Why He Published Those Cartoons
Flemming Rose, culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, has a long op-ed in today’s WaPo explaining, “Why I Published Those Cartoons.”
I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn’t mean you publish everything. Jyllands-Posten would not publish pornographic images or graphic details of dead bodies; swear words rarely make it into our pages. So we are not fundamentalists in our support for freedom of expression.
But the cartoon story is different.
Those examples have to do with exercising restraint because of ethical standards and taste; call it editing. By contrast, I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn’t to provoke gratuitously — and we certainly didn’t intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.
At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.
This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. Last September, a Danish children’s writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. The person who finally accepted insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship. European translators of a critical book about Islam also did not want their names to appear on the book cover beside the name of the author, a Somalia-born Dutch politician who has herself been in hiding.
Around the same time, the Tate gallery in London withdrew an installation by the avant-garde artist John Latham depicting the Koran, Bible and Talmud torn to pieces. The museum explained that it did not want to stir things up after the London bombings. (A few months earlier, to avoid offending Muslims, a museum in Goteborg, Sweden, had removed a painting with a sexual motif and a quotation from the Koran.)
Finally, at the end of September, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a group of imams, one of whom called on the prime minister to interfere with the press in order to get more positive coverage of Islam.
So, over two weeks we witnessed a half-dozen cases of self-censorship, pitting freedom of speech against the fear of confronting issues about Islam. This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show, don’t tell. I wrote to members of the association of Danish cartoonists asking them “to draw Muhammad as you see him.” We certainly did not ask them to make fun of the prophet. Twelve out of 25 active members responded.
Well, they certainly showed. While I’m not sure how “disturbing” a restriction of free speech fear of urinating on a religious artifact imposes, one should not allow the fear of violence to allow one religion to get preferential treatment.
Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn’t intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
This is exactly why Karl Popper, in his seminal work “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” insisted that one should not be tolerant with the intolerant. Nowhere do so many religions coexist peacefully as in a democracy where freedom of expression is a fundamental right. In Saudi Arabia, you can get arrested for wearing a cross or having a Bible in your suitcase, while Muslims in secular Denmark can have their own mosques, cemeteries, schools, TV and radio stations.
Quite so. It is simply inconceivable that any series of cartoons, films, novels, or any other form of expression that insulted Christianity or Judaism at any level would provoke anything approaching the level of violence we have seen in the Islamic world.
And, please, do not bring up examples from the Medieval period. Civilization marches forward. Or, at least, it has in the Christian and
Muslim Jewish world. That Islam is theologically stuck in the 7th Century does not allow its adherents to conduct themselves as if this were the Dark Ages.
See these cartoons in full size here.
Related entries below the fold.
Nigeria Cartoon Riot Kills at Least 15
Cleric Offers Million Dollar Bounty for Murder of Cartoonist
Bama Riots Over Bear Bryant Cartoons
The Islamists’ War on the Internet
Pakistan Rioters Burn KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s
Cartoons as Emotional Torture and Intellectual Terrorism (Leopold Stotch)
Moderate Muslims Speak Out (Leopold Stotch)
Danish Muslim Cartoons: Blogger Hypocrisy?
Egypt Published Danish Cartoons During Ramadan
Danish Cartoons & Abu Ghraib Photos (Leopold Stotch)
Hypocrites? (Steve Verdon)
Danish Muslim Cartoons: What Would Mohammad Do?
Iranian Paper Launches Holocaust Cartoon Competition
Danish Muslim Cartoon Protests Kill Six
Dutch Muslim Cartoon: Anne Frank and Hitler in Bed
Danish Muslim Cartoon Controversy in Context
Danish Embassy in Syria Torched over Muslim Cartoons
Danish Muslim Cartoons ‘Offensive,’ Says U.S. Government
Muslim Day of Anger to Respond to Cartoons
French Editor Fired Over Muhammad Drawings
French and German Papers Republish Danish Cartoons
Danish Newspaper Apologizes for Muslim Cartoons