Free speech versus respect for religion

February 2, 2006 | 154 comments
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The Islamic world is reacting angrily to the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. Demonstrations, threats, flag burning, forcible closure of Western offices — we know the scary pictures. In defense of free speech and to show support for the Danish editors, newspapers in France, Italy, Spain and Germany have also published the cartoons, exacerbating the wrath of Muslims. In just a few days the matter has reached international proportions, far beyond the level of an incident. Politicians fear that this could be the first major clash between two worlds: free speech guaranteed by democracy versus taboos in Islam. Indeed, depicting the Prophet Mohammad, moreover in a deriding fashion, is sacrilegious for Muslims. But free speech is in Western democracies a hallowed principle. The stage is set for more than a skirmish.

The commentaries in European newspapers and blogs are overwhelming in their condemnation of the Islamic reaction: free speech cannot be restrained by the sensitivities of a religion; the Muslim exigencies for punishment and apologies foretell the next phase, namely increasing edicts to standardize the world according to Sharia; the Western world is taken hostage by Islam; Muslim nations still need to go through their Enlightenment to separate State and religion, etc. And the comments also point to the fact that Western nations have learned to tolerate similar sacrilegious depictions of Christianity, in novels, films and cartoons. That tolerance, they say, is a sign of maturity.

Perhaps many of us would react in the same vein, especially as we have learned to view Islam as fundamentalist and threatening. However, could the matter be compared to something we as Mormons experienced? The protesters around Temple Square at the time of General Conference have been using their right to free speech, vilifying Mormonism, even showing and ridiculing temple clothing in order to provoke us. Some of us have not been able to restrain their anger at this provocation. And certainly many of us have thought: can this kind of insulting and debasing “free speech” be tolerated?

So, what are the criteria when it comes to free speech versus respect for religion?

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154 Responses to Free speech versus respect for religion

  1. danithew on February 2, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    I’m with the European newspapers on this one.

  2. Bill on February 3, 2006 at 12:24 am

    I have no problem with temple square protesters. I do have a problem with the French editor who exhibited bravery by publishing the cartoons being fired – a disgrace.

  3. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 12:33 am

    Thank you, danithew and Bill. But would you still agree if a newspaper ridiculed in cartoons e.g. scenes of our temple ceremony? And depicted Mormons as dangerous Danites? And if other papers enjoyed the further provocation by publishing even more after the first Mormon protest? And not in a strong Mormon environment where it would be harmless to the members, but in regions where anti-Mormon sentiment was already rampant and only needed this kind of provocation to inflame the population even more?

    I’m not taking sides. I’m trying to understand the various viewpoints in this potentially dangerous situation. Without being too quickly led by emotion in defense of free speech. Or, put differently, was there a need to provoke Muslims in the first place?

  4. Tim on February 3, 2006 at 1:13 am

    I know I don’t post often, hopefully you don’t mind me lurking and chiming in occassionally. I think people find it too easy to condemn Muslims due to the terrorists that are among them albeit in great minority. What Bro. Decoo implies in his post is profound. Are we mature for permitting the distasteful degradation of religion in the name of free speech? And what is to be said for the people who enjoy this?

    Hopefully we understand the cultural background of this that for Muslims, printing Muhammed in cartoons would be the equivalent of putting the endowment ceremony on national television. It is the upper crust of sacrilege. What would we do as a people? Is there any doubt that the outcry would be heard from the Salt Lake Valley to every ward in the church? Although I am not a Stake President nor Bishop, it is probably safe to say that letters would be written to cable companies, sponsors, etc. encouraging not showing it? Am I wrong there?

    Now with that being said, what of free speech? Do we restrict speech that is so appalling and grotesque that it alienates and puts at risk an entire group within a nation? My answer is absolutely not. This is a slippery slope that I would be scared to even take one step down. However, that’s not to say that we can’t express displeasure with what some do with their free speech. That is both the right and the responsibility of citizens within a nation with free speech.

    See, the true problem is not the law that protects the disrespectful comic, it’s the demand for this insulting behavior in the first place. Does this provoke conversation? No? Does it encourage understanding, charity, peace, love, etc? Absolutely not. This is something that I would shun, but never argue in favor of legally prohibiting.

  5. Clark on February 3, 2006 at 1:17 am

    I think one can get angry, write in letters to the editor and even boycott (although boycotts rarely do much) But it seems with the Islam situation more is being demanded. Perhaps Mormons just have thicker skin because we’ve faced far worse than those cartoons for more than a century?

    Bill (#2), the company that owned the paper was Egyptian. If the editor of the Deseret News published an editorial that was patently offensive to Mormons, woudn’t we expect him to be fired?

  6. Mark Smith on February 3, 2006 at 1:30 am

    I certainly wouldn’t be happy with editorial cartoons mocking the temple ceremony, nor am I happy with the disrespect given to the church by street protestors during General Conference. I don’t like the books written as exposees on the ceremonies in the Temple. I generally don’t like being referred to as a cultist. I am not amused when I’m told I’m not a christian.

    Now I’ve expressed my outrage. And as long as complaints over this cartoon flap remain at the level of expressing outrage, boycotts etc. I think it’s great. Note, I’m not threatening to kidnap Pat Robertson because he called me a cultist. I don’t have any intention of attempting to destroy the printing presses that published books about the temple ceremonies. Unfortunately this is the reaction of a sizable percentage of the Moslem community. And I condemn this. And I would condemn any member of the church who reacted similiarly as well as report them to the appropriate authorities. For more information on this look at Michelle Malkin.

  7. Erica Merrell on February 3, 2006 at 1:35 am

    I prefer that free speech be protected rather than my sensibilities.

    Many of the cartoons published in American newspapers about Mormons 100 years ago were at least as inflammatory as this and we survived. Some did ridicule the temple ceremony. I think if those were published today, some Mormons would have similar reactions to what some Muslims are having today (although hopefully not quite as violent). The angry reaction is entirely understandable. But I think the better course of action would be to calm down, quietly defend our religion and explain the inappropriateness of the cartoon, and let others see the problems (even though it’s legal) of the publication instead of our angry reaction.

    The violent protests have only confirmed to many people the sentiments expressed in the cartoons themselves. The actions of some Muslims will be far more inflaming than the cartoons ever could have been, and that is a mistake.

  8. DHofmann on February 3, 2006 at 1:37 am

    Isn’t there a law against inciting riots?

  9. D-Train on February 3, 2006 at 3:26 am

    Wilifried, I really appreciate your perspective on this. I’m generally for free speech unless there’s a huge reason not to be. This isn’t nearly enough.

    If people were to mock Mormonism at a similar level in a similar forum, I think we could react reasonably and would choose to do so. In this case, though, one has to recognize that this isn’t just a spiritual issue, but a profound political statement that confirms a lot of the worst images of the West in the Middle East (sort of the flip side of Erica’s argument, which I also agree with). I don’t agree with the Palestinians that initiated this action, but we should remember just how charged this is. This may be a good example of the need to rethink the administration’s position on Middle Eastern governance.

  10. AlexG on February 3, 2006 at 3:34 am

    Interestingly, you can find caricatures of the First Vision replacing God and Christ with two lesbian lovers. I haven’t heard Latter-day Saints up in arms against those sites. The temple ceremony has been published over and over the Internet with no action of the Church. Ironically, the ‘demonization’ that Muslims cry about this caricature is perpetuated by the images of people with arms against diplomatic embassies around the world. It is sad. Yes, Latter-day Saints have endured this and far worse (for example, all the problems and legal actions that the US Congress enacted againts plural marriage and specifically against the Church are analysed in this article)

    I agree with Erica (#7) in that there are many other ways to react than to take up arms. That only prolongues long held misconceptions and missunderstandings. I side with Voltaire � I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it�

  11. Michelle Jordan on February 3, 2006 at 4:11 am

    All the Danish dairy products have disappeared from the shelves here in the UAE. At Carrefour they have left the shelves empty, with signs saying “Danish Products,” either to explain why they are empty or to prove they are complying with the boycott.

    The cartoons are offensive, but there are plenty of Muslims who disagree with the boycott. As one Bahraini blogger wrote:

    “Ok, I object too. Now get over it, there is no reason to pull ambassadors, issue a declaration of condemnation after a declaration of condemnation, and tying up parliament’s precious time and demanding special sessions to condemn the whole country of Denmark for a silly affair like this. As if the standing of a great prophet like Mohammed (pbuh) would be diminished with those depictions, or that Islam is going to be looked down upon more than what it already suffers from.

    “But while we have found that illusive, comprehensive and unified voice, which is an earth shattering event, shall we not use it to denounce terror, terrorists and takfiris with as much gusto as this silly affair generated? How about using it to call for modern democracies in our countries?

    “I’m not holding my breath.”

  12. Tyler on February 3, 2006 at 8:19 am

    Once, while perusing the shelves at Barnes and Noble, I came upon a book by Larry Flint, publisher of Hustler magazine. Flint is well-known by both those who love and those who hate pornography as a purveyor of particularly hard porn–the cover of his magazine once showed a woman being pushed into a meat grinder. Anyway, from reading the book’s back cover I came away with the impression he had written this book to explain his views on everything from the “art” of pornography to the importance of his American “rights.” What surprised me, however, was that the book touted an endorsement from Molly Ivins–a nationally syndicated columnist–who praised Flint’s “perfect comprehension” of the principle of free speech.

    While I have not read the essay from which the Ivins quote comes, I can only assume her point is that the publication of shocking material proves the strength of democaracy and that Flint’s magazine is proof of robust American freedom (of the press, of free speech, etc.). One could use a similar argument here: the publication of these offensive materials proves that the Danish press is truly free and the actions of the French et al afterwards are simply a flexing of democratic muscle–a resounding proclamation that democracy thrives in the western world.

    I can’t help but think, however, that all this hulabaloo is actually a sign of democratic weakness. In a sense, the insistence (especially by major publications) upon publishing offensive, uninstructive, and useless material seems to me to indicate a sort of national insecurity. I would hope a stable democracy would rest assured that a major newspaper, if it so desired, could publish materials likely to offend, anger, and debase. I would likewise hope, however, that a mature democracy would decide not to publish the materials out of respect and decor. There is, after all, no mandate that we must publish everything we can publish. Indeed, inherent in the rights of democracy is the responsibility to police ourselves.

    OK, I’ll get off the soap-box now.

  13. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 8:38 am

    Thank you all for the thoughtfulness of the comments thus far. I read in all the need for wisdom and restraint. Comparisons with the way Mormonism has been pictured are certainly helpful to better understand feelings and reactions. At the same time each approach must be viewed within its own broader social and historical context. Like D-Train said (9): “In this case, though, one has to recognize that this isn’t just a spiritual issue, but a profound political statement that confirms a lot of the worst images of the West in the Middle East”.

    Indeed, historically we may say that we survived the inflammatory anti-Mormon press of the 19th century, but what price did Joseph Smith and the Saints pay?

    Tim (4) drew the attention to an important aspect: “See, the true problem is not the law that protects the disrespectful comic, it’s the demand for this insulting behavior in the first place. Does this provoke conversation? No? Does it encourage understanding, charity, peace, love, etc? Absolutely not. This is something that I would shun, but never argue in favor of legally prohibiting.”

    Tyler (12) just confirmed this in his very thoughtful comment, with the conclusion: “Inherent in the rights of democracy is the responsibility to police ourselves.”

    Indeed, it seems that a vital question is why people would want to provoke and hurt deliberately in the name of free speech. It’s not innocent. Moreover my comparison with Mormonism is not only with the situation in the U.S., where deriding does not hurt us as such any more. I’m thinking of the effect of similar derision of Mormons in regions where feelings against “cults” such as Mormonism are already tense and where it is easy to turn people even more against us.

  14. queuno on February 3, 2006 at 9:01 am

    Let me modify the famous phrase.

    “I disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it, but I guarantee you NO continuance of employment or social standing.”

  15. Erica Merrell on February 3, 2006 at 9:26 am

    You know, I’d be far less concerned about a negative and insulting political cartoon about Mormons appearing in a newspaper in Central Asia or Eastern Europe than an article filled with misinformation about Mormons (part of the reason the Church has not been recognized in Kyrgyzstan is because of the cult perception in some other former Soviet republics). I am a lot more concerned about bad reporters than spiteful reporters.

    I think that many people from Kyrgyzstan to the US see derision for what it is- deliberately trying to hurt someone (which is why I am so concerned about some Muslims’ response). Misinformation that seems to be making an attempt to be fair and accurate is more dangerous in my mind.

  16. john fowles on February 3, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Wilfried, you seem to be implying that if “we” get angry with Temple Square protesters then that is somehow an affront of their free speech. But in truth, free speech means that we are just as free to get angry with the protesters and voice that anger right to their faces as they have to vilify that which is sacred to us. In other words, Latter-day Saint anger at the indiscretions and cruelty of Temple Square protesters doesn’t run afoul of free speech. In Muslim countries, however, there isn’t free speech to begin with and the newspapers there wouldn’t be “free” to publish disrespectful cartoons of Mohammed. And the problem is that Muslims are militating for the abolition of this freedom in the Western world; and when they advocate a worldwide imposition of Sharia, they mean it. That, in turn, would very much mean the end of our freedoms (see Taliban).

  17. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 10:43 am

    Thank you for your comment, John. No, I did not want to suggest that to get angry with Temple Square protesters is an affront of their free speech. I only wanted to make us think about reactions that can be different according to our own position and degree of involvement. While some may find it outrageous that Muslims dare to undermine free speech, perhaps some in our own ranks are tempted to do the same if severely provoked.

    But there are circumstances where it is not that simple. Think of the Mormon couple, just married, standing with family in front of the temple for pictures, and then being confronted with obscene insults from protesters. Then your standpoint “free speech means that we are just as free to get angry with the protesters and voice that anger right to their faces as they have to vilify that which is sacred to us” is certainly correct, but does the couple and the family want that, ruining that special day? So, as many comments have shown, the main point is not about free speech, but about the wisdom and respect not to provoke unnecessarily.

  18. john fowles on February 3, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Well, we know that the European press does not possess that characteristic.

  19. Sue on February 3, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Didn’t Joseph Smith destroy a printing press when it printed negative and controversial things about him?

  20. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 11:00 am

    Thank you, Erica for your helpful comments from your part of the world (7 & 15). You’re right to make a difference between cartoon derision that should be interpreted as such, and misinformation that seems to be accurate and which could be much more harmful. The problem may be that the public at large is not always able to see the difference and that even “innocent” cartoons may convey a forceful message, reinforcing the negative that has entered people’s mind from various sides.

    We can only hope that the present storm will bring more Muslims to speak out on the issue in terms of tolerance, as Michelle Jordan (11) noted in the words of the Bahraini blogger. Thank you, Michelle, for that contribution!

  21. mark smith on February 3, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Didn’t Joseph Smith destroy a printing press when it printed negative and controversial things about him?

    Yes he did, and in my opinion he was wrong.

  22. mark smith on February 3, 2006 at 11:07 am

    One thing to realize is that these cartoons in the Danish newspaper are tame by Arab standards. It really is just political posturing more than anything else.

  23. Lisa F. on February 3, 2006 at 11:14 am

    When I try to imagine how I would feel about the cartoons if I were Muslim, I think of the current controversy over picketing funerals. The Reverend Fred Phelps and his congregation (which, as far as I can tell is his immediate family and some in-laws) have been picketing funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, using these sacred times as a platform for his position against homosexuality. I am horrified every time I read about another funeral that is exploited by this group. I am sure that those who reverence the prophet Muhammad feel very much the same way each time the cartoons are published.

    A group of citizens in Alabama, called the Patriot Guard Riders, used a human fence to prevent Phelps from disturbing a funeral there in January (how does one create links?).

    I would not mind seeing Rev. Phelps arrested…but I still believe that he has a right to speak. Wisconsin has a new bill that would expand the radius for public demonstrations around its funeral homes. It will be interesting to see what happens with the international case, whose effects and casualties could be HUGE, and with our own free speech issues here at home.

  24. john f. on February 3, 2006 at 11:23 am

    Lisa, a better comparison would be the South Park cartoon about Joseph Smith. I would guess you didn’t care much about it.

  25. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 3, 2006 at 11:32 am

    I think the discussion of whether or not things like this cartoon should be published aren’t a matter of legislation, but are a matter of manners and respectful courtesy. We would hope that others would be respectful of other religions, but there is no fair or just way to legislate common courtesy.
    The main, and most worrisome difference to me is the idea of getting upset. To us, getting upset about a political cartoon means letters to the editor, and loud griping to our friends and family. Getting upset about a protest at Temple square means letters to the editor, enforcement of private property rules, and maybe some hot head getting really mad and punching someone(who is later charged with assault). To the world of Islam, getting upset about a politcal cartoon means _______.
    Common courtesy says that the newspaper shouldn’t have published it. Common sense says that no matter how offensive it was there *is* such a thing as over reacting.

