If any person or group is considered off-limits for critical examination and even ridicule, that person or group has been given a privileged position in society, and has a free hand to do what it wishes. That's why the freedom of speech is an indispensable bulwark against tyranny: it prevents authoritarian rulers from arrogating to themselves and exercising unfettered power.
And in this case, it rewards violent intimidation. Consider this: I have been defamed in the Washington Post twice in the last week, once by Eboo Patel and once by Keith Ellison. Would the Post have considered not running those pieces because of the possibility that they might offend me? Of course not. They should have considered not running them in the interests of truth and accuracy, but they should not have considered whether or not I would have been offended by them for one second.
It is also virtually indisputable that the Post would never hesitate to run an item that might offend Christians, and would have been the first to start talking about the freedom of speech if those Christians complained. So why is the Post so solicitous of Muslims? Why the double standard? Because they know that when I get offended, no one gets killed, and when Christians get offended, no one gets killed, but when Muslims are offended, people die.
And so the Post's ombudsman, in calling the Post "too timid" for not running this cartoon, was drastically understating the case. The Post wasn't just "too timid." The Post was and is inexcusably prostrate before a group of violent and irrational thugs. And thus the freedom of speech continues to erode, to the detriment of everyone who wishes to live in freedom.
"Where was the 'Where's Muhammad?' cartoon?," by Andrew Alexander in the Washington Post, October 10 (thanks to Neil):
"Non Sequitur" is a popular comic that runs daily in about 800 newspapers, including this one. But the "Non Sequitur" cartoon that appeared in last Sunday's Post was not the one creator Wiley Miller drew for that day.
Editors at The Post and many other papers pulled the cartoon and replaced it with one that had appeared previously. They were concerned it might offend and provoke some Post readers, especially Muslims.
Miller is known for social satire. But at first glance, the single-panel cartoon he drew for last Sunday seems benign. It is a bucolic scene imitating the best-selling children's book "Where's Waldo?" A grassy park is jammed with activity. Animals frolic. Children buy ice cream. Adults stroll and sunbathe. A caption reads: "Where's Muhammad?"...
What is clever about last Sunday's "Where's Muhammad?" comic is that the prophet does not appear in it.
Still, Style editor Ned Martel said he decided to yank it, after conferring with others, including Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli, because "it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message." He added that "the point of the joke was not immediately clear" and that readers might think that Muhammad was somewhere in the drawing.
Some readers accused The Post of censorship. "Cowards," e-mailed John D. Stackpole of Fort Washington, one of several who used that word.
Miller is fuming. The award-winning cartoonist, who lives in Maine, told me the cartoon was meant to satirize "the insanity of an entire group of people rioting and putting out a hit list over cartoons," as well as "media cowering in fear of printing any cartoon that contains the word 'Muhammad.' "
"The wonderful irony [is that] great newspapers like The Washington Post, that took on Nixon . . . run in fear of this very tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire," he said by e-mail.
Through an apparent oversight, the "Where's Muhammad?" cartoon was put on The Post's Web site. Brauchli said he was unaware, adding, "Ideally, we wouldn't have done that if we withheld it from print."...
Making the Post's cowardice and dhimmitude even worse is the fact that Honest Ibe Hooper, a man who has made a career out of being outraged, can't get angry about this one:
But is it offensive to Muslims?
"The reference [to Muhammad] in this case was so vague that I don't even know if offense comes into it," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group that combats stereotyping of Islam and Muslims....
Surely some may be displeased by "Where's Muhammad?" But unlike with the Danish cartoons, it's hard to imagine it would incite protests. Miller intentionally did not depict Muhammad, and the cartoon is not a blasphemous attack on the prophet. If anything, it's a powerful and witty endorsement of freedom of expression.
"...a blasphemous attack on the prophet." With language like that, one might be forgiven for thinking that Andrew Alexander was a Muslim. But he isn't, of course. He's just reflecting standard journalistic practice these days, which is to refer to Muhammad as the "prophet Muhammad," or "the prophet," without qualification. And that in itself, coming from journalists who would never speak of Jesus Christ in a newspaper article as "the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God," demonstrates just how far Islamic supremacist attitudes have already encroached upon journalistic integrity.
Post editors believe their decision was prudent, given the past cartoon controversies and heightened sensitivities surrounding Islam. But it also can be seen as timid. And it sets an awfully low threshold for decisions on whether to withhold words or images that might offend.
Prudent? To kowtow before thugs? No, that is never prudent. It is always better to stand up to them. You're going to have to do so sooner or later, anyway.