The Blog Squad

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

At the outer edges of free speech

In all of the news surrounding the worldwide protests by Muslims over newspaper cartoon caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, I have been most interested by what has not been reported here in the U.S.: the cartoons themselves. If Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that started all this by challenging political cartoonists to depict Muhammad, set out to test the limits of freedom of speech, it has clearly achieved that. We are now seeing the limit. A French editor has been fired for reprinting the cartoons. And, perhaps most tellingly, the cartoons have not, as far as I can tell, been published here in the U.S., home of the First Amendment. Generally, as part of a news story, a publication or network would show the controversial images (unless, perhaps there was graphic violence or sex involved). But every story I have seen so far has omitted the images that have shocked and offended much of the Muslim world.

It is taboo in the Muslim faith to depict Muhammad in any way -- even positively -- for fear that images of the prophet would lead to idolatry. But are non-Muslims supposed to adhere to laws of a religion they do not subscribe to? Andrew Sullivan made this point very well in his latest column for Time. Kathleen Parker also wrote a good piece defending our right to be outraged by the reaction around the world. Tolerance, acceptance of other religions? Absolutely. But at the cost of being blackmailed, extorted, threatened and intimidated into giving up a right as basic as the freedom to worship -- the freedom to speak?

I have seen cartoons, TV shows, comics, etc., take shots at the bishops and cardinals in my church -- depicting them leering lasciviously at innocent young boys. I've managed a knowing and cynical chuckle or two, but I will admit it stings -- in the same way peroxide burns when poured on a cut. Satire is meant to sting. Free people should be allowed to sting sometimes. And to be stung.


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