  26. Steve L on February 3, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Doesn’t anybody else think it’s a little silly to chide the people of Egypt, the West Bank and Syria (who have little experience with liberal institutions) on the nuances of freedom of the press. I’m surprised that so few here have reacted with any sympathy. The problem here isn’t whether the Muslims are right or wrong, but what it’s like to be part of religious group that sees persecution everywhere. Can’t we understand why a half-educated Muslim man living in the middle east firmly believes the West is against Islam? Especially as Mormons, I’m apalled that Westerners have so little sympathy for the Muslim position. Mark, it’s very easy for you to say that Joseph Smith was wrong, but didn’t he lose his life for it? You live in a world where neither you nor any Mormon you know is in any real danger for his/her religion. For Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan matters of religion and culture ARE matters of life and death. And for a Muslim in much of western Europe matters of religion become matters of social status and civil liberties. How sophisticated is the West, really, when we have more respect for a liberal press than the most basic religious expressions of one who believes differently (e.g. head scarves)?

    So tell me this, who has the deeper moral problem: the French bureaucrat who busies his head with ways to further marginalize the immigrant Muslim community of his own country or the starving Muslim youth who takes to the street in a violent riot?

  27. Ivan Wolfe on February 3, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Yes – but how many armed Mormon gunmen have threatened to kill publishers of anti-Mormon lit?

    Also, the Muslim world is hardly innocent.

    I’m not seeing the parallels, because the LDS reaction would be nothing like what Muslims have done.

  28. Steve L on February 3, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Good point Ivan. When the LDS were boxed in, our leaders never threatened violence against our persecutors. Good point.

  29. Ivan Wolfe on February 3, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Steve L –

    ah yes. Because I was talking about the 19th century and not the 21st.

  30. Ivan Wolfe on February 3, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Hugh Hewitt has some good comments on this:

    They sought a cheap reaction, and getting it, are alarmed that anyone could be judgmental of their efforts. . .
    Of course the thugs who threaten violence against the idiots are evil, and the reaction across radical Islam is every bit as chilling and outrageous as the 1989 fatwa against Rushdie . . . The cartoons were in bad taste, an unnecessary affront to many of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world . . . Of course each of them had the absolute right to publish their screed, and the Dutch (and now Norwegian) governments must reply to demands that these papers be punished with a steely refusal to be dictated to as to their culture of free expression and the protection of the vulgar and the stupid.

    But don’t cheer the vulgar and the stupid.

  31. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    I’m paraphrasing, and I’m not sure who said it — Chesterton, maybe — but I’ve always liked it:

    “To have a right to do a thing, and to be right in doing it, are two very different matters.”

    I think the sign of a “mature” society is a concern for doing what’s right, over and above a concern for displaying an array of rights.

    I would have admired the European newspapers much more had they said, “We affirm our right to print this material — we proclaim without hesitation our belief in the right to free speech — but out of respect for our Muslim citizens and our Muslim neighbors, we decline to print it.”

    Also, I would note that revealing the temple ceremony on the Internet, or mocking Joseph Smith in a political cartoon, or hanging temple garments from a pole on temple square — these are not quite on par with the anti-Muslim cartoons in question, with regard to the level of offense they convey.

    First, the desecration of the temple ceremony on the Internet has been executed by explicitly anti-Mormon (and relatively obscure) websites — it is, in short, to be expected, and it is not mainstream, and thus the offense is substantially mitigated. Most Mormons are completely unaware the offense even exists.

    Second, the 19th c cartoons mocking Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (and others), while printed in mainstream and national media forums, were not the same as the current anti-Muslim cartoons — because we do not revere Joseph Smith and/or Brigham Young in the same way that Muslims revere Mohammed. We do not see Smith and/or Young as infallible, as “Holy” and not-to-be-portrayed-in-graven-image. Sure, the anti-Mormon images were offensive; but for Muslims, it is sacriligious simply to make any image of Mohammed, or of Allah — let alone to make the image in mockery or disrespect. The anti-Muslim images are far more transgressive than the anti-Mormon ones.

    Third, the hanging of temple garments from a pole on temple square, while highly offensive, is — again — a lesser offense on two counts: 1) it is being performed by a small group of (fanatical) anti-Mormons, and not by mainstream or national media forums; and 2) it is intensely localized — Mormons outside of Utah, indeed even outside of Salt Lake, do not feel much of the offense, or even know about it.

    I think as Mormons who have endured persecutions, we ought to be more sensitive to what is taking place here. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the offense (“been there, done that”) or to expect the Muslim community to simply get over it because “Mormons did.” The fact is, we didn’t get over it. We tried to fight back at times (we destroyed presses, we had a militia), but in the end we were too small, so our only recourse was to run away to Mexico — which itself is not the same as “getting over it.”

    The Muslim community is not small. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Compare that to our measly 12 million. They do not have to run away, like we did.

    Imagine this scenario: An entire hemisphere is dominated by Mormon beliefs and Mormon culture. We are not a minority — we are a solid, dominating majority, the demographics of Utah having been spread over continents. And we see the “Other” parts of the world as wicked — as “Gentile” — and we are actively engaged in guarding our community against the influences of those wicked nations. Then, spreading throughout those nations, via mainstream and national media forums, are cartoons that portray the Messiah of the world in mocking fashion, and that portray other persons of Mormon reverence in mockery.

    Do we really think that we would not react by strengthening our efforts at shutting off the infiltration of that wicked part of the world into our community? We already have a HUGE reputation for being an isolationist, clannish community….

    Let’s be a little more empathetic to what’s going on here. I’m not saying the Muslim community is without fault, or that it does nothing to contribute to these tensions. I just get the feeling that the responses on this thread are less forgiving and understanding than they could be toward our Muslim siblings. I’m a FIRM believer in liberties and rights, but I’m uncomfortable defending deeply offensive behavior and condemning deeply religious devotion.

  32. quandmeme on February 3, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    #25, Don’t overstate Muslim’s being persecuted. Half of the reaction comes from powerful states, not weak immigrants. In the social sciences they say the difference between prejudice and racism is power; racism is prejudice + power. What I’m getting at is the European media’s expression was critical (?) opinon without power. When the reaction is with state power it is a disproportionate response. Like answering prejudice with racism.

    Setting aside the irony of answering a play on violence in the Islamic world with death threats (“huh, you see, you’re dead, punk, see how wrong you are about Muslim violence! We showed you.�) Even state acts such as national boycotts of Danish dairy products or recalling ambassadors indicates that some Muslims equate a private expression/action with a state-level wrong. This is a different issue than a temple-square protester, the protester/desecrator who was attacked, was assaulted as an individual.

    Despite my comment about the turban with a fuse picture, I do recognize the more fundamental offense to Muslims is that images of the Prophet are forbidden. As I understand it, this is not a Quranic rule, but a cultural extrapolation. A better comparison than garments (which might be seen semi-publicly in locker room) might be to a cartoon depicted temple goers participating in ordinances. Isn’t it a question of faith; that we believe the part about “vengeance is mine.�

  33. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you all for the many nuances brought to the discussion. Like Jason (31) explained so well, much depends on contexts. Taking into account different times, backgrounds and scenarios, we should be able to assess reactions in various ways, without giving up principles.

  34. mark smith on February 3, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Steve (#25) I’m not chiding them for being upset and for demonstrating. I’m not chiding them for boycotts, in fact I think these are a good sign of growing freedom in the middle east. I am condemning the segments of the Moslem world that has reacted with violence and with threats of violence. I feel some sympathy with the inhabitants of the Middle East. They seem to have an inexhaustible store of corrupt and oppressive governments. It however remains important to stand and oppose such blatant attacks on free speech. Understanding them is great. Defending free speech however is a must.

    Attributing Joseph Smith’s death to the destruction of the printing press is a gross over simplification. It was merely the spark the lit the fire. Joseph Smith didn’t deserve to die for destroying the press, but he was still wrong.

  35. Lawrence on February 3, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    Great insight and comments in response to Br. Decoo’s thoughtful post. We should remember our own position and the humiliation and hurt caused by McConkie’s depiction of the Catholic Church as great and abominable in the first edition of “Mormon Doctrine”. Even though unauthorized, many church members took it to be the official position of the church and many Catholics have never forgotten the slight.

    Divisions still run deep for many reasons–some real, some perceived. See the SLC Tribune peice by Peggy Fletcher Stack on January 21st. It’s amusing in a twisted way that we send our sons and daughters on missions while doing sometimes irreparable damage to our own proselytizing efforts close to home. This seems to be more the case along the Wasatch Front where all commerce and governments (state and local) are so Mormon rather than in other areas of the west where the church is not as numerous or pervasive. Im my community, I am not aware of such divisions. Most of us respect the other faiths, as we should, and enjoy their goodwill to us as well.

  36. Jim F. on February 3, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    Isn’t the problem a conflict of world-views: one views freedom of the press as inviolable; the other views religious belief as inviolable. When I see the world as X and another sees it as not-X, how do we have a meaningful discussion between the two? I don’t think it is impossible, but it isn’t easy.

    It certainly isn’t merely a matter of saying to Muslims, in essence, “Get over it.” That assumes that they already have taken our view on the issue and are now acting in contradiction to that view. Some Muslims, such as the blogger in Bahrain, have done that. They have taken up our world-view and, so, can agree with us. But the real question is how do we convince those who do not already have our world-view (it seemss the majority) that it is, in fact, better than theirs and that it does not require them to give up their religion?

  37. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Mark (34): Perhaps the “straw that broke the camel’s back” is a better metaphor than the “spark that lit the fire”…? The latter suggests that the destruction of the press started the troubles that led to Joseph’s murder, when really, as I understand it, it was an act that topped off an accumulation of troubles. No?

    Don’t mean to quibble…and I agree, it was a lapse in judgment on the part of the Saints.

    Regarding free speech: The mentality seems to be that free speech must be defended, whether the speech in question was right or wrong, offensive or benign — and that the defense of free speech in principle requires an adamant support for the particular speech in question. I don’t buy this. As I said above, we can assert our right to free speech, and defend the principle, while condemning the particular act as wrongheaded and regrettable — even reprehensible.

    Another favorite quotation of mine, somewhat relatable to this question of defending “wrong speech” in the name of “free speech”:

    “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is something no true patriotic would ever say. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.'”

    Free speech is part of my country — and I believe in the principle. But wrong speech need not be defended by those who believe in free speech, anymore than my mother’s drunkenness need be defended by those who believe in her right to drink.

  38. Dan Jones on February 3, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve never posted here, but I was thinking about this issue the other day, and trying to consider how I would feel if I were put in a similar situation. First I thought, how would I react if someone made a satirical cartoon about Pres. Hinckley, Joseph Smith, or Jesus Christ, even? I decided I might be annoyed (depending on the depiction), but I wouldn’t demand it be removed.
    However, to many Muslims, this is more than simply making fun of their prophet. Many Muslims consider it blasphemy to create images of Muhammad. So, I thought then, how would I feel if someone printed the endowment script (Yes, I know this has been done, I’ve seen it), perhaps out of context, in a satirical manner. I would be way more than irked, and I think I would protest this printing, and try and get it removed. If one considers the issue like that, it becomes another matter entirely.

  39. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Welcome to Times & Seasons, Dan Jones! We appreciate your input and your thoughts.

  40. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Jim (36):
    I think it is less a question of X vs. not-X than a question of XY vs. YX, where in one culture religious devotion and integrity (i.e. preserving the sacred) come before free speech, while in the other free speech (i.e. “liberty”) comes before religious devotion and integrity. I think seeing it this way, rather than as X vs. not-X, might make it easier to find a way to communicate.

    Also, you say: But the real question is how do we convince those who do not already have our world-view (it seems the majority) that it is, in fact, better than theirs and that it does not require them to give up their religion?

    First, I think, the question is whether or not our view really is the better view. We begin with the assumption that it is — but isn’t that primarily because it is ours?

    Second, I don’t think any Muslim is under the impression that allowing sacriligious speech requires him or her to “give up their religion.” I don’t think they’re objecting because these cartoons threaten their ability to be Muslims, or to believe in Islam. I think they object out of the impulse to protect that which is sacred as sacred (i.e. set apart, out of or beyond the taint of the world). We would have the same impulse if it was Christ being mocked in a cartoon. And the Church’s/Mormon community’s influence in preventing certain TV shows from airing in Utah is evidence of a similar “boycott” that Mormons have enacted, in order to guard against the profane (i.e. pro fanum).

    The trouble is that we adhere to a belief in free speech, but “free speech” entails a certain desacralizing impulse. If speech is truly free, then no subject is safe from the reach of that free speech; in effect, nothing is sacred.

    And this brings us back to the first question — is our view (privileging free speech over religious devotion, or preserving the sacred) really superior to theirs (privileging the preservation of sacralization over free speech)?

  41. not ophelia on February 3, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    A [stupid I suppose] question: can a non-believer commit blasphemy? And if so, wouldn’t our non-belief in Mohammed’s status in itself be considered blasphemy?

    N.O.

  42. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Ophelia (41),
    I do not think that mere unbelief constitutes blasphemy. We would not call those who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah “blasphemers” — and indeed, the use of the term in the OT & NT would not support this application. Blasphemy is an act of profanity against God — an act of desacralization.

    And if that is what blasphemy is, then it seems possible (in my view) for a nonbeliever to commit blasphemy, even if only in the eyes of the believer.

    Worthy of note: Another definition of blasphemy says that the claiming of God’s attributes, or the rights of God, for oneself is blasphemous. In this case, one could make a fairly strong case that Mormonism as a theology is built upon a kind of blasphemy.

  43. not ophelia on February 3, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    [blockquote]Blasphemy is an act of profanity against God — an act of desacralization.[/blockquote]

    Well, my understanding is that it’s forbidden for Muslim’s to depict Mohammed [em]or[/em] God. Christians depict God all the time; are we then blaspheming in their eyes? We would seem to fall under this condemnation should we depict Mohammed.

    N.O.

  44. Mathew on February 3, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Jason Steed #40,

    In a pluralistic society, the answer to your last question is “yes.” Free speech is the lubricant that guarantees liberal democracies remain liberal democracies. The abuses of free speech can never compete with the abuses of religious devotion because free speech, by definition, allows me to counter in some public form that with which I disagree. It gives voice to not only the powerful, but the weak and down trodden. Take free speech away and you are halfway to removing accountability and have opened the door to the worst kind of misbehavior. The mark of a mature society IS that it tolerates dissent–and if religious devotion requires that dissent be stifled, then religious devotion must give way for the greater good.

  45. mark smith on February 3, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Here is what is wrong with this whole thing. This demonstration is in London. If mormons en masse start demonstrating calling for the deaths of those who defame mormonism, basically holding up signs like this. It is going really challenge my testimony.

  46. Lisa F. on February 3, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    john f. (#24) —
    A cartoon isn’t a good comparison for me because it doesn’t offend me. I think we are too used to them, and they don’t carry the same weight because we feel free to depict God and the prophets (as mentioned in #43). But there are some consequences of free speech that I sometimes wish I could control or banish, and that is what I have to think of if I want to understand the Muslim point of view in this case. The example of picketing funerals of fallen soldiers still works for me.

  47. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Matthew (44):
    Dissent and desacralization are not the same thing, though they may overlap at times. You can speak out against something without necessarily desacralizing it, and vice versa.

    For example, there’s a joke that says the Prophet (Pres Hinckley), the Pope, and a Jewish rabbi are in a boat offshore. The Prophet gets out and walks across the water to shore; the Pope follows; but when the rabbi tries, he sinks and drowns. The Pope turns to the Prophet and says, “Think we should have told him about the rocks?” And the Prophet turns and says, “What rocks?”

    Now, one might argue that this joke is anti-Semitic in attitude, and perhaps even anti-Catholic — and certainly it desacralizes religious leaders in general, including the Prophet, and it might even desacralize the NT episode of Jesus walking on water. But one would be hardpressed to argue that the joke somehow “speaks out against” Judaism, or Christianity, or religion. Even the anti-Semitic bent of the joke — the objectionable element for which the strongest argument can be made — doesn’t really qualify as “speaking out against” Jews. Does it?

    And even the desacralizing nature of the joke is a matter of degree — it is more desacralizing than other speech acts, and less desacralizing than others.

    By contrast, a T-shirt that says “F*** Bush” across the front of it does not desacralize in any way — neither Bush nor the office of the presidency is “sacred” — but it certainly does “speak out against” Bush-as-president. And again, as an act of dissent it is more dissentious than some, less than others.

