Sunday, February 19, 2006

Do we believe in anything anymore?

To view more of the cartoons click here.

Last week I was talking to my aunt about the Dick Cheney shooting incident. We were in agreement that the story had moved beyond the absurd. Then to make a point about things that really matter, and that were getting far less coverage last week, I mentioned the cartoon controversy that has enraged Islamic fundamentalists.

“The what?”

She had no idea what I was talking about.

As of today at least 40 people have been killed in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey, and Somalia—including the assassination of a Catholic priest. In addition, the property damage to embassies, consulates, and other buildings is now into the millions of dollars.

All of this over some cartoons. The thing is, if you actually look at the cartoons (see above), it’s hard to imagine what is so offensive. Much has been said about the need for cultural sensitivity. Others have mentioned what I believe is a more cherished value: freedom of speech.

The Wall Street Journal published an article by Amir Taheri titled “Bonfire of the Pieties.” Taheri is an Islamic scholar. He explains that the Qran has no injunction against drawing Muhammad, and the claim that this is the case is purely political. (Follow the link to Taheri’s article for more).

Clearly I am looking at these cartoons from a different perspective than a Muslim extremist. But look at them yourself. What do you think? Are they overly offensive? Are they even remotely offensive? Is the West going to be cowed by these extremists and give up not just one of our most cherished rights, but a right that is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration that every member nation of the UN has approved? If the UN or the aforementioned declaration mean anything--and they must if we ever want peace and justice--they mean that freedom of speech is now not just a Western value or right, but a global one. What is wrong with western values anyway? Why have we lost so much belief in ourselves? (If you follow the link to the declaration, see article 19).

There has been much made of Bush’s surveillance program where his administration is listening to calls from the U.S. to suspected Al Quaeda operatives. Aren't these the people who took four planes a little off course in 2001?

Where are the civil libertarians regarding this assault on a more fundamental issue: freedom of speech? The Bush surveillance program of declared enemies of all that we stand for, versus a massive assault on the natural rights of men and women--which issue deserves our attention the most?

Over the past eighteen months I’ve met and taught at least a dozen veterans of American led military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been a privilege to get to know these fine young men who are far less political than me, but who have given more than I will ever give in the fight for freedom and justice in the world.

We owe it to these young men, to the oppressed people of the world, and to our most cherished values, to pay attention to what is going on in the world around us. Please look at these cartoons. Read Taheri’s article. Read other things on the topic and think about this issue yourself.

What do you believe?


Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe concluded a piece he wrote called "When fear cows the media" with the following two paragraphs (emphasis added):

Like the Nazis in the 1930s and the Soviet communists in the Cold War, the Islamofascists are emboldened by appeasement and submissiveness. Give the rampagers and book-burners a veto over artistic and editorial decisions, and you end up not with heightened sensitivity and cultural respect, but with more rampages and more books burned. You betray ideals that generations of Americans have died to defend.

And worse than that: You betray as well the dissidents and reformers within the Islamic world, the Muslim Sakharovs and Sharanskys and Havels who yearn for the free, tolerant, and democratic culture that we in the West take for granted. What they want to see from America is not appeasement and apologies and a dread of giving offense. They want to see us face down the fanatics, be unintimidated by bullies. They want to know that in the global struggle against Islamist extremism, we won't let them down.

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