Thursday, February 09, 2006

Choice or hypocritical cowardice?

Canadi-anna has made a post at her blog in which she supports the non-publication of the Muhammad cartoons in the Canadian media for the reason of not gratuitously causing religious offense to Canadian Muslims. It's well worth a read, and as usual, it is a well written and thought-out post, but I have to disagree with her.

When Jyllands-Posten originally posted the Muhammad cartoons, they quite clearly stated their purpose in doing so.

The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. - Sourced from Wikipedia

Previously, a Danish writer had been unable to get an artist to illustrate her book about Muhammad because they feared the consequences, and this had stimulated a debate about self-censorship. The purpose of the twelve Muhammad cartoons was to make a point in this ongoing debate about Western self-censorship in relation to Islam, not to cause offense to Muslims (though that was certainly a predictable result).

In her post Canadi-anna first states:

When a crucifix is put in a jar of urine and called art, I am offended. When the Pope was depicted as a Nazi in a cartoon on Rabble, I was offended. When Warren Kinsella (and many others since) mocked evangelical Christians for their faith, I was offended. Media in the Middle East still perpetuate the blood libel, and that offends me.
Those are indeed offensive to Christians and to Jews. However, that certainly did not stop Western main-stream-media from choosing to print pictures of Piss Christ and of the Virgin Mary portrait in elephant dung. Indeed, the New York Times did so again the other day in an article about the Muhammad cartoons!

This establishes a principle: that just because a lot of people find something religiously offensive, it will not stop the Western media from freely choosing to publish it in the interests of presenting accurate and informative news to the public, and as an exercise of freedom of expression in doing so.

That principle has been established, and it is therefore reasonable to expect that it will be consistently applied. But with the Muhammad cartoons episode, that principle has not been applied. Indeed, it has been completely abandoned by most of the Western MSM.

Why is that? It cannot be out of concern for hurting people's religious sensibilities, because the precedent-setting principle talked about above has already been established with instances of offensive matter to Christians. There must be another reason.

The only other major difference between printing images offensive to Christians and images offensive to Muslims is the reaction of those offended. Christians show that they are offended by letters to the editor, organising economic boycotts, and other peaceful means. Many Muslims (not all, but a significant enough number) react with death threats, violent demonstrations, burning of embassies, kidnappings, beheadings and calls for holocausts and terrorist outrages.

We can therefore tie these two differences together: the difference in the media's attitude toward publication of offensive images, and the difference in reactions of the offended. To put it plainly: the media will publish images offensive to Christians because they know the reaction will not overtly threaten them. They have "chosen" not to publish the Muhammad cartoons because they are frightened of the violent reaction. (I placed the word "chosen" in speech marks because, despite assertions to the contrary, this is not really a free choice, but an example of coercion.)

Western MSM is therefore, being hypocritical and cowardly by hiding behind a fake concern to not cause offense. If someone chooses not to show the cartoons because they have a general principle to avoid any images that give offense that is one thing (though I disagree with that, too), but to make publishing dependent upon the reactions of those offended while hiding behind a facade of demonstrably false concern is nothing more than hypocrisy and cowardice. It demonstrates what Jyllands-Posten has been saying all along: there is indeed fear-based self-censorship in the West regarding Islam.


At 6:43 PM, Blogger Canadi-anna said...

Good points.
I don't think it's wrong to post the cartoons. I just think it's wrong for people like me (Christian) to moan and complain when our religious sensibilities are offended, and then turn around and post the cartoon.
I suppose the difficulty is that all images of the prophet are considered blasphemous to Muslims, where images of our saints etc. are not.
The fact is, the cartoonists could slam radical Islam without using the prophet, but they have chosen instead to take a tenet of the faith and make it the object of mockery.
Radical Islam has a lot to answer for. Muslims should be quick to condemn the outrageous behaviour -- but being angered by the abuse of their prophets image is legitimate, and I personally don't want to contribute to that.
Now, if a Canadian newspaper printed a cartoon for a legitimate reason - ie not just to inflame tempers or to test Canadian Muslims ability to 'be Canadian' --I'd be okay with that.
I don't doubt that newspapers are weighing a possible backlash here, but I'd like to think there's some principle at play here.


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