Thursday, February 16, 2006

freedom and responsibility (read the next post down before this one!)

Ok, so now that we've seen the damn cartoons we can talk about them. If you didn't get some of them, it's ok, I didn't either. Then I read the background: it appears that someone wrote a right-wing Danish paper called Jyllands-Posten saying that he couldn't find any cartoonists willing to draw a picture of the prophet Muhammad. I suppose the paper printed the letter, because these cartoons were sent to it by Danes in response. That should clear up a number of the cartoons, especially the one with the schoolboy named "Muhammad" chiding the paper.

People on the left and right, both here and abroad, have rightly faulted Muslims for their heavy-handed response to these cartoons. Certainly the fact that Muslims are asking European governments to step in and censor the Jyllands-Posten (and the other papers that reprinted the cartoons) is both disturbing and deeply offensive to those of us who live in secular democracies.

My question, though, is this: isn't the Muslim reaction at least understandable? Clearly these cartoons were printed for one reason, and one reason alone: Muslim-baiting. The point of the cartoons is to offend Muslims. That's it. Even the paper itself admits as much in its explanation for the cartoons (see the section "Publications of the Drawings" for the original statement and subsequent apology, both of which are pure unadulterated bullshit). These cartoons aren't funny or insightful or even particularly creative, but for Muslims, who believe that representations of the Prophet are by definition blasphemous, they are, again, deeply and deliberately offensive. They are qualitatively no different than slapping "Jesus is ugly and stupid and nobody likes him, ha ha!" across the top of the page.

They are a sign of something that, for some reason, few if any are willing to say out loud: religious intolerance. Or, put another way, bigotry.

With freedom of speech and press, like any freedom, however, comes responsibility. Just because you can spew hate and intolerance all over your paper doesn't mean it's a good idea, and it doesn't mean that it's not your fault if bad things happen because of your insensitivity. When you express yourself, you represent a larger group in the minds of those who hear you, whether you like it or not. Thus, when the Jyllands-Posten printed these images, they recklessly validated the Muslim extremist narrative that breeds hatred, and ultimately terrorism.

I guess Jyllands-Posten isn't Danish for "class act."

1 comment:

El Ranchero said...

I wanted to mention, too, that I find it significant, and odd, that no one in the media has bothered to mention the reason for publishing the cartoons. It's a significant detail in that it denies the paper the ignorance excuse (we didn't know it was blasphemous!) and reveals a more insidious motive than is implied in the basic media narrative.