CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
Ever heard of a roundabout-dog? They are artificial dogs which started appearing in roundabouts in Sweden last year. Most likely meant as a joke, a Swedish cartoonist figured this phenomenon could be used in a funny way to provoke Muslims anger. The Swedish artist Lars Vilks made three silly drawings portraying a dog standing in a roundabout, with Prophet Muhammad’s head. The political implications aside, the quality of his work is-to say the least-far below even mediocre. Three art galleries decided not to exhibit these drawings, which is perfectly understandable. Nor do they have any obligation to do so, especially when the art is of poor quality and only meant to insult. Vilks has openly admitted this:
“Of course it was a provocation and an insult to the Muslims. But it was an empty provocation. I am not promoting any idea such as kicking all the Muslims out of Sweden.” Getting attention was also a part of it: “All artists gun for attention, and there is jealousy among those in the business of attracting much attention,” he asserted.
It could have ended there. An obnoxious, obscure artist making silly drawings of Prophet Muhammad–who cares? But this was just the beginning. A Swedish newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda, published Vilks’s drawings this August, describing the art galleries’ decision not to exhibit the drawings as “unacceptable self-censorship,” saying it must be permissible to ridicule the symbols of another religion. A staff writer at the paper compared it to Monty Python’s film Life of Brian:
In Norway, Life of Brian was banned, in reference to the law against blasphemy. In the United States voices were raised to have it banned. John Cleese pointed out that God could certainly take care of himself. I am myself an active Christian and I think Life of Brian is an extremely funny movie.
Fine. But what he fails to see is that Life of Brian was made by people of Christian origin, while this is an attack by a Christian on Islam. Also, while Life of Brian was a comedy, these drawings had no other purpose than to insult and provoke. Not exactly comparable.
And it didn’t take long before Muslims raised voices to protest the publication. Not only in Sweden; 200 people went to the streets in Pakistan, burning a doll representing the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Swedish flag (which is yellow and blue, not yellow and green as the demonstrations thought). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the “Zionists,” who (unlike Jews) “only pretend to believe in religion,” were behind the publication. Protestors also hit Swedish streets, though peacefully.
Instead of discussing the issues as to why many Muslims became upset-always seeing Islam slandered, exposed to threats, and having their Mosques vandalised-the affair was made into a matter of freedom of speech. Journalists, commentators, politicians and others all defended the publication in the name of freedom of speech. Truth is, it was never under threat; only a very low number among the opponents of publishing the drawings said this should be criminalised.
One of them, the Egyptian Ambassador Samah Mohamed Sotouhi, declared that “We must try to bring about a change in the law. The Muslims need legal protection against the defamation of the Prophet Muhammad, similar to [the protection] that Jews and homosexuals enjoy.” But except for some efforts made by Muslim countries, no politician or journalist spoke out in favour of the state outlawing such a practise, including the vast majority of those objecting to the publication. (It is interesting to notice that the very same people, who care so much for freedom of speech when defamation of Muslims is the case, had nothing to say when a Swedish computer teacher, Jan Bernhoff, was sacked from his job for attending the holocaust conference in Iran. Bernhoff, not Vilks, was the one who needed their support.)
The publication brought the affair to a whole new level. Two Swedish-Muslim organisations made an effort to cool things down by trying to engage in a dialogue with Vilks (after all, they are the ones who will suffer in the end). One of the two organisations even wanted to exhibit the drawings in order to be able to have a real debate on the issue. But the project came to an end when Vilks, having so far been criticised only for defaming Muslim symbols, posted another silly drawing on his blog, this time a pathetic portrait of a so-called Jew-sow. Faced with Vilks’s newest creation, representatives of the two Muslim organisations, Mohamed Omar and Hooman Anvari, decided a dialogue with Lars Vilks was simply no longer possible. They wrote:
[With] Vilks now publishing an explicitly and undoubtedly anti-Semitic scurrilous portrait (signed as a “Jew-sow” by the artist himself), the discussion has now entered a different phase. From a purely ethical one to one of jurisprudence.
In other words, they cut it short not because of his anti-Muslim work but because of his anti-Semitic drawing. It may seem odd, but reflects the current sentiment in the Western world: insulting Muslims is a matter of freedom of speech, while defamation of Jewish symbols is never tolerated.
As the days went by and everything was petering out, a death-threat was pronounced against Lars Vilks which quickly made things more tense. Things like these happen all the time, many artists receive threats. The difference was the sender; a supposed al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, generously promised $100,000 to whoever kills Lars Vilks ($150,000 if he is “butchered as a lamb”). The editor of the newspaper wasn’t worth as much–only $50,000. However, all we know for sure about al-Baghdadi is that there are different perceptions of who he is. Some sources claim he was a leading al-Qaeda fighter killed in May this year-three months before the publication!-while others say it’s just a name used by a rebel group in Iraq. Hence, should anyone kill Vilks or the editor, it might be hard to claim the reward. But the death-threat again Vilks was taken seriously and he was given police-protection.
