In defense of freedom of expression

Under the principle of freedom of expression, blasphemy can be
vulgar, in execrable taste, offensive in the extreme, but never

Last September, cartoonists on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten
decided to test the proposition that Western European news outlets were
self-censoring themselves for fear of provoking a violent Islamic

The paper published a dozen caricatures, most of them
mild by U.S. standards. One showed a line of tattered suicide bombers
being turned away, presumably by the Prophet Muhammad, from the gates
of heaven because paradise had run out of turbans. Perhaps the most
provocative of them showed Muhammad’s turban as a bomb with the fuse

The cartoons outraged the Muslim community because,
traditionally, the prophet is never depicted lest the image lead to
idolatry. Demands for an apology escalated until this week
Jyllands-Posten apologized and the Danish prime minister sort of
apologized; he said he would never depict any religious figure “in a
way that could offend other people.” Denmark’s Muslim community
accepted the apology. All that’s fine.

But the Danish newspaper
and a Norwegian newspaper that reprinted the cartoons have been deluged
with death threats and the cartoonists are in hiding and protected by
guards. A Pakistani religious party put a substantial bounty on the
cartoonists. European press accounts say the newspapers have been
singled out as possible terrorist targets on an al Qaeda-linked Web
site, and there have been mutterings about reprisals from suicide
bombers. In Gaza, Palestinian gunmen threatened a European Union
office. All of this rather proves the cartoonists were right.

And the overly aggrieved reaction has had the perverse effect of
spreading the offending cartoons all over the Web. Anyone with 30
seconds and a search engine can find them.

This almost reflexive
“kill, kill, kill” goes beyond offended religious sensibilities and
hurt feelings. The most violent element of Islam now feels it has a
right and a duty to censor the Western press while tolerating vile
caricatures of Judaism and Christianity in its own.

There is now
a spreading boycott of Danish products throughout the Arab Mideast. We
don’t have a dog in this fight, but Danish bloggers are asking for our
help. It’s not asking too much in defense of freedom of expression for
us to hoist a couple of cold Carlsbergs and enjoy a toasted havarti
cheese sandwich. (ital) Skaal! (endital)

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)