The Intoonfada: US Media Accused of Cowardice Again

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As loyal readers of Reason Online well know, web editor Tim Cavanaugh has been indefatigably and brilliantly reporting and commenting on the global flap over Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad. In the meantime, the mainstream media in the United States have been all but missing in action in defending against this attack on freedom of expression. However, some leading newspapers are suffering from enough bad conscience to allow others to criticize them on their own op/ed pages.

One such superb critique by William Bennett and Alan Dershowitz is running in today's Washington Post. They point out:

To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists—their threats more than their sensibilities. One did not see Catholics claiming the right to mayhem in the wake of the republished depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung, any more than one saw a rejuvenated Jewish Defense League take to the street or blow up an office when Ariel Sharon was depicted as Hitler or when the Israeli army was depicted as murdering the baby Jesus…

When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press—an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms—would be among the first to surrender.

It would be inspiring if Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer, and other leading American journalists had prices on their heads because of their defense of free speech.

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  1. Well it’s easy to talk about how inspiring it would be for others to have a price on their head for a noble cause, but…yeah, it would be.

  2. If some newspaper says, “we don’t want to get our throats cut over this issue; that’s way above our pay grade,” then I would admire their honesty and their concern for their employees. Those who talk about censoring the cartoons about “enlightenment values” are just blowing smoke.

    In favor of publication are two considerations:

    (a) The more outlets publish, the less easy it will be for killers to pick them out for extermination; if publication becomes near-universal, what’s the point of singling anyone out for murder?

    (b) If a controversy like this prompts wide reprinting of the offensive cartoons, sensible Muslims may say — “wait a minute, death threats against the cartoonists simply cause these offensive cartoons to be published more widely! Therefore, let’s go easy on the death threats, so as not to encourage broad distribution of insults to the Prophet pbuh”

  3. If I see one more goddamned reference to “the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung,” I’m going to go on a fucking rampage and kill someone, because it’s such a willful, stupid misreprentation of what happened in the event being referenced that I can only assume it’s being done purposefully and maliciously.

  4. While they’re at it, they should print some writings of the holocaust denier who just got sent to jail in Austria.

  5. WHO DARES INSULT THE MIGHTY MOON GOD ALLAH!??!

  6. Man, I end up agreeing with Bennett AND Dershowitz on the same day! Maybe there is something to that planets aligning thing …

  7. Phil: Yeah, you’re right. I actually went to the exhibition and frankly the painting did nothing for me artistically. Take a look and decide for yourself. A couple of years later, I met the director of the Brooklyn Museum at a friend’s house and we discussed the “controversy.” He frankly admitted that he had intended to provoke the reaction that he got.

    It’s stupid, but all right, for pols like Giuliani to bloviate about allegedly “dung covered” Madonnas, but not to shut the exhibit down or cut off the painter’s head.

  8. Wow, they didn’t mention Serrano’s Piss Christ.

  9. I haven’t checked my print latest print edition of Reason, so I may be asking an answered question, but here goes.

    Does Reason have plans to publish the cartoons (or did ya do it already)?

  10. I mean, aside from the link to them that was on H&R a while back, which I did see.

  11. When does publishing the cartoons become the equivalent of “defiantly” saying “Merry Christmas” and *not* publishing them becomes the new “war on Christmas”?

  12. When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms.

    They may indeed hate these things, but what for the most part riles them is their presence within the Islamic world, not within the West. Had it been the latter that motivated them, the 9/11 hijackers would’ve tried flying their planes into the cultural landmarks of Las Vegas and Hollywood, not the economic, military, and political landmarks of New York and Washington.

    And if you look beneath the surface, it seems that the primary objective of many of the lunatics up in arms over the cartoons in the Islamic world isn’t to muzzle Western newspapers and magazines (though they wouldn’t mind that), but to use the issue to gain a political upper hand on less fanatical elements within their own communities.

  13. And have any of the papers that published the Mohammed cartoons published or announced their intention to publish the Iranian anti-semitic cartoons? Or, for that matter, the Israeli anti-semitic cartoons.

    It does seem to me that most American newspapers wouldn’t print anti-semitic cartoons purely as an excercise in free speech. Admittedly, part of the reason is that free speech is less of an issue here. There are no hate speech laws, and no filmmakers getting shot.

    The cartoons themselves are at this point in the intoonfada clearly newsworthy, but so was the Nick Berg video. I’m certainly glad that no news outlet I saw carried that particular piece of footage. I didn’t want to see it. My point is that it is wholly acceptable for any given news outlet to set its own standards, and I’m not entirely certain that simply refraining from printing these cartoons based on their own principles (most wouldn’t have printed them in August 2001, would they?) constitutes cowardice.

