06 February 2006

"With Freedom Comes Responsibility"

The furor over the Muhammad cartoons (I debated not linking to them at all) has been fascinating and horrible to watch. For the record, I think the cartoons were highly inappropriate and offensive and should not have been printed. But I think it is right that it was legal for them to be printed.

Can a non-Muslim violate Islamic law? No, no more than I have to worry about the laws in Turkmenistan. Was it blasphemous to publish the cartoons? No. Unquestionably there are things that should not be printed. There is no value in them being printed. These cartoons fit that category. But it's not worth anyone's death.

My biggest concern is the reaction to the articles. It is incredibly foolish for these Muslims who are protesting to be violent. Absolutely foolish. It will only confirm in many people's minds the sentiments expressed in the articles.

Education and reasonable protests would be far more effective. Many people in the West might not understand why these cartoons were so offensive on so many levels. Really, I can't think of anything worse that could have been published. But people are shocked by the violent response- and that's what they'll remember. Not why the cartoons were so bad, and not that most Muslims aren't violently protesting this. For example, I've not heard a peep about this in Kyrgyzstan, which is over 80 percent Muslim.

Another strong argument that the Muslims have that I've seen in several different places is that there are things you cannot print about Jews- for example, anything questioning the official version of the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda is not allowed either because of the risk to the Jews. However, the risk is usually greater for those whom the negative articles or cartoons are aimed, and not, as in this case, the people of Denmark.

It has been interesting to read of Denmark's efforts to try to convince the Muslim world, certainly no bastion of press freedom, that the Danish government does not control what is published in Denmark. Government control press over the entire Muslim world (I honestly can't think of one Muslim country with a truly free press; correct me if I'm wrong) is so common and accepted that it is understandably hard to believe that Denmark doesn't control its press in some way.

So where does the responsibility come in, as in the quote from the title? The Iranians said that when they recalled their ambassador to Denmark. Is it irresponsible for the Danish government to allow these kinds of cartoons? Would it be irresponsible to allow horrible insulting cartoons about Mormons, who are classed as dangerous cults in some parts of Europe? Where does irresponsibility begin? I'd hate to be the one who decides that.

Can free speech be taken too far? Probably. But I'm not ready to say that it has been.


  1. Amira, I found the cartoon about the virgins hilarious. I didn't entirely "get" the others, but I just don't find them as offensive as you do.

    These cartoons are not making fun, for instance, of the muslims who died in Serbia. Nor would I find a cartoon about the holocaust funny.

    But there are jokes about jews all over the place and they are on the mark and funny. The Jewish mother thing, for instance.

    People who cannot laugh at themselves are dangerous people, in my opinion.

    I would not joke about Haun's mill, but I think the jokes about the funny quirks of the general authorities are funny.

    I think jokes about my quirks are funny.

    I just don't see the problem. Except that Muslims take themselves far too seriously.

  2. Two things. One: you are right that the response to this is absolutely horrifying. I can't imagine how the protests and the burning and the killing will convince people that what the cartoonist in Denmark did was in poor taste. It only serves to convince people further (as I sigh whenever I read the headlines) that Muslims are violent and dangerous.

    Two: I'm a proponent of free speech (having studied journalism at college), but what you bring up -- the responsibility and whose it is -- is something that cannot be easily answered. I think we tend to take free speech too far here in the states. I'm not even sure it's a "right" (at least as we define it). It's definately a "good". But, if people aren't willing to be responsible about what they say, and whom they might offend, then what good does that particular good do? Was the government irresponsible? No. The cartoonist, probably. And I think it just that he got fired from the paper. Maybe even the editors were irresponsible for allowing the cartoons to go to print in the first place. But I think to hold an entire government responsible for what a single paper does is overreacting. Here's where my defense of free press comes in... the government shouldn't have to be responsible for the actions of a single paper. I think that's what freedom of press is really all about: that a paper should be responsible for its own actions. And they were: they fired the cartoonist. That should be enough. I think that's the difference between a cartoon about Mormons, or Jews or whatever and this. We would demand responsiblity from the paper, and the cartoonist. Not the government.

    And that makes me sad.

  3. annegb, some of these cartoons aren't about quirks. There are plenty of those out there about Muslims that no one gets violent over. But a picture of Muhammad with a bomb on his head? That's not poking fun. There are so many things about that one cartoon that are a problem.

    But that exactly proves my point- many people don't understand why some of these cartoons were so offensive and Muslims aren't doing a good job of explaining what the problem is.

    After living in Kyrgyzstan and seeing a little closer the restrictions on free press (where press restrictions are mild in comparison to other countries in the area), I think it is unquestionably a right that must be protected.

    Are there some things that shouldn't be allowed? I think there are, but that's up to each country to decide. We can't come up with a perfect system. And I'd rather that we go too far towards freedom than towards restrictions. Restrictions are a much bigger problem today.

  4. I don't know Amira, I'm not convinced about the heinous nature of the cartoons. I think the controversy brings to light the absolute intolerance and violent nature of Islam.

    If somebody made an offensive cartoon about Joseph Smith, for instance, I might not like it, I might not find it funny, but I wouldn't riot in the streets or threaten to kill people.

    The reaction to the admitted insult is extreme. Why did they not riot and protest in the streets when the Serbs were massacreing, however you spell it, Muslims in Croatia?

    They are giving credence and attention to this person who might be mediocre, like I said, I can't make out all the cartoons, they are fuzzy.

    They might be offensive, you might choose not to read them, I might find one funny, but it seems to me they shine a spotlight on a glaring problem with the people of Islam.

    What am I missing? Can we kill a muslim and they do not protest but if we mock a muslim, we are screwed?

  5. I don't think I ever aruged that the violent response is acceptable. I think it's worse than the cartoons themselves. But it doesn't make me believe that Islam itself is violent.

    I don't think I'm going to convince you that Islam isn't violent, and you're not going to convince me that it is. I've lived peacefully with too many Muslims to believe that Islam is inherently violent. Obviously there are violent Muslims, and some who justify that violence with their religion. But I do not believe it's not *Islam* that makes a person violent.

  6. Free speech can not be taken too far. That is dangerous and weak-minded thinking. Free speech is only as strong as the most offensive voice that speaks. Imagine if Sam Adams or Thomas Paine thought free speech can be taken too far ...

    If you don't wish to hear or read something offensive - then don't listen or read. The question is not difficult to answer and to pretend that it is - is very weak-minded pandering that enables completely wrong behavior of these protestors, rioters, and looters.

    As I pointed out on another thread - imagine if Hindi people took to violent protests, because their religious beliefs regarding cows are not respected by other nations (on a far greater scale than publishing an image of Mohammed). Imagine if Mormons became physically violent, because their beliefs, regarding drinking caffeinated beverages were not "respected" (ie observed) by others. Fire-bombings of Starbucks world-wide! Death to the disrespectful coffee merchants and the governments that support them!

    The facts are, these are Muslim beliefs ... and followers of that faith are attempting to intimidate peoples in other nations, to "respect" (ie OBSERVE AND FOLLOW) their beliefs. This behavior speaks more to their own failings, than to those who published the political cartoons. How ironic is it, to publish a political cartoon, satiring the increasingly violent path of Muslims - and have it protested with increasingly violent behavior of Muslims.