When asked about his opinions about western civilization, Gandhi is said to have answered - I think it would be a good idea. A hundred years later, I agree. We should in deed try something like that. But it is still to be seen.
The last week has been revealing about the deeply hypocritical stance he so called western world takes on freedom of speech. Whereas it is deemed a constitutional right to mock the prophet Muhammad, it is criminal to publish pictures of the English princess Katie Middleton's tits. I do think both ideas are in deed sensational and unworthy of attention - what I find provoking is the difference in how the matters are handled.
Caricatures of Muhammad has become a quite boring tradition in western news outlets, as have the predictable response in Muslim countries. The way most people seem to deal with these caricatures is like this: It is bad taste, but the point of free speech is that bad taste is not illegal, therefore it is up to editors, not censors, to decide what to publish or not to publish. I completely agree. I do not think it should be illegal to publish caricatures of Muhammad.
But these caricatures should be discussed, as all published should. It is not really the same thing as Monthy Pyton did in Life of Brian, when Jesus was caricatured. First of all, one can notice that Monthy Pyton are quite kind on Jesus himself - what makes the film humorous is that one recognize modern power in the Romans, modern left wing extremism in the various Jewish liberation fronts etc. As all literature, it is a comment on the time in which it was written.
I guess the same is valid for Muhammad caricatures - they do comment something in the world we live in, presumably a political correctness that taboos criticism against minorities. Is there such a political correctness? I am not sure. What I see, living in a Swedish town with many Muslims, is that Muslims are discriminated against in almost everything except legislation.
There is also a rather murky side of this business. One has the feeling that there is some kind of hatred against Muslims hiding behind the freedom of speech, and sometimes such suspicions are confirmed. As when Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist mainly known for his Muhammad caricatures appeared on an extreme right convention about islamization in the US.
Still. Freedom of speech is important, and in a troubled democracy like ours it is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, Muhammad caricatures should be discussed, but not banned.
Which is why it is equally important that topless pictures of royalties are not banned. On the whole, I can not get what is so provoking with topless pictures. We all knew that Katie had tits, right? And in case she thinks it is a great deal, she does not need to go out topless on the French riviera in the first place. That is a life she has chosen, a life that includes papparazis, so live with it.
Here I feel much more alone, though. Most people seem to regard this as an issue of privacy, not free speech. And that the News of the World debacle has made the press wary. Please, it is quite different to steal phone numbers from crime victims than photographing people who have chosen a public life in situations they did not choose. It is very bad taste, of course, but then again - is not the whole point with free speech that bad taste?
I think sheds light on how our society uses different rules for different people. We like to pride ourselves of our liberalism and humanism, but the reality is, like Gandhi said, that the western world has never been able to behave in a civilized manner.