I suppose it's time I comment on the ongoing outrage across Europe and the Middle East over some cartoons. That sounds pretty ridiculous when I say it like that, doesn't it? A couple of cartoons. Of course it's no small matter when the subject of the cartoon is the Prophet Muhammad, who according to a good chunk of the Muslim world is not to be depicted visually. Hmm. I guess that would be bad enough, right? But of course that alone would not be enough to provoke the kind of protests and Danish flag-burning that's going on across the Middle East today. If it were all of Turkey would be in trouble since most Turks practice a moderate version of Islam that isn't so strict on the use of images.
But I digress. The problem with these cartoons, and the one in particular, is that they depict the Prophet with a bomb on his head in place of traditional head coverings. Hmm. Offensive? Certainly. But so are the various "art" displays that seem to congregate in the Met in New York City of the Virgin Mary depicted using nothing but feces. Or something. Yes, the Danish cartoon is offensive to many Muslims, but a lot of things are offensive to a lot of people. This incident could illuminate quite appropriately the need for greater toleration and greater respect for the opinions of others. That certainly would not be a bad thing.
The fact that the printing of this cartoon - no less than five months ago - has suddenly provoked an outbreak of anti-Danish sentiment is almost comical. Kevin Drum says it thusly:
I fully realize that I should be taking this more seriously — it involves issues of free speech, national sovereignty, gratuitous religious insults, Islamic radicalism, etc. etc. — but it's hard. I mean, just look at whose flag they're burning in the Middle East right now: Denmark's.
Cuddly little Denmark! Home of Hans Christian Andersen, delicious pastry, and tasteful furniture. Home of Tivoli and the Little Mermaid. Denmark!
Perhaps Denmark made a big mistake centuries ago when it made its flag the world easiest to make copies of for burning purposes. Red with two white lines? That's not even trying.
But indeed, this whole incident is almost comical. All jokes about Hamlet aside, this whole hoopla is a centerpiece example of what Europe is facing each and every day. Western Europe seeks to be the foremost upholder of all things free and tolerant, and it has every right to do so. The United States should support that effort and move towards emulating it.
Instead the State Department today announced that United States policy was opposed to the free speech of a European cartoonist.
"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question.
"We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
"Press responsibility"? There was no effort to incite anything. Any protests that we see today are the result of a mindset in parts of the Middle East that does not accept that others have different views on some of the things that they hold dear. I thought we were trying to bring freedom to that region, no? Does that marching freedom not include freedom of speech and freedom of thought? If it doesn't speak to almost this exact incident, what are we doing?