The Europeans confuse me. I often think that they are the vanguard of human consciousness: Firm believers in the oneness of humanity; in the free exchange of ideas; in the need to safeguard against war, and other failings of a nation-state system; in the need to protect and care for the disadvantaged. And so on and so forth.
In many ways, the colonial experience and 20th C wars have made them wonderfully introspective.
But then in the space of the week they manage to muck everything up. This whole cartoon issue is not a fine demonstration of the freedom of expression, it is a stunning reminder of cultural insensitivity. While some might have shared a chortle over them, I couldn’t help thinking that they’re pouring oil over a raging fire. Or taking a lump of coarse salt and massaging it deep into every Muslim’s wounds.
Of course, every European social liberal has arguments:
1. “They caricature Jesus and the Jews, why can’t we caricature the Prophet?”
or in other words: “We have evolved to such a stage, why don’t they?”
This is poppycock on two levels.
Firstly, just because one society accepts some freedoms, why should any other?
Secondly, why should anybody think that the need to poke fun at religion is an evolution in human consciousness?
2. “If we censor anything, where do we draw the line?”
AKA: “The only options are complete freedom or complete tyranny.”
There is this fear amongst defenders of media freedoms that censorship begets more. But I say, Why can’t certain topics just remain out of bounds?
Nazism, Child Pornography, Religion?
3. “We need to defend our media freedoms”
AKA: “This is what makes our societies great. This free exchange of thoughts and ideas.”
This is where the Danes and whoever else has republished the cartoons have done a great disservice to all believers in freedom of thought. They have taken that grave responsibility that comes with the job, and flushed it down the toilet.
Every journalist, every editor has a responsibility. Tact, sensitivity, moderation. Tell the truth, but why provoke?
My sad afterthought:
Many Muslims have seen their religious leader smeared. The very meaning of their existence has just been trampled on. I am in no way surprised by the outcry.
The cartoons have also sharpened the blades and lengthened the reach of censors in every restricted society in the world. It is because of things like this, that our countries choose unfreedom.