Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Man 

I've mentioned Naser Khader a couple of times in the last few posts.  I haven't linked to him yet.
I apologize for the oversight.  Here he is.
If you can read Danish and haven't already read this, please read his essay "I Feel Insulted."
If you can't read Danish...  damn.  It's a lot to translate, but I'll do my best in the days ahead.  As far as I'm concerned, in this little sliver of this little lightning-flash of a moment in history, I think he is doing the most important work in the world.
(And yeah, I'm aware of the fact that his politics are generally to the left of mine, but unlike the American left these days I'm capable of putting my ideological reflexes aside in emergency situations.  Oh... and I'm capable of recognizing emergency situations.)

I Wish the Times, It Was A-Changin'... 

The New York Times publishes an article entitled "A Startling New Lesson in the Power of Imagery" with the following opening paragraph:
They're callous and feeble cartoons, cooked up as a provocation by a conservative newspaper exploiting the general Muslim prohibition on images of the Prophet Muhammad to score cheap points about freedom of expression.
Readers of the Times will have to take the writer's word for it since they've never seen the images themselves.  But you have admire the audacity of the way this whole episode is being framed here.  "Cooked up," "provocation," "exploiting," "cheap points."  And that's just the first sentence!  (But aren't we supposed to have to pay for Times opinion pieces now?)
But let's fast-forward to where the author really drops the ball, in comparing the current international fiasco to a little tempest-in-a-teapot I myself lived through in New York:
An obvious precedent, now comically tame by comparison, is the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999, a promotional bonanza for the British collector and wheeler-dealer Charles Saatchi, who owned the art in the show. The exhibition incited protests by the Catholic League. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani played the stern dad to a bunch of publicity-savvy artists whose work included a collage of the Virgin Mary with cutouts from pornographic magazines and shellacked clumps of elephant dung.
Previously unmoved to action by Catholic League protests against a play at City Center involving a gay lead character fashioned after Jesus, the mayor, contemplating a Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton, decided he was personally offended by the art, although he had never actually seen it, and threatened to cut off public financing for the museum.
"You don't have a right to government subsidy for desecrating somebody else's religion," he said, foreshadowing a bit the Danish debacle about freedom of religious expression, notwithstanding that the artist of the Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili, happened to be Roman Catholic.
The New York art world was shocked only because it had expected the show to pass without fuss, since the art was already old news to insiders. But then museums nationwide had to hold their collective nose to defend Brooklyn over the issue of free expression, and by the end the whole affair had turned into farce, obscuring even the quality of what were, in fact, a few not-so-bad works of art.
That's an obvious precedent?  It's obvious in that it involves a religious symbol being desecrated, but beyond that I'm lost.
What Giuliani said is absolutely right, and does not foreshadow the current debate at all.  No one has a right to a government subsidy for anything.  A government is acting entirely within its rights if it decides that, based on a violation of what are considered community standards, a given exhibit ought not to receive the support of federal money.
But I don't even want to get into all that.  What's interesting isn't that this particular writer thinks there are parallels between a mayor threatening to withhold a subsidy and a violent global movement calling for the destruction of a sovereign nation.  What's interesting is that the times actually dared to show the offending art!
Here's the image:
You know what I think personally?  I think publishing this image was a callous and feeble attempt, cooked up as a provocation by a liberal newspaper exploiting the general Catholic weariness at seeing their holiest symbols desecrated (by artists who don't have the courage to stand up to Muslim sensibilities on the same topic) to score cheap points about.... well, whatever.  I don't see how it does much of anything other than put the lie to their editorial from the other day (see post below).  Are you telling me the image in that photo isn't just as "easy to describe" as the images from Jyllands-Posten?
This is the kind of stupid hypocrisy that makes me sick.  As America's leading newspaper, the Times ought to be very firmly leading the charge on the right side of this debate.
Instead they're playing whack-a-mole against America's Catholics.
What's the message?  "Muslims worldwide have a right not to be offended by what we print in an American newspaper.  American Catholics do not."
I guess the only way to get them to change their mind would be to put them through what Jyllands-Posten is experiencing: last night I saw on the news that the police count of bomb-, death-, and other threats against them had passed the century mark.  Yes.  And their cartoonists are in hiding for fear of their lives.  Yes.  And every day, all day, on every Danish media outlet, we are told more stories of which Islamic groups are vowing to kill which Danes (and which are simply declaring open season on the whole country).  Danes are being ordered home from Muslim nations.  An amnesty has been passed allowing Danes with family members in Muslim countries to bring them into Denmark without the usual bureaucratic hassles for the next 14 days.  And so on.
And what Americans probably don't even know is that, within Denmark, the whole issue is being dealt with beautifully.  Extremist groups (Abu Laban & co.) have been cut out of "the dialog" with the government, and MP Naser Khader is leading moderate Muslims into a new organization, for which funding is already flowing from every part of Denmark.  (He's also saying Denmark has nothing to apologize for, but he himself is demanding an apology from Saudi Arabia.)  These moderates are organizing trips to the Middle East to go and explain to their fellow religionists how a free press works in a free country.  They've expressed their offense at the images, but have also expressed their understanding that this is simply how things work when you've got a free press.  They're moving on.  Yes.
The problem is not Denmark.  The problem is the militant extremists around the world running absolutely riot over an issue I'd wager most of them don't even understand.  Embassies burn, people die, journalists go into hiding, newspaper offices must be evacuated...
...and the Times sees a good opportunity to put that provocative Danish newspaper and those rascally American Catholics in their place!
* Sigh... *

