By Cliff May
2006-02-14 @ 09:18:26
Speech is not free if you have permission only to say things no one could find unobjectionable or offensive.
Freedom of speech necessarily implies the right to “affront,” the right to give offense and, yes, the right to “cheer the vulgar and stupid.”
Indeed, Americans cheer the vulgar and stupid every day. (Ever watched American Idol? How about an Eminem concert? The Academy Awards? A Michael Moore movie? A Howard Dean speech? ) If you favor prohibiting all this, you're not in favor of freedom of speech.
But I would go further. The upheaval taking place within Muslim societies today is hugely consequential. It ought to be widely discussed and debated. Cartoonists do this through satirical illustration. To tell political cartoonists they may do this only if they can be sure no one will be offended is to forbid them from dealing with the issue at all.
Consider two of the cartoons that Hugh Hewitt evidently considers an “unnecessary affront.” One shows Mohammed with his turban replaced by a bomb. What is the cartoonist attempting to illustrate? I read it to say that Militant Islamists have changed the way the world views the Islamic faith. Where we used to see Mohammed as a religious leader we now see him as a combatant. The turban—a symbol of spirituality—has been replaced with a bomb. Is that really beyond the bounds of legitimate discourse?
Another cartoon shows Mohammed telling a group of smoldering suicide bombers to go back—Heaven has run out of virgins. Isn't the message that Militant Islamists, by encouraging so many suicide bombings—in Iraq, Israel, Bali, Madrid, London, and elsewhere—have gone to ludicrous extremes? Is that a perspective we should not be allowed to discuss?
Reprinting such cartoons after they have set off riots in a dozen cities would hardly be “cheering the vulgar and stupid.” At this point, the cartoons are not merely commentary—they also are at the center of the news.
What has caused these riots? These cartoons have. Should they have? Letting readers view the cartoons and decide for themselves is what we do in an open society—are rather what we have done up till now. For example, a recent Washington Post cartoon showed a veteran of the Iraq conflict with no arms or legs. The cartoon was shown on various television news shows and discussed. Should it not have been?
Or is it your view that the families of disabled veterans ought to handle such commentary in a mature manner, but Muslims must be treated with greater deference—either because they are too childlike to show restraint or too dangerous to mess with?
Keep in mind that the MSM that is being so careful of Muslim sensibilities is the same MSM that lauds as high art crucifixes dipped in urine and pictures of the Virgin Mary smeared with dung—with cheers for public subsidies. I submit that it is not sensitivity but fear and intimidation that lie behind this double standard.
That said, those offended by the Danish cartoons should complain, write letters to the editor, boycott advertisers, and demonstrate in the streets. But there is no excuse for the violent riots that have been unleashed.
Finally, it is not as though those torching embassies and stomping on flags and crosses to protest the cartoons are themselves respectful of other religions. The 12 cartoons published in Denmark months ago can not compare to the river of blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Christian images that flow from the capitals of the Middle East every day.
Slow Down on the Showdown
By Hugh Hewitt
2006-02-14 @ 09:59:40
Cliff wants to grab the high ground in this debate, and force it on to the terrain of the right to free expression and the West's tradition of robust satire and even the right to viciously assault all that everyone holds sacred.
I think his instinct is absolutely correct for any debate. Seize the high ground. Don't give away points. Refuse to be dragged into defending the low and the vulgar. Set the terms and win the argument.
Which is why I regret that the first newspaper published the cartoons, thus setting them up for the hijacking that occurred, complete with the dummied up dossier and the not-so-spontaneous mobs in Damascus and elsewhere around the globe.
The paper dragged everyone into an argument that no one in a position of authority was looking for—a statement made true by the fact not that some governments have wrongfully denounced the publication, but that prior to the publication, no government had thought it useful to publish such material.
There are some who are chomping at the bit for the clash of civilizations to get underway. The battles for Afghanistan and Iraq, to this segment of the crowd those are just undercard fights. The real deal is a showdown with all of Islam.
That's not the showdown I want or the West should want. It isn't a showdown that benefits out allies in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Turkey. It isn't a showdown that honors the men and women in the United States military who are themselves Muslims.
And the right to publish these or any cartoons isn't the issue. Cliff seems to admit there are some cartoons that ought not to be published because he makes the argument that these cartoons aren't all that offensive. So what about cartoons that are in your view deeply and objectively offensive to Muslims, Cliff? Should they be published next week? And if not, why not?
Did the cartoons help our allies in the Islamic world, or our enemies? And does that question even matter?
Let's Talk About the Militants
By Cliff May
2006-02-14 @ 10:33:10
Hugh, I'm sorry you think I'm defending freedom of speech merely to derive advantage in this debate. I'm even sorrier that someone as intelligent as you does not perceive the danger to freedom of speech—and to other liberties—inherent in the demand that Islam be accorded deference that Christianity, Judaism, and other religious faiths would never think to demand.
