Jody Bottum in On the Square at First Things (full disclosure: I’ve done some work on their website) reflects on American media reactions to the cartoon controversy, using the Boston Globe as his example, and comes up with some interesting conclusions.
The key phrase is the Globe´s qualifier: “as with the current consensus against publishing racist or violence-inciting material.” Tolerance for diverging viewpoints isn´t the reason the Globe refuses to publish racist material; if anything, such tolerance ought to require publishing the vile stuff. A newspaper doesn´t publish racist remarks because they´re wrong—and error has no rights. Oh, the erroneous holders of such errors may have some rights, but the error itself has no business in a newspaper.
So was the Boston Globe practicing hypocrisy when it editorialized against baiting Muslims in a way it has never editorialized about baiting Christians? Put that way, the answer is obviously yes. But the Globe´s writers see the whole thing instead as a matter of race. That´s their religion—by which I mean the thing they treat as a blasphemy to deny—and once it is cast in those terms, the Danish newspaper must be denounced.
Richard John Neuhaus, also in On the Square, pulls few punches in his first reaction to the controversy:
The conflagration is not, as many American and European editorialists are opining, about sensitivity to the religious feelings of others. The same editorialists routinely approve of “transgressive’ art and vituperative rhetoric that trashes Christianity. Nor is it about the “hypocrisy’ or “unfairness’ of Muslims who incessantly publish vile anti-Semitic and anti-Christian caricatures, although what they do is certainly not nice.
No, the teaching of Islam is that it is blasphemy to visually depict Muhammed, whether favorably or unfavorably, but especially unfavorably. It is also impermissible to criticize the teachings of the Qur´an and the hadith. These and many other prohibitions are part of the sharia law that militant Islamists are intent upon imposing upon Islam and, insofar as they are able, on the world.
The current explosion of violent protest is to be understood as a demand that Denmark, and the West more generally, subject itself to Islamic rules about what can and cannot be published. The European response to date, unfortunately aided by pusillanimous comments by our State Department, is an instance of what Margaret Thatcher called “going wobbly.’ Warnings by some that Europe is on the way to becoming “Eurabia’ have gained further credibility.
Backing up one of his points—as if it needed backing up—is the New York Times’ almost hilariously self-revealing action today. In printing an article that is inspired by and largely about the controversy concerning these cartoons of Mohammed, the Times doesn’t include examples of any of those cartoons—allowing the writer to characterize them for Times readers as “callous and feeble cartoons, cooked up as a provocation by a conservative newspaper.” The New York Times has not printed an example of any of those 12 cartoons since the controversy began, of-course. But, accompanying this article is a picture of a dung-splashed Virgin Mary, surrounded by porn magazine cut-outs: the picture that caused controversy, though no riots, when it was displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. Does Bottum’s theory apply? Do they just not see their own glaring double-standard, because they’re confusing the concept of Muslim with race? Explanation or not, it’s sure no excuse …
Addendum 11:52 am: The editorial staff of the NY Press have resigned en masse after that paper’s publisher refused, apparently at the last minute, to allow those infamous cartoons to be re-printed in an accompanying article on the controversy. The NY Press is a freely distributed weekly newspaper available on the streets of New York City.
Addendum 12:38 pm: NeanderNews is following happenings in Denmark, where the press is pursuing the story of the fake cartoons; i.e. the three egregiously inflammatory pictures (never published in that Danish newspaper) that some Danish imams brought with them to the Middle East to show how Islam had been insulted in Denmark. NeanderNews previously illustrated the bizarre source of one these pictures here.
Addendum 01:48 pm: Calling the Iranians’ bluff, the editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten offers to publish their no doubt very pretty “holocaust cartoons” on the same day as they are published in Iran. Personally, I think it would be laudatory if major Western newspapers published examples of typical Middle Eastern editorial cartoons on a regular basis. [Correction 09:20 pm: Jyllands-Posten backtracks. Foolishness, in my view. Publishing them, in a context that amply demonstrated their falseness and callousness, would be a smart response and would turn the tables. ]
Addendum 02:35 pm:
Hugh Hewitt continues to express his belief that this whole battle over cartoons is counter-productive to the real war. Some of the points he makes are irrefutable, in terms of the dangers aroused and the damage already provoked by this situation. But the question he fails to ask himself, or to answer, is this: What damage would have been done if everyone had decided, apparently like him, that the publication of the cartoons in Denmark was not worth defending? What damage would have been done had an isolated Denmark ultimately capitulated in some way to the self-serving pressure tactics of opportunistic and authoritarian Muslim regimes and the radical Islamists? What would be the price of granting a victory to those types? Does he not think it would have encouraged them to seek still more victories?
Actions have consequences, yes, as Hewitt points out in relation to Jyllands-Posten. Inaction also has consequences, and those consequences are the ones that needed to be faced up to once a serious effort to punish Denmark had gotten underway in the Muslim world.
In the end, as is becoming more clear with each passing day, this “crisis” has been provoked not so much by the publication of the cartoons in the first place, as by a concerted effort, beginning with the above-mentioned Danish imams and continuing with the regimes in Syria and Iran, to use this cherry-picked issue as some kind of battering ram. Were it not these cartoons, it seems likely some other excuse would have been arrived at sooner rather than later.
Hewitt himself links to the Iraqi blogger Omar at Iraq the Model today. Here’s a little bit of what Omar has to say:
You know that those cartoons were published for the 1st time months ago and we here in the Middle East have tonnes of jokes about Allah, the prophets and the angels that are way more offensive, funny and obscene than those poorly-made cartoons, yet no one ever got shot for telling one of those jokes or at least we had never seen rallies and protests against those infidel joke-tellers.
What I want to say is that I think the reactions were planned to be exaggerated this time by some Middle Eastern regimes and are not mere public reaction.
And I think Syria and Iran have the motives to trigger such reactions in order to get away from the pressures applied by the international community on those regimes.
One last thing, even if the entire EU apologizes it won’t change a thing; fanatics in our countries here had always considered the west their infidel arrogant crusader enemy and no apology no matter how big or sincere can change that.
Addendum 08:50 pm: One is tempted to just say “game over,” at this news, but, if only the game actually were over. Via LGF, the news that the infamous cartoons were published in a newspaper in Egypt in October of 2005 … and nobody cared.
Addendum 09:09 pm: Huh? Jim Geraghty, who has been sending dispatches from Turkey and arguing that commentators in the States have been painting Muslims with too broad a brush, first says that, “I stand by my reaction of the past couple days. ” But then goes on to say, basically, “Maybe we should just nuke them all after all.” Well, I’m paraphrasing there, but read it yourself and decide.