While one can accept the concept of freedom of speech being analogous to a religious creed in the Western democracies, it does not logically follow that such a freedom can be willfully used to denigrate the beliefs of other people – be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu et al.
Although Jyllands-Posten - a Danish right-wing Christian newspaper - by publishing offensive cartoons of Islam’s Prophet, has insisted that it was simply exercising its right of free expression, its past actions belie this claim.
As the Guardian reports:
And according to an account in the International Herald Tribune, Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllands-Posten the Danish editor behind the offensive cartoons said in an interview that:
In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of...cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten.
Zieler received an email back from the paper's Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: "I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them."
[He] would not publish caricatures of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel strangling a Palestinian baby since such an image could be construed as racist.Okay, cartoons of Christ were censored as they would ‘provoke an outcry’ and caricatures of Ariel Sharon suppressed because such images ‘could be construed as racist.’
So, it does become somewhat evident that Jyllands-Posten did not wish to afford Muslims the same deference that the newspaper was willing to provide to its Christian and Jewish readers. So, one can therefore reasonably infer that the cartoons were purposely published without least bothering about the sensibilities of the members of the Danish community of Muslims. Having looked at the statements and actions of the newspaper’s editorial staff chronologically over the past few months, I would go further and suggest that the gratuitous publication of the cartoons, in fact, were intended to humiliate the local Muslims.
While one can accept the fact that in Western Europe the governments have no control over its press; after all freedom of the press is one of the fundamental bastions of a modern democracy. But Denmark’s rightwing and stridently anti-immigrant PM Anders Rasmussen’s obduracy added fuel to an existing inflammatory situation.
As Time magazine reported:
[T]he tempest might have remained a largely local dispute had Prime Minister Rasmussen not compounded the editors' intransigence by refusing to meet with the ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries to discuss the cartoon flap.Rasmussen’s unusual behaviour even came in for criticism from his nearby colleague, the Swedish prime minister, who said:
Rasmussen has remained passive, "If I were him, I would say the government and the press have no right to humiliate and hurt people because of their religion."In retrospect, if Jyllands-Posten had displayed less arrogance towards the rising Muslim protest and the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen shown some empathy, the contraversary may have been contained in the earlier stages. But both were playing to the public gallery - there has been a marked increase in anti-immigration sentiment among the Danes, particularly towards Muslim immigrants who are perceived by many locals as posing a threat to Danish culture.
And so, it becomes increasingly obvious that this issue is not really about a clash of cultures – i.e. the democratic concept of ‘freedom of expression’ vs. Islamic fundamentalism. Instead it is about a newspaper, carried away with jingoistic exuberance, deliberately seeking to insult members of a religious community under the pretext of press freedom.
Many western newspapers, believing the issue to be all about democratic freedoms, have injudiciously proceeded on a wrong course of action. To my mind the freedom of expression is a hallowed right of a free society, but in this instance it has been intentionally misused for malevolent purposes.
Free press, like other freedoms, comes with an obligation of exercising responsible judgment. Newspapers should have the complete freedom to speak out on any issue of their choice, but publications that deliberately seek to offend powerless minorities (Danish Muslims, in this case) do not further healthy debate nor advance the cause of freedom.
And finally, I would suggest that those who wish to demonstrate against the publication of these insulting cartoons have every right to do so – but peacefully. Resorting to unnecessary violence has no place in a civilized society.