Cartoon controversy threatens free press
It is a simple fact that journalists sometimes inflame public opinion.
When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten printed its editorial cartoons Sept. 30, it probably anticipated the response.
Abdel Moeti Bayoumi, a theology professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, explained: "Those cartoons are very offensive to every Muslim feeling and to Islam as a religion. Do you expect Muslims to remain silent or rise to defend their religion?"
The cartoons in question all depict the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The most controversial drawing features the prophet wearing a turban containing a bomb with a lit fuse.
The paper commissioned the works because it was concerned about self-censorship by cartoonists. It decided to tackle the problem head-on.
Any depiction of the Muslim prophet is strictly forbidden by Islamic tradition.
The backlash was as brutal as it was immediate.
That October, ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries protested to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Rasmussen refused to even meet with them, saying, "It is a basic principle of our democracy that a prime minister cannot control the press."
The incident is quickly growing into a catastrophe as Muslim countries around the world boycott Danish goods. Jyllands-Posten has since apologized for offending Muslims, but it was too late.
In a show of solidarity, other newspapers around the world have reprinted the cartoons.
Eventually, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour got involved. "I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the beliefs of others. This kind of thing is unacceptable," she wrote.
The uproar continues.
We support peaceful protests of the cartoons, and we support private boycotts of the paper. People have a right to express their displeasure with offensive material. The obvious intent of the newspaper was to provoke a reaction. It has succeeded.
Now people should be giving their feedback.
But countrywide boycotts of everything Danish have a different motive. Most Danish companies had nothing to do with the publication of the offensive cartoons.
The probable intent of the boycotts is to force the Danish government to rebuke Jyllands-Posten.
And we're not okay with that. You can't punish a country for having a free press.
Free expression is absolutely critical to a well-functioning society. Without the right to unhindered expression and commentary from the press, a nation simply can't function.
Sometimes those expressions will be unkind. Sometimes they will be callous. Sometimes they will be utterly offensive.
And maybe printing the cartoons was a bad idea.
But regardless of the statement made, the right to print it must remain sacrosanct.
Now is the time for newspapers to climb up on top of their soapboxes. The free press must be defended.
We also note that the governments calling the loudest for restrictions against the Danish press are the ones that have already suppressed their own.
Perhaps Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, put it best when he said, "It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion."
We've never believed him.
And we hope the rest of the world won't either.
Source: The Independent Florida