Tuesday, February 28, 2006

One sign of free speech

A jogger looks at a sign in John Caffery's front yard displaying and commenting on one of several editorial cartoons that have inflamed many in the Muslim world as he runs by the Daisy Street home Monday afternoon. (Photo by Scott Eslinger, Beaumont Enterprise)

In other parts of the world, people are killing each other because of an editorial cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad, but ironically, most of them -- neither killers nor victims -- have actually seen the cartoon. Why? In Arab and Muslim countries, where most of the violent protests are happening, it would be blasphemous to print, broadcast or even show a snapshot of it under Islamic law.

In the USA, where free speech is the basis of our law, a Beaumont man has erected a large sign in his front yard, showing the cartoon that started all this bloodshed.

"It's cowardly for (a) newspaper giving in to the pressure from the Muslims for these so-called offending cartoons," sign-poster John Caffery said. "Most of the cartoons are pretty silly. The one out there on the sign is probably one of the least offending cartoons."

It's hard to disagree. Respect for religion is a good thing, but it's a two-way street. The WTC attacks, kidnappings and beheadings of innocents, the continued threats from Osama bin Laden ... all are more offensive than any editorial cartoon. One reason American newspapers have not generally run the cartoons, despite their news value, is respect for diverse readers ... not a comfortable decision, but defensible for now. When's the last time you could criticize a newspaper for being gracious and tolerant? Have a field day on this one, folks.

My hat's off, though, to Caffery for at least having the stones to say what he believes in big, bold lettering. He's not urinating on Muhammad's hat, or beheading a sweet little Lebanese girl, or torching the Yemeni consulate, or threatening Muslim bystanders with an AK-47. He's speaking his mind. You needn't agree with him, and you needn't worry he'll kill you for disagreeing.

The sooner the Muslim world learns to respect that particular freedom the sooner it will enjoy greater respect from the world. Respect that isn't earned by threat, intimidation and bloodshed.


Michael Gillespie said...

We'd do well to be skeptical of "born again" champions of free speech who seem to have little interest in the First Amendment except when they find it useful as a convenient shield for racist smears and public expressions of socially destabilizing religious bigotry. Though investigative journalism is on life support here in the USA (http://bernie.house.gov/corporate_media/index.asp), there are some few journalists who persistently dig deep to bring out the story beneath the surface of events, facts that illuminate and analysis that enlightens. Without them, the public would be uninformed, misinformed, disinformed, and more easily manipulated for political purposes, i.e., we'd all be in the dark, which is precisely where the War Party and it's Big Media operatives are determined to keep us.

Compare, if you will, the work of fearless Libertarian author and journalist Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, more specifically Raimondo's recent report, below, on the origins of the remarkably ill-timed cartoon dispute that continues to complicate international relations and cause death and destruction, to more superficial treatments of the dispute offered by typical Big Media outlets.

February 8, 2006

Rotten in Denmark
Flemming Rose and the clash of civilizations

by Justin Raimondo

The publication of 12 cartoons in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish right-wing newspaper, that caricatured the prophet Muhammad was clearly a provocation – and it has had its intended effect. The editor responsible claims the genesis of the cartoons was the alleged reluctance of artists to illustrate an upcoming children's biography of Muhammad: they are supposedly too afraid to step forward, fearing violent retaliation. All this before anyone had so much as raised their voices over the matter: now, of course, the subject dominates headlines throughout much of Europe and the Middle East.

Riots throughout the Muslim world, demands for the expulsion of the Danish ambassador from a number of countries, attacks on the Danish (and Norwegian) embassies in Beirut and Damascus – this incident couldn't have roiled relations between Islam and the West more if it had been planned that way, which raises the question: was it? Is something rotten in the state of Denmark? We don't know, and probably will never know, but it is worthwhile looking into the origins of this particular incident, because a very definite odor is wafting in from the general direction of Copenhagen.

To begin with, the real impetus for the demonstrations and declarations of outrage coming in from all across the Middle East wasn't merely the publication of these rather juvenile scribblings in Denmark, but their republication in several European countries. If this wasn't a coordinated provocation, then it is certainly an amazing coincidence that it bears all the earmarks of one.

Secondly, let us examine the venue – a newspaper that today describes itself as "liberal" in the classical sense, but yesterday openly supported fascism – and particularly the man most responsible for starting this ruckus: Flemming Rose, the "cultural editor" of Jyllands-Posten, who commissioned the cartoons and now is at the center of a rapidly-escalating controversy.

Here is his Wikipedia biography, which states that he has "links with U.S. neoconservatives," but lacks citations. Rose is apparently a big fan of Daniel Pipes – the controversial anti-Arabist appointed by George W. Bush to the U.S. Institute of Peace – and authored an entirely uncritical profile of Pipes, originally published in Jyllands-Posten and translated here.

Pipes is the founder of Campus Watch, an organization devoted to stamping out any and all academic treatments of Middle Eastern affairs that don't conform to his narrow strictures, which might be mildly described as fanatically hostile to Islam, Arabs, and anyone who opposes his extreme Israeli nationalism. Campus Watch is engaged in compiling blacklists of professors who refuse to spout the pro-Israel party line, and actively encourages students to spy on their teachers and report miscreants.

