Several years ago, in a key defeat for free speech, newspapers cowered before Muslim rage and refused to run cartoons of Muhammad. Now at the Washington Post they’re going one better, and refusing to run cartoons that don’t depict Muhammad—again, believe it or not, for fear of enraging Muslims. And once again, one of the nation’s most influential mainstream media outlets fails to see the free-speech implications of their cowardice and enabling of Islamic supremacism.
Last Sunday’s “Non Sequitur,” a single-panel comic strip that runs in around 800 newspapers, did not appear in the venerable WaPo: editors decided that the panel, which depicted a scene of busy activity with the caption “Where’s Muhammad?,” might, in the words of Post ombudsman, “offend and provoke some Post readers, especially Muslims.” This despite the fact that Muhammad isn’t actually depicted in the strip at all.
“Non Sequitur” artist Wiley Miller was apparently not informed of the Post’s decision to drop his drawing: “I have absolutely no information on why any of the editors chose not to run it,” he said. But he did note the irony: he said that he intended his cartoon to poke fun at “the insanity of an entire group of people rioting and putting out a hit list over cartoons,” and at the “media cowering in fear of printing any cartoon that contains the word ‘Muhammad.’”
Miller added: “All I can do is surmise that the irony of their being afraid to run a cartoon that satirizes media’s knee-jerk reaction to anything involving Islam bounced right of their foreheads. So what they’ve actually accomplished is, sadly, [to] validate the point.”
Miller is right. So is a Post reader, John D. Stackpole, who wrote in to the paper to call their editorial staff cowards, which they manifestly are, and added: “The wonderful irony [is that] great newspapers like the Washington Post, that took on Nixon—run in fear of this very tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire.”
If any person or group is considered off-limits for critical examination and even ridicule, that person or group has been given a privileged position in society, and has a free hand to do what it wishes. That’s why the freedom of speech is an indispensable bulwark against tyranny: It prevents authoritarian rulers from arrogating to themselves and exercising unfettered power.
And in this case, it rewards violent intimidation. As it happens, I myself have been defamed in the Washington Post twice in the last week, once by the deceptive Islamic apologist Eboo Patel and once by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Muslim Brotherhood). Would the Post have considered not running those pieces because of the possibility that they might offend me? Of course not. They should have considered not running them in the interests of truth and accuracy, but they should not have considered whether or not I would have been offended by them for one second.
It is also virtually indisputable that the Post would never hesitate to run an item that might offend Christians, and would have been the first to start talking about the freedom of speech if those Christians complained. So why is the Post so solicitous of Muslims? Why the double standard? Because they know that when I get offended, no one gets killed, and when Christians get offended, no one gets killed, but when Muslims are offended, people die.
Alexander noted that “Post editors believe their decision was prudent, given the past cartoon controversies and heightened sensitivities surrounding Islam. But it also can be seen as timid. And it sets an awfully low threshold for decisions on whether to withhold words or images that might offend.”
You can say that again. Alexander was drastically understating the case. The Post wasn’t just “too timid.” The Post was and is inexcusably prostrate before a group of violent and irrational thugs. And thus the freedom of speech continues to erode, to the detriment of everyone who wishes to live in freedom. They think it was prudent to kowtow before thugs? No, that is never prudent. It is always better to stand up to them.
We’re going to have to do so sooner or later, anyway.