In “Faith crimes” in the Financial Times (thanks to Tim), John Lloyd criticizes the liberal establishment and media in Britain for not standing up for freedom of speech during the Muhammad cartoon controversy:
Liberals have lost some important battles in the struggle to preserve democratic standards in the face of extremism. One was lost here in Britain, and by my profession, namely the decision by all British newspapers not to reprint the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.
The papers’ decision was encouraged by the Labour government and accompanied by a good deal of sage self-congratulation that wisdom had prevailed.
The fact that journalism’s central task is to relate or show to people what is happening was put to one side, even though in this case what was happening was, inter alia, murders, burnings, riots and boycotts. Now that the smoke has literally cleared, we can see more clearly what that decision was: a disastrous miscalculation.
The fourth estate acted on the possibility rather than the actuality of a threat, putting it in the same league as the management of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which took off the play Behzti after it was attacked by militant Sikhs, and, more recently, the organisers of last month’s London exhibition of the paintings of Maqbool Fida Husain.
Husain was targeted by Hindu militants because he painted nude gods and goddesses, which happens to be common in Hindu art and sculpture. But militants in any faith community are driven by competitive pressures as much as the keenest business leader. If the Muslims win a trick, why shouldn’t the Sikhs? And the Hindus? The only faith that hasn’t generally won these kind of contests is that of the Christians, who last month had to put up with seeing Madonna perform while hanging from a cross….
“Without fear or favour” has been a motto of the press. But in the case of the cartoons, it showed fear, and did itself and the communities to which the pro-ban militants claim allegiance no favours. Fundamentalist, violent Islam has, of course, a world- conquering ideology that no other religion now possesses.
Or ever has possessed, but let it pass.
A crucial debate is going on within Islam. While the keenest and most violent spirits of this war seek to win the fight by exporting it to the lands of the Crusaders and the Jews, their non-violent co-religionists are engaged in a struggle of opinions that must now involve us all. This debate is going on in the only place it can – in western Europe, where there are many diverse Muslim communities, and where the traditions and freedoms necessary for open argument exist.
In this context, acceptance of limits on debate serve Muslim communities ill. The defeat of the proposed law on incitement to religious hatred was a victory for free speech, but also for Muslims. When powerful figures in religious-ethnic communities seek to preserve their authoritarian status and confine argument, their first targets are their dissenting co-religionists….
Read it all.