Media’s Sept 11
By Yuru Chen
New America Media
Flemming Rose, the culture editor
at Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that
first published cartoons satirizing the Prophet
Muhammad, said that the newspaper does not regret
having commissioned those cartoons. In fact, when
Newsweek first asked Rose whether the newspaper
will apologize, he said, "For what?"
Rose said he decided to print the cartoons because
he wanted "to test the tendency toward self-censorship
among people in artistic and cultural circles in
"That's why I commissioned these cartoons,"
Rose said, "to test this tendency and to start
a debate about it."
This is absurd.
When intellectuals make a mistake, a common way
to avoid blame is to elevate the mistake, intellectualize
it and philosophize it, even making it into a scholarly
discussion to hide the obtuseness behind the mistake.
They think this tactic can intimidate average people.
They purposefully use noble principles to justify
a momentary careless decision, giving the most ordinary
mistake an erudite hat of complexity. They used
this incident to become a vanguard, a leader --
in this sense, they have only gained from their
mistake, not lost.
But whether you stand on the left or right side
of the issue, this tactic is disingenuous and opportunistic.
Instead of facing reality and being responsible
for their mistakes, all the newspaper has done is
salvage their pride and avoid responsibility.
A simple story to illustrate Rose's argument: A
professor skips class to go bird hunting. When the
head of the department asks him why he was not at
school, the professor replies, "I went to study
the free fall of flying objects and the landing's
impact on the environment." Rose's argument
follows a similar line of logic.
The media, especially media with a sense of responsibility,
should genuinely play the role of a recorder and
analyst. The media should not put itself on the
stage as a player, even setting fire to the theater,
sending terrified audience out of the door.
All media enjoy the principals of freedom of speech
and the room it gives to creativity. But, when the
media makes a mistake, it must apologize sincerely.
Jyllands-Posten is Denmark's mainstream media; with
its vast power of influence should come a greater
sense of responsibility. But when the editors make
such a costly mistake, they split hairs, arguing
for their own sake. We feel pained and ashamed to
be their colleagues in journalism.
Rose has recently taken leave from the magazine.
Jyllands-Posten has since apologized for offending
Muslims but says it still stands by its decision
to print the drawings, citing freedom of speech.
Western media shouldn't use lofty excuses of "protecting
the freedom of speech" as retaliation for the
violent reaction of Muslims. This only expands the
conflict infinitely. If media wants to find the
source of this incident, and if the mistake lies
in the media, then this is not a question of the
media being oppressed. From the beginning, the media
maliciously twisted and disgraced religion. Key
people involved in publishing the cartoon allowed
months to pass without apologizing, and even euphemized
their argument, worsening the situation.
The basic tenet of freedom of speech is respect:
respecting others to earn their respect. The media
is a space for conversation, for both sides of an
issue to express their opinions, rather than a space
for newspapers to put themselves on a pedestal.
Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are two
sides of the same coin. A sophisticated journalist
should understand that respect for different races,
cultures, and religions is the basis for harmony
in a society and global harmony.
Would Jyllands-Posten publish a cartoon to satirize
the Danish royal family, depicting them in sexually
humiliating ways? Would Jyllands-Posten publish
cartoons that burn the cross or raise the Nazi flag,
all in the name of testing "the tendency toward
self-censorship among people in artistic and cultural
circles in Europe?" If we respect different
social traditions, culture, and religions, how can
we extend this respect only to European royalty
and Christians but not to other religions, cultures,
Jyllands-Posten has exposed a side that is racist
and ignorant. It is obvious that the newspaper's
purpose was to discriminate, not to increase understanding
Danish media and the Western media that rallied
behind it -- how are they different from media terrorists?
Because they are ignorant, prejudiced and deceitful,
they have created a bomb that has caused another