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Friday, February 10, 2006

Why American media won't touch the cartoons

Our "allies" the Iraqi shi register their displeasure

Publish or Not? Muhammad Cartoons Still Vexing U.S. Editors

By E&P Staff

Published: February 08, 2006 10:15 AM ET

NEW YORK Editors across the country continue to face difficult decisions surrounding the cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad, which have set off rioting abroad. Few American papers have published the cartoon so far, although several have shown them on their Web sites or provided Web links.

Here is a look-around:

* Four top editors at the New York Press, a weekly in New York City, resigned Tuesday after being ordered, they claim, to pull the Danish cartoons -- from an issue that centers on the dispute. Editor in chief Harry Siegel charged that the Press leadership "has suborned its own professed principles. For all the talk of freedom of speech, only the New York Sun locally and two other papers nationally have mustered the minimal courage needed to print simple and not especially offensive editorial cartoons that have been used as a pretext for great and greatly menacing violence directed against journalists, cartoonists, humanitarian aid workers, diplomats and others who represent the basic values and obligations of Western civilization."

* At USA Today, "we concluded that we could cover the issue comprehensively without republishing the cartoon, something clearly offensive to many Muslims. It's not censorship, self or otherwise," said Deputy World Editor Jim Michaels.

* According to an article in USA Today, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said that he and his staff concluded after a "long and vigorous debate" that publishing the cartoon would be "perceived as a particularly deliberate insult" by Muslims. "Like any decision to withhold elements of a story, this was neither easy nor entirely satisfying, but it feels like the right thing to do."

* Eric Mink, commentary editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, explains in a column today: "If a government controls what can and cannot be distributed, it’s called censorship. If a media outlet decides for itself what to include and exclude from its products — whether for journalistic or economic reasons, out of respect for possible sensitivities of some readers or concern about possible impact on its community — it’s called editorial judgment.

"Here in the United States, at least two major newspapers in the last week — the Austin American-Statesman and The Philadelphia Inquirer — chose to publish one of the original Danish cartoons to illustrate stories about the controversy and violence. Other papers, including the Post-Dispatch, have decided that the images aren’t necessary to communicate the story. It’s called judgment."
What I don't find surprising is the wave of liberal anti-Muslim commentary. After all, it took a major effort by the President to prevent lynchings after 9/11, and then 8,000 Muslims were expelled for reasons having nothing to do with national security.

And let's face it, we have a lot in common with the Danes, or so we think.

But reality is very different.

Most major US newspapers will not run these cartoons any more than they run racially or sexually offensive cartoons. They wouldn't run a cartoon mocking church buildings being burned either. To the most vigorous defenders of free speech on the planet, in a country which allows all manner of hate speech, these cartoons will not be shown, because they are needlessly offensive.

But what is lost in all the rioting is how badly the Danes handled this.

The government admits they wanted to force a culture war. The problem for them is that Danish muslims, feeling outnumbered and under siege, went for help. They toured the middle east, showed the cartoons to leading Islamic scholars and then, the ambassadors asked to speak to the foriegn minister, and despite the advice of 22 Danish ambassadors, refused.

Now, I can't speak to being a Muslim, but I can speak to being an outsider.

There is always the tension of never truly being accepted. You see things, cartoons, TV shows, and you wonder is there a hidden insult there, are you being depicted fairly.

Hell, people routinely tell me they had no idea I was black online.

I know what it's like to walk into a classroom of 200 people and be the ONLY black person in the room. In that situation, you either deal with it or retreat.

For a lot of minorities in Europe, not just Muslims, but Africans and Asians as well, there is the sense of being an outsider even when you try to fit in. You teach your kids the language, they root for the local sides, they go to the schools, but at the end of the day, you get a nice slap in the face by people who wish you would disappear.

But you've played by the rules and there is no reward.

Now, some folks play on this to push their version of Islamic revivalism, and the right talks about how they're coming to take over, and why they don't just fit in.

Well, if you've ever been accused of not fitting in, despite your best efforts, it can make you angry or even worse, doubt yourself. You wonder if it's you or because people dislike the way you look.

No one wants to be excluded from the society they live in, but at some point, you're faced with a challenge to your dignity. In this case, an insult to your religion. And the Danes stubborn refusal to deal with this as it became a crisis, says much about their racial attitudes.

A lot of Europeans believe, like a lot of people, that if the Muslims go away, all their discomfort will end. But it won't. As Pat Robertson noted in his usually subtle way, Europeans are having less children. Well someone has to pay taxes to support the growing numbers of elderly and if there aren't enough Europeans, they will have to import workers.

And while people say "well, they should just accept that they live in Europe".

Ok, and I say, what is the reward? A scut work job, racial contempt from cab drivers to government officials, a continuing message that you don't belong and if you object to being insulted, you can leave?

You can't have it both ways: you cannot say you want an inclusive society, yet when people demand basic respect, and muslim leaders went to the government and the courts, insult them for doing so.

It is hard enough to be different in the US, it must be that much harder in a monocultural society like Denmark.

My attitude here is simple: I respect Muslims and their concerns because I want them to respect mine, enough so that they reject terrorism and inform on those that do embrace it. We cannot say reject terrorism and then mock what they see as holy. It's as if we're doing Osama's work for him, and I don't want any part of that.

posted by Steve @ 1:28:00 AM

1:28:00 AM

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