    The question (as always) is where to draw the line. I agree that free speech — particularly the right to dissent — must be jealously guarded. But this stance does not necessarily necessitate the jealous protection of the right to desacralize, or vice versa. Which of the two speech acts are you more likely to want to disallow, the joke or the T-shirt?

    For the sake of argument, I would suggest that we ought to be more ready to ban the joke, for its lightminded, desacralizing treatment of religious matters, than the T-shirt for its vigorous two-word political dissent. Yet somehow I suspect that most Mormons would, at least on first impulse, be more ready to do the opposite.

    Mark (45):
    We must take into account that much of what is going on in those signs is cultural rhetoric — a kind of sabre rattling. I’m not dismissing the seriousness of these declarations — and the actions of a very small faction of zealots have, unfortunately, caused the world to take these words much more literally than they might otherwise be taken. But we still must realize that speech acts perform different functions and carry different meanings within different communities. It is a cultural norm for Muslims to respond to acts of blasphemy with these sorts of declarations.

    Remember, on a much milder scale we have our own cultural rhetoric of death threats — when someone does something we don’t like, we say “I’m gonna kill him!”

    Please don’t mistake me for equating the two. I know they’re not the same. But it’s worth looking at the similarities. Occasionally, someone — the very small minority — will actually kill somebody after declaring “I’m gonna kill him!” — and in the courtroom that declaration will be used against the killer in proving his/her guilt. But we don’t extrapolate that guilt onto the general population whenever it uses the phrase “I’m gonna kill him!” in times of anger or outrage. And likewise, we shouldn’t suppose that Muslims are a murderous population just because culturally they make certain declarations, and a very small minority at times actually carries out the threat.

    I would propose that the objectionable nature of these signs is exacerbated to a substantial degree by the differences between the cultural rhetorics of those who make the signs and those who read them.

    Mormons wouldn’t make signs like these, because it isn’t part of our culture. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t called for “death to infidels” from time to time in our history.

  48. Mathew on February 3, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    Actually Mark (#45), this is what is right with the whole thing. The whole sticks and stones things you know. Demonstrating en masse is a perfectly valid exercise of free speech in most cases. To be sure some speech is (properly) forbidden, incitements provoking immediate violence under American law for instance. But based on the picture I see, there is no problem with people letting their outrage be known. In addition, you should probably consider the source of the photos and the reason they were posted–Malkin wrote “In Defense of Interrment,” a notoriously poorly researched book riddled with errors defending the interment of Japanese Americans during WWII and arguing for its wide use today.

    Muslims have every right to protest what they see as an act of outrageous blasphemy and doing so within certain parameters is a good thing. Maybe it eases tensions and assures them that they are being heard. It lets them know that they have the same rights (and duties) as every other citizen in England. And it allows them to take part in the great enterprise we call liberal democracy in the same manner that millions of others have used in the past to protest what they considered a wrong. What is not permissible is to wantonly destroy property, follow up on threats to kidnap and kill citizens of Western countries in retaliation or to engage in other criminal activities.

    What would be really appalling is a government that rounded people up and threw them in jail because a majority of the population didn’t like the ideas behind the message. At least equally appalling is a religion that uses state power to enforce adherence to its tenants.

  49. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    I agree with much of what you’re saying here, Matthew (48). Well put.

  50. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 3, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Maybe a different question is, what could someone say to you that would make you want them dead as punishment? Not just punished, but killed gruesomely. The only thing I can think of is if what is said is an order to kill or rape an innocent person, and the person saying it has authority to make it happen.
    I just can’t get emotional enough about blasphemy to prescribe death, and people who do come off as hot heads.

  51. Mathew on February 3, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Jason Steed (47):,

    I appreciate the point you make about the differences between dissent and desacralization and it adds another wrinkle to the equation, but I don’t see it as reason enough to chance the substance of my point. The abuses of free speech can never compete with the abuses of religious devotion even if the speech act desacralizes the most sacred aspects of a group’s religious beliefs. The question is not whether we would rather permit a joke about the prophet or a slogan against Bush, but whether we would rather allow a joke about the prophet or throw people in jail for making a joke about the prophet. That isn’t an exagerration–either you have the right to do it or you don’t–and if you don’t then the state may bring its full force against the individual who transgresses the boundary.

    The sensible middle ground is that anyone can say pretty much whatever we want and those who don’t like it can pound sand–or stage a protest with inflamatory signs of their own. The net result is that almost everyone moderates their speech somewhat depending on their audience and we find ourselves in offices across the nation working cheek and jowel with Jews, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists with nary a melee to be found.

    And let’s face it, it’s pretty much a sign of capitulation to restrict speech to protect Muslim sensibilities in the face of threats of suicide bombers when we won’t do the same for Christians who merely invoke God’s wrath.

  52. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Andermom (50),
    This isn’t a matter of Muslims “wanting” someone dead because they said something so personally offensive that they just want to kill the blasphemer. It is not a matter of avenging the offended feelings of the Muslim.

    Your question assumes that this is the case — that a Muslim, or a group of Muslims, is so personally offended or hurt by these cartoons that they want to behead somebody. This makes no sense to us, of course, from our cultural point of view. As you say, “What could someone say that would make you want them dead?”

    What must be understood here is that it is the sacredness of Allah and/or Mohammed that is being protected — not the personal feelings of Muslims. They aren’t crying for death because they’re offended; they’re crying for death because their God and their Prophet have been blasphemed (desacralized).

    And, frankly, according to some interpretations of Islamic law, death is prescribed for the blasphemer — as it was in Judaic law for some time (see the NT).

    Think about it this way: Here in America, we prescribe the death penalty for certain actions, such as certain murders. One way of interpreting this would be to say that we view life as sacred, and to murder someone is to desacralize life, and the punishment for such desacralization of what we hold sacred is death. And, in fact, in some cases, we do have people forming picket lines to cry out for the execution of a particular criminal, because they are so outraged by his/her behavior.

    In like manner, Muslims hold Allah and Mohammed sacred — including their images — and the desacralization of Allah and/or Mohammed is punishable, according to some Muslims, by death. And some Muslims are so outraged by this behavior that they cry out for death to the “criminals.”

    It’s not a question of their personal feelings being hurt, or of them “getting emotional” over some cartoons. To frame it that way is somewhat condescending. (I’m not saying this to criticize your comments, but only to point out how we can be somewhat ethnocentric in our approach to this issue.)

  53. Jason Steed on February 3, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    Matthew (51),
    It hasn’t been my intention to argue in favor of curtailing free speech. I’m a believer in it. But as I said previously, it is always a question of where to draw the line. We don’t actually have true free speech here in America — and, in fact, in comparison with some European countries, our speech is more limited than we tend to think it is. (Think of how much more restrictive our obscenity laws are, for example — for illustration you can watch several episodes of both the American and the British versions of “The Office.” We can’t say what the Brits can say on TV.)

    I agree wholeheartedly that free speech is essential, and should be protected. But we are always in the business of line-drawing. My point was only that, in drawing lines, our own religious sensibilities perhaps ought to lead us to be more restrictive of desacralizing speech than of secularly dissentious speech, or even of obscenity (e.g., cusswords, etc.). Yet, interestingly, we are much more quick to restrict obscenity than we are to restrict desacralization.

    And Mormons have overwhelmingly supported President Bush, who has been severely restrictive towards secularly dissentious speech.

    I’m not advocating the restriction of free speech; I’m just saying that, in our line drawing, I think we’ve got things a bit backwards.

  54. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    Let me just say how much I am enjoying this very informative and very civil discussion. No need to steer. Merci beaucoup, all.

  55. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    Oh, and Jason, I just saw your last comment (53). Hmm, you do raise an interesting point: “We don’t actually have true free speech here in America — and, in fact, in comparison with some European countries, our speech is more limited than we tend to think it is.”

    Indeed, viewed from that angle, most European countries have more “free speech” than the U.S. “Cultural” differences play an inescapable role in what we deem acceptable, shocking, intolerable, or “to be forbidden by all means”…

  56. not ophelia on February 3, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    #52

    What must be understood here is that it is the sacredness of Allah and/or Mohammed that is being protected — not the personal feelings of Muslims. They aren’t crying for death because they’re offended; they’re crying for death because their God and their Prophet have been blasphemed (desacralized).

    And, frankly, according to some interpretations of Islamic law, death is prescribed for the blasphemer — as it was in Judaic law for some time (see the NT).

    I understood that depictions of Mohammed are forbidden to prevent idolatry [e.g. the Catholic Church and its saints] But since there are no equally vehement denunciations of Christians depicting God, I wonder if there’s something else entirely going on — a rage against the west, the war, powerlessness, the wounded pride of the lost Islamic Golden Age.

    Also, to an outsider and liberal Western tradition type, the whole reaction of desecration/blasphemy/ etc. does strike me a bit as Mohammed worship. [We’ve been accused of worshipping Joseph Smith for a lot less than that.] Perhaps it is as you say a cultural bias, but I can’t help but wonder what Mohammed would think of the whole thing.

    N.O.

  57. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 3, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Jason (52) “What must be understood here is that it is the sacredness of Allah and/or Mohammed that is being protected — not the personal feelings of Muslims. They aren’t crying for death because they’re offended; they’re crying for death because their God and their Prophet have been blasphemed (desacralized).”

    I would argue that the sacredness of Allah and/pr Mohammed is part of the personal feelings of Muslims, and that they are personally offended because their God and Prophet have been blasphemed. Maybe I am horribly ethnocentric (it wouldn’t suprise me and no offense taken from your comment) but I just can’t see how blaspheming the Prophet could warrant calls for death unless it was personally offensive to those who believe in the Prophet Mohammed.

  58. Jack on February 3, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments on this thread, so I hope I’m not being redundant.

    I think the west is somewhat hypocritical in their brave defense of free speech. If that cartoon had depicted racial degradation (rather than religious), the same westerners would be outraged, demanding apologies.

  59. Mark B. on February 3, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Just a note regarding the outrage in the Muslim world: I heard a report on CNN earlier today from “the most populous Muslim nation in the world–Indonesia.” Then the reporter described a demonstration of about 200 people in front of the Danish embassy.

    Well, 200 out of 200,000,000–that’s a pretty small slice of the populace to be outraged.

  60. Wilfried on February 3, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    Excellent remark, Mark B. (53) Pictures in the media, often well-chosen, would make us believe that the whole Muslim world is in turmoil. It’s not always innocent, that kind of manipulation. In fact, as you note, those outraged reactions come from a tiny fraction of the more than one billion Muslims. But then again, the same can be said of those cartoons: they give the impression to represent the whole of Islam and manipulate our perception. Compare: we Mormons living abroad know what it means to be constantly identified in the media with a small fundamentalist, polygamist group in Southern Utah. It is not only unpleasant, but it has sometimes dramatic consequences. Generalization and stigmatization in the name of free speech. And our PR is unable to change it.

  61. Ivan Wolfe on February 3, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    Instapundit has this to say:

    Reader John Friedman emails: “I’m sorry. Did I miss the State Dept. analysis of ‘Piss Christ?’ Perhaps you could link to it.”

    I’m sorry, but the lesson here is that if you want to be listened to, you should blow things up. That’s a very bad incentive structure, but it’s the one the allegedly responsible parties have created.

  62. Ivan Wolfe on February 3, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    And Power Line:

    The striking thing about the Mohammed cartoons is how mild they are. Most of them are innocuous; probably the most incendiary is one that shows Mohammed’s turban as a bomb:

    Which is not exactly complimentary, but hardly unfair, given the thousands of people who have been blown up by fervent Muslims purporting to act in Mohammed’s name.

    The State Department says that publishing cartoons like this one, and even tamer ones, constitutes “inciting religious or ethnic hatreds.” Why? These cartoons are very mild commentary by any standard. Compare them, for example, to the vile, anti-Semitic cartoons that appear frequently in the Arab press. The cartoons are said to be offensive because Muslims don’t believe in depicting the prophet, even in complimentary ways. I can understand that. Likewise, we Christians don’t believe in submerging crufixes in urine, and calling them art. So the Muslims can adhere to their prohibition; but if someone else chooses to draw a picture of the prophet–or, say, eat bacon–it should not be an occasion for threats of genocide.

  63. Keryn on February 3, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    Jack (#58), I feel that many media outlets are being hypocritical in their concern for Muslim sensibilities. The same media outlets that routinely lampoon and mock Christianity–even the cruxifiction–claim to “be sensitive” to Muslim feelings by not showing the cartoons. I think that is what bothers me the most about the situation.

    And Michelle Jordan (#11), are you married to a certain BYU geology graduate? Hi! Hope you are well in the UAE!

  64. Mathew on February 3, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    Jason (#53),

    In each of my posts to you I have been responding to your question in #40: whether privileging free speech over religious devotion is superior to privileging the preservation of sacralization over free speech.

    You make some good points but I ultimately find the claim that we are merely engaging in line drawing unsatisfactory. This discussion is about much more than speech and line drawing, it is about whether treasured principles of liberal societies must yield to sacred absolutes. Comparing it to a discussion about network profanity is a red herring. At a basic level the citizenry understand this–and so appropriately the decision won’t be quietly made in the halls of Congress or from the bench. Rather passionate protests are found on the streets and in response newspapers reprint cartoons knowing full well it will endanger their properties–a perfectly natural thing to do when your very existence is threatened.

    There is, lurking somewhere in the background of this thread, a much bigger discussion about whether Muslim’s will be allowed, by their own or others, to assimilate into the modern world and liberal democracies in particular. In order for them to do so, the countries they live in will have to accomodate them at a certain level. When that process is further underway the discussion will be one of line drawing and papers won’t even want to print cartoons of Mohammad, but I don’t think that’s what is going on now.

  65. Ivan Wolfe on February 3, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I should add:

    OF the three outside comments I posted links too, I agree the most with Hugh Hewitt’s. I posted the links not because I totally agree with them (though I agree with parts of all of them) but just to add in a few outside voices.

  66. Guy Murray on February 3, 2006 at 9:42 pm
  67. Michelle Jordan on February 3, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Hi Keryn! (#63) Nice to “see” you!

    Another Muslim blogger who has some interesting things to say on the issue is this Saudi living in the UK: http://muttawa.blogspot.com/

    He writes:

    “Saudi newspapers may occasionally show little acts of independence, but when it comes to the big things, like sacking editors, or targetting other countries, the government is still very much in control. And the government ordered a diversion. So for “We are angry at Danish cartoons” read “Don’t talk about the Hajj stampede”.”

  68. Mathew on February 4, 2006 at 1:13 am

    Guy,

    See #45 and then #48.

  69. Wilfried on February 4, 2006 at 8:13 am

    Guy (66), I agree those pictures are scary, and they are being reinforced by our fear for terrorism. But disturbing is the one-sidedness and therefore manipulation of the information by Michelle Malkin, intended to demonize Islam and have viewers quickly generalize to emotional conclusions. Even hundreds of demonstrators, using the harshest rhetoric, do not represent the hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims. Honesty requires that especially in this debate the voices of wise and peaceful Muslims are also brought to our attention, as some of our commenters have done. It seems some media, and in particular from known hardliners such as Malkin, want to feed extremism instead of helping us and them to defuse it.

    Though I realize comparisons are often flawed and reality is complex, I have tried in this thread to make comparisons with Mormonism and the way it is perceived and treated. We have our enemies who for decades have tried to demonize Mormons by focusing on the extreme, the Godmakers, the Lebaron’s, the Lafferty’s, polygamy… to picture Mormonism in the most biased way as a dangerous religion. But how refreshing and appeasing it then becomes for all parties involved when an evangelical like Ravi Zacharias comes to us with apologies and an extended hand.

    The core issue of this thread is to help find the delicate balance between free speech and respect for religion. Thoughts that can help us achieve that goal is what we are after. Only showing how provocative some Muslims are is not helpful.

  70. danithew on February 4, 2006 at 10:07 am

    I have been too constrained by the daily grind to really respond much to this post and thread, as I would have liked to do. Even now I don’t really have the time. I’ll try and come back later. I just don’t want Wilfried to think I’m ignoring his question he asked me way back in comment #3.

  71. Guy Murray on February 4, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Wilfried,

    My apologies if my comments were not been helpful. That was certainly not my intent. And my apologies for double posting what had already been posted. I thought I had read through the comments more carefully. Obviously I did not. I do not subscribe to the political ideas of Michelle Malkin; however, discounting the objective photographic evidence she complied because it was she who compiled them is also somewhat unfair.

