Rocky Mountain Values
The Rocky Mountain News joined the few other brave American papers who choose to side with freedom of speech, rejecting opposing arguments on their editorial page and publishing one of the cartoons (34A):
Cartoon appearing on the RMN editorial page:
Cartoons that dare not show their face
Europeans must stand up against intolerance
February 7, 2006
The strokes of cartoonists' pens have proven mighty enough to open deep fault lines in European society.
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was trying to demonstrate an important truth about tolerance and freedom of speech when it commissioned a dozen cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad that it published Sept. 30. The truth: People in Europe have become frightened of saying things that Muslims might find offensive, for fear of violence and the threat of violence.
The newspaper's demonstration has been more powerful than it could have imagined. Protests in Copenhagen spread to other countries, as newspapers in those nations reprinted the cartoons in solidarity with the Jyllands-Posten and they became widely available on the Web. Over the weekend, mobs burned the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, and the Danish consulate in Beirut.
A number of Islamic countries have demanded that Denmark apologize for the cartoons, and punish the newspaper for publishing them. Some 200 members of Iran's parliament issued a warning statement reminding anyone who published the cartoons of the death threats made against author Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses.
Nothing could better illustrate the total lack of understanding of the foundations of a free society. Their own media are subservient to the government, and not averse to blasphemy, either, as long as the target is a religion other than Islam. The response of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, "The government refuses to apologize because the government does not control the media or a newspaper outlet; that would be in violation of the freedom of speech" has been met with blank incomprehension.
Rasmussen's response, self-evident to Americans who are accustomed to the protection of the First Amendment even for speech that is highly offensive - or even blasphemous - is not so widely accepted even in Europe. Islam may be treated gingerly, but other offensive speech is suppressed by law. In several European countries, for example, it is illegal to deny the facts of the Nazi Holocaust.
Defense of free speech is not so robust in this country as it could be, either. A State Department spokesman issued a mealy-mouthed statement that recognized the importance of freedom of speech but then added that the publication of cartoons that incite religious or ethnic hatred is unacceptable - as if that is what happened. There is no evidence whatsoever that the cartoons incited hatred against Muslims or Islam, only that they incited violence by Muslims. That is, indeed, unacceptable.
The Vatican also got it wrong, saying on Saturday that "freedom cannot imply the right to offend" religious believers.
On the contrary, freedom must imply the right to offend religious believers - as well as the members of every other organization or group. Otherwise, we will have ceded our freedoms to the veto of the most intolerant among us. The intolerant in Europe and throughout the Muslim world are now trying to exercise such a veto. They must not be allowed to succeed.