Cartoons Are 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 Europe."
"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, and people?
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 of Islam.
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 Sept. 11.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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