Monday, February 06, 2006

The Cartoon Flap

This is a long one, forgive me. But it needs such treatment. This is about free speech, and globally why it's important and why it's suffering everywhere right now. At first I resisted blogging too much about the fabled Danish cartoons, but the reaction has become too troubling and loud to ignore:

Lebanon apologized Monday to Denmark after thousands of rampaging Muslim demonstrators set fire to the building housing the Danish mission in Beirut — the most violent in a growing string of worldwide protests over caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. In Afghanistan hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police and soldiers, leaving one dead and four injured.

The prime ministers of Spain and Turkey issued a Christian-Muslim appeal for calm, saying "we shall all be the losers if we fail to immediately defuse this situation."

In southern Iraq, several thousand Iraqis rallied to demand severing all ties with countries in which the caricatures were published.

The protest witnessed the burning of Danish, German and Israeli flags and an effigy of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Protesters called for the death of anyone who insults Muhammad and demanded withdrawal of 530-member Danish military contingent operating under British control.

Elsewhere, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir came to a standstill on Monday as shops, businesses and schools shut down for a day to protest the publication of caricatures in European newspapers. Dozens of Muslim protesters torched Danish flags, burned tires, shouted slogans and hurled rocks at passing cars in several parts of Srinagar.

In the Indian capital of New Delhi, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of students from Jamia University, who chanted slogans and burned a Danish flag.

Muslim leaders in Australia demanded a newspaper there apologize after it published one of the cartoons. The News Corp.-owned Courier-Mail, the biggest newspaper in the Queensland state capital of Brisbane, apparently became the first newspaper in Australia to publish one of the Danish caricatures on Saturday despite warnings from Muslim groups.

Palestinian police in Gaza City used batons to beat back stone-throwing protesters who gathered outside the European Commission building. About 200 protesters waved green flags symbolizing the Islamic Hamas movement and the yellow flags of the secular Fatah Party. Some carried banners calling for a boycott of Danish products.

The embassy torched in Lebanon, threats against Danish citizens abroad, worldwide riots, and more. All over some fucking cartoons. We've spent a considerable amount of time on this blog talking about freedom of speech lately, but how can this not be viewed as a worldwide attempt to repress Freedom of the Press? And, more disturbingly, a worldwide attempt to do it supported by those who should be standing behind it thoroughly.

Troubling Development 1: The U.S. government is supporting this backlash. This is a deeply disturbing proposition. It's pandering, plain and simple. Here's the State Department's reaction, in part:

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question.

"We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."

You can't help but appreciate the irony of condemning these cartoons as "inciting religious or ethnic hatreds" when in fact that's what the rioting around the world is when Danish citizens are being threatened and consulates burned to the ground. How is taking a position like this on the U.S.'s part not itself inciting such "religious or ethnic" hatred? But again, just when you think you can't be suprised by the tone-deafness of our public diplomacy you will be. The country that should most support freedom of the press, with a President who regularly declares "freedom is on the march" obviously feels compelled to let it take second chair in this case.

Troubling Development 2: The Vatican supports it. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at this one at all, but that doesn't keep me from being any more disgusted.

"Intolerance - from wherever it comes, real or verbal, action or reaction - always constitutes a serious threat to peace," Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.

"The right of freedom of thought and of expression, as contained in the Declaration of Human Rights, cannot imply the right to offend the religious feelings of believers," said Navarro-Valls, adding that the principle applied to every religion.

Excuse me? Since when does freedom of thought and of expression have to be relegated to that which does not offend people? This is a sick and perverse interpretation, as it essentially embraces the "relativism" the Pope Benedict was supposed to be all about combating. So long as something offends anyone's religious beliefs, no matter how absurd those beliefs may be, it's not protected? The universal of freedom of thought and expression is now beholden to the relativism of any possible anger from religious faiths, no matter how unjustified. At least the Vatican is against the violence, but does that help any when they go lengths to justify the moral argument of those causing the violence?

Disturbing Development 3: The EU is preparing to institutionalize press censorship in response to this. There will be a drafting of a "media code." I'm sure the State Department and the Vatican love this EU bureaucrat's ideas:

“What we are planning is to organise, in the near future, a round-table with the relevant actors… touching on very difficult, complicated issues,” said Frattini’s spokesman on Friday.

“On the one hand we have freedom of expression, on the other respect for religion and opinions.”

So freedom is to be compromised yet again, and this time set in the EU's institutions? So much for a free press.

Disturbing Development 4: This is probably the worst of all. Gateway Pundit has uncovered a lot of evidence that quite a bit of this furor is being unleashed due to fake versions of the cartoons being sent around. Fake cartoons are being passed around to incite all these riots and are being portrayed as the real Danish cartoons. So so much of this anger seems to be based on lies and exaggerations of the original source material as well. That it could succeed so well in stirring up such violence should give everyone pause.

Disturbing Development 5: Yes, I still have more! Currently there are demonstrations in London being held under the police's noses calling for Holy War and explicit violence against anyone offending Muslims. This cuts to the very core of the insanity of this situation. As England is on the verge of passing laws prohibiting speech that offends people's religious sensibilities, it allows speech that calls for explicit terrorism. So it's okay if people want to talk about killing other people, so long as they've been offended by something, and offending those people is not okay. There is not a demonstrable chain of logic to construct here at all, with speech that should be protected criminalized and speech that calls for criminal activity protected. Maybe, as EU Referendum points out, there's a Double Standard. I would more or less say there's no standard, or at least no standard that can be logically discerned.

We've argued on this blog about funeral protest bans, but the issues at play there are so miniscule compared to this. Right now, because of some controversial political cartoons, free speech everywhere is about to be curtailed lest it offend religious sensibilities. It's wrong, wrong, wrong. Since when should we not be forced to confront unpleasant truths? Since when should faith be immune from criticism? Since when can people be denied the right to mock? Since when should dogma go unquestioned? Apparently, since right now.

(PS: This post constructed by heavily borrowing from Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan, who along with Gateway Pundit and EU Referendum are following this closely for all interested. Just go to the blogs and keep scrolling.)

(PPS: Apparently since I started writing this, the situation has been officially dubbed "The Cartoon War.")