Monday, 13 February 2006

Cartoons and freedom of speech

Listening to:

Eric Clapton (with Cream), Let it grow.

Sounding off

First a couple of well-written opinion pieces:

  • Russell Brown makes a good argument as to why the media should back off a little, and how many of the people calling for publication of the cartoons seem to be doing so precisely because they want to be offensive. And Brown is consistent here: in another post, he reacts to what Abu Hamza (recently imprisoned in London) is supposed to have preached, with “Well, fuck him”.
  • Christopher Hitchens makes a good argument too: that freedom of speech is all about the right to be offensive, and that if you are only allowed to speak if you won’t offend, then you don’t have freedom of speech at all.

My take is that the Danish newspaper shouldn’t have published the cartoons in the first place (though arguing that they weren’t even very funny as some seem to is feeble: political cartoons are often deliberately not funny; an editorial cartoon is not like Peanuts). Further, re-publishing the cartoon where the motive is simply to continue to offend is noxious. On the other hand, republishing to show solidarity with fellow journalists who have been threatened with death, and with diplomats who have had their embassies torched, is perfectly reasonable. To be cowed into silence because of the fear of trade sanctions from the like of Iran, or because of threats, is to, excuse the melodrama, give into the terrorists.

The fact that Iran is hosting a competition for maximally offensive cartoons about the Holocaust is just proof that the government there doesn’t get it. The point of the Danish press is that it prints what it likes without jumping to do the bidding of its government. Iran will really compete with the West when it stops imprisoning and murdering its own journalists.