Freedom of the press is one of the hallmarks of a free society. However, not all will agree on how this necessary liberty should be used. The caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad printed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was certainly an abuse of this precious right.
Jyllands-Posten has tried to defend the printing of the cartoons, which were published on Sept. 30, 2005, by saying that it is covered by their right to freedom of expression. While this is true, it is vital to understand that with any freedom comes responsibility.
For instance, you cannot yell “Bomb!” in the middle of a crowded room and not be held accountable for the ensuing consequences. In seven European countries, it is illegal to say that Adolf Hitler did not have millions of Jews killed. In one of the protests over the cartoons in Great Britain, a young Muslim man was wearing a suicide bomber vest, which caused a British newspaper to write on its front page, “Nick Him”, which means “Nab him” in American English. The young man soon apologized to the families of those who perished in the London bombings in July of last year. In 1984, Danish artist Jens J√É∏rgen Thorsen painted a naked Jesus with an erect penis on a public building, but it was soon removed after public outcry.
In free societies, the people definitely have a right to express themselves, but with that freedom comes responsibility – especially when it is known ahead of time that such an expression could cause violence.
The issue at hand is not about freedom of expression versus censorship. It is about respect.
In the case of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, it is not that Muslims throughout the world hate freedom of expression. Rather, the anger comes from the way the cartoons portray the Prophet Muhammad in a malicious way. For example, one had the Prophet wearing a bomb as his turban, another showed him telling suicide bombers that Paradise has run out of virgins, and another showed the Prophet, with bushy eyebrows and facial hair, with a sword in his hand. These cartoons are definitely a disgusting abuse of the right to freedom of expression. They are prime examples of freedom without responsibility.
Although these cartoons were extremely hurtful to many, the newspaper editors should not necessarily be fired, the newspaper should not be forced to suspend circulation, and the Danish government should never tell its newspapers what to print. These actions would be a blow to freedom of press. The decision and responsibility for printing or not printing belongs exclusively to newspapers.
Even though newspapers who reprinted these cartoons acted irresponsibly, the reaction to the cartoons in the Muslim world is certainly reprehensible.
Once the Muslim world found out about the cartoons via a group of Danish imams who went on a tour in the Middle East, all hell broke loose. While the original boycotts and peaceful assemblies were reasonable means of protesting, these soon gave way to violence. It makes perfect sense why the cartoons have offended Muslims, but it is hard to make sense of the violence.
Saad Hariri, son of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was right when he said that it was a “black day” when Lebanese protesters burned down the Danish embassy in Beirut.
It seems that those in the Muslim world that turned to violence were run only by emotions – this has to change. What has happened to the great virtue of patience that has been stressed by Islam? It would be great to see Muslims around the world turn out in large peaceful rallies calling for the release of Jill Carroll and protesting against evil acts in the name of Islam.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, arguably the greatest moderate Muslim leader today, fears that the rift in the relationship between Islam and the West has deepened. According to bbc.co, in a recent conference in Kuala Lumpur, Badawi noted that there is a hostile treatment of Islam and Muslims in the Western media. He also noted that there is the same kind of hostility towards Jews, Christians, and the West in the mainstream media of the Muslim world. Mr. Badawi went on to say that “The West should treat Islam the way it wants it to treat the West and vice versa. They should accept one another as equals.”
Amen to that.