Intoonfada Reborn: Self-Censorship An Insult to American Muslims

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In my Rant from the May issue of Reason (you'd have enjoyed it already if you were a subscriber!), I poked fun at the high-minded excuses American newspaper editors gave for not running the Muhammad cartoons from Jyllands-Posten, and said journalists should be bold enough to admit that they self-censored because they were afraid for their lives. Was that presumptious? Daniel Pipes comes up with one or two pieces of evidence. As the Boston Phoenix put it:

Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.

And in a form letter, Comedy Central says its decision to remove The Prophet from a South Park cartoon "was based solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events."

Not a lot of evidence, and since as far as I know the American media have stuck to their original story, I can't just go on calling them chickens (though I'll reiterate that arguments about how U.S. papers were showing respect for religious beliefs or that the cartoons themselves were not newsworthy are laughable). Pipes includes the comment, "Admitting to intimidation is not good, but it beats denial." That's the same argument I made.

But while I'm pleased to see American papers (OK, one American paper) admit that intimidation was a factor, I'll move on and say that this admission just makes you guilty of something else: assuming, without evidence, that American Muslims would react with violence to seeing the cartoons published in a stateside publication. A handful of papers did show the cartoons, and there wasn't a single act of violence against any of them. The Austin American-Statesman, according to its editor, received one letter in response to the cartoons, the Philadelphia Inquirer attracted a peaceful protest of fewer than 30 people, and the New York Sun reported no trouble at all. Acts of violence against Fox News: zero.

The dark secret of newsrooms isn't that people are afraid their content will provoke violence. It's that they're afraid their content will provoke strong feelings of any kind. I don't know where the line between fear of mailbombs and fear of too many angry letters to the editor rests, but as Dr. Phil says, you teach people how to treat you. Fear that the intoonfada would erupt in America is a disservice to American Muslims. Expecting Muslims in the United States to react like Muslims in Pakistan is like expecting Antonin Scalia to get himself nailed to a cross on Good Friday because that's what Catholics do in the Philippines.

NEXT: Come Back, All Is Forgiven

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  1. You want an offense cartoon? Look no further.

    Sickening.

  2. hmm, “offensive”.

    I speek gude englysh.

  3. Maybe it wasn’t “American Muslims” they were worried about. Perhaps fear of International violence played a part in the deision to withhold the cartoons. I agree though, that it is sad the ttruth suffers.

  4. Terrorists like to terrorize people. We are terrified.

    The terrorists want a theocracy. We are giving it to them, along with plenty of mechanisms to control society, because of our fear.

  5. Nobody has the right to dictate–through polite requests, let alone through violence–what other people can and cannot say about his or her religion.

    I recall seeing some interviews with American Muslims where the general consensus among them was “freedom of speech does not give you the right to insult or disrespect someone’s religion” (I’d say that’s the heartland of freedom of speech). One American Muslim said she “would rather live in a cave “than in a country where people are free to show pictures of Mohammad. Of course, I presume she has not booked a flight out of Michigan yet, nor does she have any plans to. Muslims are Muslims, and just because it’s a bit cooler over here and there’s less sand, that doesn’t mean American Muslims are any more rational. The sine qua non of Islam, just like any other religion, is irrational, violent behavior. Religious people are violent because they all know, deep down inside, their religions are bunk and all their prayers do and will go perpetually unanswered.

    Bottom line: Screw all your religions. Your asinine religious prophets are all phony, dog-humping, pedophile liars, and you are all a bunch of sheep for being a follower of their hypocritical, nonsensical, no-relevance-to-the-modern-world “teachings.” Feel free to call me whatever you want, but you have no right to try to silence me and my hatred of your idiotic religions (not just islam, although it’s certainly the worst) through direct violence or third party intimidation. Go into your closet, close the door, and pray for my death if you need an emotional outlet.

    And screw any news outlet that self-censors because it’s afraid of being physically harmed by religious fanatics. They’ll publish the pentagon papers but not a cartoon of a sandy little asshole?

  6. “Fear that the intoonfada would erupt in America is a disservice to American Muslims.”

    I don’t know how many of you have the privilege of having a Waki Paki for a buddy, but he is simmering already.
    Why should I go out of my way to piss him off?

  7. Considering that most of the violence against the Danish occurred at their consulates overseas, I think it was the reaction of foreign Muslims that the papers feared. Remember that it was the decision of papers in France to merely print the offending cartoons that caused rioters to target their embassies. Not that Muslims in the Middle East really need a reason to hate the US, and there were some scattered attacks against US and British interests during the Cartoon riots.

  8. I can’t just go on calling them chickens

    Sure you can. Its the only plausible explanation for their behavior.

    Why should I go out of my way to piss him off?

    Publishing the cause of widespread rioting isn’t “going out of its way” for a newspaper. Its the newspaper’s reason for being.

