Free Speech, Cartoons and Double Standards

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“In the developed countries there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today than that one."

— Mother Teresa

The Danish editor, Carsten Juste of Jyllands-Posten, was furious at Flemming Rose, the cultural editor, for announcing the publication of inflammatory cartoons. Rose was placed on indefinite leave and Mr. Juste immediately apologized for that decision saying that "Under no circumstances will we allow ourselves to be latched onto the tasteless media stunt.” The cartoons in question were not of the Prophet Muhammad (p) but were on the Holocaust.

The Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen held an immediate press conference with Jewish leaders offended by a Muslim organization’s distribution of “anti-Semitic” flyers. He apologized and condemned such action. Yet, six months after the blasphemous Prophet’s cartoons he refuses to apologize.

In the U.S., Freedom of speech was written by white rich land owners who also declared “all men are created equal”. It is one of the most difficult and litigious rights in any democracy. It is subject to legal interpretation based on time, place, and manner of expression. No one has an absolute right to free speech.

The overwhelming concern regarding freedom of speech is its impact on the public good which overrides personal freedom. It is unlawful to cry “fire” in a theatre, “Hi Jack”, or even a “bomb” joke at an airport.

The Supreme Court has struggled defining, establishing, then reversing many freedom of speech cases beginning with the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798. Debates continue on what constitutes free speech regarding obscenity, pornography, racism, banning of political material, campaign finance laws, the internet, libelous, defamation or slanderous speech. Thus freedom of expression is neither totally free nor determined by the expresser but in a court of law.

The Danish paper, an anti-immigrant right wing paper, published cartoons of the Prophet that were commissioned, deliberate, and provocative and served no purpose but to insult Muslims for an anti-immigrant agenda, the harshest in all of Europe. Ironically, three years ago the same paper refused to publish a denigrating Christ cartoon deemed “offensive”.

The test of defamation in Denmark is akin to America’s laws: public dissemination of false, reckless, malicious speech meant to damage a reputation or cause public contempt of the person is subject to legal action. Publication of such Cartoons defames the Prophet.

Blasphemy against the Prophet is not new but has a thirteen century history in Europe. Islam has never been truly studied, understood, or fathomed by the self perceived superior western world that sees its “manifest destiny” and “white man’s burden” to civilize the barbaric colored world.

Nietzsche declared “God is dead”, superseded by a superman dependent on reason and science, not faith or superstition. Darwin further alienated the west from the “creator”, reducing man to an evolutionary product of “natural selection”. Hence, religion and sacredness died in Europe and secular materialism marginalized God. Europe lost understanding and respect for other faiths held so sacred by others. Europe’s enlightened rationale is: if I can curse my God, I can curse yours.

Islam forbids any depiction of any prophet, a recipient of divine revelation, from Abraham, Moses, Jesus, to Muhammad, peace be upon them all. What freedom or value is upheld by insulting another man’s faith? Islam is valued and practiced by 1.3 billion people contrary to Europe’s minimal attachment to Christ.

Today, America’s free speech led to the invasion of a sovereign harmless nation bombed and sanctioned for a decade, while the Neocons of Iraq are now pushing for Iran (William Kristol: “And Now Iran”, Weekly Standard, 1/23/06). The same lies, clichés, and justifications to invade Iraq are now applied to Iran, then Syria. This is the democracy and freedom Bush wants to export, a freedom to lie, invade, rob the poor to benefit the rich, and monopolize oil while securing Israel’s interest. He’s committed America to defend Israel if attacked by Iran.

The experience of the Muslim world with the west is that of hypocrisy and double standards. The democratic free election of Hamas is rejected, the free election of an Islamic party in Algeria was overturned, Iraqis voted for unknown candidates but America decides the government and an Islamic free constitution.

Muslims perceive that there must be two universes with different laws, different values for human life, and different human natures–”one for Muslims, one for the west and its allies. The powerful west defines the values and standard of acceptable world behavior; you’re either with “us” or against “us”, regardless of race, faith, culture, or nationalism of the “them.”

The greatest barrier between the west and the Muslim world is America’s blind support of Israel’s brutal occupation, defiance of United Nations and International Law, human rights abuses, and possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons. Iran, not Israel, is being referred to the United Nations for a nuclear program; Iraq is invaded to defiance of U.N. Security Resolutions; Syria withdraws from Lebanon based on one U.N. Resolution; the Palestinians must accept Israel’s demands for a peace “process” to continue, a "process" ongoing for 59 years.