    And by the way, if they were missing in action, that indicates that they were in action in the first place. Y’all are accusing them of never showing up for free-speech-battle. AWOL probably fits the military metaphor better.

  14. It would be inspiring if…leading American journalists had prices on their heads because of their defense of free speech.

    Does Reason have a budget for such things?

  15. Eric II,

    I think you make a good point. 9-11 was in many ways a bank shot aimed at the Saudis. Bin Laden believed that if he killed enough Americans we would cut and run from the middle-east and allow him to finally have it out with the Saudi royals and other leaders in the region. Unfortunately, this Muslim civil war, for lack of a better term, is not confined to the Middle-East. There are already parts of Europe where Muslim thugs have been able to effectively and extrajudicially impose sharia law. The Islamists in Europe view every capitulation as a sign of weakness and encouragement to demand more. This more of a problem for Europe than America, but ultimately a fundamentalist Muslim, Sharia dominated Europe, in addition to being a tragedy of the first order, would pose huge problems for the United States. The question is does Europe have the self confidence to stand up to the radicals and embolden the moderates in its Muslim communities or will political correctness and self doubt allow the radicals to prevail over both communities.

  16. Mike,

    Maybe you are kidding, but the reason newspapers should print the cartoons is because the cartoons are the news. Printing the cartoons or failing to print them is not a sign of hostility or sympathy to any political or religious demographic, its a sign of the paper’s priorities and its attitude towards its job. If there was a riot that led to fatalaties because some guy said something (allegedly) anti-Muslim, and there was a recording of what he said, the newspapers would (or at least should) print what he said. Obviously. This is not much different.

    If a newspaper isn’t printing the news, they are doing a poor job, and it is legit for people like Bennett and Dershowitz to point that out, and maybe try to figure out why they are doing such a poor job.

  17. The best thing to do would be to print the cartoons and then NOT report on the resulting outrage.

    Case closed.

  18. The only reason for freedom of speech and freedom of the press is to defend your right to offend someone.

    Anything not of the status quo will offend someone, and thus this is a necessary right for people to have, or we’d have an even harder time changing something that needs to be changed.

    Just because the press has the right to offend someone does not mean they are in any way wrong for choosing not to offend someone.

  19. The more outlets publish, the less easy it will be for killers to pick them out for extermination

    Where’s the logic in that? The more outlets publish, the more “offending” publishers there are too choose from. Supply and demand!

    Would an increased supply of offending publishers reduce the price offered for individual heads? Will the reduced price for individual heads lower the demand? Or would there be market segmentation – 100K for the NY Times publisher but only 5K for the publisher of the local shopper? That would be relativism, and I doubt The Great Mo was a relativist; they’d have to charge the same price for each head and they’d go broke keeping up. Where’s Reagan when we need him?

  20. This more of a problem for Europe than America, but ultimately a fundamentalist Muslim, Sharia dominated Europe, in addition to being a tragedy of the first order, would pose huge problems for the United States.

    Considering that Muslims account for no more than 10% of the population of any Western European country, and in some cases account for much less than that, and that a decent chunk of them are relatively secular in their attitudes, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath on this matter.

    That said, Western Europe does have a problem on its hands when it comes to assimilating many of its Muslim immigrants. Part of the problem clearly has to do with the cultural exclusivism of many Muslims, but part of it also has to do with the ethnic/racial exclusivism of many Europeans (particularly outside the UK and France).

  21. Part of the papers’ decisions may be based on the fact that they have reporters in the Middle East. Reporters they’d rather not see beheaded.

  22. Maybe you are kidding, but the reason newspapers should print the cartoons is because the cartoons are the news.

    No doubt that was true two weeks ago. But as the chorus of “you *MUST* print these cartoons!” gets louder the spineless newspapers are just going to go from knuckling under to the extremist Islamists to knuckling under to the “war on Christmas” crowd. Just watch.

  23. It would be inspiring if…leading American journalists had prices on their heads because of their defense of free speech.

    It may be the only way we are going to put the much-needed prices on the heads of leading American journalists is if we do it ourselves, because of their failure to defend free speech.

    I’m in for $20. Anyone else?

  24. EricII,

    They are only 10% now, but the demographics are in their favor. White Europeans are not having babies and Muslims are. By 2050, Muslims will be a majority in France and several other Western European countries if current demographic trends continue.

  25. 9/11 wasn’t done because they hate our way of life. It was done to drive a wedge between the US and Saudi Arabia. BinLaden ahtes the House of Saud and wants to overthrow it.

  26. Mike,

    Even if the cartoons get printed in response to “The War on Xmas” crowd (are the people clamoring to get the pictures printed and “The War on Xmas” people really the same crowd?) more information is always better, isn’t it?