None of this is mentioned in the profile authored by Rose: instead, we are given a long disquisition on his subject's view of "militant Islam" as a threat supposedly on a par with communism and fascism – again, uncritically, in spite of the lack of proportion evinced by such an extravagant claim, to say nothing of the lack of evidence marshaled by Pipes.

It looks like Rose used to be a laid-back kinda guy, as indicated by his testimonial to the effectiveness of Acem meditation techniques:

"As a journalist, my challenge is to get behind all the stereotypes that both my readers and I bring with us from the past. They prevent us from seeing the complexity and constant changes taking place regarding almost any subject. Acem Meditation helps me discover my own blind spots and thereby write more genuine and revealing articles."

That was then, but now he is talking about the rising struggle between Islam and the West as a "clash of civilizations," and characterizes the controversy over the publication of the 12 tasteless caricatures as being

"About the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society – how much does an immigrant have to give up and how much does the receiving culture have to compromise."

So much for getting "behind all the stereotypes" and seeing the "complexity" in spite of his "blind spots." These days, it seems, Rose has been entirely blinded by the kind of hate exhibited in those cartoons, which dramatize the neoconservative view of the Muslim world as inherently terroristic – a view that the perpetrators of this provocation were hoping would be demonstrated in the Muslim reaction. Rose argues that the artists who were too afraid to illustrate that children's book were engaged in "self-censorship," and that's why his refusal to apologize for publishing the offensive cartoons is "a matter of principle." But what principle is being invoked, here? A Danish newspaper quotes him as follows:

"Flemming Rose, cultural editor at the newspaper, denied that the purpose had been to provoke Muslims. It was simply a reaction to the rising number of situations where artists and writers censured themselves out of fear of radical Islamists, he said. 'Religious feelings cannot demand special treatment in a secular society,' he added. 'In a democracy one must from time to time accept criticism or becoming a laughingstock.'"

Why are Muslims to blame for the cowardice of artists who insist on censoring themselves? The implication is that these poor persecuted artistes will be on the receiving end of violence, but there has not been a single incident of this in Denmark, at least not that I could find.

Rose and his amen corner are taking up the banner of "free speech," but one has to wonder what their position is on the case of David Irving, the author and nutball of note who has made a career out of denying the Holocaust and glorying in his own persecution. He is currently in jail in Austria for making a speech in which he elaborated on his theories, and thereby committed a "hate crime" – viewed by seven European Union countries, and the EU itself, as an "incitement to violence" against a particular ethnic group, and therefore a crime.

When will Rose and Jyllands-Posten come to Irving's defense? Probably not soon.

The Iranians have come up with a novel answer to Rose and his fellow provocateurs: they have announced a contest for cartoonists to make light of the Holocaust.

"'It will be an international cartoon contest about the Holocaust,' said Farid Mortazavi, the graphics editor for Hamshahri newspaper – which is published by Teheran's conservative municipality. He said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression. 'The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,' he said."

Of course, the publication of such cartoons would be illegal in most states of the European Union, as well as Canada, and the publishers, as well as the artists, would probably be thrown in jail and forced to issue a groveling apology. Rose is supposedly against any religion demanding "special treatment," but apparently there is at least one exception.

This issue has nothing to do with "freedom of speech." The government of Denmark is not about to prosecute Jyllands-Posten, nor will the EU – although they could do so, given the existence of "hate speech" legislation signed into law in both cases. But I don't recall that any Arab governments or significant spokesmen have called for such action: they just want an apology. Not an unreasonable demand, given the circumstances, and, in any case, the protesters are just practicing their right of free speech, now aren't they?

The publication of the 12 cartoons, and the reaction on both sides, is a classic case of how propaganda of the crudest sort is utilized to mold mass attitudes and whip up entire populations into a state of hysteria. Hate and fear are created out of thin air by the most skillful means, and stereotypes take the place of reality as the world prepares for war. That's what this is all about: the hate propaganda emanating from certain quarters in Europe and the U.S. amounts to preparations for war just as much as the manufacture of arms and the mobilization of armies at the border. We are being psychologically prepared for another world war, and the first shots are being fired from the pages of Jyllands-Posten. I have the sinking feeling that they won't be the last…

SingingSkies said...

This issue truly is a fine balance, and a conundrum. When you look at it from a free speech perspective, either solution is 'right'. Papers have the right to print or not print as they choose, and it should not be construed as capitulating to terrorism. Respect for the vast majority who have not resorted to violence is an equally valid position.

I do recall that in the past the media decided to no longer publish /air stories of plane hijackings, in order to take the publicity and notoriety out of the equation. Of course, in that decision, the public was left with no way to know whether the tactic worked or not. Yet until 9/11, it was fairly apparent in the way the airports operated that hijackings were not a high priority.

Personally, I'm not advocating a position of total silence. With the way things are at the moment, any opportunity for more secrecy would be a major setup to undermine freedom of speech.

SO - Way to go, Enterprise! for choosing the avenue of respect. AND - Way to go, Caffery! for finding an avenue of visibility on the issue!

Tim said...

I wonder how Mr. Caffery reacted to the artist who put a crucifix in a jar of urine. Did he rise to admonish those in the Christian community who protested against the artist and the musuems that exhibited it?