BY JASON DOCHEFF
Bravo, at long last, to the Europeans. By choosing to republish a series of cartoons through which artists created various depictions of Mohammed – through this medium expressing the artists’ differing perceptions of Islam – the European press voted strongly for Western freedom of expression over Islamist-style oppression. Do not be fooled by those – such as our own shameful government this past week – who use the catchphrase “respect for Islam” as a spineless, politically-correct cave-in to the worryingly well-tolerated institution of Islamofascism. Unwittingly, perhaps, such statements further the programs of those who would prefer to place shackles on the discursive and artistic freedoms so enjoyed and cherished by citizens of free societies.
Free expression, with the press at its vanguard and the arts as its lifeblood, is a core value of the free, liberal democracies that the Enlightenment inspired and which only finally emerged after a shameful and bloody modern history. Our commitment to this core value ensures that our culture remains a marketplace of ideas. Any statement of “truth”, any system of “morality,” is, thankfully, subject to examination and criticism in this marketplace of ideas. Religious claims, and religions themselves, fall into this category of claims, and are thus fair game for critique within a healthy society of grown-ups. It is the responsibility of those purporting to represent a system of thought to demonstrate the value and validity of their system rather than demand the stifling of artistic and journalistic criticisms that might be “insulting.” A healthy, mature system worthy of our respect will react to criticism and offense through resilience, example, and counterargument rather than through violence and intimidation.
The publication of the cartoons in question, first by the Jyllands-Posten and then by various newspapers throughout Europe, arose as a noble challenge to the atmosphere of bullying and intimidation faced by artists who dare to explore Islam in a critical light. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh serves as a gruesome recent example of this. In this atmosphere, Danish artists have complained that they fear exercising their right of free expression within their own country due to forces that refuse to respect the freedoms that Denmark grants its citizens – and the cultural values that Denmark represents. This situation is unacceptable, and was quite correctly opposed by the publishing newspapers. To those governments demanding that Denmark censor its free press, listen up: if you demand that other cultures respect your own cultural values, then likewise must you extend the same respect to theirs.
The firing of the editor at the France Soir represents a response to criticism based on hypocrisy and drawing from values that stand in direct opposition to the values that the press – and, supposedly, the France Soir – cherishes. Those governments that demand Europe force its press to conform to Islamic blasphemy law are the same governments whose own state-sponsored press organs publish frequent and vicious caricatures of hook-nosed Jews and air documentaries based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, not to mention today’s decision by Iran to hold a Holocaust cartoon contest. It should also be noted that the Mohammed cartoons published in the Jyllands-Posten and other newspapers represented an array of artistic viewpoints, some favorable to Islam, some disfavorable, and some critical of the editors and certain public figures. But in the absence of a free press, it is easy to not know this, and firebomb the Austrian embassy instead.
Christopher Hitchens presents an argument from consequentialism that I would like to reiterate. “Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves to avoid offending the believers,” he writes. In such a situation, we cannot possibly adjust enough to please everybody, much less the fanatics who seek to intimidate and suppress viewpoints through violence. And, I add, non-fanatics do not present a threat to our institutions such that censorship would be seen as a necessary part of social discourse. Thus, by censoring artists and journalists, whether through law itself or through the firing of editors, we are really just showing servile deference to those who do violence to our cultural values.
Jason Docheff, 3L, is the 33rd Lord Rosemont.