  27. Via Drudge:
    DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) – A German court on Thursday convicted a businessman of insulting Islam by printing the word “Koran” on toilet paper and offering it to mosques.

    The maximum sentence for insulting religious beliefs under the German criminal code is three years in prison.

    Glad I don’t live in Naziland.

  28. I’ve seen the cartoons. They don’t directly offend me, an atheist, in the least. I’ve repeatedly read that the one with Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is the most offensive of the lot. When I saw that cartoon, nothing about it differed from what I expected after reading that description. In other words, I can very easily imagine a cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban without seeing the cartoon. I suspect most readers of newspapers can do the same.

    In the narrow sense, I think it’s irrational to believe that there’s an omnipotent God who gets real angry over blasphemers. I know little about the Koran or Hadith, but I’ve read a few different translations of various parts of the Bible (e.g. Exodus 20) and even there the God of Abraham was really concerned with such things (e.g. visiting iniquity of the fathers upon the grand-children and great-grand children), possibly even more so than with murder. If you’re a believer in that God, blasphemy may be very offensive to you.

    I’m now going to be lazy and use approximations that may not be right. If I’m far off, I’m sure someone will correct me, but this is off the top of my head. There are a few hundred million Muslims who are potentially strongly offended by the cartoons. Perhaps a few hundred thousand have protested and perhaps a few thousand have directly participated in violence beyond the demonstrations, resulting in a few hundred people being killed. These deaths are fewer than the number of people who died at Hajj in 1987, 1990, 1994, 1997, 2004 or 2006.

    So Dershowitz and Bennett think that printing cartoons that are offensive to a few hundred million people is necessary, otherwise “radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation”, even when a textual description of the most offensive cartoon is sufficient to explain just what has set off such violent reactions in a tiny percentage of people of a particular religion? Suddenly the “…otherwise the terrorists have won” argument is now compelling? Bullshit.

    I have no problem with any paper choosing to print the cartoons. The paper owners and editors know their readership much better than I. If I hadn’t been handed the cartoons here in H&R, I’d have gone searching for them on the internet. I’m curious and I’m not going to be offended. But my guess is the majority of newspapers in the U.S. wouldn’t have run the cartoons regardless of the possibility of violence. Are they running Ann Landers instead of the Straight Dope because of the threats from the tiny portion of violent Ann fans?

  29. what a great time to be alive. very soon dpw will soon be shipping my mohammed embossed toilet paper and urinal targets all over the world.

  30. Being an athiest, I get terribly upset when anyone tears up a blank piece of paper.

  31. EricII,

    They are only 10% now, but the demographics are in their favor. White Europeans are not having babies and Muslims are. By 2050, Muslims will be a majority in France and several other Western European countries if current demographic trends continue.

    Not to mention that even today, Muslims are already approaching majority status in many of Europe’s big cities, particularly in the younger age groups. Keep in mind that historically, revolution has always been a young man’s game.

  32. They are only 10% now, but the demographics are in their favor. White Europeans are not having babies and Muslims are. By 2050, Muslims will be a majority in France and several other Western European countries if current demographic trends continue.

    Could you point me to the study that makes this prediction? I find it a little hard to believe, particularly given that European immigration rates are generally quite a bit lower than America’s.

    And as I said, currently Muslims account for no more tham 10% of any Western European country’s populace. For many countries, they account for 5% of less – including the UK, Italy, Spain, and Germany.

  33. From a few sites – it appears in the UK, Muslims are around 3% and in France around 7%.

    I could find no projections either way.

    I think the basic argument I’ve heard before has been laid out here: Citizne population is still growing in Europe but at an ever slowing pace to possibly stop around the year 2020. If this trend can’t be stopped, then the only way to continue economic growth will be to import workers. If they import in the same fashion they do today – the Muslim population will increase dramatically.

  34. 9/11 wasn’t done because they hate our way of life. It was done to drive a wedge between the US and Saudi Arabia. BinLaden ahtes the House of Saud and wants to overthrow it.

    9/11 was because of both. Bin Laden is pissed because he wasn’t just making a grab for Saudi Arabia, he was making a grab to lead the whole ME.

    I for one think we should commission even more of these riot inspiring cartoons. We should have national, and then inter-continental, competitions between us and Europe.

    Then, as RC Dean says, we should put prices on the heads of editors who refuse to publish them. When the editors are damned if they do and damnned if they don’t, you’ll start seeing these cartoons on t-shirts.

  35. Speaking of Mr. bin Laden’s motivations, I recall one was payback for us kicking the Moors out of Spain. Well, buddy, youse guys invaded it first. We just took it back.

    Glad I could clear all of that up.

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