Monday, February 20, 2006

Captain's Quarters and the Danish cartoon controversy

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:51 PM |  

Captain Ed makes a connection in his post “The Misguided And Cowardly Outrage Of The Press” between press coverage of the Danish Cartoon story and the White House Press Corps covering of the vice-president’s hunting accident.

We have watched two separate news stories overwhelm the national press over the past fortnight. The first is the deadly protests that have come from imams stoking Muslim ire over four-month-old editorial cartoons satirizing Islam and Mohammed. The latter is the outrage of the White House press corps and the national media in general over an eighteen-hour delay in reporting the accidental shooting of Harry Whittington by the Vice-President. One would hope that the outrage of the media might get expressed over the former more so than the latter -- but that would apparently give more credit for courage and integrity than the national media deserves.
The comparison is somewhat of a stretch. Nonetheless, the more important issue remains the press coverage of the Danish cartoons, and it is on that score that I have to take exception with the assumptions and conclusions of Ed’s post.

The essence of Ed’s argument in favor of republishing the cartoons is the argument that it is necessary for putting the worldwide riots in perspective.

Instead of informing the people of the context of these riots -- the almost ridiculously mild satire of the cartoon published four months ago -- they [the press] have steadfastly declined to print them at all. While they regularly issue pronouncements about the right of the people to know, they have banded together to ensure that most of their readers have no idea exactly what the Danish cartoonists drew that have prompted the burnings of at least a half-dozen embassies around the world.
Ed's assumption is that seeing the cartoons, which he already prejudices with the parenthetical appellation “almost ridiculously mild,” provides context. It does not. Having spent time with American Muslims discussing the cartoons, I cannot convey the depth of offensiveness they feel at these drawings, about which I agree with Ed; to me they seem comparatively mild. But neither I, nor Ed, nor the media republishing them are Muslim.

The point is, if the media is going to publish the cartoons, it best have a better reason than providing context. To make that argument is to imply that any Muslim that finds these cartoons offensive is ipso facto acting irrationally by Western standards. Beyond that narrow implication is the broader implication that any person acting out of religious conviction is ipso facto acting irrationally by secular standards.

From my Wednesday Pioneer Press column --

America, wrote Stephen L. Carter in his 1993 work "The Culture of Disbelief" is not anti-religion; rather it treats God as a hobby, "something private, something trivial — and not really a fit activity for intelligent, public spirited adults." Religion is tolerated, not necessarily respected, in proper secular society.
That attitude is reflected in an editorial in the Southwest Florida News-Press, which elected to reprint the cartoons.

We are publishing some of the controversial cartoons today depicting the Prophet Muhammad not just because we can, or to offend or inflame.

It would be hypocritical to throw these images in the faces of Muslims, a small minority in Southwest Florida, knowing all along that we would be far more careful with cartoons that made light of slavery or the Holocaust.

But look at the cartoons. By Western standards they are mild indeed, not offensive in content, just irreverent.

They cross a line — the one cited that bans any visual rendering of the Prophet, which is simply incompatible with Western freedom as it has evolved over centuries.

What's at issue here is not offensiveness, but the subjugation of freedom to religious and clerical authority.
The editorial goes on talk about freedom of expression, but never does say why it is necessary to publish the cartoons other than the implication that it’s essential to show the Islamic world that America will not be intimidated, and it is Muslims that must change.

It is precisely because we want and need to have a healthy relationship with Islam that we must demand respect for freedom, for irreverence, even for offensiveness.
But American Muslims already have that respect and a healthly relationship with America. Many came to the United States from countries ruled by Islamic theocracies precisely because those countries did not allow them to freely practice their religion. Ironically, it is American Muslims that realize the value of freedom and need not be lectured on its value; they also realize that freedom to worship includes the freedom to be offended and the responsibility to refrain from offending.

It is a teaching of Islam, I was told, that to burn an American flag, because it is a sacred symbol of the United States, is a blasphemous to a Muslim as depicting The Prophet. As I noted in my Pioneer Press column, “the irony is that the same deeply held religious conviction that makes the Danish cartoons blasphemous to [American Muslims] restrains [their] response to their publication — an inner tension inherent in dynamic faith.”

Captain Ed and the News-Press make the same mistake as theocratic governments (regardless of their religious base) -- they equate political and earthly actions with the spirituality of religion. To reprint the cartoons as a show of “testicular fortitude” is making an empty political statement at the expense of alienating American Muslims. Publishing the cartoons will certainly offend American Muslims; it certainly isn’t going to intimidate terrorists.

The News-Press concludes --
Islam needs to change, to modernize, if it is to live at peace with other cultures.
What better expression of the notion that religious people that take their beliefs seriously must change to accommodate secular society. Should Muslims become as modern as Christians that have been domesticated to leave their religion at the schoolhouse door everyday? Should Jews, Christians and Muslims simply get with the program and not inform the debate on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage? If they want to live in peace, they would.

There are many ways indeed that the press is cowardly and hypocritical in its coverage of the war of terror, not to mention just plain ignorant. Deciding not to publish the Danish cartoons is not one of them.