    My response to the core of your thread to find the delicate balance between free speech and religion is that based on the photographs compiled by Malkin, I see very little free speech. Rather I see pure hatred, and desires for death, destruction and injury to those who disagree with a viewpoint. I see very little free exercise or expression or religion either.

    The difference, I think, between those who focus on the extremes of Mormonism, and the Islamic extremists is that we Mormons do not respond in any comparable manner to those responses of the Islamic extremists. In fact, today we almost have to just sit back and take it as we attend general conference amidst the radical street preachers. Still, our collective Mormon response is nothing compared with what Malkin has complied in the photos she has posted.

    I see nothing wrong with pointing out the radical responses of these Islamic extremists. It is their interpretation of Islam that has caused, and continues to cause much heartache, death and destruction in this life. I think it appropriate and even imperative that we focus on them because of the tactics they use, i.e., indiscriminate death and destruction to any who oppose their religious and political ends. As I sit and post this comment, CNN is reporting how the Danish Embassy in Syria is being burned by these Islamic extremists–because of the publication of some religious cartoons.

    I’m sorry; however, I think I disagree with you that showing how provocative some Muslims are is not helpful. Unfortunately it is this narrow minority of Islamic militants who garner the world’s attention, the media’s coverage, and who instill terror in the hearts of millions world wide. I think the more attention that is called to their cause and their means of achieving their ends is important–even critical. I see no evidence whatsoever that any of these Islamic extremists is interested in helping us or them defuse their actions.

    That said, my apologies again if my comments fell outside the parameters of your original post.

  72. Wilfried on February 4, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Thanks, Guy. No need to apologize. I really appreciate your input. When I wrote that “only showing how provocative some Muslims are”, I meant of course Malkin. Of course we need to know the reality to understand the problems and not shy away from them. But at the same time I think we always should show the other side too, lending our ear to and encouraging those Muslims who want dialogue and peace, and help open various ways to come to solutions. Only accusing can only lead to worse.

    In connection with our topic, I just read the Vatican issued a statement. I translate from the original: “The right to free speech does not include the right to hurt the feelings of believers”.

    PS. I just saw the English rendering of the sentence at CNN: “The right to freedom of thought and expression … cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers�.

  73. Mathew on February 4, 2006 at 11:34 am

    Wilfried,

    This isn’t a defense of Michelle Malkin, but it sems fair to ask why aren’t the millions of moderate voices in Islam doing more to counter the message of extremists? I imagine they have a harder time making the headlines, but a concerted, continuous effort to renounce terrorism in all its forms would go a long way to assuaging the fears and suspicions of regular people. Jason raises the possibility that those unfamiliar with Islam are misreading the extreme rhetoric, that it generally represents little more than a cultural means of expressing displeasure. That may be, but it also provides the tacit support of the community for further terrorist acts.

    Put another way, our focus is naturally not on the ratio of Muslims to Muslim terrorists, but the ratio of Muslim terrorists to terrorists. We absolutely should be asking ourselves as well as the Muslim community why such a large percentage of those involved in terrorist acts are Muslim. To be a useful inquiry it seems to me we have to be willing to acknowledge a wide-range of possibilities. You can argue about the cause, but is there any doubt that the solution to terrorism must ultimately come from the Muslim world? A major part of that solution requires that acts of terrorism and even threats of terrorism be loudly and continuously denounced by the leaders of Muslim political and religious communities. I agree–let’s hear more from the voices of wise and peaceful Muslims.

    Concommitantly, we ought to be leaning on the Muslim community to condemn terrorism in all its forms every step of the way. Michelle Malkin represents the worst form of this–I agree that her brand of pressure intentionally inflames passions. But I hesitate to find parallels between the demonization of Mormons and Muslims. We are both vicitims of the spead of misinformation, but Mormon’s, acting as Mormons, don’t have much of a track record of violence against innocents. Someone will no doubt point to MMM–but I would argue that the exception proves the rule. It’s not that our past transgressions aren’t relevant to our history today, but the intervening years and, more importantly, our collective renunciation of those acts provides a level of separation that I don’t see present in the Muslim world. I would be glad to learn that my perception is wrong and that the widespread condemnation of terrorism everywhere is condemned by both rank and file adherents and Muslim leaders.

  74. not ophelia on February 4, 2006 at 11:37 am

    #71

    My response to the core of your thread to find the delicate balance between free speech and religion is that based on the photographs compiled by Malkin, I see very little free speech. Rather I see pure hatred, and desires for death, destruction and injury to those who disagree with a viewpoint. I see very little free exercise or expression or religion either.

    Perhaps this will give you different and more positive perspective of the “collective [Muslim] response.” And, FWIW, I think Mormons would likely react similarly.

    N.O.

  75. Wilfried on February 4, 2006 at 11:45 am

    I certainly agree with every point you mention, Mathew (73). The comparison with Mormonism is of course imperfect when one looks at our different histories and actions. But there are a few tangents when it comes to the problem of misrepresentation and perception, especially if you live in the mission field. So I tend to sympathize with those who are unnecessarily and deliberately misrepresented and provoked, especially if one knows the context and to what it can lead. On the other hand, it may well be that the present dramatic clash over the cartoons will encourage many more peaceful Muslims to speak out differently and then the matter may be redeeming.

    I think that the topic of the composition of the Muslim community as such in the world, and its own responsibility to come to terms with the terrorist fundamentalists among them, is extremely important. However, I think that would be the topic for another thread. And of course thousands of threads discuss this already. I try to keep the focus here on the problem of free speech versus respect for religion. So, what to think of the Vatican’s statement: “The right to freedom of thought and expression … cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers”.

  76. Mathew on February 4, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Guy,

    I agree that there are real differences between extreme Mormons and extreme Muslims–to wit, to my knowledge there have been no reported cases of Mormon terrorists. I’m sure someone will quibble with the definition of terrorist so let me break it down beforehand–Mormons haven’t been blowing themselves up at wedding parties.

    That said, surely you can see that just as you see pure hatred, and desires for death, destruction and injury among the Muslim protestors in London, so Muslim’s throughout the world see pure hatred and comtempt for them and their religious sensibilities when the Prophet Mohammad is depicted.. Jason Steed points out above that where we see death and destruction in the London protests, someone attuned to the cultural practices of Muslims sees basically harmless sabre rattling. Where a Muslim might see contempt and hatred in the depiction of Mohammad, we see basically harmless political cartoons.

    Wilfried (#72),

    Speaking tongue in cheek, your quote from the Pope convinces me more than ever the Catholic Church has dwindled in apostasy. The right to free speech does include the right to hurt the feelings of believers–I don’t even want to think about the Orwellian type of regime where one didn’t have the right to hurt someone’s feelings. What a mess that would be.

  77. Mathew on February 4, 2006 at 11:58 am

    Ironically, the Pope’s one-sentence statement illustrates the primary point I have been arguing for throughout this thread far more effectively than I could have ever hoped to.

  78. Wilfried on February 4, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    I applaud the principle you defend, Mathew, and it is good to emphasize that.

    But, as I said in #17, there are circumstances where it is not that simple. Think of the Mormon couple, just married, standing with family, friends and children in front of the temple for pictures, and then being harshly confronted with obscene insults from protesters, probably ruining that special day.

    So, as many comments have shown, the main point is not about free speech, but about the wisdom and respect not to provoke unnecessarily.

  79. Guy Murray on February 4, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Matthew #76

    I’m not sure I accept the premise that those depicted in Malkin’s and others’ photos or news coverage are simply “protesters.” I consider them to be rioters or terrorists. I am sorry; but, I just don’t share the view that parading around with signs that proclaim “Behead those who insult Islam” “Slay those who insult Islam” Butcher those who insult Islam” or “Europe you will pay your 9/11 is on its way” is harmless sabre rattling. It also goes beyond expressing a legitimate point of view.

    #74

    I’m not concerned at all with responsible Muslims who react appropriately to the types of religious persecution contained in the cartoons that were published. I think it inappropriate to make fun of anyone’s religious beliefs, even though it may be Constitutionally protected speech. I am, however, concerned with the vocal, and deadly minority of the Islamic fundamentalists who have a decades long track record of death, destruction, and mayhem. So, no. You reference to one article in the San Francisco press does nothing for me.

    Your speculation about how you think Mormons would react is also meaningless, at least to me, absent specific evidence in support.

  80. Mathew on February 4, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    Wilfried,

    Last comment and then I’ll relinquish the thread. I don’t think I’ve been advocating disrespect or unnecessary provocations. As a general principle it seems to me patently obvious that we ought to avoid such things when possible (I’m well aware I don’t always avoid such things, but I have tried to do so on this thread). In your original post you posited the question: what are the criteria when it comes to free speech versus respect for religion. It seems to me that in your last comment you changed the question and set up a stawman, i.e. whether people should deliberately provoke one another or not. But I may have simply misread your initial post–if the limits of free speech verses religious tolerance weren’t the point of the thread, perhaps I can be forgiven for going down that path.

    Along with the rest of the bloggernacle I enjoy your posts and hope to see more of them. My wife is begging me to come with her shopping now so I’ve got to run . . .

  81. Andermom/Starfoxy on February 4, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    I have a question. Could much of this general disconnect between what is considered a ‘reasonable response’ have to do with general attitudes towards human involvement in punishment for sin? Christian sentimenalities teach that God is the dispenser of justice and that for us to punish people for their sins is generally prohibited, lest we judge them incorrectly. Thinking of the woman taken in adultery. Though the laws provided for her punishment Christ effectively taught that it wasn’t their (and therefore isn’t our) place to pronounce judgement on her and mete out punishment.

    It *seems* that in Islamic communities people are very ready to deliver punishment to their peers for sinning. The numerous reports of honor killings, and public executions are what indicate this to me. Also I get the impression that the government institutions (police etc.) stand by to let families and communities punish the sinners themselves. Is this because of Islamic teaching? Is it a just cultural practice of more extremist communities?

  82. Steve L on February 4, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    I never check posts regularly enough to be current, but I’d just like to say a couple of things regarding what Jason (way back in 31) said. I think it’s plain there are differences between the Mormon and Muslim position, but to me the differences are not as striking as the samenesses (to the HISTORIC Mormon position anyway). I believe, and I think many here will agree, that for us to be more aware of the flaws in Islamic culture and civilization than we are of those in Western culture and civilization contributes to world conflict. I think in light of our obligation to renounce war and proclaim peace this is indefensable. I think it is appropriate for us to be more concerned about the indecency and insensitivity of the cartoons than about what seems to us an inappropriate Muslim reaction. For us to criticize their reaction to inappropriate action on a Westerner’s part only deepens the hurt and the divide, and ultimately, we have more control over what goes on in our own camp than we do over what Palestinians are thinking and feeling. To be so deaf to the concerns and demands of Muslims will perhaps do what some think is inevitable–prolong this conflict indefinitely.

    I want to apologize to anyone (esp. Wilfried) for a former comment I made, particularly if it was perceived as “French-bashing.” I did not intend it as such, I was thinking in that context that the French are more an “us” than they are a “them.”

  83. Wilfried on February 4, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    Thank you, Mathew (80) for your latest comments. I think we are in agreement! I believe a discussion of the criteria to determine free speech versus respect for religion automatically leads to many questions, one of which pertains to the permissibility of provocation. And next we would need to define where provocation begins, and that definition is then culture-bound and even individually determined.

    In a conference talk in October 1996, “The Peaceable Things of the Kingdom”, Elder Jeffrey Holland said:

    “When we have been hurt, undoubtedly God takes into account what wrongs were done to us and what provocations there are for our resentments, but clearly the more provocation there is and the more excuse we can find for our hurt, all the more reason for us to forgive and be delivered from the destructive hell of such poisonous venom and anger. It is one of those ironies of godhood that in order to find peace, the offended as well as the offender must engage the principle of forgiveness.”

  84. Wilfried on February 4, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    Andermom/Starfoxy (81) and Steve L (82), you raise the issue of cultural differences in perceptions and reactions. There is no doubt that this plays a major role, and we should try to understand those differences as much as possible, while at the same time they can be no excuse for the trampling of basic rights. But the clash seems precisely in a fundamentally different view on basic rights: for the West it’s the principle of free speech, which we obtained in our democracies after centuries of struggle and which we want to maintain by all means. In Islam a basic right is the expectancy of respect for Mohammad, deeply ingrained in their devotion and language. Those two rights clash when the West considers it part of free speech to show disrespect to the Prophet.

    It seems, however, that some, on both sides, are also led by destructive motives. The newspapers that deliberately reprinted the cartoons claim to do so to strongly defend the right to free speech. But there is probably also an underlying desire to provoke, to use the matter as an expression of aversion over growing immigration and over the progression of Islam in Europe, and perhaps as a rhetoric answer to terrorism: “you hurt us, now we will hurt you the way WE can.” From the side of protesting Muslims the overt claim is of course the outrage over the disrespect shown to Mohammad, but the hardliners probably misuse the incident to galvanize anti-Western sentiment to serve their own extreme religious and political agenda. In that kind of war-logic there will come no end to escalation. And that is probably, and tragically, what some really want. That’s why it is so important that from both sides appeasing voices are heard.

    Oh, and Steve (82), never worry about my sensitivities as to French-bashing. I’m Flemish… : )

  85. Ivan Wolfe on February 4, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    Here’s an interesting comment:

    Some Danish people are way overreacting, but there seems to be a disconnect in the rhetoric describing the two groups:

    http://www.proteinwisdom.com/index.php/weblog/entry/19801/

    the Danish protesters are “extremistsâ€? from the “extreme-rightâ€?—many of them members of a “racist partyâ€?—while those Muslims outraged by the publishing of the cartoons in the first place (who “protestedâ€? by burning flags, firebombing embassies, and—even here, through a spokesman, issuing active threats of “grave consequencesâ€? and promises that “All hell will break loseâ€? should counterprotests seek to address “Muslim anger”) are mere victims of some minor misunderstanding in the “new cultural battle over freedom of speech and respect of religions.â€?

    Of course the Danish protestors who threated to burn copies of the Q’uran are waaaaaaaaaaaaay over the top. But this commentator notices an interesting move on the American Left:

    Which is why even now you have Kos commenters contorting themselves into positions of self-righteous progressive onanism that are a wonder to behold—suddenly, free speech is not a universal right worthy of the crafting of puppet heads and the defacing of Starbucks’ windows, but instead is a culture-specific gift that needs to be filtered through the religious precepts of the culture of the Other. Unless, of course, that “Other� happens to be, say, Evangelical Christians. In which case, such extremists MUST BE SHOUTED DOWN with free speech.

    Read the whole thing – it’s very long. Interesting thoughts. This debate has pretty much spread all over the net. It’s hard to keep track of, but still a beautiful thing to behold, I think. People are actually discussing this in public forums all over the world.

    Also:
    Wilfried is my model (that I usually [read: almost always] fail to live up to) for respectfulness in debate on the net.

  86. Jonathan Green on February 4, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Ivan, those cited Kos commenters are straw men. There has been no such widespread reaction on the left. Anyone who thinks that this is one more issue where the left and right necessarily disagree is a complete [REDACTED]. I’d write more, but I’m due for some more self-[REDACTED]-righteous, [REDACTED]-progressive [REDACTED]. [POINTS FOR CREATIVITY, BUT NO SWEARING, PLEASE.]

  87. danithew on February 4, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    I do feel that some in the Islamic world are demanding that non-Muslims respect Muhammad as much as Muslims. I don’t feel that kind of demand is reasonable. Of course I’m not opposed to those who want to be kind or respectful — but I think a political cartoonist should be able to satirize the Islamic prophet without provoking a wildly disproportionate international crisis.

    If Muslims want to express in a peaceful manner their disapproval of what a cartoonist has done — they should have as much as a right to free speech as the cartoonist. I could understand if outraged Muslims in Denmark (and other parts of Europe where the cartoons were published) were to cancel their subscriptions to the offending newspaper(s), or if they write letters to the editor or even demonstrate peacefully in the streets. That would be fine. But it completely absurd and ridiculous that governments of majority-Islamic countries are threatening to pull their diplomats out of Denmark or that Muslim demonstrators are lighting fire to the Danish embassy in Syria, or that Islamists in any part of the world are making violent threats or saying that the cartoonist should be killed.

    I think much of the disproportional response to this issue, that we are seeing in so many parts of the world, is due to a form of Islamic nationalism that is something much more than religious in its nature.

  88. danithew on February 4, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    In my previous comment I meant to say that “I feel that some in the Islamic world are demanding that non-Muslims respect Muhammad as much as Muslims.” There is an unintended “not” in that first line.

  89. Ivan Wolfe on February 4, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    Jon Green –

    I never said I agreed with everything the poster said. I just felt it applied to the conversation at hand.