    Other than selling ad space to local car dealers, of course.

  9. Let’s sum up the problem.

    1. It is racist to publish the cartoons.
    2. It is racist to not publish the cartoons.

    Scotty, beam me up.

  10. To censor yourself in the fear that something might happen is a despicable show of irrational fear and can hardly be respected. Such an act is craven and I am disgusted such people dare to call themselves publishers or reporters — whatever they’d like to believe they are nothing of the such and deserve no trust from anyone. If they can’t report this or other such “controversial” and “sensitive” material, they shouldn’t even try, and most certainly shouldn’t claim to be proponents of the truth. The word has been dirtied enough by such worms.

    Hate is the only thing I can find for such wretched people, the only respect that can be said deserving of them is that which you would give any human being, Stalin included. These sorts of people are exactly the kind who will aquiesce in silence to brutality and other horrific acts man commits. Reminds me of various dictators’ rises to power.

  11. Oh, and Bruce, you need to try decaf.

  12. The obvious question is — are american muslims better integrated into America, than European muslims are into Europe? My guess would be yes. Which I think would imply that the response would not have been the same as in Europe.

  13. “The obvious question is — are american muslims better integrated into America, than European muslims are into Europe? My guess would be yes. Which I think would imply that the response would not have been the same as in Europe.”

    In general, I agree, but how many pissed off Muslims does it take to put a 9mm hole through the forehead of an editor, or publisher, or reporter?

    “To censor yourself in the fear that something might happen is a despicable show of irrational fear and can hardly be respected.”

    It might be despicable, but it is hardly irrational.

    I wish American newspapers had shown more guts, but given what happened in Europe I am not terribly surprised.

  14. Sorry, I can’t get with the need of some here to rub noses in it.
    B. F. Skinner couldn’t either.

  15. It was rather disingenous of South Park’s creators to accuse Comedy Central of being “chicken” in not airing the Muhammad image, when they knew full well that a major cable network was not going to tread where other media outlets dared not.

    Further, considering that the Internet allows for a medium of expression for all those self-righteous cartoonists who feel they’ve been “censored” by editors, syndicates and sponsors, there is nothing to stop Messrs. Stone and Parker from putting an independent film with Muhammad the Cartoon Figure on a domain that they solely own, independent of Comedy Central.

    Seems that people in San Francisco aren’t the only ones getting high and mighty on their own bowel fumes. More phony controversies from “artists” of limited talent to begin with …

  16. It was rather disingenous of South Park’s creators to accuse Comedy Central of being “chicken” in not airing the Muhammad image, when they knew full well that a major cable network was not going to tread where other media outlets dared not.

    Ha. Let me try to wrap my mind around this. So, because Stone and Parker knew that Comedy Central would censor the image anyway, it was disingenuous to accuse them of censorship when CC when through with it? It isn’t actually censorship if you know in advance that the censor won’t permit it?

    By that logic, Voltaire shouldn’t have written Candide, because it would just end up on the Index, anyway.

    What miserable idiocy.

  17. Chamberlain…do you really think that someone who considers Comedy Central to be a major network knows who Voltaire was?

  18. I know, Eryk, but I was constitutionally incapable of letting that comment stand. I read it through a few times, hoping it was a troll, but in the end concluded that it was just the sort of thing some smartass would say in pursuit of a real argument.

  19. It might be despicable, but it is hardly irrational.

    There is nothing rational about pissing yourself and running away in the face of a pathetic enemy.

    Then again, there is one advantage that religious jihadists have over secularist newspaper editors: they are willing to risk death for their beliefs. I would speculate as to the reason why, but I’d hate to spoil the “religion is for fools” atmosphere that generally prevails on this forum.

  20. I just want to give a shout out to “Key West The Newspaper” which stood up for free speech and ran some of the cartoons back in February.

    Judging by the articles I saw just in the week I was there, it’s a paper with a somewhat libertarian slant. So be sure and check it out if you are ever down there.

  21. Heh, a gay newspaper shows more balls than most. I would say that’s “ironic”, but I don’t want to push Mr Nice Guy’s grammatical buttons. 😉

  22. Excited to have found you! You’re both hilarious and dead-on re your political point(s) of view & analysis.

    Will be coming back for more 🙂

    m

  23. Marcvs, I came in here expecting that and wasn’t dissappointed.

  24. Hasn’t Mohammed been in the opening montage for South Park all season so far?

  25. With their style of animation who really knows?

  26. I agree with everything except the reference to the pop psychology guru Dr. Phil. He is the one person on the planet–well maybe Deepak Chopra, too–who should be denied free speech.

  27. Borders, Comedy Central and a few newspapers admitting to cowardice doesn’t demonstrate a trend for the rest of American media outlets. It just shows that these people are cowards. I can think of many reasons that would lead the rest of the editors to not publish the cartoons, and none of them involve terrorism. Here’s two.

