Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald comments on the State Department’s reaction to the cartoon controversy:
The American government is not seeing things clearly. The cartoons, almost all of them comically anodyne, were published because the writer of a book could not find anyone to illustrate it for fear of offending Muslims. The protests are attempting to create a climate of fear to which the non-Muslim world must acquiesce — in which case the non-Muslim world would have to agree to abide by Muslim demands and standards, which might later include the requirement that women be subject to the authority of men and treated as badly as they are (by Western standards) in the Muslim world, and to acquiesce to much else as well.
The essential principle of modern Western democracy — as opposed to the jokey purple-thumbed kind that the Administration holds up for admiration in Iraq — is free speech. The wars of religion are long over. Blasphemy laws no longer exist. In the Western world, one may deplore the “Piss Christ” of Serrano and write letters. One may also suggest that there is no constitutional guarantee to be supported by taxpayers’ money in one’s exercise of free speech. But otherwise, unless one is attempting to suppress the kind of speech that incites to imminent lawless violence (the Brandenburg test), in the United States other kinds of speech cannot be banned.
What happened is clear: a Danish newspaper, written for a Danish audience, employed Danish cartoonists to make a series of cartoons around and about Muhammad. No one showed Muhammad in flagrante delicto with nine-year-old Aisha. No one depicted Muhammad smiling with evident pleasure at the sight of the lifeless body of the poetess Asma bint Marwan, who had insulted him, leading him to call for her murder. No one depicted Muhammad observing with pleasure the decapitation of the 600-900 helpless prisoners of the Banu Qurayza. No one depicted much of anything, save for a few comic-opera scimitars and, in one case, a turban in the shape of a bomb, and a fuse on that bomb.
Now comes the temptation: the Temptation of Symmetry. There is “hate speech” perhaps here, but then there is “hate speech” on the other side, and both are to be deplored. Are they? Are we by sleight of word, and false symmetries, to give up the defense of free speech in the Western world quite so easily, by suggesting that “we are all guilty”? And that the embarrassed defense of Western principles should descend to the level so often used by Muslims themselves, that of “Tu Quoque”? Is that it?
What is shown every day in the Egyptian, Saudi, and other Arab and Muslim presses certainly ought to be reprinted here and there and everywhere, so that the Western public can get a good long look, and a look that is repeated at intervals. They should also read the hatred and hysteria poured out day after day, in official speeches, in khutbas (sermons), in editorials, on the airwaves, and in the fantastic depiction of Western “atrocities” that Al-Jazeera specializes in. They should look, if they can, at the recruiting sites for Islam — the ones that provide videos of decapitation of Infidels. The Western public should ask again and again: what kind of people not only are not apologetic about such things, but put them up proudly, as ways to encourage others to join in?
What if the Islamic world, however, were not full of such things? What if it did not possess the satellite channels, the radio stations, the printing press? Indeed, for so long the world of Islam resisted the printing press, which finally came to it from Ibrahim Muteferrika, the Hungarian Jewish convert, in 1729 — several centuries after Gutenberg had helped transform the West. In that case, we would not have on record all those examples of “hate speech” that Scott McClellan refers to. Then what? Would that mean that we in the Western world are therefore not to print pictures of Muhammad if we see fit, because we must tailor our freedoms to the demands of others who in every respect offer a world of despotism and cruelty that we would not tolerate one minute for ourselves?
Do we only possess our freedoms in the Western world if the Muslims give us the okay, or if by their own behavior we can point to “their hate speech” as being the only justification we can come up with for our own exercise of free speech? Since the Danish cartoons hardly amount, in any case, to hate speech, the false symmetry infuriates.
It would have been better to have dryly noted the hypocrisy of the Arab and Muslim world, rather than making that hypocrisy the main theme, and then gone on to say that “in a certain sense this is irrelevant.” All that is relevant is this: Danish cartoonists, hired by a Danish newspaper, for a Danish audience, published some cartoons which were intended to both test, and reaffirm, the exercise of the right, recognized in Denmark and in the United States, of free speech.
That is the issue. Do Danes, and Italians, and French, and Dutch, and English, and Germans, and Americans, and all those who subscribe to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, have the right of free speech, without death threats against individuals and institutions, attacks on embassies, and all the other horrifying displays of whipped up mass hysteria that offend — and will not be forgotten by — the civilized?