    And though the Kos comments are a bit extreme – well, they’re the same types of comments my fellow grad students make, so rather than just a straw man, there are real people who make those arguments.

    As for where the left and right stand on this – well, I find “left” and “right” to generally be to reductive and simplistic.

  90. Ivan Wolfe on February 4, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    I meant that in the labels “left” and “right” are too simplistic.

  91. not ophelia on February 5, 2006 at 12:14 am

    I am, however, concerned with the vocal, and deadly minority of the Islamic fundamentalists who have a decades long track record of death, destruction, and mayhem. So, no. You reference to one article in the San Francisco press does nothing for me.

    Well, someone asked why moderate Muslim’s weren’t responding. They are responding, and this article is just one of many. Try here and here if you like.

    Also, I might add that Islam has at least one disadvantage over Mormonism in the PR department: i.e., Islam is not a hierarchical religion. There is no one body to determine who or what is orthodox. There is no structure to determine who is or isn’t Muslim. There is no mechanism for excommunication.

    So when Mormon’s do Bad Things, they suddenly become ex-Mormons. The LeBarron’s, for instance. They’re not really Mormon, we insist. We ex-ed them. They have no right to the name, and our fellowship is safe from their violent/illegal/immoral acts. Outsiders may be skeptical, but they tend to go along with our definitions.

    Your speculation about how you think Mormons would react is also meaningless, at least to me, absent specific evidence in support.

    Interesting you can’t see the parallels. I certainly see them. E.g. how do Mormons react to something that offends? Mormon’s protest [remember The Last Temptation of Christ? Mormon leaders issue statements i.e. the Temple Square protesters. as I recall, the church was trying its best to shut down free speech on what was determined to be a public place [the Plaza at Temple Square] for some of the same reasons, i.e. that it offends, disturbs, mocks, etc.

    I also saw a pretty striking parallel between CAIR’s response and the response the Public Affairs Department might give in a similar situation, i.e.:
    The Council on American- Islamic Relations sent an e-mail alert to mosques across the country Friday encouraging imams to emphasize to worshipers that Muhammad responded to personal attacks with love and forgiveness.

    You could easily change this to an LDS Public Affairs or First Presidency statement:

    The [LDS Public Affairs Director] sent an e-mail alert to [churches] across the country Friday encouraging [Bishops] to emphasize to worshipers that [Jesus] responded to personal attacks with love and forgiveness.

    Finally, I found this very introspective quote rather interesting:

    But our effect on our surrounding society is a mirror to our behaviour and how well we represent Islam. We must live in a way that seems preferable and then at least partially satisfy the expectations of the inquisitive. Once upon a time, Islam spread like wildfire. In a few short years the Message spread to Morocco and to China. Millions welcomed the good news, and quickly shaped their lives around it.

    Now Islam may be fast growing in the third world regions, but here in the West Muslims face a peculiar reaction to their invitations to join them in their faith, as almost nobody wants anything to do with it. If the message we are passing on no longer seems to have the same effect, is it not time to consider if we just have a communications problem, or whether we ourselves are abusing the message?

    British convert to Islam, Michael A. Malik

    Funny, but I could hear a Mormon making much the same statement about our faith.

    N.O.

  92. Wilfried on February 5, 2006 at 12:56 am

    Thank you all for having added more interesting comments. I think I can safely say we have been discussing in a zone where divergent viewpoints are very well possible because of the many facets of the matter. We draw valid conclusions starting from our concrete experiences and subsequent personal perceptions, but others may not have had the same experiences.

    I was surprised that no one has referred to a perhaps comparable, recent and famous “Mormon” case of free speech versus respect for religion. UVSC and the invitation to Michael Moore. See “This Divided State”. Here, as far as I understand, very vocal and very convinced Mormons wanted to impose limits on free speech on the basis of their conviction that the moral and religious values of their community were seriously threatened by the coming of Moore to Orem. Comparison possible with the effect of a few cartoons on the moral indignation and pugnacity of a people?

  93. Jim F. on February 5, 2006 at 1:33 am

    You will find here an excellent overview of the responses of European newspapers: http://www.signandsight.com/features/590.html

  94. danithew on February 5, 2006 at 7:18 am

    Jim, thank you for that link. I have been reading about this issue for days — but that article provided a link that allowed me to see the actual offending cartoons for the first time.

  95. Wilfried on February 5, 2006 at 8:16 am

    Excellent overview of reactions and standpoints in that Survey of the European press, Jim. It introduces a number of additional facets and nuances by people close to what is happening.

    But it strikes me again how governments, now suddenly concerned about respect for religion (which is probably more concern for the economic fallout and other serious consequences of the turmoil), have never shown that concern in their anti-cult legislation of the past decade. Vulnerable minorities are treated differently. Will the whole upheaval trigger new insights as to how people with divergent viewpoints can live together in peace? That still is the core issue. And the question is applicable in whatever part of the world.

  96. Base on February 5, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    As an American living in Europe, I am appalled by what appears to be the (generally) cowardly silence of the American press in the face of this extremist violence over cartoons!

    Shame on the Administration for kowtowing and labeling the expression itself “unacceptable.” Instead of whimpering apologetics, the State Department should be condemning mob violence, the burning of embassies and threats of murder and terrorism in response to drawings. Shame on the Vatican for declaring that religion should be beyond critique. Satire is never more important than when it targets those who claim absolute truth. Shame on moderate Muslims that do not condemn the extremists. Their silence perpetuates misconceptions of Islam as glorifying violence. Shame on CNN for pixelating the cartoons each time it reports on the story, and shame on every newspaper that fails to join those courageously publishing the cartoons out of solidarity. Self-censorship in the face of intimidation, whatever its source, is a fundamental betrayal of the liberty secured by the First Amendment.

    Finally, shame on American pundits that demean the importance of this issue by using it to attack Europe. Make no mistake, the Hugh Hewitt’s (who are so ignorant of what they are decrying that they do not even understand the Dutch government is not in Denmark) are providing political cover for moral cowardice.

  97. Bill on February 5, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Wilfried,

    I find the propaganda of Michael Moore to be repugnant, less so perhaps than the particularly vicious strain of propaganda practiced by Ann Coulter, for instance. Nevertheless, despite my utter lack of interest in seeing any of his movies or listening to his rants, I consider any attempts to muzzle him to be misguided, especially by people pretending to be big supporters of the constitution.

    Rather than triggering new insights into how people of divergent viewpoints can live together in peace, perhaps the upheaval should underline that some of our old insights, where practiced, have been doing the job: things like the separation of church and state, freedom of the press, and the right of peaceable assembly. Where these are not practiced and form no part of a society’s history and mentality, people sometimes have trouble accepting divergent viewpoints. It would be nice if we could find new insights into how to hasten the transformation of these societies from closed to open. I doubt we will find insights on how to accomodate a fundamentalism that is itself opposed to any compromise and will brook no dissent from its diktats.

    I found the pope’s insight in particular to be sentimental and unhelpful. He seems to be confusing rights and duties. The churches can tell us what our moral obligations are and how to properly behave toward our neighbor. However, they are neither the proponents nor the guarantors of our rights.

    Base, I agree. I was very disappointed in the statement from the State department.

  98. Bill on February 5, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    I also liked what Glez, the French cartoonist, said in a roundtable in Le Monde, defending the visual representation of Mohammed: “A historical figure, he belongs to the whole world.”

  99. Rick on February 5, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Sorry for the intrusion, but I just had to add my two (euro) cents. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I believe that it is illegal is most european countries in which these cartoons were reprinted to publish any nazi propoganda. If this were indeed a test of “free speech” then wouldn’t the real test of that be to publish nazi propoganda? But this, of course, would never happen because the general population would never want to read it.

    I just don’t really believe that free speech exists nor should it. Free speech would not only mean that everthing can be said but that everything should be said … and I just can’t accept that. There are certain things that would never be printed in any newspaper, nor should they. It seems to me that the printing of these articles was a cheap ploy to sell newspapers in the name of “free speech.” I don’t think it was right or good and I don’t see any need for me to defend their right to print something just for the sake of provocation.

    Rick

  100. Wilfried on February 5, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Base (96), thank you for joining the discussion as an American living in Europe. We appreciate your straightforward statements. Best that they come from an American in this case!

    Bill (97), absolutely: “old insights, where practiced, have been doing the job: things like the separation of church and state, freedom of the press, and the right of peaceable assembly.” But indeed, for some cultures these are still “new” insights. I read e.g. that some Muslims are demanding that the Danish government resign over the cartoons published. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles of government and press, but confirms their worldview that a government has power over the press and therefore shares in the responsibility. Such different insights, ingrained in the culture, make dialogue difficult if not impossible in the present stage. I also agree with your conclusion on the Vatican: “I found the pope’s insight in particular to be sentimental and unhelpful.” Yes, I concur, also because of the hypocrisy: the Catholic church in Europe has e.g. been aiding in the fight against minority religions like Mormonism, but at the same time wants to please major religions for the sake of diplomatic advantage.

  101. Kelly Knight on February 5, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    I did not read through all one hundred posts, so perhaps this has been brought up: In the early 1900’s articles were run in the England newspapers ofter about the treachery of Mormons. In the 1970’s, someone blew the east doors off the SL Temple on a Thursday while the brethren were in their regular meeting. Arizona’s own Steve Benson used to lamblast his grand-father on a regular basis in the Arizona Republic.

    The LDS Church has withstood the test of slime quite nicely. I believe when Christ spoke of turning the other cheek, it was specific to the gospel, when men revile us. We should be pacifist when it comes to words, but carry the sword of Laban (so to speak) and bear the title of liberty, when it comes to defending our physical well being.

  102. Wilfried on February 5, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Rick (99), also thanks for your contribution. You are right when you state:

    “it is illegal is most european countries in which these cartoons were reprinted to publish any nazi propoganda. If this were indeed a test of “free speechâ€? then wouldn’t the real test of that be to publish nazi propaganda?”

    Indeed, nazi propaganda is forbidden, as well as revisionist or negationist standpoints (meaning doubting the holocaust) and anti-semitic propaganda. And that is exactly the kind of thing that the AEL, the Arab-European League is now doing: publishing anti-semitic and negationist cartoons as a “comparable” provocative response to the Mohammad-cartoons, to prove the need for limits on free speech. And they remind us: Hitler’s anti-semitic campaign worked from the onset with cartoons, deriding the Jews. It’s never innocent.

    Beware: the AEL has extreme standpoints and is not representative for a vast portion of Muslims in Europe. Theirs is a war-logic: the one offense is answered by another offense.

    So, I am convinced you are right: “There are certain things that would never be printed in any newspaper, nor should they.” The problem is who will decide on what is acceptable or not, as e.g. a Mohammad-cartoon is now acceptable for the West, but not for Muslims, and as an anti-semitic cartoon is now acceptable for Muslims, but not for the West. We’re back at the basic question: which criteria for free speech?

  103. Gianpaolo Debiasi on February 5, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    I am an Italian member of the LDS Church and am fond of our democracy and our hard fought for liberty. But I also think that it is allowed to make fun of anything and anyone with the exception of religious symbols. Our reaction would not be as dramatic, but it the Muslims would do the same with Jesus Christ we would feel offended about in the same way, even though our reaction would not be as violent.
    Like it or not, Europeans live door to door with people of Islamic religion. Certain themes can be extremely dangerous. Italians have a saying that goes “scherza con i fanti, ma lascia stare i santi” (joke about people but leave alone the saints). The Danish and all the other newspapers better be reminded of that in the future.

  104. Wilfried on February 5, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    Thank you, Kelly (101). You are right to remind us that our Church has a long tradition of peacefully bearing attacks and denigration. There have been times of course, in our history, that we too struggled with the choice between allowing any free speech or using means to limit it. I gues we too passed through a maturing process.

    Grazie, Gianpaolo! (103). Benvenuto caloroso at Times and Seasons. You confirm with that wonderful Italian saying one of the main ideas defended by many commenters: we may need some (voluntary) limits to free speech when we enter sensitive area’s that would only deeply hurt people. You’re right: we must accept the reality that Muslims are our neighbors and that we must strive for peaceful cooperation.

    Hey, that Italian saying could be very applicable to our Mormon situation, certainly in countries where the Church is being denigrated and harassed: Scherza con i fanti, ma lascia stare i Santi degli Ultimi Giorni.

  105. Adam Greenwood on February 5, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    I wish the Danes would realize that just because a thing can be done doesn’t mean it ought to be done. Or that it shouldn’t be apologized for.

    The real problem with this, of course, is that Islam is on the march, and an apology or a backing down at this stage may well send the wrong message–that Islam *can’t* be mocked. The best thing to happen now would be for the Danish publishers and others to make this an occasion to generally re-evaluate their approach to religion in general. Then they wouldn’t be responding to specifically Islamic pressure so much as doing the right thing generally.

  106. Base on February 6, 2006 at 2:38 am

    Rick (99): The initial printing of these cartoons, in September, was far from a “cheap ploy” to sell papers. Rather, the newspaper was doing a story on whether the press in Denmark censors itself when it comes to Islam out of fear of retaliation. This is a legitimate concern of many living here on the continent.

    Of course freedom of expression is not absolute. Even in the US, there have always been certain forms unprotected by the First Amendment; ie, obscenity, fighting words, libel. The European standard is slightly different (now tested, ultimately, by the European Court of Human Rights). Whereas we would only prohibit racist speech, for example, if it rose to the level of fighting words (words likely to provoke an immediate violent response), most European states prohibit “incitement” speech based solely on its content. This content (rather than effects based) approach is also what permits the prohibition of holocaust denial. Personally, I think the European regulation of content is troubling because it accords too much power to the state to decide which speech is acceptable and which is not.

    The reason that the extremist response to the cartoons is simply unaceptable is that it is one faction of a particular religion demanding to be free from critique, making that demand with the threat of violence and demanding this right only for themselves. Although some newspapers in the Middle East are often filled with vile anti-Semitic cartoons, none of these mobs took to the streets to demand respect for the beliefs of their Jewish neighbors. (Now, before anyone accuses me of unfairly criticizing Islam, please note that I understand very well that the extremist mobs burning embassies represent only a tiny fraction of Muslims around the world. This is precisely why the continued silence of Muslim moderates that should be condemning the violence is troubling.)

    Any religion that claims absolute truth cannot be above criticism or satire. Gratuitous insult may be unseemly. In the twenty first century, however, none who value freedom should be willing to cede authority to the state to punish the insult. Make no mistake, that is what the mobs are demanding.

  107. Base on February 6, 2006 at 2:57 am

    Wilfried, you are absolutely right. The fundamental question is what the criteria should be. Some speech is absolutely vital to maintaining a free society. Most is irrelevant to that end and some in this category is deeply disturbing. The delicate balance has always been how to protect the former and minimize the latter. The problem is that there is no principled way to prohibit the latter while maintaining the inviolability of the former. Thus, the price we pay for protecting the core principle is that some in society will use it to cater to the baser human instincts.

    As to your question, I am unabashedly in favor of the American approach, which judges speech by its effects, not its content.

  108. annegb on February 6, 2006 at 11:05 am

    I agree with Danithew.

  109. Jason Steed on February 6, 2006 at 11:29 am

    Wow. I left for home on Friday afternoon and dropped out of the discussion, and now on Monday morning I find that its size has doubled!

    I have little more to add, because I feel out of the loop now, but I do want to point out one thing.

    Matthew (73), you raise the question of the ratio of Muslims to terrrorists, and suggest (hint? imply?) that most terrorists are Muslim. But I think we tend to overestimate this “ratio” these days, because the media and popular focus is on Muslim terrorism — and indeed, Bush’s war(s) is/are likewise focused. But this is, I believe, a manufactured attempt to construct a giant enemy akin to the Communism of the Cold War, or the Fascism of WWII, and it too readily overlooks the history of terrorism, which since the early 20th c. has been associated with the violent politically-motivated acts of small groups or individuals.

    To say that terrorism is mostly a Muslim ‘thing’ is to suddenly forget the IRA in Ireland; the Basque nationalists in Spain; the various and myriad guerrilla groups in South America (including the Contras, who we supported under Reagan, as they went about blowing up schools and hospitals); the state-sponsored terrorism of Israel and America (the only two nations in the world who opposed anti-terrorist resolutions in the UN, prior to 9/11, because we felt they were too restrictive on military actions); the race-based groups in South Africa and here in the U.S., and elsewhere (who at times used terrorist tactics in the pursuit of civil rights); the radical environmentalists who sabotage the logging industry; the radical pro-lifers who set up sniper stands outside abortion clinics; and the numerous individuals out to pursue purely individualized agendas (e.g. Timothy McVeigh).