    Maybe you’re blowing up a simple business decision. If I were an editor, I would never allow the Jyllands-Posten cartoons to be published out of fear or a boycott. Creating the false dichotomy that American Muslims will either react violently or not react at all isn’t very helpful. There are many possible reactions between the two extremes, and almost all of them are negative from a business standpoint.

    I guess another possibility could be that not publishing the cartoons is a matter of taste. Even if editors were not personally offended by the cartoons, there’s no reason to think that they wouldn’t self-censor out of respect for others.

    Don’t get me wrong–terror is a very real threat. I just get scared when we look for and find that threat in everything.

  28. Hasn’t Mohammed been in the opening montage for South Park all season so far?

    Muhammad has been in the opening credits since the second episode of the season (Smug Alert).

    http://www.tvsquad.com/2006/04/15/south-parks-been-showing-muhammad-all-season/

  29. Rover Random:

    Hate is the only thing I can find for such wretched people, the only respect that can be said deserving of them is that which you would give any human being

    Nah. Relax. It’s their job to hate you. All you have to do is despise them.

  30. I can’t just go on calling them chickens

    Sure you can. Its the only plausible explanation for their behavior.

    When I have a photo of you wearing a T-shirt imprinted with those cartoons and standing in front of a mosque just after prayers on a weekday, I will take your counsel on who is and is not a chicken, tough guy. That goes triple for tough-talking John and crimethink.

  31. …is like expecting Antonin Scalia to get himself nailed to a cross on Good Friday because that’s what Catholics do in the Philippines.

    We can hope, can’t we?

  32. When I have a photo of you wearing a T-shirt imprinted with those cartoons and standing in front of a mosque just after prayers on a weekday, I will take your counsel on who is and is not a chicken, tough guy. That goes triple for tough-talking John…

    According to his email address he’s in Iraq right now, so there should be lots of mosques for him to stand in front of.

    (Note: The John who posted in this thread at 1:52 am is not the same tough guy John who comes to H&R regularly. At first I was thrown by that post until I checked the email address.)

  33. I think that we all need to agree that if it is not your taboo you do not have to follow its dictates. Respecting others taboos is allowing them to follow them, not forcing non-kosher food on your jewish friend, not asking a muslem to represent the profit mohomod (or any living thing if they are strict). You don’t have to eat kosher or avoid drawing the profit momohad yourself. And offering a taboo item when you don’t know about the taboo is ok too.

    I guess I am saying that, as a point of etiquette, we should all be responable for our own taboos and only for our own taboos. Trying to manage everyones would ground a multi-ethinic nation like the US to a hault

  34. “Trying to manage everyones would ground a multi-ethinic nation like the US to a hault”

    ah ha! you’ve obviously been in a discussion at a northeastern Liberal Arts school! damn. through all the disclosures, etc. it’s impossible to say anything: you’ve nailed perfectly how those discussions went 🙂

  35. The dark secret of newsrooms isn’t that people are afraid their content will provoke violence. It’s that they’re afraid their content will provoke strong feelings of any kind.

    Using this in an implied reference to the Boston Phoenix is about as silly as suggesting the Boston Phoenix is, or has, a newsroom. Irrational fears of physical reprisals against their staff hasn’t stopped the Phoenix from ragging on abortion clinic bombers and snipers, militiamen, and lots of other kooks who, being armed and living in America, have a greater (but similarly infinitesimal) chance of actually harming Phoenix staffers. The Phoenix operates on a relatively simple political calculus, which is essentially “attack, if our target can be reasonably identified as conservative or right-wing”. Given their perception that the right is waging a war on Muslims, the Phoenix is loathe to incite animus among perceived allies against the right – nevermind that these allies might actually be in opposition to their free speech values. The Phoenix prides itself on appearing smarter than the average bear, and fearing armed reprisals from that terror cell living the gay-lovin’, free-speech-valuin’ liberal haven of Boston just does not compute.

  36. I guess I am saying that, as a point of etiquette, we should all be responable for our own taboos and only for our own taboos. Trying to manage everyones would ground a multi-ethinic nation like the US to a hault

    That makes good sense to me.

  37. Marcvs – you might be interested in something called the “Dysfunctional Family Circus”. You didn’t hear it from me (as the original maintainer took it down at Bil Keane’s request), but if you google, you can probably find a copy.

  38. Off-topic, but this reminds me of something I read in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon last night.

    There’s a scene where a WW2 Japanese sailor ends up in a Catholic hospital in the Philippines. Seeing a crucifex in his room, and only vaguely familiar with Christianity, he doesn’t know what the banner “INRI” at the top of the cross means. (Pontius Pilate’s mocking “IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM” — “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”) He speculates that it’s a request to “Initiate Nail Removal Immediately!”

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