Friday, February 10, 2006

On the Lighter Side of Murderous Rage 

It's Friday night here in Denmark and there's so much wrong with this idiot world that I have nothing to say.

So I'm falling back on my default, which is two parts denial, two parts skepticism, and a liter of whiskey. (Stirred, not shaken, for that necessary touch of iconoclasm.)


While surfing Yahoo News photos of the Happy Shiny People of the world calling for the death of my friends and family, I came across one that gave me unexpected pleasure.

Here's the caption:

Protesters chant slogans as they set fire to a Danish flag during a demonstration after Friday prayers at Beyazit Mosque in Istanbul February 10, 2006. Around two thousand Muslim protesters chanted slogans and burnt flags of Denmark, France and Israel in protest against the cartoons printed by Danish and European media. REUTERS/Ahmet Ada

Here's the photo:

Notice anything funny about this picture?

It's the Swiss flag. Seriously. Look, I know a thing or two about the Danish flag. It looks like this:

And the Swiss flag looks like... well, like that flaming thing up there.

So congratulations, you idiots: you're too stupid even to hate correctly.

* * *

If you click a few photos back from the Swiss-hating Turks over on Yahoo News, by the way, you can probably cash in on that $25 million reward...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wobbly White House 

There's so much I've wanted to write about since the last post, but I haven't had time.  (I haven't had time to go through email, either, so sorry if you're one of the people I owe a response to.)
I saw a clip on EuroCNN last night of George W. Bush and Jordan's King Abdullah chatting it up at a White House press conference yesterday.  Bush managed to get a few platitudes about violence not being the answer and respect being important, then King Abdullah got his turn.  I don't have time to look for a transcript, but it was something like this: "Any criticism of the prophet or negative portrayal of Islam must be condemned."
Hear that?  I mean, do you really hear that?  And Bush puts the whole weight and gravitas of the White House behind it?
I've been sputtering ever since.  I've been unable to organize my thoughts into a single lucid exposition, though (more for want of time than want of ability), so I'm grateful to see Christopher Hitchens has done it for me... in Slate.  (Which also features a "counterpoint" essay by an American offended by the Danish cartoons.) 
* * *
On a personal note, Molli Malou said "Please, Daddy," for the first time yesterday, so I've just given up any remaining shreds of sovereignty I had.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Gray Lady Weighs In 