A few days after the pronounced death-threats, a list of over 100 Swedish companies was published which Islamists say should be punished just for being of the same nationality as Vilks. “Take revenge,” these fanatics urged. However, when journalists rang some of these companies for a comment, they were surprised. “We have received no indications of any threat,” a spokesperson of one of the companies said. In fact, it turns out, these companies haven’t received any direct threats. The list of companies, as well as the death-threats against Vilks and the editor, all originate from one source: The Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute. Founded in 2002 by Rita Katz and Josh Devon, SITE is a Zionist propaganda institute which, among other things, offers its “Monitoring Service, which provides numerous daily translations of terrorist propaganda and multimedia from primary source terrorist websites.” Katz and Devon claims for instance that Yahoo! has become one of al-Qaeda’s most significant ideological bases of operation. Utilizing several facets of Yahoo!’s service, including chat functions, e-mail, and most importantly, Yahoo! Groups, al-Qaeda and its supporters have inserted themselves like a cancer into a company that screams, “American pop culture,” and made it as much their own as a training camp in Khost [in Afghanistan].
When Osama Bin Laden and his gang are not using Yahoo!’s chat service, however, they spend their time surfing more protected sites. SITE brags on its first-page as being described in the following way by an author:
“By monitoring terrorist and extremist websites and penetrating password-protected al-Qaeda linked sites, SITE provides a state-of-the-art intelligence service to both practitioners and analysts to understand the adversary.”
It makes you wonder how the SITE Institute, with a small staff of only two people (at least no other is mentioned) can find its way into “password-protected al-Qaeda linked sites” which, apparently, the FBI and the CIA, with all its resources, seem to be incapable of finding and infiltrating. What is even more noteworthy is that SITE, in its own words, works regularly with and provides important and often unique information to journalists, law firms pursuing civil litigation, major corporations, law enforcement, U.S. Congress, and numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department, Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), the FBI, Customs, and the Department of Justice.
As can be expected of an institute of this kind, there is a Zionist connection. And that is co-founder Rita Katz, who was born to a wealth Jewish family in 1963 in Basra, Iraq. When she was 6-years-old her father was hanged on the charge of spying for Israel. Two years later the family emigrated to Israel, where she stayed until the mid-90s, when she left for the US with her husband. In an interview with The Jewish Journal it is revealed Katz also worked on the case against the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), which is on trial accused of channelling money to Hamas.
Katz answered an ad and was hired by a Middle Eastern research institute. (Because of her lawsuit, she doesn’t want to reveal the institute’s name.)
On her first day on the job – much of her work entailed “administrative stuff and copying,” her new boss had told her – she started reading documents in English and Arabic about the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF).
“I saw differences in the translations,” Katz recalled. “The Arabic list was longer, and I recognized that some organizations mentioned in Arabic and not in English were Hamas front organizations.”
That realization propelled her to start doing research on that group, collecting Arabic documents and eventually going undercover.
Her work, through her SITE Institute, which is funded by various federal agencies and private groups needing to know about radical Muslim groups operating in the United States, has led to closures of organizations, deportations and ongoing investigations. She also has provided the media with information.
This is very interesting, considering the evidence used against the HLF is highly questioned. In an article published in the LA Times on the 25th of February, reproduced by Information Clearing House, staff writer Greg Krikorian points to discrepancies in the proof put forward against the HLF. Krikorian wrote:
Additional anti-Semitic comments the FBI summary attributed to Baker or Ghassan Elashi, Holy Land’s former board chairman, included:
* “Their [Jews’] only purpose here in the U.S. is to purchase as many politicians as possible and to warp the way the American Christians feel and think not just about the Christian religion but mainly about the Palestinian people and to rob as much money as possible from American taxpayers for the illegitimate excuse of protecting and preserving the chosen people of God.”
* “Even Jesus Christ had called the Jews and their high priests the sons of snakes and scorpions.”
* “I am confident that in the end justice, and not the Jews, will prevail. I believe that there is still justice in America.”
None of those quotes was contained in a 13-page transcript of the conversation, defense lawyers said in their motion to expand access to classified evidence. ()
Because the court records are heavily redacted, it could not be determined who provided the summaries of the FBI wiretaps.
Other alleged discrepancies also have dogged the case. Holy Land lawyers challenged the accuracy of an FBI memo, for example, that quoted a foundation office manager as telling Israeli authorities that charitable funds were “channeled to Hamas.”
But defense lawyers told the court the translation from Arabic to Hebrew to English distorted the official’s original statement, and that he should have been quoted as saying, “We have no connection to Hamas.”
A former U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Edward Abingdon, when asked if he found the information Israel provided reliable, answered with a straightforward “No.” He added, “I feel the Israelis have an agenda … they provide selective information to try to influence US thinking.”
Indeed, the trial against the HLF is just one example of how Israelis are the ones persecuting Muslim organisations in America. As made clear in the above-quoted sentence, the translation was made “from Arabic to Hebrew to English.” The Zionists have the upper hand, and going to the bottom with cases like this is close to impossible. They provide the evidence, and not much can be done to prove them wrong. The veracity in the accusations made by propaganda institutes of SITE’s ilk should be strongly questioned. As for the threats against the Swedish cartoonist, editor and the 100 Swedish companies, all we can know for sure is that no attack has yet taken place.
Two months after the publication, the matter has gotten cold. But it is clear that for the first time, through a Zionist institution in America, supposed death-threats by al-Qaeda found their way to a country once known for its peaceful attitude and solidarity with the oppressed, creating fear of Muslim fundamentalism which is now said to live in our midst. Clear also is that sending soldiers to Afghanistan and being silent as neoconservatives and Zionists are creating havoc in the Middle East is not the road to saving our good reputation.
KRISTOFFER LARSSON is a Swedish theology student occasionally commenting on political issues. He works with the Bethlehem-based International Middle East Media Center and is a Director of Deir Yassin Remembered. He appreciates constructive feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org