I'm not sure I understand the point you attempt to make when you say that “prior to publication, no government had thought it useful to publish such material.” In Europe and America, the government does not publish newspapers or dictate what should or should not be published. Instead journalists and their readers decide what is “useful.” Surely, you're not suggesting we surrender this tradition?
By contrast, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and even Egypt the government does control the press, does decide what it is “useful” to publish and, as you're aware, they find it useful to publish terrible slanders about “infidels” on a regular basis. It would be one thing if we were hearing arguments against the defamation of all religions—in the Middle East as much as elsewhere. But we're not. Instead, we're being warned to accord Islam a status beyond that which other faiths enjoy.
Perhaps that is not so surprising since we have already accepted this idea in other ways. For example, we do not object to the fact that that Muslims may visit the Vatican or live in Jerusalem—while “infidels” are forbidden from setting foot in Mecca.
We have allowed mosques in America and Europe to be taken over by Saudi agents who see to it that their radical brand of Islam is both preached and practiced. Yet there can be not a single church or synagogue on Saudi soil. We accept, too, that while Americans and Europeans may convert to Islam, in Saudi Arabia abandoning the faith is a crime punishable by death.
I'm glad you've raised what should be the real focus here: the extent to which this controversy has been orchestrated by Militant Islamists for their benefit. As the Iranian-born, Paris-based writer Amir Taheri has explained: “[T]he whole rigmarole was launched by Sunni-Salafi groups in Europe and Asia, with Ahmadinejad and his Syrian vassal, President Bashar al-Assad, belatedly playing catch-up.” (His article is here. Also see this article on the role of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.)
To make sure the “Arab Street” was properly incited they distributed counterfeit cartoons of a truly offensive nature: One depicted Mohammed as a pedophile demon, one showed him with the snout of a pig, and another showed a praying Muslim being sodomized by a dog. These cartoons were never published in any European newspaper. (The pig cartoon actually showed a non-Muslim Frenchman at a pig-calling contest.)
But perhaps you think Europeans should apologize for these cartoons, too, since in a system like ours, a system that allows freedom of the press, such cartoons might have been published or could be published sometime in the future.
That certainly appears to be the argument you are making when you say: “So what about cartoons that are in your view deeply and objectively offensive to Muslims, Cliff? Should they be published next week? And if not, why not?”
Well, what about that, Hugh? Do you really want to see laws passed prohibiting the publication of offensive cartoons? What would be the appropriate punishment for those who violate such laws? The amputation of the cartoonist's drawing hand?
Offensive cartoons should not be published because editors should exercise good judgment. If they do not, they should lose readers and advertisers. But that has nothing to do with this situation: The use of phony cartoons to inspire riots, intimidate governments, and win special rights for Militant Islamists who preach hatred of Jews, Christians, and moderate Muslims.
Helping Us or Them?
By Hugh Hewitt
2006-02-14 @ 11:52:34
As you read this, think about the Americans patrolling in Iraq or Afghanistan: Have the cartoons made their lives and missions easier or more difficult? They are in those countries and on the front line to protect our right to publish these exchanges, and any other thing we wish to publish, including the cartoons or the details of the NSA program concerning surveillance of al Qaeda's agents in the U.S., or exaggerated stories of prisoner abuse in Gitmo or Koran desecration or anything at all.
The freedom to publish anything doesn't mean we ought to, and Cliff's narrow focus on the fact of publication of the cartoons refuses the invitation to debate what a free press ought to do vis-a-vis the war.
Cliff writes that "[i]n Europe and America, the government does not publish newspapers." Actually they do, such as Stars & Stripes, but that wasn't my point. Our government and the governments of our allies daily communicate with the world about the course of the war. The president, vice president, secretary of State, secretary of Defense, and chair of the joint chiefs often go before the cameras and attempt to inform not just our public and the citizens of our allies, but also the people of Iran and North Korea and every other nation of the world, friendly or hostile. Their messages to the people of what we used to call "captive" nations are almost always ones of hope and solidarity. When President Bush spoke directly to the people of Iran in the State of the Union, he did so to tell them that the United States, no matter what happens in the next year, was not their enemy only the enemy of their government and that government's ambitions.
The cartoons conveyed, at least through negligence, a completely different message to Iranians, to Syrians, to the not-yet-reconciled-to-democratic processes and results Iraqis. The cartoons played straight into the hands of our enemies, not our allies, and we shouldn't celebrate the foolishness of the free press even as we defend it.
Of course I don't support the governments of the U.S. or its allies apologizing for the products of the free press, and I am sure that Cliff joins me is condemning the talk in Europe of an EU-sponsored "charter of responsibilities" for the media.
But that's not the question. The question is how ought a free press to act in a time of war when everything is part of the struggle and every story and even every cartoon a potential opportunity for enemy propaganda.
So I am back with the same question I posed in round I: Did the cartoons help our allies in the GWOT or our enemies?
