Free Speech: Putting Our Own House in OrderPosted: January 11, 2015
Carl M. Cannon writes: In 2005, Flemming Rose, the culture editor at Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, formulated a response to several acts of censorship—including when a group of imams urged Denmark’s prime minister to shelter Islam from the vagaries of a free press. Rose invited all 25 members of the Danish political cartoonists association to “draw Muhammad as you see him.”
A dozen accepted the assignment and all 12 cartoons were published in Jyllands-Posten.
Then all hell broke loose.
“The bodies in the newsmagazines offices were still warm when MSNBC commentators worried aloud that the attack could fuel ‘nativist’ or ‘anti-immigrant’ attitudes in Europe. The Guardian published a column accusing Charlie Hebdo of having stoked ‘a climate of intolerance’ in France while insisting that the vast majority of Muslims are nonetheless appalled by the killings.”
The cartoons did not attack Islam; most of them did not even make fun of Muhammad. Two actually spoofed Jyllands-Posten for the exercise itself. Another drawing showed the Prophet with horns, but as Viking adornments—Muhammad the Scandinavian. The most memorable cartoons assailed Islamic terrorism, one humorously, the other with chilling simplicity.
The light-hearted cartoon depicted Muhammad as Saint Peter at heaven’s gate, telling a line of suicide bombers, “Stop. Stop. We have run out of virgins.” The other simply showed Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. The most prescient cartoon had the Prophet gazing at his likeness in a newspaper while telling two angry, sword-wielding minions, “Relax, guys, it’s just a sketch made by a Dane in the southwest of Denmark.”
“The problem is that they want to open a debate on whether Islam is true or not, and on whether Judaism and Christianity are false or not. In other words, they want to open up everything for debate. That’s it. It begins with freedom of thought, it continues with freedom of speech, and it ends up with freedom of belief.”
— Al-Munajid, on Al-Jazeera
Denmark’s Islamic clerics did the opposite of relax. They put the drawings in a booklet, added several faked, much more incendiary cartoons that had never appeared in the paper, and headed to Muslim capitals to incited violence against Danes. In the ensuing riots and chaos, 250 people lost their lives.
The cartoons were right up the alley of Charlie Hebdo, the French newsmagazine attacked by Islamic terrorists this week. In 2006, it reprinted them in an issue with a cover of a weeping Muhammad who is thinking, “It’s hard being loved by idiots.” Jean Cabut, the author of that cartoon, was one of the 10 Charlie Hebdo staffers murdered Wednesday. The question implied by his satirical drawing lives on.
“Dean’s assertion unintentionally underscored Bill Maher’s argument. The first modern fatwa on a western writer was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, who called on any Muslim in the world to kill Salman Rushdie for a novel he wrote. Was Khomeini not a Muslim?”
After 9/11, George W. Bush repeatedly characterized Islam as “a religion of peace.” The extremists had “hijacked” a worthy religious faith, Bush assured his countrymen. The imagery was apt—the 9/11 suicide bombers had hijacked airplanes—but many Americans were skeptical of the president’s sanguine declaration. They wanted it to be true, but as the body count mounted over the years at the hands of terrorists yelling “God is Great!” in Arabic, they wondered.
“In his book, “Tyranny of Silence,” Danish editor Flemming Rose quotes a Saudi cleric and TV preacher Muhammad Al-Munajid—a man who has said Mickey Mouse should be killed—who revealed candidly what radical Muslim clerics and their violent followers really fear. They fear that people think about their own faith instead of being told what they must believe.”
The same dynamic is present this week. Our most sage and sober commentators assure us that the Charlie Hebdo murderers are outliers and that allowing them to frame the narrative as Islam-against-the-civilized-world is a mistake.
The bodies in the newsmagazines offices were still warm when MSNBC commentators worried aloud that the attack could fuel “nativist” or “anti-immigrant” attitudes in Europe. The Guardian published a column accusing Charlie Hebdo of having stoked “a climate of intolerance” in France while insisting that the vast majority of Muslims are nonetheless appalled by the killings.
We hope that is true, but is it? Polls show that most British Muslims believe the Danish cartoonists should have been prosecuted. Sixty-four percent of Egyptians support the death penalty for Muslims who leave the faith. It is these kinds of attitudes that sparked a spirited on-air debate between actor Ben Affleck and television host Bill Maher.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, Maher reiterated his worldview. “I know most Muslim people would not have carried out an attack like this,” he told ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel. “But here’s the important point: Hundreds of millions of them…applaud an attack like this. What they say is, ‘We don’t approve of violence, but you know what? When you make fun of the Prophet, all bets are off.’”
There are several sensible rebuttals to that argument, but the least persuasive was proffered by Howard Dean, who said that the Paris killers aren’t really Muslims at all….(read more)
- Carl M. Cannon: The war is between those who believe in free expression and those who don’t (ocregister.com)
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- Jacob Weisberg on the Psychology of George W. Bush (blushingbush.com)
- Europe’s Lapse of Reason (mareeg.com)
- The striking decline of ‘values’ in American politics (washingtonpost.com)
- Europe’s Lapse of Reason (unreportedtoday.com)
- [Ticker] Danish newspaper will not reprint Charlie Hebdo cartoons (euobserver.com)
- No Laughing Matter: Why Some Newspapers Said “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo” (deadline.com)
- Danish Mohammed Row Paper Won’t Publish Charlie Hebdo Cartoons (israelnationalnews.com)