Cartoon Justice

Yesterday I went looking for the Muhammed cartoons because I wanted to see what they looked like. (This link goes to a right-wing blog, found courtesy of Michelle Malkin, so don’t click on that link if you’re offended by depictions of the Prophet or wingnuttery in general.) And in doing some reading, and finally reading what everybody’s reading about, I come around to a take pretty similar to tristero’s.

By contrast, the Muhammed cartoons are, morally dull, even by their own admittedly less high-falutin’ standards. And the reason is obvious after a bit of thought. The intention behind them is not to work out some kinky artistic/personal problems. No, the intentions behind the cartoons were those of the self-righteous Western mediocrity and they couldn’t be clearer – let’s show Them free speech is a good thing.

What I want to talk about primarily are the wingers that have seized on this to prove any one of their sixteen pet theories about Muslims. What they’re doing now is campaigning to get newspapers to sign on to print the cartoons as some kind of act of solidarity with the Danish newspaper’s freedom of expression crusade. Witness this letter to the Chicago Tribune.

Aren’t you concerned with protecting your freedom of expression? If I were you, I would be running them as soon as possible on that basis alone. Yet, your paper does nothing …

Even if the cartoons weren’t benign, so what? This is no longer about the drawings–it is about protecting our rights and way of life. We cannot allow radical Islamists to dictate our actions. If we do, they have won. We cannot back down, and must support the Danes.

And look. There’s a good reason to print those cartoons now, but it isn’t to support the Danes. Here in the U.S. they’re a legitimate part of an ongoing news story. My default position is that if you’re about informing the public then you have to show people as much of the story as you can get. But to inflate printing the cartoons into some kind of noble obligation, some necessary act in defense of freedom of expression, is bullshit. The letter writer linked above is right. This isn’t about the cartoons anymore. It’s now about a concerted effort by the wingersphere to make that damn liberal American media prove their red-stated patriotism by being just as willing as the Danes to offend Muslims just because they can. And Don Wycliff, with whom I do not often agree, does a fairly good job of destroying that kind of “when did you stop beating your wife” toolery.

(It’s really too bad about the wingers and their utter lack of credibility when it comes to free speech and tolerance issues, because it could be a sensible discussion: Does the bare act of publication, stripped of context, confer upon US media — blogs included — an obligation to publish them as well? Can I condemn the reprisals the Danish paper faced without engaging in the same behavior that led to the reprisals, or do I have to be willing to offend in the same way just to prove my support of the right to offend? Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences, as the wingers are so fond of saying when one of their number assails anti-war protesters. Certainly anyone in the US who chooses to publish them does have the right. But the obligation? In order to show … what? The New York Times could have, under our laws, published nothing but those cartoons, on every page of the paper, every day for a year. Do they have to, just because they can? And who decides “have to” in cases like this? Who decides for anybody what causes they’re going to take on?)

Freedom of speech at home and overseas is a noble cause and one which I myself support, and I would welcome the conversion of the wingers to that side of the table. However, their hectoring of media outlets smacks of just another excuse to make their political opponents look like pussies for not denouncing “Islamofascism” quite as loudly as they do. Now it’s about publication, and “prove you’re on our side” and lists of people who are in and out, and all the other things they do so well.

Read that letter again and note how similar in tone it is to every single flag-waving post 9/11 We Love America And You Don’t rally: Print the cartoons or you’re siding with them. Do it, or you’ll just be letting the terrorists win. Here’s a pin with a flag on it. Say you love freedom. No, say it louder.

The letter writer is right. This is about much more than the cartoons.