A few ideas have crystallized for me as I've read about the ongoing furor over the Danish and other European newspapers publishing offensive cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. Without repeating too much common knowledge, certain Islamic scriptures forbid realistic depictions of the prophets, but depictions of that sort have been made for centuries. Various newspapers are reprinting the cartoons, citing freedom of the press, and the images are not only in violation of this particular scripture, but also offensive (see the above link).
I've also read this opinion by a 'Muslim dissident', which says, amongst other things:
A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth. Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest. Do not apologize.
There are so many things wrong with these two paragraphs I despair of getting to my actual point, but I'd like to point out that:
- There is no freedom to insult and offend. Insult and offense are an unavoidable consequence of the rights of freedom of expression and opinion, whose purpose is to encourage open and inclusive dialogue. For said purpose, it is always desirable to exercise the freedoms so as to minimize insult and offense, for these are unconstructive.
- A number of stereotypes about Islam are cited. These are accurate in some ways but mainly reinforce misconceptions. Islam is not, as far as I can tell, designed to stifle anything; the fault lies with fundamentalists. Similar rhetoric could be applied against Christianity, and most would agree that only evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists would gladly silence others.
- The Islamization of Europe is apparently a negative process. I seem to have missed when this started occurring, or was decided to be harmful.
- Only righteous pricks (pardon my French) refuse to apologize.
My general feeling is two-fold. Firstly, the newspapers were out of order printing the cartoons, but excusably so. _Re-_printing, however, was deliberately confrontational. Journalists, of all people, should expect by now that when Muslim sensibilities are offended, there are polar and often violent reactions. The fact that these are excessive is not a reason for like retaliation; such infantile bickering over the 'last word' has created the problems we see today in Israel and Palestine.
Secondly and more broadly, democracy and Islam are not incompatible. The Western and Middle-Eastern worlds are not incompatible. Stranger partnerships and cooperations have occurred. However, reform must come from within -- this, I think, is apparent from the reactions to provocation and pressure that populate today's world news. The proposed approach is preposterous, and even the most moderate, gentle and kindly program of 'education' on the part of the West could be viewed as massively arrogant. Consider the many social, ethnic and cultural inequalities in America. While I agree that democracy is an excellent form of government, it can hardly be argued that any one Western state is flawlessly exemplary of the form. For any nation or coalition to presume to rapidly install already-imperfect Western democracy in a region accustomed to theocracy is not only folly, but hubris of the highest degree.
Returning to the issue at hand, the lack of an apology of any sort points to a press that is more self-important than truly concerned with free expression. If governments are unwilling to take such miscreants in hand and reprimand them for what amounts to racist taunts, then efforts toward East-West conciliation and negotiation are doomed to be derailed over and over.
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