Cartoonists Go to War

    There Is No Right to Not Be Insulted

    No one seriously disputes the right of a free press to publish whatever offensive drivel it likes. But people have brought not the right, but the responsibility of the editors of Jyllands-Posten into question. UCLA’s Daily Bruin asked whether the editors’ decision to print the cartoon was a responsible one that contributed to journalism and the Middle East dialogue. It answered that it was not.

    This misses the point. It’s true that Muslims in Europe and the Middle East tend toward stronger reactions to insults, in general, than other religious groups. In the current furor over these cartoons alone, embassies have been burned or surrounded by armed men, and national governments have been asked to apologize. There is therefore a case to be made for treating them differently in order to keep the peace. After all, if you have a friend at your party who you know has a hot temper, you do your best to keep practical jokesters away from him.

    But eventually, you realize you can’t treat him with kid gloves forever, and you tell him to cool his jets or be tossed out the door. We must ask ourselves not just what is responsible behavior toward the Muslim community, but what behavior we can reasonably expect from ourselves. Treating one group differently inevitably isolates them, and it doesn’t matter whether that difference comes in the form of purposely insulting one group more than others, or being afraid to insult it as much as others. We live in a civilization where banners that damn non-Christians to hell are freely waved, and where Christian crosses are put in jars of excrement and called “art.” These are insults, and we are expected to act like adults about them. Allowing Islam to exempt itself only creates resentment in all the other groups who are expected to take an insult or a joke with equanimity.

    No one has the right to react to what others say about them with outrage and violence. The Danish paper was absolutely right that there is a form of self-censorship going on in the press with regards to Islam, and it’s not the kind of self-censorship that comes from simple politeness. Imagining that a right has meaning when there is no freedom to exercise it is delusional.

    Yes, the cartoons were insulting. At the risk of sounding harsh, there’s only one thing offended Muslims can do, and that’s grow a thicker skin. It took Christianity centuries to acquire the kind of collective hide it takes to live in a society with free speech, and it will never be fully realized in Islam if people — especially the press — are forever treating them like they’re overly sensitive children.

    ­— Hanna Camp

    Associate Opinion Editor

    Offensiveness of the Depictions a Given

    The Quran and the sayings of the Prophet prohibit any pictorial art or depiction of the Divine, lest idol worship is reborn in cities where its corrupted form was hated. It is believed by Muslims that Allah’s grandeur is such that he and his prophets cannot be captured in an image by the human hand.

    Whether the editors of Jyllands-Posten believed in this view or not, it is naive of them to have simply intended to “provoke a debate about the extent to which [they] self-censor in our coverage of Muslim issues” (said Jay Lund, Foreign editor of the Jyllands-Posten.) In fact, it is almost unbelievable that the editors were not aware that their actions were provoking the faith of more than 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide.

    The question arises then, of whether editors of newspapers in 18 countries, including the United States, were correct in publishing these cartoons in the name of free speech. They were not only expressing opinions that linked Islam to terrorism, but abusing the core sensibilities that led to the birth of a religion. Is “free speech” to be accorded with such power that no higher government may question it even when so much is at stake?

    One can only expect that extremist Muslims shall hijack such an insensitive affair; that moderate Muslims shall condemn it and yet fear the damage violent action can cause to their well-being. Such is the reach of free speech in our society that it murders across continents.

    ­— Yasha Sharma

    Staff Writer

    Societies Need to Push the Envelope

    On a closed college campus, when entrenched interests feel threatened by change that challenges the established power structure, they shut down the student television station. In a global and interconnected world, these interests burn embassies instead.

    To interpret the current row over the publication of cartoons offensive to Muslims as merely a question of taste and religious tolerance would be a grave error; religion is, after all, just another value system that helps organize society and establish social rules that help groups of people function.

    When high school health teachers offend evangelical Christians for teaching children the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, should teachers be fired for blasphemy? When the president of Harvard University suggests that women are simply less biologically apt in math or science fields, should the John F. Kennedy School of Government be bombed? And when a UCSD student airs “graphical depictions of sexual nudity,” should sexuality and nudity be censored under the guise of “community standards” and decency?

    Most reasonable people would say no to all of the above. And neither should a newspaper be assailed for printing admittedly flawed pictures.

    Change occurs when avant-garde ideas challenge the status quo, by attacking the very foundations of a society. It happens when the new offer an alternative to the old, and the new win out; it is the basis for the scientific process itself.