    Terrorism is a tactic, a strategy, a means — and it is in no way monopolized by Muslims. To suggest otherwise is to buy into the recent demonization of Islam. Terrorism is employed by individuals, groups, organizations, militaries, and even governments — and often it is masked as something else. We sometimes call terrorists “freedom fighters,” or “activists,” or “liberators” — but these are euphemisms, rhetorical flourishes.

    It is bad to equate Muslims with terrorists, but these days we think it’s okay to equate terrorists with Muslims — and that is equally bad. In fact, not all of the terrorists in the Middle East who espouse Islam as their religion are really “Muslim terrorists” — often, they are political nationalists who merely use Islam as a rallying cry in their pursuit of political goals. (Much like Bush has used overtly Christian rhetoric in his efforts at rallying the American people to a war between “good and evil” that is really more about American political and economic interests than about Christianity.)

    Anyway, nuff said for now.

  110. Wilfried on February 6, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Base (106, 107) and Jason (109), I still need to thank you for those last contributions. They add important and insightful nuances because this topic can be so emotional that simplistic conclusions are tempting. Vital is the plea that we need to hear more from moderate Muslims to counter the image extremists are spreading. But probably many moderates are already terrorized themselves by fundamentalists among them and therefore fearful to speak out. Still, free speech is also for them the greatest gift that democracy can bestow if used wisely.

  111. Mathew on February 7, 2006 at 9:53 am

    Jason (#109),

    My exact words were “a large percentage” although maybe a fair reading can find “majority” between the lines. I would love to see some hard, world-wide data on the question–I have no problem backing off my statements in #73 if it turns out that there aren’t a disproportionate number of terrorist acts committed by Muslims acting as Muslims. Truthfully I would be pleased to be disabused of the notion.

    I can say with certainty that the majority of terrorist acts that impact me and most people I know have been committed by Muslim terrorists. So it would be natural to give special importance to the acts that strike closest to home–whether or not they are representative of the entire sample. Thus even if world-wide a disproportionate number of terrorist acts are not committed by terrorists acting as Muslims, it strikes me as perfectly legitimate for people affected primarily by terrorists acting as Muslims to ask themselves and the Muslim community 1) why Muslim terrorism in particular is aimed at them and 2) if Muslim terrorists are not representative of Islam, are they widely and loudly condemned within Islam?

    Defining what, exactly, constitutes “terrorism” can be difficult but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to come to a definition that is something more than “it all depends on your point of view”–a position that some in the British media had to abandon rather quickly following the tube bombings. And you make an excellent point that espousing Islam and practicing terrorism does not equate with “Muslim terrorist.” In fact, it may well be that very few terrorist “masterminds” are anything more than political actors manipulating religious belief for their own purposes (and because it is certainly a more comforting proposition, absent specific data I’m happy to believe that). But to the extent that their supporters and foot soldiers are motivated by religious beliefs then it seems to me folly to ignore the religious component.

    Frankly I am hesitant to say any of this. Part of that hesitation stems from the belief that such questions can be a pretext for stirring up xenophobia which is not my intent, part of it likely stems from a desire to be liked and not run the risk of being labeled a bigot–and a little part comes from the fact that it is far from the original topic. In my original posts on free speech I was advocating what I believe is the correct position–in this tangent about Muslim terrorists I am posing questions that are on my mind and compelling answers are always welcome.

  112. Jason Steed on February 7, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    Matthew (111),
    You’re right, this is a tangent — but an interesting one, I think, and relevant. You say: I can say with certainty that the majority of terrorist acts that impact me and most people I know have been committed by Muslim terrorists, then later you say: it strikes me as perfectly legitimate for people affected primarily by terrorists acting as Muslims to ask themselves and the Muslim community 1) why Muslim terrorism in particular is aimed at them and 2) if Muslim terrorists are not representative of Islam, are they widely and loudly condemned within Islam.

    My response to your first statement entails a partial answer to the first question in your second statement. That is, in questioning your “certainty” of the nature of the terrorism that most impacts you, I offer a partial explanation of why terrorists who are Muslims might target “you” (i.e., the U.S. and American citizens).

    In short, I think the terrorism that most impacts American citizens is the terrorism perpetrated or sponsored or supported by the American government.

    You’re right to say that “terrorism” has to be defined more satisfactorily than simply by saying it depends on perspective. It can be fairly stated, I believe, that terrorism is “acts of violence that are politically motivated, or that have a political objective, and that are perpetrated outside the context of official war between states, and that are carried out by (‘a’ — and most often) groups or individuals not recognized as official agents of a state, or (‘b’ — and less often) actors recognized as agents of a state who are acting outside the context of official war and without the sanction of international or multinational bodies.”

    Part ‘a’ of that last component of the definition is a relatively new addition to our understanding of “terrorism,” which as a concept originated in official state actions — specifically, the behavior of the French government in the 17th c (if memory serves), under what came to be known as the “Reign of Terror.” Eventually, “terrorism” morphed into unofficial or non-state actions perpetrated by individuals or groups — most infamously, here in America, in the form of small-scale bombings by anarchist groups near the start of the 20th c. — but the original state-based definition still attaches (e.g., we refer to regimes like Saddam Hussein’s as “terrorist regimes”), which is why I included part ‘b.’

    It is tempting, also, to add another facet to this definition — to say that terrorist acts are carried out against civilians or nonmilitary targets — but while this is often true, it isn’t satisfactory, as it would eliminate a great number of actions that we seem to want to label “terrorism,” including those acts of violence currently being perpetrated in Iraq against U.S. troops. And “terrorism,” as the term has been used, has often been applied to various guerrilla militias who have targeted the members, facilities, or resources of larger military forces (often in combination with targeting nonmilitary facilities and/or populations). So we can’t satisfactorily limit “terrorism” to violence against nonmilitary targets.

    If this is our definition of terrorism, then the U.S. has a long history of sponsoring and/or supporting terrorism in the world — and in some cases has even engaged directly in it as the primary perpetrator. [Note: I am not necessarily taking a side on any of the specific instances I mention here — in some cases, I am sympathetic to decisions we’ve made. I am simply pointing out that, by definition, we have engaged in acts that can be — and are — seen as terrorism by others in the world.] Prominent examples include the U.S.’s support of Israel in its conflict with Palestine (a principal reason that the U.S. and Israel opposed anti-terrorist resolutions in the UN, up until 9/11), and the U.S.’s involvement in Nicaragua during the 1980s, when the world courts found (unanimously) the U.S. guilty of terrorist activity and demanded our withdrawal. (Our response to these rulings, by the way, was to increase our involvement in the conflict — with Reagan calling the terrorists we were supporting “freedom fighters.”)

    These actions on the part of the U.S. gov’t have impacted Americans in serious and severe ways — most significantly in our status and standing in the Middle East and South America. Anti-Americanism runs high in these regions of the world — not in every country in these regions, but in many of them.

    In answering why Muslim terrorists would target the U.S. and its citizens, then, we can point at least partially to the U.S.’s involvement in the Middle East — in Muslim nations — and its frequent (and sometimes overt) support of terrorism against Muslims. I’ve already mentioned our support of Israel against Palestinians; there is also the U.S.’s support of Saddam Hussein (that “terrorist regime”) all through the 1980s — when he was perpetrating those acts of violence against his own civilians (Kurds and Shiite Muslims), for which we now condemn him, but about which we did nothing back when he was our “ally” and actually committed those crimes against humanity.

    These actions, along with other numerous behaviors both political and economic that have benefitted us (and/or our allies) to the significant detriment of Muslim nations, are a HUGE motivating factor in the acts of terrorism now being perpetrated against us by Muslims. Moreover, most of the world saw the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a violation of international law — Muslim nations everywhere condemned it as an act of imperialism — and in the face of the American juggernaut, Muslims have little choice but to resort to guerrilla tactics in their resistance to American power and influence. (I’m not trying to make an excuse or justification for terrorism, just offering an explanation or understanding. We have trouble empathizing with this impulse, because most of us have never faced the imposition of a state-power greater than ours in our lifetime. But perhaps one useful analogy is the “freedom fighters” of the American Revolution — small militias and individuals doing whatever it takes to resist the gargantuan power of Great Britain, including acts of terrorism against British targets, such as the destruction of shipments of tea in the Boston harbor.)

    So — is it Muslim terrorism that has most impacted you/us, or is it the actions (sometimes terrorist actions) of our own government that have most impacted us? Clearly, in the immediate sense, it is Muslim terrorism that most impacts us (i.e., What most threatens my life and safety?). But I think this conclusion is somewhat shortsighted and ill-informed. I’m a firm believer that Muslim terrorism against Americans would disappear — would cease to exist — if Muslims no longer saw America and Americanism as an immediate threat to their safety.

    As for condemnations, the Muslim world has largely condemned the actions of the terrorists. But again, there is a matter of perspective at work here. We, in the West, and particularly in America, see these terrorists as “Muslim.” And we have a real tendency to live in denial of anything we might have done to provoke or instigate any of these actions against us. (That’s why so many of us walk around asking why they would want to hurt us.) Meanwhile, the Muslim world by and large is fully aware of the things America has done to harm the Muslim world.

    Think about it this way: Has the Christian world stepped up loudly as a Christian world to condemn Bush’s actions, which he has frequently couched in Christian rhetoric? The world sees Bush very much as an avowed “Christian president,” after all. Why no worldwide Christian protest or refutation? Well, because the Christian world largely sees Bush’s actions as a response to Muslim offenses (e.g., 9/11 and other terrorist threats), and while they may not always agree with his tactics or his specific behavior, some (many? most?) believe he is justified in what he does (particularly the Evangelical Christian world here in America). So we have no sweeping condemnation from the larger Christian world.

    Likewise, Muslims largely see the terrorists’ actions as a response to decades of American/Western offenses against Muslims. They may not agree with violent tactics or specific behavior, but many believe that some kind of response is justified. So while we do have notable and prominent refutations of terrorism from the Muslim world, we do NOT have any sweeping condemnation — anymore than we have it from the Christian world regarding Bush.

    It’s worth noting, too, that we DO have some fairly sweeping condemnation of Bush’s actions from the Western (if not “Christian”) world. But has that mattered to Bush, or to the Bush believers? Nope. They don’t care, they don’t listen, they continue on. Same goes for the terrorists. Even with sweeping condemnations from the Eastern (if not the “Muslim”) world, the terrorists and their believers will continue on, unabated.

    Anyway, sorry to go on so long…. Guess I got a little carried away. I hope some of this has been constructive, informative, and/or useful….

  113. Jason Steed on February 7, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    By the way, back on subject:
    Check out this story — http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,,1703500,00.html

    Turns out the newspaper carrying “blasphemous” cartoons lampooning Mohammed had previously refused to carry cartoons lampooning Jesus. Yet Westerners continue to cry out in support of “free speech,” and to condemn the Muslim reaction.

    Oh, and anyone still think Christians are incapable of reacting similarly? Check this out — http://www.cathnews.com/news/509/96.php — and this — http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/12/newsid_2502000/2502517.stm

    (hat tip: http://juancole.com)

  114. Kevin Graham on February 9, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    == Turns out the newspaper carrying “blasphemous� cartoons lampooning Mohammed had previously refused to carry cartoons lampooning Jesus.

    But they most certainly could have, and there would not have been violence.

    == Yet Westerners continue to cry out in support of “free speech,� and to condemn the Muslim reaction.

    How does one thing have anything to do with the other? The Muslim reaction ought to be condemned.

    == Oh, and anyone still think Christians are incapable of reacting similarly?

    Can they? Sure. Do they? Most certainly not.

    And BTW, Juan Cole is an anti-Israel, conspiratorial idiot whose arch nemesis is Martin Kramer. Kramer does a thorough job shredding his “arguments” to pieces.
    http://www.martinkramer.org

  115. Razorfish on February 11, 2006 at 12:34 am

    I believe this so-called cartoon incident is a much larger issue and discussion than simply a debate between free speech vs respect for religion. This is a clash between two civilizations: the West vs Islam – democracy vs theocracy.

    The well understood incindiary printing of heretical cartoon pictures were intended to express the West’s disgust and contempt of what it perceives as very skilled minority who or are hijacking the Islamic faith into an instrument of terror and intimidation.

    The Islamic world is equally fed up with perceived meddling and instrusive outside forces and external influences that are polluting and interfering with their religious caliphate.

    The metaphor of a chess game comes to mind….the board is set…. the pieces are in motion. Seeing the apocalyptic resolution in the valley of Megiddo has never been so clear, even the stage referenced in the Book of Revelation – The final battle of Armageddon.

  116. Watt Mahoun on February 11, 2006 at 1:11 am

    “…the board is set…. the pieces are in motion. Seeing the apocalyptic resolution in the valley of Megiddo has never been so clear, even the stage referenced in the Book of Revelation – The final battle of Armageddon.”

    Razorfish, I know you’re not the only one who thinks this way…but we have got to get a grip. We are not trying to fulfill prophecy…we are not bound and determined to bring it to pass…we are not helpless actors and audience in a godly theatre of the bizarre. We are human beings that can get a grip and change the world.

    If there is a hell, there is one thing that scares me more…the mass delusion that we are meant to see an endtime through. This is self-fulfilling prophecy that we must put away before we make it so.

  117. Base on February 11, 2006 at 4:00 am

    Thank you Watt. I’m with you, few things scare me as much as the fevered excitement of the end-timers. I take some comfort in the belief that only the fringe (on either side) believes this nonsense.

  118. Wilfried on February 11, 2006 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for those recent comments. Though they express contrasting viewpoints, I think there is place for both simultaneously, depending on the perspective and how we interpret each other words. Yes, Base and Watt, I’m with you that we do not need to get excited about end-times and pinpoint precise events as the very beginning of the Apocalypse. We’ve seen that reaction with every major war of the past 150 years. And we certainly need to continue to preach peace and contribute by every means possible to defuse tensions and conflicts. I’m sure Razorfish feels the same. At the same time we cannot deny the many Scriptures that talk about end-times preceding the Second Coming. In that sense Razorfish is right that “the pieces are in motion”. But we have no idea to what extent each piece fits in the overall timing. It’s interesting to see that both perspectives are often present in General Conference talks when world conditions are mentioned.

  119. Razorfish on February 11, 2006 at 9:16 am

    Re #116

    Watt I’m not trying to fulfill prophecy, nor am I trying to accelerate the end-time. I do not put my self in this camp of fringe extremists trying to bring on the 2nd coming. Wilfried’s comments perfectly summarize the correct response and balance we should be taking and what I believe is our responsibility: advocating peace and reconciliation and being an active agent to defuse tension and conflict. I do not subscribe to the view that we are helpless to change our environment….

    That said….I still believe we are at a seminal moment in world history where events are beginning to take shape in a colossial showdown of conflicting ideals, beliefs and worldviews. I’ll stop here, as I don’t want further threadjack the intent of this post…sorry for the diversion….

  120. Razorfish on February 11, 2006 at 11:07 am

    “So, what are the criteria when it comes to free speech versus respect for religion?”

    I think as LDS people we can especially sympathize with the healthy tension between free speech and respect for religion. We certainly would not want our “sacred pearls cast before swine” in an inflammatory way that had the intent to demonize us as a people or ridicule us. As has been mentioned, our own history with the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor’s sole edition, indicated that regardless of our love of free speech, when “the line was crossed” the leadership of the Church took matters into their own hands.

    This is one key to the criteria in balancing the two views. That is although the right may exist to “freedom of speech”, there is an important editorial responsibility of the press to be accountable and responsible for what they print. What they print does influence others and the lens through which they view the world. The press shapes public opinion in many respects.

    When a government engages in a systematic propaganda against a specific people (ie Nazi Party) including vilifying and deriding Jews, is it any wonder how a vocal minority in Germany were able to transform an affect a large and peaceful nation into a powerful war machine that committed unspeakable horrors and atrocities? Do you think in retrospect the printers of the anti-semitic propaganda figuratively have “blood on their hands” for their actions and rhetoric that influenced millions.

    Without a check of editorial responsibility (not imposed by government censors or Orwellian tactics) and good judgement, the press (while vital), can be used with devastating effectiveness to polarize and militarize peoples, nations, and blocks of people.

    I will die on the hill to defend freedom of speech as my constitutional right, but I’m not naive enough to understand I am accountable for my actions and understand the power words and cartoons convey.

  121. Kevin Graham on February 11, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    If Muslims are serious about proving compatability between Islam and the West, then they sure aren’t doing themselves any favors here. Whining about cartoons in the most hypocritical fashion is, well, a joke.

