In FrontPage this morning I discuss how the world’s foremost economic magazine aids Islamist intimidation and the chilling of free speech. (News links in the original.)
Several weeks ago I wrote about how some cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper became an international incident. At stake is much more than some cartoons; this matter has become a test case for the continued viability of freedom of speech in Western countries. And now The Economist has written about the story in a way that reveals the biases and false assumptions so prevalent in the public discourse today.
As Islamic terrorism and jihad violence spread all over the globe, The Economist has doggedly maintained its tone of blame-the-West-first dhimmitude. Instead of seeing the cartoon controversy as another threat to freedom of speech in the West, it places the onus all on Danish racism and xenophobia. The spin starts in the lead sentence: “For much of last year, various squabbles have simmered over several prominent Danes’ rude comments about Islam.”
Imagine you are a writer for The Economist, sitting down to write your story about the cartoon controversy. What is this story about? You could start it with a reference to the Van Gogh murder and the chill on free speech about Islam in Europe. Or you could refer to one of the many anti-Christian broadsides lauded in European art museums and on its airwaves, and the stout defenses of freedom of speech that the likes of The Economist published in the face of any Christian protest. You could refer to the menacing rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and to increasing intimidation by Islamic thugs.
Or you could cast the whole thing all as being about “rude comments about Islam.” Yes, of course! That’s it! How could non-Western non-Christians, largely non-white, be anything but victims!
And so The Economist story got its proper lead. Then it follows with this: “Now a schoolboy prank…” Oh, so that’s what it was. Not a trial balloon to see if free speech still existed in Europe. Not an attempt to defend it against attack. Just a schoolboy prank. Those idiotic schoolboys at Jyllands-Posten! Don’t they realize they’re playing with fire? “Now a schoolboy prank by a newspaper has landed the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in the biggest diplomatic dispute of his tenure in office.”
True, but it also showed him, at least initially, to be one of the few European statesmen with a clear understanding just how deep and serious was the cultural challenge presented by the cartoon protests and other instances of Muslim indignation. But as far as The Economist is concerned, all that matters here is that a schoolboy prank ended up embarrassing the Prime Minister.
The Danish paper that printed the cartoons should evidently be embarrassed too: “The paper insists that it meant no offence: it was merely protesting against the self-censorship of some cartoonists who had refused to illustrate a children’s book about Muhammad for fear of reprisals.” Using the word “insist” implies a defensiveness: in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, the paper insists…In other words, The Economist is fairly sure that the paper was up to some racist no-good. But its journalistic integrity requires it to note that they “insist” the contrary. The Economist story continues:
Louis Arbour, the United Nations human-rights commissioner, said she was “alarmed” by such an “unacceptable disregard for the beliefs of others”. Similar condemnations came from the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Arab League. The affair has led to protest marches in Copenhagen and Karachi, and a wave of disapproving e-mails to Danish embassies. The cartoons were even condemned by many in Denmark’s liberal-minded intelligentsia, not because they favour censorship but because they see the drawings as part of an increasingly xenophobic tone that has infected all Danish dealings with foreigners.
Do you consider yourself liberal-minded? Like to think of yourself as part of the intelligentsia, or at least in tune with what the knowing people know? Then you better pile on and condemn these cartoons, along with all the right-thinking folks and forward-looking institutions.
The Economist makes sure you know that Denmark is not right-thinking: “In a country where a member of parliament can liken Muslims to “cancer tumours” and still not lose her seat, unfettered public debate is seen as normal.” Ah, see, Denmark is just sort of unhinged, you see. They have mad members of Parliament and schoolboy pranksters running newspapers. Really, they need to rein themselves in a little. “Danes, like most people, cherish their freedom of speech. But their secular society may have blinded them to some people’s religious sensitivities. Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, a former foreign minister, laments his country’s lack of manners.” Is that what it was — lack of manners? Well, no one wants to be unmannerly. Danish secularism has gotten out of hand, you see, that’s all. The Danes just have to recover their manners. Did The Economist pontificate about manners and religious sensitivities during the Piss Christ controversy? Somehow I rather think it didn’t.
Ellemann-Jensen says: “We have a right to speak our minds, not an obligation to do so,” he says. What on earth does that mean? We are not forced to say what we think? There are circumstances in which speaking our minds is not called for? That is true on an individual level. But if on a society-wide basis the Danes are prevented from saying what they think for fear of reprisal or even of giving offense to some group, then they no longer actually have the right to speak their minds.
Even worse is what The Economist does to the Danish Prime Minister: “Mr Fogh Rasmussen has tried to defuse the row mostly by ignoring it. After he had rejected a request for a meeting with 11 ambassadors from Islamic countries to Copenhagen, he was lashed by 22 former Danish ambassadors to the Muslim world, who deplored his ignorance of diplomatic niceties. After several more weeks of dithering, the prime minister at last tackled the matter in his new year’s speech, condemning any attempts “˜to demonise groups of people on the basis of their religion or ethnic background”. But although he alluded to “˜a few unacceptably offensive” instances, he did not mention Jyllands-Posten by name. And he also insisted that the general tone of the Danish debate was “˜civilised and fair”.”
How viciously unfair to Rasmussen. In fact, he didn’t ignore the problem or dither. He stood up stoutly for freedom of speech, saying: “This is a matter of principle. I won’t meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so.” He added: “I will never accept that respect for a religious stance leads to the curtailment of criticism, humour and satire in the press.” The matter, he said, was beyond his authority: “As prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media and I don’t want that kind of tool.”
The Economist just happened not to notice that he said all that? Or did it all just not fit their paradigm? They were, after all, much more concerned with the Muslims whose feelings were hurt by the cartoons: “For many Muslims, this is too little, too late”¦.In a sign that the row may have some time still to run, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a 57-strong group of countries, has also announced a boycott of “Images of the Middle East”, an exhibition due to be held in Denmark this summer. What should have been a celebration of Denmark’s cultural links with the Islamic world now looks like falling victim to Danish free speech.”
Not “falling victim to Islamic intransigence and inability to accept the parameters of a free society.”
And so the readers of The Economist, and most Westerners in general who get their news solely from such sources, continue on blissfully ignorant of just how severely threatened their free societies really are.