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Friday, February 10, 2006

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Posted by on February 10 at 18:10 PM

Okay, I got all sensitive. But now, after reading Charles Krauthammer’s op-ed in the Washington Post, I’m going to blow whatever good will my last post might have earned me. I agree with most of what Krauthammer has to say—and that’s not my usual reaction to his op-eds.

There is a “sensitivity” argument for not having published the cartoons in the first place, back in September when they first appeared in that Danish newspaper. But it is not September. It is February. The cartoons have been published, and the newspaper, the publishers and Denmark itself have come under savage attack. After multiple arsons, devastating boycotts, and threats to cut off hands and heads, the issue is no longer news value, i.e., whether a newspaper needs to publish them to inform the audience about what is going on. The issue now is solidarity.

The mob is trying to dictate to Western newspapers, indeed Western governments, what is a legitimate subject for discussion and caricature. The cartoons do not begin to approach the artistic level of Salman Rushdie’s prose, but that’s not the point. The point is who decides what can be said and what can be drawn within the precincts of what we quaintly think of as the free world.

The mob has turned this into a test case for freedom of speech in the West. The German, French and Italian newspapers that republished these cartoons did so not to inform but to defy — to declare that they will not be intimidated by the mob.

What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear.

i agree. Like I told the Seattle Times, the question people should be asking is not “Why are these images in The Stranger,” but, “Why aren’t these images in the Seattles Times and the PI and the Thrifty Nickel.”

You can read the rest of Krauthammer’s op-ed here.

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Maybe you can get a mob together and intimidate those other publications into compliance.

I agree with Krauthammer that the issue is not sensitivity, but fear, especially after reading that Bawer piece in yesterday's issue. I smelled a lot of fear wafting off that Bawer piece -- you could practically see the fumes displacing reason.

I totally disagree. There's a reason Dan Savage hasn't been getting death threats in the mail. It's because most Muslims have no beef with the US on this issue. If the NY Times had originally published these cartoons, there would have only been a whimper, if that. Bush told Iran to simmer down about the cartoons and Iran basically told him, "butt out." This is between the Middle East and Europe.

Yes, Arabs in the Middle East hate what the US is doing over there, what with all the murdering and torturing. But how many Arabs are protesting in the streets here? Despite racial profiling and a few random acts of violence against Muslims, most Muslims can work and live as they please. The US government has shown remarkable tolerance to all races in recent years.

In Europe, though, things are much different -- especially in countries like Denmark and France. Youths don't riot in the streets over nothing. It takes injustices like the injustices against blacks during the civil rights movement, or the injustices against settlers during the US revolution. In Denmark and France, there's plenty of injustice. Racist laws are being passed, there's a controversy over letting Turkey into the EU for the sole stated reason that it's full of "non-European" coloreds, and Muslims are being discriminated against in all factors of life. Whereas publishing these cartoons in the USA is harmless social commentary or news reporting, in much of Europe it's akin to drawing caricatures of Martin Luther King Jr 40 years ago.

I don't follow the rest of Krauthammer's reasoning, either. Why aren't Muslims complaining about a picture of Mary covered in shit? Probably the same reason Christians aren't complaining about these cartoons, and Greenpeace isn't complaining about the Earth Liberation Front, and Americans aren't complaining about high gas prices in Tasmania. Activists protest injustices against others; regular people care about injustices against themselves.

Yes, Arabs are hypocrites when they tolerate slander against Jews. They're not the only hypocrites, though. Try publishing mean-spirited caricatures of rabbis or a Jew with a swastika on its forehead in Denmark or France. Oh wait, you'll go to JAIL. Those countries have strict laws forbidding racist speech, especially towards Jews. But that doesn't really apply to Muslims. You're a great model for tolerance and free speech over there, guys.

AND THEN Krauthammer praises these newspapers for not backing down from "the mob." Would he say the same thing about a Klan parade? Hey, KKK, good job exercising your free speech and not backing down from "the mob"! Now, do it all over the world!! The reason we have free speech is to CRITICIZE hate groups and oppressive governments and intolerance. All three of the above apply to majority European government, culture, and mainstream media.

I'm not arguing that these European newspapers shouldn't be able to publish these cartoons, since free speech is their right (probably, anyway). It's just in horrible taste and is another slap in the face of the only substantial minority in western Europe. The cartoons aren't the problem, it's where the cartoons are coming from.

I don't think that Jyllands-Posten can be accused of being hypocritic because I think that I heard the editor say he would publish the offensive Holocaust cartoons. If he is willing to risk death for the Muhammad cartoons and jail for the Holocaust cartoons, I am fairly tempted to think that free speech actually was the issue for him.

Radical Muslims in Denmark and elsewhere have declared that the riots and boycotts won't end until the Danish government promises that this will never happen again, basically that the government will squelch any free speech in Denmark. If they agree to this, where will it end? The next time a Danish newspaper publishes an op-ed criticizing Muslim radicals, will those radicals claim that Denmark broke its promise? Will the Danish government be forced to censor all criticisms of radical Islam, even completely legitimate ones? It's for this reason alone that I support other newspapers' decisions to stand in solidarity with the Jyllands-Posten.

I agree that it's hypocritical for European countries to have laws banning Holocaust denial. It should all be free speech. However, Europe has a dark history in relation to Jews. Throughout European history, Jews were subject to forced conversions, pogroms, expulsions. No European country offered citizenship to Jews until the 19th century and, of course, there's the Holocaust. Any historical or modern discrimination of Muslims in Europe doesn't come close to what Jews have had to deal with over the past two millennia.

By the way, Turkey is not being denied membership to the EU because the Turks are too "dark." One reason is that EU members are concerned that Turkey won't be much of an economic asset. Probably the principal reason is that all EU members are required to respect human rights. Turkey has an iffy human-rights record at best. The Turkish government is still oppressing the Kurds, denying them representation in government, and even outlawing any expression of Kurdish culture or nationalism.

Does killing artists who critisize a world religion count as being a hate-group?

Murder does take hate or at the very least blatant disregard for human life.


Congratulations for re-posting the cartoons. As you have correctly pointed out, it's not the contents of the cartoons that matter, it is that violence is being used to suppress them.

To date I have found no examples of mainstream organizations re-publishing the cartoons. This is shameful. As one of the few good examples of an paper taking a stand for free speech, you should be proud.

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