Sunday, February 05, 2006

Some Things Aren't Funny

Danish embassies are burning around the world because of the cartoons printed in a right-wing Danish newspaper depicting the prophet Muhammed as a terrorist: one showed a bomb in place of his turban.

I agree with this op-ed in today's London Times:

These cartoons don't defend free speech, they threaten it

A newspaper is not a monastery, its mind blind to the world and deaf to reaction. Every inch of published print reflects the views of its writers and the judgment of its editors. Every day newspapers decide on the balance of boldness, offence, taste, discretion and recklessness. They must decide who is to be allowed a voice and who not. They are curbed by libel laws, common decency and their own sense of what is acceptable to readers. Speech is free only on a mountain top; all else is editing.

Despite Britons’ robust attitude to religion, no newspaper would let a cartoonist depict Jesus Christ dropping cluster bombs, or lampoon the Holocaust. Pictures of bodies are not carried if they are likely to be seen by family members. Privacy and dignity are respected, even if such restraint is usually unknown to readers. Over every page hovers a censor, even if he is graced with the title of editor.

To imply that some great issue of censorship is raised by the Danish cartoons is nonsense. They were offensive and inflammatory. The best policy would have been to apologise and shut up. For Danish journalists to demand “Europe-wide solidarity” in the cause of free speech and to deride those who are offended as “fundamentalists . . . who have a problem with the entire western world” comes close to racial provocation. We do not go about punching people in the face to test their commitment to non-violence. To be a European should not involve initiation by religious insult.

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