I'm more than disappointed by today's New York Times editorial.  I present it in its entirety, and will interrupt only where I really, really need to.  (Pretty much everywhere.)
Those Danish Cartoons
Cartoons making fun of the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper last September are suddenly one of the hottest issues in international politics.
There were twelve cartoons and not all of them "made fun of" Muhammad.  Muhammed is only considered a prophet to Muslims.  Will the Times begin referring to other religious figures as "the Savior Jesus Christ," or "his illustrious holiness David Koresh," and so on?
The issue has been hot long enough to make "suddenly" suspect, but I don't want to wast time on quibbles.
Muslims in Europe and across the Middle East have been holding protests with growing levels of violence and now loss of life.
At this point I think it'd be fair to say "Muslims around the world," unless you can find a way to fit Indonesia, New Zealand, and Afghanistan into "Europe" or "the Middle East," but that's another quibble.
The easy points to make about the continuing crisis are that (a) people are bound to be offended if their religion is publicly mocked, and (b) the proper response is not to go on a rampage and burn down buildings.
I don't know if these are such easy points to make.  People may indeed be "bound to be offended if their religion is publicly mocked," but there's a world of variation, and plenty of ambiguity, in at least three of those terms: religion, publicly, and mocked.
Religon.  Islam is of course a religion, and Muhammed is its holy prophet.  But the context of this sentence suggests that the twelve cartoons were all directed at Muhammed or Islam.  Most were not.  The majority were directed at the hijacking of Islam by violent extremists.  One could make the case that even the most notorious of the cartoons was doing this.  (And, it bears repeating, several of the cartoons were mocking the very exercise of which they were a part.)  If the readers of the Times could be entrusted with the adult responsibility of viewing the pictures and judging for themselves, of course, these fine points would be irrelevant.  But because they apparently cannot be, they must be made.  The Times is generalizing over-broadly with its implication that all of "Those Danish Cartoons" were anti-Islamic or anti-Mohammed.
Publicly.  There's no doubt a newspaper is a public forum.  Jyllands-Posten has a circulation of 157,000 on weekdays and about 215,000 on Sundays.  It's a Danish newspaper, printed in Denmark for a Danish audience.  Denmark is a Lutheran country full of lovely men and women who scarcely ever step into its lovely Lutheran churches any more.  The idea that any kind of satiric criticism of an "outside" religion is somehow unacceptable in a paper owned, written, and read by such people strikes me as disingenuous: the kind of point the Times would never make in any other circumstance How could Denmark participate in multicultural dialog, for example, if criticism of other belief systems were not allowed?  Should Danish newspapers only be allowed to print favorable cartoons and editorials about all the religions of the world?
Mocked.  I'd like to go through all twelve cartoons and describe what the hypothetical "reasonable person" would conclude each one was "mocking."  (I'll go in the order in which they're presented here, but be sure not to click that link if you're going to be offended by what you see!)
(1) I don't see anything at all being mocked, unless people think maybe his ass is too big.  But it is blasphemy.  (2) I actually like this drawing because it's very simple: the question is, is that a halo over his head, or are they horns?  (Advantage halo, since horns are rarely portrayed as being a luminous gold in color.)  I'm not sure anything is being "mocked," but we've got more blasphemy. (3)  Muhammed's face is crafted out of the Islamic star and crescent (in Islamic green).  Nothing being mocked, but blashphemy again. (4) This one gets a lot of press.  I don't think Muhammed is being "mocked" here, but he's not being portrayed in a flattering light: he's armed, bearded, turbaned, and flanked by startled-looking women in full veils.  His eyes are boxed out to prevent his identity from being revealed, which I suppose is the artist's way of trying to get around the blasphemy thing.  (5) Suicide bombers are being mocked.  Period.  (I heard Abu Laban explain the other night that "Muslims are not idiots, this idea that they expect 72 virgins in heaven is nonsense."  Then I saw an interview with a Palestinian who said he was happy to have his sons be martyred because life would be better for them in heaven -- they would have 72 virgins waiting for them.  (6) Jyllands-Posten itself is the target of this mockery.  The only Muhammed is a student from Valby Skole, wearing a shirt that says "The Future."  (7) There's no blasphemy here, either, since we've only got a drawing of a guy drawing Muhammed.  But he's scared and nervous and working very furtively; if anything is being "mocked," it's the terrible fate awaiting anyone who dare draw Muhammed.  But is that mockery or realism?  (8) Blasphemy, since Muhammed's there in the line-up (with a halo), but the mockery is clearly directed toward Danish politics and editor Flemming Rose himself.  (9) The images aren't blasphemous, but the poem certainly criticizes Muhammed.  (10) Is this supposed to be Muhammed, or just some Muslim king/tyrant/president-for-life?  I don't know.  I don't think one can know.  What's being mocked is apparently the reactive rage of some defenders of the Islamic faith -- it's as though the artist is suggesting they're a little too quick to rush for blood.  (11) Presumably that's Muhammed in the bomb-turban with a lit fuse.  Blasphemy, yes.  Mockery?  The suggestion, as I interpret it, is that Islam, as embodied by its holy prophet, is a bomb on the brink of blowing up in all our faces.  Offensive to Muslims, I'm sure.  But is it really unreasonable as an editorial cartoon?  (12)  Another drawing of a drawing, and this makes it absolutely crystal clear that the object of mockery is editor Flemming Rose himself.
