World of pain

The space between free speech and respect in the ultimate culture war
By EDITORIAL  |  February 10, 2006

There are three reasons not to publish the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed with his turban styled as a bomb (to view the cartoons, click here) and the other images that have sparked violent protests and deaths throughout Europe, the Middle East, West Asia, and Indonesia:

1) Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.

2) Out of respect for the millions of faithful and peace-abiding believers throughout the world who are deeply disturbed by the violation of their religion’s proscription against the pictorial representation of their prophet.

3) And in the hope that restraint shown by those who believe deeply in the sanctity of free speech will be able to stand side by side with those who believe with equal fervor in the dignity of religious expression to oppose the forces of darkness and evil in the Islamic world.

That is why there is no image in the space above this editorial.

Make no mistake: the events of the past two weeks are the clash of civilizations writ large, a bloody conflict that makes the intense culture wars that grip this nation seem polite by comparison.

Here, in the United States, we can be proud that the large and diverse Arab-Islamic communities that surround Detroit are peaceful. Greater Dearborn is as intensely American and it is Islamic. For more than 100 years these sons and daughters of immigrants, along with their cousins who are more recent arrivals, go to work daily, raise their children, go about their lives, and practice their religion. They are deeply saddened and pained by this controversy and equally disapproving of their co-religionists’ violence.

Perhaps the most eloquent condemnation of the Islamofascists — for that is what they are — came from Iraq’s leading Shiite Ayatollah, Ali Al-Sistani. “Horrific action,” is how he described the publication of the cartoons. But the protesters spread a “distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love, and brotherhood.” They have, he said, “exploited this ... to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds.”

Hate is central to all of this: hatred of the West, of democracy, of tolerance, of freedom, and of modern conceptions of the dignity and diversity of human life and belief.

As the Wall Street Journal has reported, when Denmark’s largest daily, the conservative Jyllands-Posten, months ago called for satirists to submit work lampooning Mohammed, its editors didn’t know what they were getting into. The editors were ignorant of the cultural prohibition against religious images in general and the particularly sacrilegious nature of depicting the Prophet Mohammed. They were also ignorant of the fact that they chose to publish the results on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy season.

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