Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Those cartoons: In the interests of democracy, they must be published.

Andrew West at The Sydney Morning Herald blogs that Those cartoons: In the interests of democracy, they must be published.

The point he makes is this:
There is an uncompromising first principle at stake here: Muslims, and the adherents of any other faith, living in liberal societies must accept that, in such societies, a critique of religion, however juvenile and insulting, is not only permissible but intrinsic to democracy.
Racism is wrong and to be avoided, but criticism of beliefs (and followers of Islam are by definition, believers) is not only allowed, but encouraged in order to provide a real choice for people.

On the other hand, the controversy seems to be doing little for freedom of the press in general (although it continues to highlight the self-censorship that the Danish newspaper had complained of in the first place), and on the other the Muslim activists behind the various violent outbursts are seeing some nice polarisation of opinion, no doubt helping their recruiting efforts. This is the point behind another Sydney Morning Herald piece:
Naser Khader is a liberal Muslim MP in Denmark who thinks the episode has helped extremists on both sides. "The campaign against the caricatures is a clear manoeuvre on the part of Muslim radicals," he told the German newspaper Die Zeit. But he also says when an MP from the far-right Danish People's Party calls Islam a "cancer" and no one objects, it "prepares the ground" for extremism.

At a protest in London on Friday, one young person was dressed as a suicide bomber; some people carried placards calling for beheading of the cartoonists. As a response it was fanatical and out of all proportion. It also underlined Khader's point: publication has emboldened those for whom the prospect of a clash of civilisations is enticing. On its own, that is not an argument against publication. Causing offence, even rage, is an inherent and necessary risk that goes with free speech.

But the right to free speech does not exist in isolation from other values, such as empathy and respect. As a Guardian editorial says, no Western newspaper would publish anti-semitic cartoons of the kind that were published in Nazi Germany and are still published in many Arab countries.

Yes, the editors were free to run the cartoons. But what greater good was served in doing so? As Khader and others have said, a struggle for the soul of Islam is under way in Europe. Victory could mean a new form of Islam, comfortable with secularism, pluralism, dissent and women's rights. Defeat is too awful to contemplate. It is impossible to see how the cartoon wars have nudged the larger struggle in the right direction.
Perhaps the 'greater good' that was served is that it has highlighted the extremist tendencies within Islam, and the Western media's timidity in confronting it. Certainly bloggers have taken a more active stand against the cartoon protesters than the mainstream media, and for this can be thanked, however what else do we not hear about, because it is considered not to serve the 'greater good'?

My own beliefs say that we should let the light shine where it can, darkness only serves to propagate the ignorance of all.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
John 3:19-21

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