As for the proper response not being to go on a rampage and burn down buildings, no argument here.
If Muslim organizations want to stage peaceful marches or organize boycotts of Danish goods, they're certainly within their rights.
Within their rights, yes.  Within the bounds of logic, no.  Assume for a moment that Jyllands-Posten really is a terrible rag written by horrible people.  It's still not Denmark.  By demonstrating against Denmark, and boycotting all Danish goods, demonstrators are only demonstrating their ignorance of the separation of press and state.
The pictures, one of which showed the prophet with a bomb on top of his head in place of a turban, violate a common belief among Muslims that any depiction of Muhammad is sacrilege.
It is not a common belief among non-Muslims that any depiction of Muhammad is anything but a depiction of Muhammad.  This is an obnoxious point that needs to be overcome.  Religions do not have the right to enforce their taboos on non-believers.  I am astonished that the Times is actually giving this argument credibility.  Are they really prepared to begin tailoring their own editorial pages to conform to all of the sacred rules of all the religions of all the world?  Or is Islam special--and if so, why?
Also, it has to be repeated: not all the pictures violate that common belief anyway.
The paper that first published them did so as an experiment to see whether political satirists were capable of being as harsh to Islam as they are to other organized religions.
False.  It was an experiment to see if Danish artists were self-censoring out of fear of extremist reprisals.
If that sounds juvenile, Americans still recognize it as within the speech protected by our First Amendment.
If that sounds juvenile, it's because the Times deliberately, and contrafactually, made it sound juvenile.
The New York Times and much of the rest of the nation's news media have reported on the cartoons but refrained from showing them.
Because it's easier to tell you what to think about them than let you decide for yourself?
That seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe in words.
Can we walk about the power of the word "usually"?  Has ever an adverb been required to carry such weight?  And let me pose a question: given the events we've seen in reaction to these cartoons, do you really think these cartoons were merely "a gratuitous assault" on Islam?  Can we not acknowledge that there may in fact be something to the idea that there's a frightening violent streak at play in Islam?
As for the ease of describing the images: I haven't seen anyone do it successfully yet, including myself.  And the inaccurate generalizations the Times makes about the cartoons in this very editorial suggest a compelling need for people to see them in print.
The cartoons were largely unnoticed outside Denmark until a group of Muslim leaders there made a point of circulating them, along with drawings far more offensive than the relatively mild stuff actually printed by the paper, Jyllands-Posten.
Suddenly the twelve cartoons are "relatively mild," but the Times doesn't explain that the bogus cartoons portrayed Muhammad as a pedophile and practitioner of bestiality, and were touted around with fiery speeches about the Danish government's plans to outlaw the Koran and oppress its Muslim population, among other things.  The Times doesn't explain that these bogus pictures and rumors are still the leading incitement travelling the Muslim world today.  By publishing the real pictures the Times and other papers could help Americans realize how disproportionate the reaction is.  And perhaps a paper as respected abroad as the Times could make a difference by showing some agitated Muslims that the most offensive images described to them never really appeared in any Danish paper.
It's far from the first time that an almost-forgotten incident has been dredged up to score points with the public during politically sensitive times.
This is some kind of inside dig at someone, right?  Is this about the Ems telegram that started the Franco-Prussian war?  Or what?
The governments of the countries in which the demonstrations are occurring are responsible for keeping them nonviolent.  Lebanese officials have rightly apologized to Denmark for failing to control a protest that ended with the torching of the Danish Consulate in Beirut. That's in stark contrast with what happened in Syria, a nation where there is no such thing as a spontaneous demonstration, yet where large crowds managed to assemble and set fire to the Danish and Norwegian Embassies.
So what's the take-away from this editorial?  You shouldn't make fun of people's religions; those Danish cartoons made fun of people's religions; Muslims were within their rights to demonstrate against and economically punish the whole nation of Denmark of one of its newspapers' actions; protests shouldn't get violent; Syria is bad.
Not a single word about the freedom of the press.  Not a single word about freedom of expression.  About skeptical inquiry.  About all the things the Times would be shrieking about at the top of their lungs if the newspaper in question weren't some little Danish thing, but rather some big New York thing.
Shame on them.

