February 17, 2006

Cartoon Crosspost

I don't normally do this, but I thought I'd reproduce here an editorial of mine that ran in the suburban newspaper that I edit, The Trend Leader. Such things won't be necessary sometime next month, when our planned website finally goes online and I'll be able to link to all my stuff from there. Anyway, here it is, reprinted from the Feb. 15 issue:

Jihad vs. the Press
By Stephen Silver, The Trend Leader

The riots that began last week all over the world in reaction to the publication in Denmark of cartoons seen as offensive to Muslims should cause considerable alarm to anyone who cares in the slightest about the future of free society.

After a newspaper in Denmark published the cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, rioters both throughout the Muslim world and in Muslim enclaves all around Europe have reacted by burning down buildings and embassies belonging to the Danish government, leading to dozens of deaths. All this for the simple crime that the government failed to prevent the cartoons' publication. Yes the rioters, manipulated and cheered on by radical clerics, are not only arguing against freedom of the press, but in favor of mandatory government censorship of all communications with which they disagree- under penalty of death. There's a word for that: fascism.

Yes, America has more than its share of religious fanatics, of all stripes. But vile as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson may be, I've never known any of them to burn down an embassy, nor incite anyone else to do the same. (Yes, Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, but that was more the ravings of a doddering old fool than a genuine call to arms).

But more importantly, that sort of thing doesn't happen in America because we are a free society. We allow criticism, disagreement and right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And, despite what certain opponents of the current administration might say, that freedom has not been abridged, and likely never will be. This is more than we can say of the numerous failed states throughout the Muslim world, where cleptocratic monarchies and other corrupt governments have denied basic freedom to tens of millions of people, causing many of them to turn to Islamic fundamentalism, if not terrorism.

Members of Philadelphia's rather large Muslim community last week held a peaceful protest outside the offices of our sister paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, after the Inquirer ran some of the cartoons to illustrate a story about the controversy. The editor and publisher of the paper met them outside, and the two sides had a heated, but nonetheless respectful, discussion. That's what happens in a free society in which freedom of speech and of the press are respected.

However, only a handful of American newspapers (the Inquirer, the New York Sun) have dared to publish the cartoons, in the context of explaining the riot story. CNN, whenever they discuss the story, has pixilated the cartoons in order to obscure them from audiences. Then last Tuesday the alternative weekly paper New York Press- for which I've written on and off for years- attempted to get the cartoons into that week's editions, and when the publisher refused, the paper's entire editorial board resigned in protest. Another alt-weekly, the Boston Phoenix, ran an extraordinary editorial last week in which editors admitted that the biggest reason they hadn't published the cartoons was because they feared for the safety of their staff. Editors in France, Jordan and elsewhere have been forced out of their jobs for running the cartoons, and the cartoonists themselves are reportedly in hiding.

Islam itself is not the problem. In the majority of the world it is a peaceful religion that shuns violence and is no threat whatsoever to the democratic order. And as liberal writer Spencer Ackerman recently pointed out in The New Republic, American Muslims have not turned to terrorism, primarily because the vast majority of them have found prosperity in our country and see no reason to oppose it in any way.

But that should not prevent us from seeing the truth about the most radical strains of Islam. Radical Islam is not a religion but a vile ideology that seeks to countenance -if not directly participate in- terrorism, suicide bombings, "honor killing," subjugation of women, hatred and violence towards homosexuals, and crushing of everything we in free and open society hold dear. And this includes, as we are now seeing, freedom of speech and of the press.

These lunatics are the ones who threatened the life of British author Salman Rushdie, murdered journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, support the vile anti-Semitic ravings and nuclear ambitions of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and (of course) carried out the murder of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

And because these fanatics hold liberal, free society as their number one enemy, no one should be more opposed to them than liberals. This is not to say that cartoons which mock the prophet Muhammad are good, or even worth defending. But a society in which they are not allowed, under penalty of death, is not one in which freedom can flourish.

Yes, it is simplistic to say that these fanatics "hate freedom." But it also happens to be true.

Posted by Stephen Silver at February 17, 2006 08:22 AM

Great editorial Steve. Don't forget that these fanatic also fear that freedom will decrease their power.

Keep posting your writing!

Posted by: Jeff S at February 17, 2006 12:02 PM

I just don't understand BLOGGER why you keep talking about this issue. We have too many problems going on in this country to keep discussing things abroad.

Posted by: A at February 19, 2006 11:56 PM
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