"Did you hear the one about Muhammad and Monica Lewinsky.."
I guess that burning embassies can also get exhausting and we might have to postpone the War of Civilizations to another time (U.S. or Israeli attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities?). In any case, I thought this would be a good opporunity to give my own awards to the two best columns that were written on the cartoons war. The very smart Martin Wolf of the Financial Times Of rights and virtues and the very witty Michael Kinsley of the Washington Post/Slate The Ayatollah Joke Book: So,the Prophet Mohammed walks into a bar … are the winners. The two defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press against both religious fanaticism and secular PC and stress that neither Holocaust denial and Holocaust "jokes" should be censored. I totally agree since I don't believe that bad taste and stupidity should be illegal. In fact, if we had such law I would first target Rap musicians for prosecution before jailing David Irving.
Here is some points that Wolf made:
I am the child of refugees from Hitler. Yet Holocaust denial should, in my view, be no crime. Nor should the expression of anti-Semitic opinions, provided these do not include incitement to violence. The absurdity of such views – and the prejudice of those who hold them – will be far more readily exposed by open expression and debate than by driving them underground. In debate, the lunacy of those who deny that the Holocaust happened, while wishing that it had, becomes self-evident.
If we agree that almost all expressions of opinion should be permitted, other than those that represent an incitement to violence, what about those notorious cartoons? Were they not also an incitement, albeit indirect, to violence?
The thought behind them – that some adherents are using the Koran to justify terrorism – is correct. It must be possible for western publications to express it. But a drawing of the Prophet is deemed a desecration by the faithful. The right judgment is that these cartoons were not a direct incitement to violence, but a way of making a point. They should not be illegal. Demands to suppress such freedom of expression must be rejected. It is too precious a safeguard against tyranny of all kinds for that to be permitted. Those who enjoy the blessing of living in a free society must accept the occasionally unpalatable consequences.
Yet, in the present fraught state of relations between the west and the Muslim world, their republication proved unwise. What is legally permissible is certainly not mandatory and occasionally not very sensible. Self-restraint in the exercise of one’s freedom can often be the wiser course.
This, however, is not the heart of the matter. The west must prepare to defend certain fundamental principles: first and foremost, it must reiterate its belief in freedom of expression as the safeguard of all other freedoms; second, it should state that the only reason to limit such freedom is to prevent direct incitement to violence or intimidation; and, third, it should abandon the strange, even destructive, idea that freedom of expression is to be legally circumscribed by the obligation not to cause offence.
Yet those who enjoy these precious freedoms should remember that what must remain legal is not obligatory. Freedom is our birthright. Self- restraint is a measure of our maturity.
And here are highlights from Kinsley:
Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the noted wit, expert on freedom, and unelected religious leader—the leader who counts—of Iran, observed the other day that in the West, "casting doubt or negating the genocide of the Jews is banned but insulting the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims is allowed." He apparently thought this was a devastating point. Touché, Ayatollah Khamanei.
The worldwide fuss over 12 cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed (some mocking, some benign) that ran in a Danish newspaper has already killed at least 10 people. Many self-styled voices of Islam have made the bizarre comparison between showing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed and expressing doubt about the Holocaust. A government-controlled Tehran newspaper announced a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust, asking "whether freedom of expression" applies to "the crimes committed by the United States and Israel." In a spirit of "see how you like it," a European Muslim group posted on the Web a cartoon of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler.
Muslim complaints about a Western double standard would be more telling if the factual premise was accurate. But it is not. In fact, it is nearly the opposite of the truth. Nothing is easier and more common in the West, including the United States, than criticizing the United States—except for criticizing Israel. A few Western countries have stupid laws, erratically enforced, against denying the Holocaust, but that hasn't stopped Holocaust denial from becoming a literary industry and cultural phenomenon. This is distressing to many Jews and others because making sure that the world remembers the Holocaust has become the main strategy for trying to prevent another one. The willingness of so many people to disbelieve the reality of a historical event as relatively recent and well-documented as the Holocaust leads you to despair of the human capacity for reason, along with more or less every advance in human affairs since the Dark Ages. Nevertheless, there has been no rioting about the historical reality of the Holocaust. No one has died over it.
Meanwhile, whatever point these European Muslims were making with their cartoon of Hitler and Anne Frank is more or less disproved by their very exercise. No one tried to stop them from putting the cartoon on the Web. The notion that jokes about Anne Frank are beyond the pale is provably false. There's a play running in New York right now called "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother." It's a monologue written and acted by stand-up comic Judy Gold, who says on stage every night that her mother used to read to her from a pop-up version of Anne Frank's diary and would say, "Pull the tab, Judith. Alive. Pull it again. Dead." Maybe you had to be there. But the New York Times reviewer called the play "fiercely funny, honest and moving" and did not demand that the author be executed, or even admonished.
By contrast, in a spectacular exercise of self-censorship, almost every major newspaper in this country is refraining from publishing the controversial Danish cartoons, even though they are at the center of a major news story that these papers cover at length every day. The Danish paper that originally published the 12 cartoons has apologized and editors in France and Jordan who published some of them have been fired. In tomorrow's paper, you're more likely to see a picture of Anne Frank or Hitler or both in bed with Eleanor Roosevelt, all three of them naked and performing unconventional sex acts, than you are to see a perfectly respectful picture of the Prophet Mohammed. An editorial in the Times on Wednesday said that not publishing the cartoons was "a reasonable choice" since they would offend many people and "are so easy to describe in words." I am looking at a front page photo in today's Times (as I write on Thursday) of Mariah Carey singing into a microphone. Words do it justice, I think.