By Cliff May
2006-02-14 @ 12:46:55
A direct answer to your question: The cartoons have probably made the lives of Americans patrolling Iraq and Afghanistan more difficult. But I'm not sure we can expect that to be the top priority of Danish newspaper editors.
If I were a Danish editor, would I have published those cartoons (the 12 that were actually published not the counterfeit cartoons that were used to whip up the riots)? I'm not really sure.
But there is a difference between defending the decision to publish and defending the right to publish. I think you're confusing the two.
I don't believe the Danish cartoonists are “enemies of Islam.” I don't think you believe that either.
I suspect they were intending to comment on the growing prevalence and power of extremists within Islamic societies.
Again, those who took away a different message have every right to complain. They have no right to torch embassies and threaten to behead and suicide-bomb infidels. They should not be given the power to lay down the law to the West, to demand that henceforth we will agree that while Jews and Christians may be viciously demonized by Muslims — Jews and Christians are never again to comment on their community in any way that might possibly cause offense.
I do join you, Hugh, in condemning the idea of a “charter of responsibilities” for the media—that would be an attempt at appeasement which is, sadly, too often the European default position in regard to tyranny.
I suspect we also agree that the New York Times's exposure of the NSA surveillance program did much greater damage to American security than those Danish cartoons. (So far, however, I have restrained myself from torching the Times' bureau on Eye Street. Maybe that's due to nostalgia—I used to work there, after all and had a very cozy cubicle.)
So my answer to your question is this: The cartoons have helped our enemies, but caving in to violence and intimidation will help our enemies even more.
If it had not been the cartoons, it would have been something else. And trust me: It will be something else before long.
The Militant Islamists are not demanding equality. They are demanding superiority. They are Muslim supremacists—ideological heirs to those who, in the 20th century, fought for Aryan supremacy and white supremacy.
Yousef Al-Qaradhawi—leader of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars—is seen by many as the “hidden hand” behind the protests. He has candidly declared: "Islam will return to Europe as the conqueror."
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda commander in Iraq, has elaborated: “Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute.”
Let us refuse to pay tribute. No dhimmi tax. No self-censorship. No limitations on our freedoms imposed through the threat and reality of violence.
I Rest My Case
By Hugh Hewitt
2006-02-14 @ 18:50:02
At this point in the debate, I am tempted to declare victory. With Cliff's agreement that the cartoons have "have probably made the lives of Americans patrolling Iraq and Afghanistan more difficult," I have the central point of my argument conceded.
The Western critics of the cartoons—at least the ones I agree with—have not been attacking anyone's right to publish foolish material and even provocative material.
It has for me been an exercise in trying to get media to focus on the potential impact of all stories on the GWOT. Nothing happens in a vacuum, or even within borders. All news and all commentary travels around the globe in minutes, and although some stories explode within minutes of their occurrence, others marinate (and some are put into pressure cookers by propagandists). The effects can be consequential, and even devastating.
Reuters is reporting this afternoon that "thousands rampaged through two cities Tuesday in Pakistan's worst violence against Prophet Mohammed caricatures," and that at least two people were killed in Lahore. There is no excusing such violence, but there is also no ignoring the context into which all information about the war is sent: There are skilled propagandists waiting to take anything and everything and use it to incite the mob.
That doesn't mean tough stories shouldn't be written about the Islamists and the threats they pose to the world, or that hard questions shouldn't be posed of Muslim leaders or allied governments.
Rather, it means that prudence must be in every newsroom, a simple recognition of the stakes involved.
If Islamist violence toppled Musharraf, and the cartoons were the pretext to incite the violence, there will be a long debate about the media's culpability in that dire turn of events. We have to hope that doesn't happen, and that editors and producers the world over develop a sense of priority and responsibility.
Republication of the cartoons is now the only issue left to debate, and I don't believe there is a good case to be made for that act.
The Point, and the Slope
By Cliff May
2006-02-14 @ 21:15:09
Whether the cartoons "have made the lives of Americans patrolling Iraq and Afghanistan more difficult" is not the central point. It's not the point at all. Who would argue—who has argued anywhere—that the cartoons have made their lives easier?
The central point is whether we stand up for freedom of speech—including speech that may offend Militant Islamists or even, on occasion, moderate Islamists.
The point is whether violence and the threat of violence intimidate us.
I'm all for editors and producers developing "a sense of priority and responsibility"—especially as it concerns disclosure of secret American intelligence gathering programs.
But MSM has no intention of backing down on that score. No, the MSM will stand up toPresident Bush even as it backs down from Militant Islamist demagogues.
My fear, Hugh, is that editors and producers will develop only a selective"sense of priority and responsibility." My fear is that what willreally develop is self-censorship and the tacit establishment of a newinternational law: criticism or ridicule even of Militant Islamism will be taboo, while Christianity and Judaism continue to be slandered and reviled—and attacked—throughout the world.
Fromthere, it's a slippery slope to dhimmitude.