I think others will agree) to call a Jew a “Nazi Guard” to his face.

That said, I’m not sure the description “Antisemitic” is really accurate as a label for this behavior… maybe we should just revert to tried-and-true SDMB usage and call it “jerkish”

TO clear up somr misunderstandings:

It was a confrontation on the street, not on the telephone.

Initially Ken asked whether the journalist he had ever been a “German war criminal”.

When the reporter said ne was Jewish, Ken replied:

“Ah, well you might be but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren’t you?”

Not the most polite thing to do, but generally run of the mill for British knock-about politics.

It probably hit a strong resonance because of the Sonderkommando- jewish orderlies in the concentration camps.

Ken has been removed from office by a non-elected bureaucratic mechanism that is about to be disbanded. It has cost him £80,000. He is now appealing to the High Court to have the decision set aside.

The group of newspapers involved is scurrilous and anti-Livingstone, looking for any wild story to run about him- he is one of the whipping boys for right wing papers despite having run London extremely capably. His demonization sells papers.

The Jewish political community has other axes to grind. Anything that harms Ken would be welcome to them because of his understanding of the plight of the Palestinians and his attempts to reach out to ‘extremist mullahs’. Off course he reached out 20 years ago to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness and was pilloried for that- now they are recognized politicians etc… The current position is similar.

I’m new here, and maybe that’s why the bolded phrase caught my attention. Is it standard practice to refer to Muslims as “desert barbarians”? Islam spans an area from Indonesia to Morocco, and much of that area is far from being a dessert. Second, the objections to the cartoons came from many segments of Muslims. Many, indeed the vast majority, protested and demonstrated peacefully. Naturally rioters got most of the media attention. Not that anyone, Muslim or otherwise, should condone the riots, but I do think that peaceful demonstrations are fair game, no? That would make the demonstrators a) ethnically and geographically mixed and thus not solely desert dwellers b) peaceful in most cases with some notably vile exceptions. So LonesomePolecat, how do you justify the term “desert barbarians”?

On the other hand, what you find tame could be unbearably offensive to others. They may feel that it is their right to object to it.

I justify the term “desert barbarians” as an expression of the contempt and loathing I feel for the Islamic fascists who believe, among other things, that they have the right to use bloodshed and violence to control what Westerners can and cannot say in Western media. I use it quite unapologetically as a term of abuse.

I haven’t noticed an “instinctive response” on this board to assume that if a Jewish group is offended it must be in the right. Just pull up some of the old threads on Mel Gibson’s crucifixion epic for a Doper example.
And condemnation of the Muslim response was not because it occurred, but because it has gone so far over the top.

Would it be “run of the mill” British politics for the Mayor to compare a black reporter to a Ku Klux Klan night rider?

Looks like ol’ Ken managed to shoot himself in the foot without any help from “the Jewish political community” (I’d ask for cites on Pjen’s claim here, but it’s probably enough for him that the Guardian believes tripe like this).

My contempt spans fascists and hypocrites of all stripes, and is not religion-specific. That includes terrorists, and whoever legitimises violence against innocent persons and/or intimidation for political gains.

But I think the Western governments that backed down or held less than solid positions -in your view, in my view it was a bad attempt at being culturally sensitive, but let’s not get into that- did so not because embassies were burned, but because Muslims all over the world were angry. The distinction is important. Whoever held the positions that you condemn did so because one billion people were mad at the cartoons and cartoonists, and expressed their anger. Some did so with violence, which is criminal. But the deciding factor was not the violence. Otherwise America would’ve surrendered before the first tower hit the ground. It was the anger all over the Muslim world.

So when you use the term “desert barbarians” you are using a term of abuse against many, many Muslims, most of whom are not fascists, but are persons that demonstrated peacefully, well within their rights. Do you still stand by your description, knowing that using it insults a group far larger than violent rioters? Do you wish to qualify it?

No, I do not wish to qualify it. If anyone is offended, that’s just too bad for them.

Which brings us back to the OP. If anyone on the committee that suspended Livingstone was Jewish, would you have said that a bunch of hook-nosed loan-sharks are telling European mayors how to run their cities?

No. You see, there is not a fascist movement in the Jewish world that threatens Western civilization.

I’m not sure that they are that different. The cartoons are offensive to Muslims and I think most people accept that. The issue is the defense of freedom of speech. Comparing a Jew to a Nazi is also offensive but no-one is prohibiting Livingston from making such a comparison but he just had to pay for it.

The Irving example is a little different but it’s an interesting analogy.

To get even further back to the OP -

While I had not heard previously of the Livingstone “incident” and don’t imagine that it portends the end of British Civilization as we know it, it’s interesting to see how it ties in with other recent events.

From this site:

*"in an allusion to the Daily Mail – the Standard’s sister paper which supported the Nazis in the 1930s – Livingstone asked Finegold (the Standard reporter) if he was “a German war criminal.”

When Finegold told the Labor mayor he was Jewish and found the “German war criminal” remark offensive, Livingstone responded:

“Well, you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard.”…Asked if he would apologize, Livingstone replied: “Absolutely not.”…

The London mayor provoked controversy last year when he officially welcomed the extremist Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to City Hall. Qaradawi, who is regarded as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, justifies Palestinian suicide bombers, supports wife-beating and advocates the death sentence for homosexuality and adultery.

Last month, Livingstone spent tens of thousands of dollars on a dossier justifying his support for Qaradawi and on a City Hall party on the theme, “Peace for Palestine.”… The affair coincided with the publication of a report by the Community Security Trust (CST), British Jewry’s research and defense organization, which showed an all-time record level of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain last year.

The CST reported a total of 532 incidents in 2004, up 42 percent on the previous year and the highest number since records began 20 years ago. Senior CST official Mike Whine described the 83 violent anti-Semitic attacks in 2004 – up from 54 in 2003… In addition to violent attacks on individuals, anti-Semitic incidents included attacks on synagogues, communal buildings and Jewish cemeteries, as well as verbal threats and abuse, hate mail and phone calls.

In a related development, the ruling Labor Party has withdrawn a poster which depicts opposition Conservative Party leader Michael Howard and shadow finance minister Oliver Letwin, both Jewish, as flying pigs. Another poster, also withdrawn, depicts Howard as the anti-Semitic Fagin figure. The posters are thought to be a prelude to the formal announcement of a British general election, which is expected to be held in May."*


So maybe Pjen’s on the right track, and Livingstone’s comments are not an isolated affair, but typical of a nasty little bigoted streak in left-wing British politics.

So you claim that due to the presence of a fascist streak within Islam, you are justified in insulting non-fascist Muslims who found the cartoons offensive. I don’t find that convincing. The presence of a fascist movement in the Islamic world should spur action to encourage and support more moderate elements, rather than insults. In no way does the presence of fascists within a communit justify abuse to the rest of the community. Fascists exist in European, African and American communities. But I don’t see you dishing out abuse to regular Blacks or Europeans. And I resent you dishing out abuse to ordinary Muslims.

Here’s a quarter. Call someone who cares.

Ken Livingstone is an obnoxious anti-semitic asshole, but it should be up to the citizens of London whether or not they wish to be represented by such a person. (It’s my understanding that he’s improved traffic flow and been a generally capable mayor.) I don’t like laws telling people what they can and cannot say. I don’t approve of the jailing of the even more obnoxious and anti-semitic David Irving. Proscribing bad ideas is not just wrong, it’s ineffective, as the ideas become more attractive for being forbidden.