| February 8, 2006
Free Press Vs. Religious Intolerance
by Michael J. McManus
How could cartoons spark the burning of Danish and Norwegian embassies in
Damascus and the killing of a Catholic priest in Turkey?
The Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, hired cartoonists to draw pictures of
Mohammad they knew would be offensive to Muslims. One cartoon portrayed the
founder of Islam as a terrorist, with a bomb in his turban. In another, Mohammad
tells a line of suicide bombers waiting to enter heaven, "Stop! Stop! We have
run out of virgins."
Why were they purposefully provocative? Editors felt that "Muslims should not be
exempt from criticism," says David Newton, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and
Yeman. "It was very foolish. Even here we have the right to free speech, but
some things are not right to publish. We don't give the names of teenagers
accused of crimes or rape victims."
European countries are disturbed by the number of Muslims who have immigrated
there, who are far more religious than secular natives. The cartoons stuck their
finger in the eye of Muslims, as if to say, "If you don't like it here, go
Eight Arab ambassadors met with the Danish Prime Minister last fall and asked
him to criticize the offensive cartoons. He refused, citing freedom of the
press. That sparked a boycott of Danish products across the Middle East, a
legitimate non-violent form of protest. European newspapers retaliated by
republishing the cartoons in France, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, Spain,
Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand and Poland.
European editors argued that what they might not have published initially,
became newsworthy. However, the continent-wide smear of Islam outraged pious
Muslims, which was then exploited by political and religious leaders who
organized demonstrations that clearly got out of hand. The Syrian Government,
criticized by the UN for its involvement in the killing of a former Lebanese
Prime Minister, curried favor with Muslim extremists by letting them burn
Lebanese leader Walid Jumblatt .makes a stronger charge: "Syria is stirring
trouble in the region. It is very bizarre that a so-called secular totalitarian
regime that controls everything was not able to control those demonstrations,"
Jumblatt told WorldNetDaily.com. "The violence and burnings in Lebanon were the
work of Syrian soldiers and workers dressed in civilian clothes," said the head
of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party.
European journalists correctly assert that tolerance is disdained by people who
demand it of others. Saudi Arabia does not even allow one church to be built for
foreigners, yet foreign newspapers are expected to respect Islam. The Christian
population of Israel and Iraq has withered. Five of 130 Christian Assyrian
churches were burned in Iraq last weekend.
Yet can anyone rationally expect Muslims to become more tolerant when their
faith is trashed, not by one newspaper, but by the media of ten nations?
However, the issue is larger than the clash of Western freedom of the press vs.
Muslim sensibilities. There is a growing sense of anger and helplessness across
the Muslim world. Their countries seem permanently backward compared to the
West, with few job opportunities. Their governments are often corrupt, and are
usually ruled by kings, not elected leaders.
Even when there is the rare election, as in the Palestinian territories, corrupt
moderates were ejected in favor of the militant Hamas who calls for the
destruction of Israel. Why? The Bush Administration was not an honest broker
between the Jews and Palestinians. We raised no objections to Israel building a
wall that makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to work in Israel, as in
the past. The people simply voted against their ineffectual leaders.
Our invasion of Iraq is the major issue across Islam. "You can't go kicking the
hornet's nest and then complain about how hornets are biting everyone," says Jim
Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute.
No newspaper in the U.S. has published the cartoons, nor any TV network. I
believe this is commendable self-censorship. Anyone who really wants to see the
images can go to http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=48674.) However,
the American press recognizes the inflammatory nature of the cartoons, and has
chosen simply to describe them.
Muslim immigrants to the U.S. have as much opportunity as any other immigrant –
unlike the situation in Europe where Muslims feel like blacks in the pre-Civil
The remarkable result is that there has not been even a single car bomb in
America since 9/11. How can that peace be exported?
In Israel, we must become genuine brokers for peace, opening up thousands of
jobs for Palestinians if they renounce terrorism. In Iraq, we must begin to draw
And we must pray for peace as well as work for it.
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