If anyone in the United States questions the propriety of the federal government funding gay snuff films for distribution to schoolchildren, America’s entire mainstream media is there immediately, screaming like scalded monkeys about the end of “freedom of speech.” Why, think of the chilling effect such defunding could have on the whole snuff film industry. And from there it is a steep slippery slope to Orwell’s 1984 and then … death camps for everybody.
“I may not agree with what you say,” they often misquote Voltaire, “but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But when a real threat to our freedom to say what we believe without fear of prosecution or persecution comes from anyone other than the old familiar bogeymen of the left’s world, the mainstream media often has precious little to say.
The growing global lynch mob calling for reprisal against the entire nation of Denmark for daring to let its newspapers publish whatever they want — even about religion — is just such a case. The Jyllands-Posten newspaper of Denmark published a group of cartoons solely to demonstrate a point about the increasing threat posed to free societies by the fear of Muslim violence.
An author of a book on the Muslim prophet Muhammad complained that he could find no artist willing to illustrate his book, because they all feared they would be targeted for assassination by religious fanatics if the book was deemed “offensive to Islam.” When authors are afraid to write and artists are afraid to illustrate books on important topics, we are no longer a free society. Thus, the Jyllands-Posten opened its pages to local artists to send in their illustrations of Muhammad. “We will not be intimidated” was the clear message they wished to send.
For this principled defense of freedom of speech, the artists and staff of the Jyllands-Posten began receiving death threats. Apparently, the artists that refused to illustrate the book because they believed that Islam produces more than its share of intolerant thugs were not merely drawing upon a caricature. But the situation has since rapidly devolved into caricature and self-parody.
The governments of Muslim nations began demanding that the democratic government of Denmark punish the independent newspaper for daring to print “blasphemy” against Islam. When the Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, explained to them that (unlike in their countries) the government can’t tell people what to say in Denmark, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador. Libya closed its embassy. Egypt refused to repay loans from Denmark. Riots broke out in the Gaza strip, where Islamic Jihad burned Danish flags and threatened to begin kidnapping and killing Danes wherever they could find them. A Pakistani group offered cash rewards for the heads of the artists — and keep in mind that “for the heads” is not just an expression in some places.
After every terror attack, we are reminded by spokesmen from these same Muslim nations that we must not judge all Muslims just by the action of a few thousand, or even tens of thousands, of radicals that enjoy the support of a majority of the population in many countries. True.
But because of the free speech of one newspaper, the governments of many Muslim nations are encouraging a boycott of every company in Denmark. No butter cookies for you, Fatima! Several firms with formerly large subsidiaries in the Middle East have been put out of business in the region, and in several cases their employees have been attacked. This would be as silly as disliking the actions of the United States and deciding to burn down a Kentucky Fried Chicken and kill all its employees. Oh wait, that actually happened in Pakistan.
Back in Denmark, the artists have gone into hiding and the Jyllands-Posten has been evacuated — because they dared, in a free society, to say what they thought. But where is the uproar? What other media outlets have rushed to their defense? Where is the New York Times’ editorial page? Silent. What of CNN? They will report the riots over the cartoons, but refuse to show the rather tame cartoons themselves out of “respect for Islam.” A network that cannot self-censor itself to keep our soldiers safe in time of war will gladly self-censor itself to avoid offending those who would so forcefully censor Denmark. As will NBC. Other outlets are simply mute on the issue.
And this is not a new phenomenon.
The Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh dared to make a movie of a script by a Muslim woman in which she depicts the treatment of women in many Islamic societies. It was judged “offensive to Islam” by some — so Van Gogh was shot, stabbed, hacked, and beat to death on the street.
Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, offended Islam, according to the Ayatollah Khomeini, so he issued a death sentence against the English author to be carried out on sight anywhere in the world. Mr. Rushdie has lived in hiding in his allegedly “free” society ever since.
Other less well-known artists are also under death threat for work published in Europe or America, but judged offensive half a world away.
And the complaints about offense go to the smaller end of the spectrum as well. A British bar owner was forced to remove a “no porking” sign from his parking lot because it was “offensive to Islam.” Pictures of Piglet have been removed from British government offices because Piglet is allegedly “offensive to Islam.”
Artwork was removed from a gallery in Sweden because it was “offensive to Islam.” An Italian author was brought up on hate crime charges because her opinions were “offensive to Islam.”
Barbie dolls are offensive to Islam, Coca Cola labels are offensive to Islam, Burger King Ice Cream lids are offensive to Islam, Levi’s jeans ads are offensive to Islam. These are all actual news items.
While the American media whines on about NSA wiretapping and the Patriot Act, they ignore a much bigger threat to free speech — the very real prospect of being censored or even marked for death simply for expressing one’s thoughts on religion.
A global precedent is being set here. If they are smart, other media outlets will fall in behind Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten and establish that they will be censored by neither government nor religion. Several European papers have reprinted the cartoons as an act of solidarity and defiance — including one that declared “Yes, we have the right to blasphemy.”
It is not just our own government that presents a threat to free speech, and if we are serious about defending it — rather than just using the concept to bash political enemies — then we must defend it from every threat.
Below are the cartoons published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten. Click each image to enlarge.