What Hysteria Does... 

...is make people stupid.  I am a person.  Therefore, hysteria makes me stupid.
I apologize.
The "Brownshirts in Frederiksberg" incident appears to have been more a case of Sausage Vendor Fantasy than Brownshirt Nightmare.  Or, to put it bluntly, the guy made the whole thing up.
The police find no evidence to support his story and are considering pressing charges for filing a false report.
I can't beat myself up too badly for trusting Berlingske Tidende on that story, but I'm ashamed of having passed along an untruth at a sensitive time like this.  I'll make an appropriate adjustment to the relevant post later this evening, when I have time to log into the editor.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Faces of Islam 

Moments ago -- at about 2015 CET -- EuroCNN was running an interview with a Muslim cartoonist who was deeply critical of the notorious Muhammed-tegninger. At one point CNN showed a picture of one of the cartoons but blurred it, as they always do, to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the easily-offended.

A few moments later they showed one of their cartoonist-guest's cartoons: it was one he had drawn to protest Abu-Ghraib. It looked like a crude pen-and-ink drawing of Christ on the Cross, but in a black hood and loincloth like that of the iconic image of Abu Ghraib. Although the anchor did inform her viewers that "they might be offended" before showing this image, it was not blurred, and it remained on the screen for some time.

Does a double standard that brash not give the producers whiplash? Why are these "offensive" images treated differently?

(For what it's worth, the cartoonist insisted his image was "different" because the Christian nations of Europe had been using Christianity to enslave people around the world for 500 years.)

* * *

That's not what this post was supposed to be about.

An anonymous friend has shared some photos with me. I'm not sharing all of them, but here are two.

The first shows some demonstrators at Rådhuspdlads over the weekend. You can tell they're interested in dialogue because some of them have hidden their faces and their signs are all easily understandable to the average Dane.

The second is more disturbing.

