Mar 28, 2006

Cartoon Jihad: Press freedom more important than tolerance

by Alicia Wotring, Editor-in-Chief
The Muhammad cartoon debacle continued this week when a Welsh magazine, Y Llan, printed a cartoon of Muhammad, Buddha and other deities sitting on a cloud. According to an article on CNN.com, one of them says to Muhammad, “Don’t complain … we’ve all been caricatured here.”

But the Anglican Church of Wales seemed almost in a frenzy to apologize for its cartoon and recall its publication. It was as if they could not apologize loud enough or fast enough for offending the Islamic faith. It may have been out of fear that the church apologized so quickly, or perhaps, like they claimed, it was to preserve relations with the Muslim community in Wales. However, after the long clash that spawned over 12 Danish cartoons that were published nearly six months ago, Muslims have appeared to be the most intolerant bullies on the world block, and nations, churches and media are fighting for who can be the most appeasing.

The backlash from the Muslim community over these 12 cartoons, and numerous others that followed, has been insurmountable. Leading Muslim organizations demanded apologies from the Danish government as well as the paper that published the cartoons. Extremists issued death threats to the cartoonists, as well as the editor of Magazinet, a Norwegian newspaper that reprinted the cartoons online. Embassies were attacked, and violent protests erupted into riots all over the world, eventually resulting in death.

In Islam, it is considered “sacrilegious” to try to illustrate or in any other way depict Allah or any of his prophets, according to Aljazeera.net. In one of the hadith, a collection of sayings of Muhammad, the punishment for insulting Muhammad is death. But those rules should only apply to those who are Muslim. For the Muslim community to expect the rest of the world to follow its religion’s rules is unrealistic and arrogant.                            This is a case of freedom of the press. The press should be able to print whatever it want without the fear of being attacked. Cartoonists should be able to illustrate whatever they want without death threats. And in the riots, people actually lost their lives over these cartoons. While some of the cartoons were indeed offensive, particularly one where Muhammad’s turban was a bomb, others were just funny. And yes, some of them were poking fun at Muhammad, but newspapers poke fun of religions and religious leaders all the time. How often is Jesus Christ shamelessly ridiculed on an editorial page? But Christians don’t demand apologies and there are not riots in the street. No one’s life is endangered over it. And that’s how it should be.

As a Christian and as a journalist, I believe that the freedom of the press should not be inhibited. More than once, I have been personally and deeply offended by something printed in a newspaper about Christianity and about Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that the freedom of the press does not deserve the highest respect in our society. Our forefathers found it to be such an important venue that they ensured its right in the First Amendment, equal to the freedom of speech, equal to the freedom of religion, equal to the right to petition the government and equally to the right to peaceably assemble. The freedom of the press is an integral part of a free society. Some of you may be thinking that we should be taking a lesson and speaking up louder for our own faith. But Christianity is not a faith of force or imposition.

If I am offended by something in a newspaper, it puts responsibility on me to write to that paper and submit my opinion. It puts responsibility on me to peacefully further my cause and my beliefs. In my case, I took it as my personal responsibility to become a journalist.

But the Muslim community that opposes these cartoons has tried to inhibit freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and impose their religion and their beliefs on the rest of the world. They demand the utmost respect for their Prophet. In their opinion, nothing that is in any way insulting or critical of Islam should be put in a newspaper. What a threat that is to freedom.

The only thing that has astonished me more than the arrogant demands of the Muslim community over this matter is how quickly the rest of the world has bowed to those demands. The editor of the paper that originally published the cartoons, the Jyllands-Posten, apologized for the cartoons. According to Wikipedia, most heads of state made comments that generally supported freedom of speech but “regretted” the cartoons, as Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper said. Others claimed that the press needed to exercise more “tolerance” and “respect,” such as French leaders insisted, according to BBC News. U.S. Department of State spokesman Kurtis Cooper said that although there is freedom of the press, it needs to be “coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” as quoted in ABC News. Surprisingly, the European Union was the press’ strongest supporter in this matter.

It seems that the majority of countries have become hypersensitive to Islam and willing to limit, at least in part, the freedom of the press to appease Islamic beliefs. And maybe these newspapers and governments are doing this out of fear. Maybe they’re doing it in an effort to stop rioting and death threats. But if that is why they are doing it, they are bowing to terrorism. The very definition of terrorism is to use fear for coercion. We cannot be afraid to criticize any government or any religion. We cannot be afraid of what we print in our newspapers. To do so would negate the liberties that we enjoy in this country and in others. But if those governments truly wish to build a stronger relationship with the Muslim community, or have a deeper understanding for Islam, let them do so, but not at the expense of freedom of the press.

Contact Alicia Wotring at aawotring@liberty.edu.

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