    At UCSD, it happens when a student questions the value of community standards by violating them. Globally, it happens when new ideas collide with old ones, and when the new ideas win out, to the chagrin of power players that suddenly lose their clout.

    ­— Vladimir Kogan

    Senior Staff Writer

    Varying Reactions to Cartoons Sadly Predictable

    Much of the commentary over the Mohammed cartoons controversy is pointless, for it is simply bemoaning the consequences of established facts.

    The fact is this: The European journalists that published the cartoons were able to do so because of the freedom of speech rights they have in their societies. The outrage over these cartoons exploded in the Muslim world because Muslims find such material offensive, and do not have the same concepts of freedom of speech in their own societies.

    Why would anything different be expected? Whether or not the journalists should have published the cartoons is in a sense a moot point — the fact that they did and that such controversial things shall always be published, must be accepted as a natural outgrowth of freedom of speech, which is not containable by laws with specific “exceptions” nor social approbation.

    And the fact that others not so embedded in liberal tolerance may occasionally get riled up over such publications must also be accepted.

    Some may conclude that the journalists should have practiced better judgment, but in a liberal society that should not restrict freedom of speech, this opinion stands as only a trivial wrist slap with no real consequence.

    The reaction from the West on this issue shows a disconnect between sentiment and acceptance — we talk the talk of freedom of speech, but have more difficulty walking the walk of its natural consequences when something like the current crisis occurs.

    ­— Robin Marie Averbeck

    Senior Staff Writer

    Freedom Often Leads to Clashes of Ideologies

    Never let it be said that journalists’ first responsibility is to please their audience. They should educate them, sway them and, in some cases, even provoke them.

    The violent protests against the periodicals that published the cartoons represent only a portion of the growing misunderstanding about freedom.

    Freedom is just another empty watering-hole. We all gather to drink, but first we must learn to share. The future of freedom depends on each nation recognizing that with a limited amount of water, a drink will not necessarily benefit everyone else, but this does not diminish each nation’s entitlement to drink freely.

    This current crisis, which led Muslim protestors to set fire to a Danish Embassy in Tehran, Iran, merely highlights the ever-present conflict between various cultural identities. If the world is to bridge this gap by grasping the complexity of freedom, all of its people must understand one of its most basic principles. A man does not have to like what another man says. He does not even have to listen. He only has to let him say it.

    As for proper ethics in journalism — the publication of the cartoons was fair game, but the Danish will soon realize that so is the Holocaust cartoon contest Iran’s leading newspaper, Hamshahri, has vowed to publish in retaliation to the Mohammed cartoons.

    — Natasha Naraghi

    Staff Writer

    Exercise in Journalistic Protest Went Too Far

    The recent deaths of civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King have reminded Americans of the long struggle for racial equality in this country, so it is surprising to see a new and potentially violent threat to civil rights looming on the international horizon.

    With the repeated publication of Jyllands-Posten editorial cartoons in other papers across Europe and an unwitting globe, Islam is being satirized and presented as the religion of terrorists, all in the name of free speech.

    Inciting mass protests may not have been the ultimate goal of the paper, but causing a stir was. Claiming fear of self-censorship, Danish cartoonists, disturbed by an inability to criticize Islam for fear of bodily harm, fought back through inflammatory images. Illustrators told to express opinions about Islam put a bomb in the Prophet Mohammed’s turban, an exercise in racial stereotyping and lack of good judgment. 

    Just as it is wrong to symbolize America through the Unabomber, it is reprehensible to link terrorism to the world’s second-largest religion. While a small disclaimer admitted it was not a complete representation of Islam, a picture is worth a thousand words.

    Despite peaceful protests after the initial publication, the cartoons were republished for months afterward across Europe. Unfortunately, consideration for the practice of free speech was not equally appreciated by both sides of the debate, leading to claims of the perpetuation of Islamophobia by several leaders of the Middle East. This isn’t surprising, as it follows the Guantanamo Bay prison scandal and discrimination following Sept. 11.

    Freedom of speech is necessary to any society, but respect for personal beliefs and culture is the glue. The mounting violence of a minority of Muslims to the cartoons is wrong, but so is ignoring their requests for cessation. Scholarly discussion is encouraged in Islam, which would have been a more direct and meaningful route for the Jyllands-Posten.

    — Maryann Kimoto

    Staff Writer

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