Do you know who that man with the bruises, cuts, and gashed forehead is? Unfortunately I don't, either. But I did read the article about what happened to him at some point this weekend and can't seem to find it. I'll tell you what I remember, which my anonymous friend (who was a witness) did not contradict.

This man, a Muslim, was attending the demonstration and taking photographs. Three "second generation immigrants" then suddenly rushed him, smashed up his camera and cell-phone, then administered the beating that produced the lovely results you see above.

Why would "second generation immigrants" (andengenerationsinvandrer, Danish code for Arab, Turkish, and South Asian Muslims whose parents brought or conceived them here) attack a fellow Muslim?

Apparently last year this man caused a stir in the Danish Muslim community by coming out fairly hard against the ongoing tradition of forced marriages within Islamic culture.

Probably that doesn't even matter. Look at his face: that's the work of people our press and leaders seem to think can be appeased by apologies or positive dialogue.

In the very epicenter of Copenhagen, three Muslim thugs beat a fellow Muslim and destroyed his property because he'd openly criticized the institution of forced marriage.

To quote Sinclair Lewis, "You want to reform people like that when dynamite is so cheap?"

* * *

Thankfully Denmark's good Muslims have the courage of their convictions. They really are fighting to take their religion back from the evil bastards who've hijacked it. Further evidence is here: the Muslim residents of Gellerupparken in Århus will be conducting a torchlight procession tomorrow "under the motto 'For Denmark.' We will thereby send a message that when it comes to Denmark, we all have a common interest in urging reflection."

(Probably my translation of "at mane til besindighed" isn't exactly right, but from what I gather the intended sense is, "to urge restraint/reflection/calm.")

(I said "further" evidence because I thought I'd already cited this article about Naser Khader's announcement Saturday that he was forming a new union for Danish Muslims who "don't feel represented by the imams." That's a tremendous stride forward for Danish Muslims -- and a valuable stride away from Abu Laban.)

The Awakening West 

The world appears to have awakened!  Strong statements of support for Denmark from the US, UK, France, and NATO's General Secretary.
They're a little late, but who knows: if they came in with their support earlier, the embassies might not have burned -- but if the embassies hadn't burned, they might still not have come in.
Next step: acknowledgment by western leaders that western governments don't owe anyone, anywhere, ever, an apology for something published in a privately-owned newspaper.  (I haven't read the full statements of support issued by all these leaders yet, so it's possible their statements include words to that effect.)
Here's a terrific distillation of the issue from a Time Magazine essay by Andrew Sullivan:
Muslim leaders say the cartoons are not just offensive. They're blasphemy--the mother of all offenses. That's because Islam forbids any visual depiction of the Prophet, even benign ones. Should non-Muslims respect this taboo? I see no reason why. You can respect a religion without honoring its taboos. I eat pork, and I'm not an anti-Semite. As a Catholic, I don't expect atheists to genuflect before an altar. If violating a taboo is necessary to illustrate a political point, then the call is an easy one. Freedom means learning to deal with being offended.
But Sullivan, like a lot of other critics, misses an even larger point about the current case (and a point I haven't been hammering at myself because it seems so obvious as to hardly require stating, which shows just how naive I am): whether or not Jyllands-Posten is guilty of blasphemy the eyes of the Imams, or offensiveness in the eyes of the eggshell-walking appeasers, the anger directed at Denmark makes absolutely no logical sense whatever.
A free press means the press is not beholden to the government.  Anders Fogh Rasmussen made this point very clearly at the outset of this crisis several months ago.  Western liberals, including many Danish Social Democrats, have been unfair to Fogh in suggesting he could have helped the situation by having met with the aggrieved ambassadors back in September or October.  He didn't need to.  He told them publicly all that they needed to know: namely, that the Danish government has no responsibility for nor authority over the content of private Danish newspapers.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

2000 Words 

"Suffer the little children?"
A child joins Muslim demonstrators in Belgrave Square
And to prevent myself from being accused of hyperbole:
Police and demonstrators outside the Danish embassy
(Both images taken from this interesting Telegraph article .)