There’s much to blame on the Muslim world. It’s mainly illiterate, undemocratic, corrupt, ignorant of its faith, with pockets of terrorists, sectarian violence, an Un-Islamic treatment of women, spending billions on American weapons not domestic programs, and tyrant security forces; but the historical and continuing western intervention in their lands and lives, support for pandering dictators, our claim to their oil, and most tragically our support of Israel’s continued occupation, its Apartheid wall, defiance of dozens of U.N. Security Resolutions, human rights abuses, annexation of Palestinian land and Jerusalem will ensure a long term clash with the West. Judging by Iraq, the west, including Denmark, would rather fight than switch their arrogance and policies to meet the Muslim world halfway.

Samuel Huntington, author of “Clash of Civilizations” describes western hegemony as: "The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

In our multi-cultural society almost any free speech will offend someone, from Jewish anger against the “Passion of the Christ” as “offensive” and “anti-Semitic”, to Jewish lobbyists forcing a cancellation of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference, in which a number of supporters of an academic boycott on Israel were to attend, to Daniel Pipes “campuswatch” intimidating academicians who teach Middle East Studies, to European “hate speech” laws forbidding discussion of the Holocaust, to Germany’s jailing of anyone using a Hitler salute or “goose stepping”, to the Joints Chiefs of Staff objecting to a “despicable” cartoon of an amputee soldier, to Conservative Christians forcing NBC to cancel “The Book of Daniel”, to the Super Bowl’s banning of a P.E.T.A. ad or censoring Mick Jagger’s lyrics, or Austria’s Catholics fury at the depiction of a “drugged hippie Jesus”; or the religious fury against “The Last Temptation of Christ” deemed “pornographic” and the Molotov cocktails thrown into a movie theatre showing the film by fundamentalist French Catholics; and much more.

The west sees Muslim “rage and violence” as uncivilized and indicative of “Islam” which is categorically false. We must not judge a faith by the conduct of a minority of followers but by the content of its Scripture. Islam calls for peace, recognizes the true revelations of the Torah and Gospel, and exhorts Muslims to dialogue with others in the best of manners.

However, the enormous pain inflicted by these cartoons upon Muslims is real and universal irrespective of “manipulation”, but their violent reaction is condemned.
Yet, in the west cities have been torched, abortion clinics bombed and physicians murdered (Pro-Lifers), violence and imprisonment surpasses third world nations, gang wars, segregation of freedom of speech through ideology driven media (Fox vs. Air America), universities, hospitals, and churches, racism, corrupt corporations and politicians, neglected poor, and a government driven by money and special interest groups. Invasions and Occupations for land (Palestine), Iraq, and Afghanistan are deemed benevolent and “democratic occupations”.

Whenever professional sports teams win or lose there are always violent celebrations or protests that torch businesses, buildings, cars, and even murder.

Somehow when “them” express rage, it’s unacceptable to us.

Perhaps William Safire best described the derogatory cartoons against Islam’s beloved Prophet (NYT “Not Peace, but a Sword” March 1, 2004) when he wrote:

“What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD?”

At a time when Islamophobia is sweeping the west under the recent guise of “war on terrorism”; is such hateful free speech cartoons deliberately and maliciously published against Islam’s prophet serve world peace and peaceful co-existence?

“We Fear What We Don’t Know” describes the west’s irrational approach to Islam that borders on frank prejudice. Rampant ignorance of Islam across all institutions but particularly in the media only furthers prejudice and misunderstanding. Knowledge and dialogue can overcome this fear.

The Muslim world must reform its political, economic, and military priorities and stamp out random violence and terrorism both sectarian and against the innocents, both Muslim and Non-Muslims; yet continue their internatinally recognized struggle against oppression and occupation.

Both worlds must incorporate diverse religious and cultural studies in schools, encourage exchange of ideas, reject media stereotypes, and most importantly, reform policies to allow for eventual respect, peace, and acceptance of other faiths. Short sighted and knee jerk reactions that favor a group over another is a recipe for continued conflict.

Muslims must immediately cease all violent protests, kidnappings, murder, and hateful slogans. The Prophet Muhammad (P) taught: “Whoever hurts a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God”.

The decision for peace or continued conflict is within our grasp. Do we have the will, courage, and foresight to choose the path of Abraham (p)—to struggle for peace.

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