    The Middle-East media is filled with anti-semitic propaganda. Jews are frequently referred to as the sons of apes and pigs, and even Islam’s highest ranking authority from Al Azhar in Cairo, reiterates this belief. This image pretty much says it all:

    http://www.danielpipes.org/pics/large/art_3360_1.jpg

  122. Harold B. Curtis on February 11, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    We could go to world war III over caricatures of a man who has been dead for 1600 years. Who would have thought!

    I now understand why the brethren talk about such things as mercy, love, forgiveness kindness, charity, respect.

    The new “ism” in the world is “in your faceism.” This is the perfect manifestation of what it leads to. The rights of a free press have dribbled on the right to worship who what and how we think, according to the dictates of our own conscience, be it who what or how they may, and that without the fear of being mocked.. Actions have repercussions, and the media seem to feel the need to stir the pot continually, on any number of issues. I do not condone the Muslem reaction nor do I sympathize with the arrogance of a media run amok. The Prince of Peace I believe would call for calm and mercy on both sides, and an ” I.m sorry” would help out matters greatly. Giving and taking offense are equal offenses, corrected by giving and taking appologies.

    Harold B. Curtis

  123. DKL on February 20, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    Jason Steed: I would have admired the European newspapers much more had they said, “We affirm our right to print this material–we proclaim without hesitation our belief in the right to free speech–but out of respect for our Muslim citizens and our Muslim neighbors, we decline to print it.”

    I think that this is the most articulate expression of the Islam-sympathetic viewpoint that has been so prevalent on this thread. I must admit, I find it a bit disturbing. The issue is a simple one, and I think that it’s a shame that Wilfried, Jason, Jim F, and others here seem so eager to formulate excuses to appease extremists.

    Flemming Rose, who published those cartoons, wrote an article in the Washington Post defending their publication. Anyone who needs to be reminded why his solicitation and publication of the cartoons is courageous and right and good should read it. Here’s a short quote:

    The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.

    and

    [I]f a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.

    That pretty much sums it up: If you want to play with the big boys, then you’ve got to learn to take the heat, and respect has got to run both ways or it won’t run at all.

    Read the rest of the piece. It’s well worth it.

  124. DKL on February 21, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Also, let it not be said that the Jews aren’t trying to make things better:

    http://www.boomka.org/

  125. Mathew on February 22, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    The efforts of certain ideological bloggers (not at this site) to keep the cartoon controversy alive long after it had ceased to be a story reminded me of nothing so much as the efforts of certain ideological imams trying to incite the controversy in the first place. But a new wrinkle, the possibility of which was alluded to above, occurred yesterday when David Irving was sentenced by an Austrian court to three years in jail for Holocaust denial. To deny the Holocaust is reprehensible, but throwing a person in jail for doing so undercuts bedrock principles of liberal democracy that ensure each individual’s thoughts have a chance to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

    In my view Irving’s denials are reprehensible–much worse than depicting the Prophet Mohammad, but in a pluralistic society there is no reasonable way to draw distinctions between my views and a Muslim who objects to depictions of Mohammad. In the interest of fairness you have to allow both. In addition, prohibiting speech may ultimately prove more harmful than helpful. A view not allowed to be unchallenged in the public sphere is most subject to a attack from a whisper campaign. It needs special protection, the reasoning may go, because it can’t stand on its merits. Because it may not be publicly challenged, to write on the subject will carry risks that will deter scholars from conducting research and the known facts of an event will ossify into a brittle canon subject to be undermined by rumors of the “real story.” The best protection the historical veracity of the Holocaust are laws facilitating robust inquiry into its details.

  126. DKL on February 22, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    I have four responses to David Irving jail sentence:

    First, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

    Second, if there is anyplace in the world where it should be illegal to deny the holocaust, then it should be the nation where Hitler was born.

    Third, the real reason why Irving’s treatment is news is because it happens so rarely. Soviet Block countries used to be treated people this way with great regularity, and there are still places in the world that do. No headlines about them. Austria wins our special disdain here because its behavior is novel.

    Fourth, I’m damned glad that you’d have to amend the US Constitution in order to enact such a law in the United States. I hope that keeps the same kind of thing from happening here.

    On a side note: as I understand it, David Irving has repudiated his publications that deny the holocaust.

  127. Jim F. on February 22, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    DKL: it’s a shame that Wilfried, Jason, Jim F, and others here seem so eager to formulate excuses to appease extremists.

    Huh? I just reread all of Wilfried’s posts, my post, and Jason’s. I don’t see how what you say is an accurate characterization. Wilfried asks us to try to understand why Muslims are offended–and though a minority has rioted, a majority finds the cartoons offensive. I suggest that the problem has to do with competing world views. Jason says that free speech has limits, suggesting I suppose that the Danish newspaper has stepped over the limits. If that is what Jason was suggesting, then I don’t agree. But I don’t see how to read any of those posts as formulating excuses to appease extremists.

    Suppose that any of the three of us had said the same things about “Valley of the Wolves,” taking the side of offended Christians and Jews. We could even suppose, contrary to fact, that some Christians or Jews rioted in response to the movie.) Would we have been excusing the rioters in that case? I don’t think so.

  128. DKL on February 22, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    Sorry to lump you in with that crew, Jim. I misread one of your comments, and I was mistaken about your view.

    In any case, here’s my defense of my statement saying that Wilfried, Jason, and others here seem eager to formulate excuses to appease extremists:

    First of all, Wilfried and those who agree with him have formulated the question in the terms assuming some fault among the publishers. Taking a look at just the first 20 comments in the thread, we see this:

    Wilfried: was there a need to provoke Muslims in the first place? (comment #3)

    Tim: Are we mature for permitting the distasteful degradation of religion in the name of free speech? And what is to be said for the people who enjoy this? (comment #4)

    Tyler: I can’t help but think, however, that all this hulabaloo is actually a sign of democratic weakness. In a sense, the insistence (especially by major publications) upon publishing offensive, uninstructive, and useless material seems to me to indicate a sort of national insecurity. (comment 12)

    Wilfried: the main point is not about free speech, but about the wisdom and respect not to provoke unnecessarily. (comment #17)

    Perhaps I’m wrong, and these guys are just operating from the assumption that most Muslims are extremist kooks. I don’t buy that. The Muslims that I know (and I’ve talked to them about it) think that the rioting and the violence are terrible.

    But if we accept the idea that these violent protesters are some combination of extremist kooks and rent-a-riot mercenaries, then I will not admit that we are “provoking” them by treating them the same way that every other religion gets treated in the western press.

    Sure, it would be “nicer” not to publish material that doesn’t offend anyone. But it would be nicer if people hadn’t invoked the word “censorship” and used the image of book-burning to criticized Republicans who were uncomfortable with Maplethorpe receiving NEA funding. It would also be nicer if Alec Baldwin didn’t say that Bush is a terrorist. It would be nicer if Al Gore didn’t imply that I have Down Syndrome because I’m a knee-jerk conservative. Heck, it would be “nicer” if T&S had never banned me. All this is beside the point.

    Institutions and individuals all over Europe have been caving-in to extremist “sensibilities” for months, and the first time that some paper courageously refuses to bow to the neo-Mccarthyist pressure coming from Muslim extremists, we get an earful about how it is unnecessarily provoking and gratuitously offensive. I’m sorry, but once you begin to imply that the rioting might have been avoided if the Danish paper had somehow behaved more righteously, you are indeed making excuses for the behavior of the violent, extremist minority.

    Also, I think it’s important for people to read the article in which the publisher defends himself, and one of the purposes of my comment was to make sure readers had a chance to visit that link.

  129. DKL on February 22, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    In my preceding comment, in the paragraph beginning “But if we accept the idea that these violent protesters…” I intended to indicate also that the violent protesters and those who shared their views were a small minority. Absent that, the paragraph doesn’t adequately differentiate the contrasting views that anti-western extremism is the Islamic mainstream vs. the view that anti-western extremism represents a minority of Islam.

  130. Jim F. on February 23, 2006 at 12:09 am

    David (a.k.a. DKL): I liked the piece to which you directed us. It makes a good argument, though one I ultimately disagree with: I disagree with the publisher’s sensibilities–I don’t think we need to push back some self-imposed limits, such as those that forbid us to urinate on the Koran (though we ought to include among them that we don’t urinate on the Bible)–but I agree that Muslims who live in the West should expect, and we should expect them to expect, not to be treated any more gently by the press than any other religion. However, I also think that you are painting Wilfried’s and others’ remarks too starkly. These propositions seem compatible to me:

    1. Most Muslims are not extremists.
    2. Most Muslims are offended by representations of Mohammed.
    3. As inexcusable as they are, the riots are a sign of the offense felt by most Muslims. (The offense is what makes some groups more easily manipulated by extremist factions.)
    4. We ought not to interfere with the free press, neither in Denmark nor in Austria.
    5. Journalists ought to consider the effect that their publications may have on the public. For example, they should avoid unnecessary offense (i.e., self-imposed limitations aren’t necessarily bad).

    Wilfired has asked us to think about 2, 3, and 5, but to do so is not to deny 1 or 4, nor is it to provide those who riot with an excuse for their riots.

    A similar case: I think that the French-Arabs living in the ghetto-like suburbs of Paris have lots of reasons to be dissatisfied with their lives and their treatment by the French government. I think those reasons contributed to last fall’s riots and I think that the French should do something to change the problems. It doesn’t follow that I am willing to excuse the rioters. Sarkozy certainly doesn’t excuse them. He’s taken a lot of heat for not doing so. But no one has done more to recognize the problems and do something about them than he.

  131. DKL on February 23, 2006 at 1:44 am

    I’m not so sure about #3 (As inexcusable as they are, the riots are a sign of the offense felt by most Muslims). Let’s take as an example the Krakauer book, which I find offensive–so much so that I’ve taken the time to write down a detailed explanation of why. Now let’s say that some other offended Mormons decided to vandalize Krakauer’s property or loot his publisher or make threats against him or his family (it’s possible–there are 12 million of us). If anyone claimed that their violence was somehow a “sign of the offense” that I felt, I would vehemently object. In fact, I’d be loath to admit any amount of commonality between their offense and mine.

    I believe that your #5 (Journalists ought to consider the effect that their publications may have on the public) is our real bone of contention. There’s a sense in which this is a truism. For example, though it is important that the press remain free to use the ‘N’ word, there are very few (if any) circumstances where it would seem responsible to actually use it.

    More germane to this case is the fact that we’ve got artists peeing on the scriptures and crucifixes, newspapers using negative caricatures of holy symbols, and museum exhibits that meld sexual imagery with sacred texts. This is, for better or for worse, simply part and parcel of western discourse, and it’s not going to change any time soon. Any journalist that puts Islam on equal footing with Judaism and Christianity places it squarely within this universe of discourse, and I don’t begrudge that journalist his judgment or his moral outlook. One can reasonably argue that this manner of discourse should change, but it simply won’t do to grant ad hoc exemptions due to threats of violence, real or perceived.

    Moreover, I find it vaguely troubling that when confronted with outrageous objections from a group that (using Wilfried’s words) “we have learned to view… as fundamentalist and threatening,” the reaction of many is to moralize on the responsibility to somehow accommodate these outrageous objections by being more sensitive and responsible. This is part of what leads me to smell more than a small whiff of appeasement in their outlook. On the other hand, when christians in the USA have peacefully objected to the use of tax money to fund art that they find offensive–and not even to the art per se–there are many who treat them with scorn and derision, and absolutely nobody publicly admonishes the artists themselves to try to be less offensive.

  132. Wilfried on February 23, 2006 at 9:44 am

    We know a thread can go in any direction and this one certainly has continuously focused on Muslims. When I posted the original post on February 2nd, news about the protests against the cartoons had just started, no one had been killed and no embassy had been burned. The protests could have died out the next day. The subsequent events and massive discussion all over the world have no doubt colored the rest of the thread. My intent of the post, as is clear from the text, was to draw the attention to the negative depiction of Mormons and its effect on our members and on the Church, with examples: “Could the matter be compared to something we as Mormons experienced?” and the general question in that connection: “What are the criteria when it comes to free speech versus respect for religion?”

    When the first comments immediately defended absolute free speech, I re-emphasized the focus in comment 3: “But would you still agree if a newspaper ridiculed in cartoons e.g. scenes of our temple ceremony? And depicted Mormons as dangerous Danites? And if other papers enjoyed the further provocation by publishing even more after the first Mormon protest? And not in a strong Mormon environment where it would be harmless to the members, but in regions where anti-Mormon sentiment was already rampant and only needed this kind of provocation to inflame the population even more? I’m not taking sides. I’m trying to understand the various viewpoints in this potentially dangerous situation. Without being too quickly led by emotion in defense of free speech.”

    Further on I tried to refocus the discussion to that issue. My concern was with our vulnerable members in some mission fields. In comment 13: “Moreover my comparison with Mormonism is not only with the situation in the U.S., where deriding does not hurt us as such any more. I’m thinking of the effect of similar derision of Mormons in regions where feelings against “cultsâ€? such as Mormonism are already tense and where it is easy to turn people even more against us.”

    In comment 17: “there are circumstances where it is not that simple. Think of the Mormon couple, just married, standing with family in front of the temple for pictures, and then being confronted with obscene insults from protesters. Then your standpoint “free speech means that we are just as free to get angry with the protesters and voice that anger right to their faces as they have to vilify that which is sacred to usâ€? is certainly correct, but does the couple and the family want that, ruining that special day? So, as many comments have shown, the main point is not about free speech, but about the wisdom and respect not to provoke unnecessarily.”

    In comment 102 I reminded how “Hitler’s anti-Semitic campaign worked from the onset with cartoons, deriding the Jews.” We know how these kinds of hateful depictions are able to prepare people for much worse. Not all people are able to react to cartoons (or any form of subversive information) like distant intellectuals or wise thinkers. Hate-crimes, encouraged by provocative information, are being perpetrated — also against Mormons.

    It’s been an interesting thread, but clearly and heavily influenced by the events of the past weeks. To state that “it’s a shame that Wilfried, Jason, Jim F, and others here seem so eager to formulate excuses to appease extremists” (123) is, in my opinion, a flawed assessment of our intentions and our comments.

    However, to help appease extremists, from whatever side, seems to me a worthy cause to be engaged in. I would take that as a compliment.

  133. DKL on February 23, 2006 at 10:49 am

    Interesting comment, Wilfried. Thanks for reminding me of the timeline. I didn’t read this thread until a few days ago, when everything was already history.

    As far as Hitler is concerned, I don’t accord the same import to his anti-semitic propaganda. To start with, for the better part of two millennia, Europe maintained a tradition of (often violent) anti-semitism. In many countries this was the norm. With the exception of countries like Poland that were utterly overrun and controlled by the Nazis, there’s something of a correlation between how anti-semitic a country had been in preceding centuries and how many of their Jewish neighbors they handed over to Nazi authorities. Vichy France, for example, didn’t need long periods of exposure to anti-semitic propaganda to begin turning it’s Jews over to occupation forces. The Danes, on the other hand, behaved more honorably. Second, it was practices like the euthanizing of mentally ill patients that started the slippery slope that embroiled Germany’s educated medical professionals in the dirty business of (first) eugenics and (later) death camps.

    As far as whether it is a worthy cause to appease extremists, you know I have a more defiant nature than you. Plus, the way I see it, appeasement has a long, sad record of failure. History has taught us the same thing over and over: The more you give, the more they take. Shackling the members of the press with some sort of unique deference to Islamic custom is no different from shackling anyone else in society with unique deference to Islamic custom. And so, asking the publisher to refrain from publishing the cartoons is tantamount to asking American women to wear burkas.

  134. Jim F. on February 23, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    DKL: it simply won’t do to grant ad hoc exemptions due to threats of violence.

    I agree, and some have done that in response. But I don’t think that is what Wilfried was doing, even if he is willing to appease extremists. (and I’m not.)

    In spite of our disagreement about Wilfried, I don’t think we disagree that the West presently finds itself in a very dangerous position: Islamic extremism is implicitly trying to take over European culture, and one of its most important means of doing so is to demand an exception in the name of multiculturalism, or religious difference, or what-have-you. I don’t think Islam should have a more protected status than any other religion in a Western state.

  135. Wilfried on February 23, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Thank you, Jim. I’m not sure we disagree, but we need to specify what we understand by the term “appease”. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, we have this distinction:
    1 – To bring peace, quiet, or calm to;
    2 – To pacify or attempt to pacify (an enemy) by granting concessions, often at the expense of principle.

    I would be willing to try go for 1, not for 2. Of course, the reply to trying 1 will be that extremists always will want concessions at the expense of our principles. If that is the case, I agree we’re deadlocked.

