March 30, 2006


I have been reading and hearing about the impact of a few Danish cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed over the past few weeks, as have the rest of you in all likelihood. Without question, we must rally to the defense of a free press and freedom of thought. Radical Islamic leaders must be condemned for inciting violence in their followers on account of these images. Artists, authors, magazines, and newspapers must retain the ability to create or publish such works without fear of savage retribution, but the question remains — should they?

Should an institution or individual publish works offensive to a group of people just because it can? Do such works carry with them a purpose great enough to trump this consideration? In the case of cartoons printed on T-shirts and the like, I would argue against the presence of such a purpose. (One could easily argue that the original printing of these cartoons did in fact have a worthy purpose.)

In an increasingly ambiguously defined modern era, we must temper free speech with responsibility. We owe it to our enemies, our allies, and ourselves to treat every subject with respect, even if a subject does not deserve that respect. Only then can we stake any reasonable claim to righteous purpose and moral high ground. At the same time, we should not use respect as a tool to gain such high ground, but rather employ it as a matter of course, without motive.

When you talk about the state of the world today, the politics of your office, or indeed about any subject, be mindful of the language you chooose, the surrounding context that defines the purpose of that language, and the implications of its interpretation, or worse, misinterpretation, outside your intended audience. In so doing, you will promote a culture of respect and self-confidence well worth the initial investment. Freedom of speech is a right worthy of the sacrifices we have historically made to maintain it. Use it wisely.

Posted by Andy at March 30, 2006 09:02 PM to the Politics category

It is difficult when higher consideration is given to Muslims than to Christians or Jews. I'd be happy to give you a dozen examples but am short on time.

I don't know if you have read into the original context in which the cartoons were drawn.

A man had written a children's book about Mohammed. This book would teach children about who the prophet was, as an educational tool. He was in search of an artist to illustrate said book. He could find none for fear of just such a reprisal.

The Danish newspaper then wrote an article about self-censorship welcoming artists to depict images of the prophet. With the exception of two cartoons, they were really innocuous. The purpose was to discuss self-censorship, not to offend Islam.

Danish Imams then circulated two forgeries, images that were quite blasphemous in order to incite the masses. The reprisals came months not days after the publication.

True, this was not in our country.

The greater question is whether the secular free press should bow to the rules imposed by any religion in terms of censorship.

Respect is a good concept, but what I think you may be aiming for is the abolition of personal attacks that seem so rampant in the MSM and blogosphere that undermine any content of what the writer may be trying to communicate.

Let me know if I'm on the wrong track, or if you'd like those links when I can get them to you.

Posted by: AnonymousOpinion at March 31, 2006 03:52 PM

I don't need the links. I will take your word for it. Though I admitted to being unaware of the context you describe, my impression was in fact wrong, both because I did not carefully investigate and because of the impression given in the media about the incident as a whole. My overall point remains, and can be directed currently to T-shirts and other merchandise designed with the intent to offend. We can stand up for a free press without offending people intentionally, can't we?

We do indeed tread far more carefully around Islam than any other faith, but that is to a large extent simply because the radical Islamist component fights back with violence. You are certainly not wrong to bring that point forward, but there is a common sense element in play at the same time. The entire issue is upsetting and frustrating. If my message were to somehow sink in with the masses, your problems with this situation would fade just as quickly as it would with the average Middle-Eastern Muslim.

My idea of respect includes refraining from personal attacks, but extends beyond that into our daily routines and mindsets. Personal attacks are just one of many respect-eroding issues that should receive far more attention in today's political climate.

Your comment raises an interesting secondary question. When an individual or institution refrains from publishing offensive content to any particular group, how do we determine when the line is crossed between the decision being made out of respect or fear? Is there in fact a line that can be reasonably defined?

Posted by: Andy at March 31, 2006 07:35 PM

I have updated my original post to reflect your information regarding the original purpose of the cartoons.

Posted by: Andy at April 5, 2006 04:34 PM
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