Free Speech: Putting Our Own House in Order

The Jyllands-Posten cartoons

In 2005, Flemming Rose, the culture editor at Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, formulated a response to several acts of censorship—including when a group of imams urged Denmark’s prime minister to shelter Islam from the vagaries of a free press. Rose invited all 25 members of the Danish political cartoonists association to “draw Muhammad as you see him.”

A dozen accepted the assignment and all 12 cartoons were published in Jyllands-Posten.

Then all hell broke loose…

…The most prescient cartoon had the Prophet gazing at his likeness in a newspaper while telling two angry, sword-wielding minions, “Relax, guys, it’s just a sketch made by a Dane in the southwest of Denmark.”

Denmark’s Islamic clerics did the opposite of relax. They put the drawings in a booklet, added several faked, much more incendiary cartoons that had never appeared in the paper, and headed to Muslim capitals to incited violence against Danes. In the ensuing riots and chaos, 250 people lost their lives…

…Our most sage and sober commentators assure us that the Charlie Hebdo murderers are outliers and that allowing them to frame the narrative as Islam-against-the-civilized-world is a mistake.

The bodies in the newsmagazines offices were still warm when MSNBC commentators worried aloud that the attack could fuel “nativist” or “anti-immigrant” attitudes in Europe. The Guardian published a column accusing Charlie Hebdo of having stoked “a climate of intolerance” in France while insisting that the vast majority of Muslims are nonetheless appalled by the killings.

Polls show that most British Muslims believe the Danish cartoonists should have been prosecuted. Sixty-four percent of Egyptians support the death penalty for Muslims who leave the faith. It is these kinds of attitudes that sparked a spirited on-air debate between actor Ben Affleck and television host Bill Maher…

…One way those in the West can make this clear to our enemies is to put our own house in order. That means several things, starting with the mainstream U.S. media dispensing with the fiction that they didn’t run the Danish cartoons—and won’t run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons even now—because they are loath to offend their readers. They offend readers all the time, and happily…

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