    You raise the issue of “Islamic extremism implicitly trying to take over European culture”. You’re right, I’m afraid (and if you said so publicly in Belgium, you could be jailed for racist statements, which is indeed where multicultural insanity brings us). But I wonder if our Mormon claims to ultimate universality (our rhetoric is pretty strong in that respect!), also in view of e.g. the Church’s impact on State laws in Utah, are, ontologically at least, not pretty similar to those Islamic objectives. Non-members might think so. How would the world look if the Church, universally strong and directed by uncompromising leaders, could decide on everything in society?

  136. Jim F. on February 24, 2006 at 12:20 am

    Wilfried, it is interesting that the dictionary gives that order to the definitions. I would have expected the reverse: appeasement as granting concessions first, then bringing peace.

    I think you are right that Mormon rhetoric can be frightening to non-Mormons, especially in Utah. However, the interesting thing for me is that Mormon culture has a lot more power in the Utah legislature than does Mormon authority. Utah legislators have voted against the Church on a number of recent issues, for example the hate crimes bill and issues regarding illegal aliens. The church has a lot less influence on legislators than is conventionally assumed because, oddly perhaps, the leaders of the Church seem, politically, to be more “liberal” than most legislators.

    Churches with a centrally governed priesthood are, by their very nature, undemocratic. Islam has difficulty with democracy for different reasons. But I certainly understand why both could be feared by outsiders.

  137. Bill on February 24, 2006 at 12:53 am

    The Vatican has more to say on the issue, calls for reciprocity.

  138. DKL on February 24, 2006 at 1:50 am

    Jim, I agree with you that the west is in a dangerous position vis a vis Islamic extremism. John Stuart Mill famously said, “If civilisation has got the better of barbarism when barbarism had the world to itself, it is too much to profess to be afraid lest barbarism, after having been fairly got under, should revive and conquer civilisation.” As catchy and attractive as this sounds, the repeated failures of imperialism, democracy, and internationalism that persistently marred the 20th century has shown that Mill’s statement is little more than naïve Victorian optimism. There are exists a real possibility for genuine challenges that, if unanswered, will destroy western civilization. At some point, we may well have to consider the possibility of whether Islamic extremism poses such a challenge. There is a legitimate question of what might be done to avert such a contingency. If I understand you correctly, it seems that we agree that offering Islamic extremism some kind of special exemption from western liberalism is not the solution.

    I also find the order of those definitions of appease to surprising. Merriam-Webster also orders them that way. In my mind, when I hear the term “appeasement,” I immediately think “Anschluss and Sudetenland.”

    That said, it’s fair to say that definition #2 is not a first person type of definition; that is, public figures don’t usually say, “I’m going to attempt to pacify the enemy at the expense of my principles.” Generally, they set out to do #1, and some time later other people tell us whether they’ve ended up doing #2. (Chamberlain was perhaps a notable exception, since he reversed his own [and Baldwin’s] earlier policy.)

    I don’t see a comparison to the excesses of Mormon rhetoric. The issue that concerns me is the actions (specifically, the mob violence) of the Islamic rioters, not their rhetoric. (Interestingly, John Stuart Mill offered his [above-quoted] opinion concerning barbarism in a passage that criticized the American’s for exaggerating the dangers of Mormon polygamy.)

    But, Wilfried, I’m confused about where you stand concerning whether Flemming Rose should have solicited and published the cartoons. Are you saying that he shouldn’t have published them because you object to offensive religious imagery in general, or because you object to religious imagery that is especially offensive to Muslims?

  139. Wilfried on February 24, 2006 at 10:18 am

    DKL, your question about where I stand: “Are you saying that he shouldn’t have published them [the cartoons] because you object to offensive religious imagery in general, or because you object to religious imagery that is especially offensive to Muslims?”

    Well, I have not thought about this because the dilemma was not on that issue for me. I don’t think I ever said that he shouldn’t have published them. Free speech is a vital principle of our democracies. But in the post I raised the question of limits between free speech and respect for religion, and connected this to my concern for the safety of our own Latter-day Saints.

    Years ago Belgian TV, in a satirical program, showed a theatrical vignette, set on the street, where two Mormon missionaries were deliberately run over by a car. Both dead and blood all over the windshield. Immediately a smiling vendor appeared to promote a great product to wash away “Mormon stains”.

    How should we as Mormons have reacted? Proud that we were now in the big league of also getting such attention? Laughing out loud for such great fun? Now imagine this is shown in some country where killings over religious issues are not uncommon and where Mormon missionaries labor, already harassed for their work. Would their parents in the U.S. acclaim the freedom of speech in the media for showing such depictions? Would they say to the producer – in Voltaire’s spirit: “I disapprove of what you depict, but I will defend your right to depict it, even it means getting my boy back in a casket” ?

    Next imagine the TV would have done the same “fun” scene with two Jews or two Muslims… Inconceivable. But when it came to Mormons, no problem.

    So I think there are probably limits when free speech dramatically infringes on respect for religion, especially when depictions show contempt for human beings and could entice violence and hate-crimes. That was my starting point in the post and it still is in the form of a question: Where are the limits? Many commenters in this thread have stressed wisdom and restraint. But that, certainly, raises the question of intercultural variants in determining what is acceptable and what not. I do not have a clear-cut answer, but I sure hope the complexity of the matter has become clearer.

  140. Russell Arben Fox on February 24, 2006 at 10:35 am

    “Well, I have not thought about this because the dilemma was not on that issue for me. I don’t think I ever said that he shouldn’t have published them.”

    I’m coming quite late to this, but for what it’s worth, I don’t think they should have been published. At least, certainly not all of them; there was a lot of self-congratulatory defiance than responsible public-spiritedness which went into that decision. And no, I don’t think being sensitive to the needs and expectations of the public within which one lives is a death-blow to democracy.

    “Where are the limits? Many commenters in this thread have stressed wisdom and restraint. But that, certainly, raises the question of intercultural variants in determining what is acceptable and what not. I do not have a clear-cut answer, but I sure hope the complexity of the matter has become clearer.”

    I tried to work my own response to this complex question–which, I think, is centrally about the ability of a polity to actually conceive of religions like Islam and Mormonism, with all their “illiberal” demands, as nonetheless an important element in the liberal public sphere–here.

  141. bbell on February 24, 2006 at 11:06 am

    To me there is a clear attempt to take over Europe by Muslim Extremists. The bigger issue to me is who is having the babies? I have read recently that 60% of Births in France are to Muslim parents???? Is this true?

    I would predict in the next 20 years that there will increased immigration to the US, Canada, Aus and NZ from Europe as the Muslim Demographic victory in Europe becomes even more obvious.

  142. Jim F. on February 24, 2006 at 11:37 am

    bbell: I think that Muslim immigration into Europe is a problem when the immigrants are extremists, which a number are, and I use the word “extremist” to mean “someone who insists on being allowed to live sharia law in a European country.” But two points are important: (1) The majority of Muslims in Europe are not extremists (though the number who are is not insignificant), and (2) even the extremists aren’t immigrating in order to try to take over Europe. Like most immigrants, they are mostly immigrating for economic reasons. If they were to take over Europe, it would be a natural result of other things, not the result of a plan.

  143. bbell on February 24, 2006 at 11:47 am

    I would not say plan. I am not a conspiracy kook. Its just the inevitable consequence of refusing to have children in any numbers and hosting fecund immigrants. Nature abhors a vacuum you might say. The extermists are just going to tag along and enjoy the benefits of the demographics that are in their favor. I see it pretty much as a done deal.

  144. Wilfried on February 24, 2006 at 11:52 am

    I appreciate all input, but how difficult to keep this thread on track!

    Let’s go back to comments 139 and 140 and try to focus on the issue. Russell refers to his very interesting contribution on In Medias Res. Worth reading!

  145. DKL on February 24, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Wilfried, from your latest comment, it seems to me that you’re talking about the classic tension between free speech and incitement to action. This is most clearly represented as the difference between my saying, “Killing this group of people is not a bad idea” and “Wilfried, take this brick and bash-in the head of some member of that group.” Another easy example of speech-as-incitement is shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. There have always been areas of speech that are so clearly destructive that they are limited by law. I don’t see Voltaire having any problem with this at all.

    There is, to be sure, plenty of grey area. The problem is that any society willing to tolerate the destructive consequences of speech-as-incitement isn’t likely to appreciate the distinction. On the other hand, when there are no destructive consequences, there is a tendency to to say, “No harm, no foul.” That said, I don’t consider it wise or responsible to publish overt bigotry in the name of free speech, no matter how legal it should otherwise be. I just don’t see the Mohammed cartoons as overt bigotry.

    Russell, as a political scientist, you know that liberalism conceives of political opposition as loyal in some sense; that is, all political parties support the system that they participate in. The problem of a disloyal opposition that seeks power within a system in order to disrupt it is another very old problem. In liberalism and illiberal systems alike, the only workable solution has been to treat such opposition as though it were a covert attempt at a revolution or a coup. Indeed, I see the current debate over the importance of security vs civil-rights in the USA as an argument over the criteria we use for classifying someone as covert revolutionary.

    To me, the worst that one can say that of Flemming Rose is that he yanked the carpet of special-treatment out from under Islam. So they also display a glib, self-congratulating attitude of defiance? So do I. Am I irresponsible to?

  146. Russell Arben Fox on February 24, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    “[L]iberalism conceives of political opposition as loyal in some sense; that is, all political parties support the system that they participate in. The problem of a disloyal opposition that seeks power within a system in order to disrupt it is another very old problem. In liberalism and illiberal systems alike, the only workable solution has been to treat such opposition as though it were a covert attempt at a revolution or a coup.”

    Ah, but you’re eliding an important step there–the moment in which the boundaries of the system are constituted. When was that, and how was it done? In democratic societies, those boundaries are presumably informed by and reflective of the participation of the persons who live within that society. If a lot of those people turn out to be Muslims for whom certain acts are considered blasphemous, then how is it that they should continue to privatize their concerns about blasphemy in the name of an elite construction of the liberal order, or else be branded a “disloyal” opposition to the system? Granted that those who turn to violence are, of course, interacting with the system wrongly and should be punished for such; but were the demands for and expectations of what you call “special treatment” in themselves disloyal, or revolutionary? Was the publication of those cartoons the reflection of a principle so central to the constitution of Danish society that to not publish them would consist of the breakdown of that society? Even the decision not to publish them happened to be supported by a large number of persons who actually live within said society? At some point, one has to face to up who gets to define the boundaries of discourse, and whether those boundaries ought not be allowed to change in the face of immigration, conversion, etc.

    “So they also display a glib, self-congratulating attitude of defiance? So do I. Am I irresponsible to?”

    Yes, insofar as this matter is concerned. I’m surprised you wouldn’t agree. Every free society will of course produce Voltaires, H.L. Menckens, Christopher Hitchenses, and DKLs; it’s inevitable. And it’s not a major problem; in fact, it’s a boon. But a society that always praises and defends from all consequences such irreverent spirits when they shape public discourse is not a society that will be attending to the necessary roots of public feeling particularly well.

  147. Jim F. on February 24, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    DKL: Am I irresponsible to? Need you ask? If so, consult your wife.

  148. DKL on February 24, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Russell, I find no more plausibility in the social contract theory of government than in any other conspiracy theory. Put simply, there is no moment at which boundaries are created, and nobody “defines” the boundaries of discourse. You’ll notice that my earlier comments take the current state of western discourse (and by implication, its accompanying boundaries) as a fait accompli. From things like government officials trying to choke their chickens to men marrying goats to Olympic streakers for online gambling, there are an indefinite number of easily identifiable areas that are outside of the boundaries. But there is also a large grey area that is constantly being tested, being redefined, and in turn redefining how the inside and the outside work. Thus, the notion of loyalty changes over time and is difficult to define even for any moment. Just the same, its quite enough for our argument that we may safely say that anyone trying to circumscribe freedom of the press in some way not encompassed by current standards of incitement, trade secrecy, or copyright law, then they are part of a disloyal opposition.

    You ask, “Was the publication of those cartoons the reflection of a principle so central to the constitution of Danish society that to not publish them would consist of the breakdown of that society?”

    I say emphatically, “Yes.” The principle that is at stake is simply the demonstration that such cartoons can be published, that Islam is not above western discourse in any way that precludes cartoons’ publication, and that Islam can be engaged candidly by western journalists (and not all of the cartoons were negative depictions of Mohammed–one actually called the paper’s editors reactionary thugs). In light of the kowtowing to Islamic interests that had been occurring in the months and weeks preceding the publication of the cartoons, I think that this is an important thing to establish.

    You’re correct to point out that a sizable number of people in Denmark would prefer that the cartoons were never published. I just don’t see how that is relevant. For any controversial publication, there are scads of people who wish that it could be swept under the rug. (For example, many of people would prefer that the Starr Report had never been published.) In fact, the very purpose of freedom of the press is to ensure that the decision is not left up to them.

    Jim: Regarding any discussion I have with Shannon regarding whether I’m responsible, my only recourse is to the Sammy Cahn lyric: “Call me irresponsible. Call me unreliable. Throw in undependable, too….”

  149. Jim F. on February 24, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    David, though we agree on many things in this case, we don’t agree on the central issue. I fail to see how there is some principle of “equal offense” that requires a newspaper that has offended one group to offend another in order not to give the second some kind of special privilege. Yet it seems to me that is what you (and the Danish newspaper) are arguing: if they didn’t offend everyone, then they would have privileged the Muslims, so they had to offend the Muslims too.

    There is some logical truth to that, but it is perverse. If I beat up one neighbor, I don’t have to beat up all of the others to be egalitarian. I should stop beating people up and do something else to prove that I don’t favor the neighbor or neighbors I didn’t beat up. I understand the logic of your third paragraph. I just don’t buy it. There are other ways to establish that Islam is one religion among others and that it is not above Western discourse than publishing insulting cartoons about it.

  150. DKL on February 24, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    I hadn’t thought of it that way Jim, but I think that your formulation of this “principle of equal offense” has some merit. I’m reminded of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character, about whom we’re told, “He’s not prejudice. He hates everybody.”

    Leaving aside your example of assault and battery (since they don’t fall under the behaviors protected in western liberalism), there is something about badmouthing everybody that makes it more innocuous and less vindictive than if you singled out some group or individual for badmouthing.

    Even so, Flemming Rose’s actions didn’t take place in a vacuum. As a reaction against months of caving in to the anticipated objections of violent extremists, he’s right on. You’re right that it’s not the only way, but it certainly is the best.

  151. Jim F. on February 25, 2006 at 12:29 am

    I don’t have anything new to add (except to note, if it needs noting, that DKL is wrong and I am right). However, I think this article by Amartya Sen is particularly good and relevant to this discussion: http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20060227&s=sen022706

  152. DKL on February 25, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Jim: …except to note, if it needs noting, that DKL is wrong and I am right

    ROTFLMAO. Good one, Jim. Not to imply that you’re incorrect in noting that–I’ll leave that decision up to readers. Just the same, that’s very funny.

    Anyway: Interesting article at TNR. While reading it, it occurred to me that absent some principal of “equal offense,” multiculturalism is little more than a shield for enemies of our own traditions and traditional values.

    This is an issue that really fascinates me. On the one hand, it’s astonishing to see the Boston Globe, which lept at the chance to use fake internet p*rn (depicting US soldiers and iraqi captives) as the basis for demanding Rumsfeld’s resignation, deem it irresponsible to publish the cartoons (If I recall correctly, the publisher of the liberal Mormon blog Political Juice repeated both of these mistakes). On the other hand, it’s kinda’ funny when the same newspapers that scorn middle class Americans for objecting to Mapplethorpe’s NEA funding, and that laugh at those who support fining a network for the Janet Jackson-Superbowl fiasco or the Victoria’s Secret show, bow in deference to the delicate sensibilities of Muslim religionists.

    It’s also interesting that this issue could bring strong enough agreement between the unlikely duo of William Bennett and Alan Dershowitz to prompt them to co-author an opinion piece about it together. (From yesterday’s Washington Post, available here.) I don’t know how thought provoking it is, but it certainly hits the nail on the head.

  153. Wilfried on February 25, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    I think I should just briefly mention how much I enjoy Jim’s and DKL’s interesting exchanges. And not only because they make my thread the longest I’ve ever had. Thank you both, and others before. As for me, I see little to add besides what I have said, but the comments continue to broaden the horizon.

  154. dee on March 23, 2006 at 11:18 am

    for me, the matter shouldn’t be whether free speech overrules disrespect for religion or not. everyone has the freedom of religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. seeing as how the Muslims have their rights as well, i think the Danish editors should have respect instilled in them, for other people’s rights. yes, they are entitled to free speech, but the Muslims deserve respect for their beliefs. so, its more like a matter of morals and ethics. and it can’t really be compared with mormons and all, as different people have different capacity for various things.