Saturday, January 28, 2006

Arab News Editorial on the Danish Cartoons

Can you imagine a lively editorial from an Arab or Muslim newspaper on this story? This certainly isn't one. Instead, we get a sort-of stern murkiness:
The publication of the Danish illustrations of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and their republication in Norway offers not one but two separate offenses to the Muslim world. The most obvious is that not only was the Prophet depicted in ten of the twelve cartoons, but also that one of the illustrations portrayed him as a terrorist. The second offense is that people in Denmark and Norway and no doubt in most of Europe and North America seem blissfully unaware of precisely how outrageous these images are to Islamic sensibilities.
Let's see, the second offence was not recognizing the first offence. The cartoons were a mild (by Western standards anyway) exercise in Muslim button-pushing meant to determine if freedom of the press still extends that far. And judging from recent Norwegian apologies, the jury may still be out on that question. So what does it mean to say that Westerners do not realize precisely "how outrageous these images are to Islamic sensibilities"? Outraging sensibilities was the point. Ah, but then there is the "second offense." Does that amount to saying that the Westerners failed to recognize that Muslim sensibilities are indeed the ones that must never be outraged? Then we are treated to a paragraph that seeks to dispose of the Muslim-terrorist connection:
The civilized world, including every single Muslim country, is part of the struggle against the international terror of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots.
Including Iran? Syria? Hamastan?
Every reputable Muslim leader has condemned their crimes and made it absolutely clear that the terrorists’ claims to be acting in the name of Islam are utterly false. Muslim communities, in the West, especially in the US, Spain and the UK, where there has been direct experience of Al-Qaeda’s depravity, have gone out of their way to state unequivocally that they deplore without reservation these barbarous acts. In the wake of the London bombings, it seemed that the message that Muslims were not terrorists was getting across. The British authorities with Muslim and other faith leaders worked hard to calm anger and maintain a proper sense of proportion. Yes, the bombers were all Muslims, but they were dupes of the heinous doctrines of a few evil teachers. Muslim communities have declared this again and again. Yet the doltish notion that every Muslim is a terrorist clearly persists in some quarters. A cartoonist in Denmark believed he could raise a smirk among his readers by perpetuating this distortion by depicting the Prophet in a scabrous manner.
Or he just pushed another button.
What is so deeply disappointing is that the Danish and indeed Norwegian authorities have failed to adequately condemn the publication of the image or to directly apologize for the hurt it has caused to everyone in the Muslim world. Instead, we have heard the usual responses about freedom of speech and governments having no control over the press and media. Setting aside the possibility that these publications — like many in Europe — may in fact be the direct beneficiaries of public government subsidies and tax breaks, this issue of an “independent” media is a red herring. No one is talking about censorship.
But everyone is talking about censorship. Censorship was the theme of the whole exercise, not just an after-the-fact excuse.
What Muslims are saying that with every freedom comes a responsibility. Hopefully out of ignorance rather than malevolence, something deeply painful to the entire Muslim world was published in a Danish newspaper. That in itself was an irresponsible use of the freedom of the press, which in no country anywhere is an unlimited freedom allowing journalists to vilify, libel or lie.
Up until possibly now it has been precisely an "unlimited freedom to vilify" and insult and all sorts of other impolite things. It seems that upholding this freedom is going to involve more courage than it used to.
Yet what has made matters worse is that the only regret felt by the Danish authorities seems to be over the difficulties the cartoon has created for them. It would be such a simple matter to recognize that the newspaper had exceeded decent norms and therefore to condemn not only the cartoon, but the provocative and unenlightened message within it. This is a very sad business.
Again, the point was to discover whether "exceeding decent norms" involves a new sacred-cow culture in our formerly freewheeling midst, and all the editorial can talk about is recognizing that an insult did in fact occur. And it is indeed a "very sad business," but it also has its humorous elements.

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