Earlier this week, the divine Ms. M weighed in on the escalating story of the cartoon caricatures of Muhammad and the raging reaction in the Islamic world. Frankly, I must confess that I am feeling overwhelmed with all the coverage of this out-of-control story. However, we are seeing some interesting patterns in the emerging MSM coverage of the story, which, to me, suggests that debates are now raging in major newsrooms. Questions that, for many months, have only been asked and debated in conservative publications are now breaking out into the mainstream.
Start by reading Tim Rutten's Regarding Media commentary in the Los Angeles Times. It is a good thing for the media to take seriously what happens when news and commentary material offend people of faith. But is this a new issue? Rutten notes:
All this would be slightly more edifying if it didn't reflect the destructive and dangerous double standard that the Western nations routinely observe when it comes to the government-controlled media in Islamic states. There the media is routinely rife with the vilest sort of hate directed at Jews and, less often, Christians. The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" remain widely available in countries where nothing is published without government permission, and quotations from that infamous forgery are a staple of commentaries published across the Middle East. In recent years, government-owned television stations in Egypt and Syria have broadcast dramas that repeat the blood libel.
Where were the united and implacable Western demands for apologies?
Then there is the "Clash Over Cartoons Is a Caricature Of Civilization" essay by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post. I read the lead of this story several times before I realized that he was not trying to be funny or ironic.
No serious American newspaper would commission images of Jesus that were solely designed to offend Christians. And if one did, the reaction would be swift and certain. Politicians would take to the floors of Congress and call down thunder on the malefactors. Some Christians would react with fury and boycotts and flaming e-mails that couldn't be printed in a family newspaper; others would react with sadness, prayer and earnest letters to the editor. There would be mayhem, though it is unlikely that semiautomatic weapons would be brandished in the streets. Fortunately, it's not likely to happen, because good newspapers are governed, in their use of images, by the basic principle of news value.
Say what?! Various forms of American mass media have featured many cartoons that traditional Christian believers have found offensive and mainstream editors have defended their publication -- as they should -- as freedom of the press. But wait, what do the words "solely designed" mean? Is Kennicott claiming that the Danish cartoonists who created the 12 images that are causing riots and bloodshed had no larger political or even religious point to make? They were not being offensive for a reason?
Meanwhile, Kennicott is sure about one thing -- religious fundamentalists think this is a religious conflict and, thus, the religious fundamentalists on both sides may get what they want. Clearly, the Rev. Jerry Falwell will begin leading riots protesting South Park any day now.
... (When) forced to an impasse, the cartoon battle becomes exactly what ideologues in both worlds would like it to be: a proxy for the Clash of Civilizations. ...
Religious fundamentalism forced the issue; political fundamentalism inflamed it. An apology for giving offense is now capitulation to religious tyranny; the basic instinct of moderation is equated with cowardice. A little ink on paper is inflated to proof of a basic cultural incompatibility. So political leaders here speak of "the long war," a conflict with no sign of hope on the horizon between East and West. Now, rather absurdly, these cartoons may become part of the intellectual hardening of thought that will sustain the idea, on both sides of the cultural divide.
Meanwhile, speaking of war, the website brusselsjournal.com has been carrying a wave of disturbing reports about the escalation of verbal violence on the other side of the Atlantic.
Let me stress that these reports include the obvious -- that the hate speech linked to these cartoons is coming from Muslims who are often opposed by other Muslims. We are, yet again, seeing signs of fissures within the Islamic communities in these lands.
But it is also hard to ignore that the Islamists are actually saying. Who is talking about this being "a war"? Here is one update. There are too many more to mention. Late this past week:
... Mullah Krekar, the alleged leader of the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam who has been living in Norway as a refugee since 1991, said that the publication of the Muhammad cartoons was a declaration of war. "The war has begun," he told Norwegian journalists. Mr Krekar said Muslims in Norway are preparing to fight. "It does not matter if the governments of Norway and Denmark apologize, the war is on."
Islamist organizations all over the world are issuing threats towards Europeans. The Islamist terrorist group Hizbollah announced that it is preparing suicide attacks in Denmark and Norway. A senior imam in Kuwait, Nazem al-Masbah, said that those who have published cartoons of Muhammad should be murdered. He also threatened all citizens of the countries where the twelve Danish cartoons ... have been published with death.
I think editors are having trouble pinning "hate speech" labels on their meddia counterparts in Europe. Yet that means that the Islamists must be wrong. What to do? Who to blame? You know that legions of editorial-page editors are praying that Pat Robertson will say something amazing and bail them out.