Negotiating with Terrorists 

Western leaders seem to be scrambling over one another to describe how offensive the twelve cartoons are, even when they're trying to defend besieged Denmark.
I find this cowardly and disingenuous.
First of all, it would be difficult to construe at least two of the cartoons as "offensive" unless one were a rabid secularist who despises any favorable mentions or depictions of Islam at all.
Secondly, at least half of the cartoons can only be construed as "offensive" if one is willing to posit that the sectarian position that any depiction of Muhammed whatsoever is blasphemous, and that blasphemy is in itself offensive -- even when someone outside the religion in question is committing the act so judged.
Thirdly, anyone paying close attention to events this weekend cannot be seriously offended by political cartoons suggesting that there is a dangerous violent streak in Islam, that the violent streak in Islam is highly visible, and that moderates within the religion are unable to control the extremists.  That is to say, the small minority of cartoons that associate the religion of Islam with violence are not entirely off the mark.
Lastly, whether or not they're offensive is not the point.  Many editorial cartoons are offensive.  So are many editorial texts.  In fact, it's probably not unreasonable to say that any expression of political opinion is bound to be found somewhere on the scale from "annoying" to "infuriating" by persons who do not subscribe to that particular point of view.
The point is that the western press is supposed to be free to offend.  It's stated pretty baldly in the first amendment to the American constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Obviously there are ethical and moral obligations to consider, but these typically vary from community to community.  The things one reads in "alternative" big city weeklies, for example, would be unlikely to find a home in small-town, rural American newspapers.
So there's no question but that every newspaper in America has the legal right to publish the cartoons; the question is one of ethics and morals.  The typical argument against publishing them is nicely summed up here:
The Los Angeles Times sent this statement to [Editor & Publisher] this afternoon: "Our newsroom and op-ed page editors, independently of each other, determined that the caricatures could be deemed offensive to some readers and the there were effective ways to cover the controversy without running the images themselves."
Let's break that down.
Our newsroom and op-ed page editors, independently of each other, determined that the caricatures could be deemed offensive to some readers....
Unlike the editorials and cartoons appearing every day in the L.A. Times, which never give offense to anyone?
and the there were effective ways to cover the controversy without running the images themselves.
As an American in Denmark who has seen the original images and is witnessing the unending barrage of horrors that have followed them, it is my opinion that there are not.  For one thing, the pictures are the story.  The Arab-Muslim extremists running riot throughout the Middle East have told a consistent story: it is rage over these images coupled with Denmark's refusal to issue a government apology for the private acts of a private newspaper that have driven them to burn embassies, attack Danish nationals, burn flags, burn effigies, and, most recently in Lebanon, attack random Christians.  Americans who have not seen the images will have no choice but to judge their "offensiveness" by the scope of what they've provoked.  That's not accurate or effective coverage: the story is how disproportionate that relationship is.
It is possible many Americans will see the images and determine that the violent reaction is justified.  It is also possible that many Americans will see the images and conclude that the Middle East is in the thrall of overreactive ideologues willing to loot, burn, and assault (and let us hope nothing worse) when presented with ideas they disagree with.
In my own opinion as an agnostic (currently on the verge of hardcore atheism), the reputation of Islam has suffered much more prodigiously from the behavior of its extremist adherents this week than it has from the pens of Danish cartoonists.  I saw that very question put to the leader of the Islamisk Trossamfund (Islamic Faith Society) in Denmark on television yesterday: wasn't it possible that images of hostages being held on television with knives to their throats, in the name of religion, was more damaging to Islam than a political cartoon?  "No," Mr. Laban declared, "absolutely not."  End of issue.
Furthermore, as I've already mentioned, the failure of the "liberal" west to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and declare that no editorial cartoon in any newspaper in any context is justification for the kind of violence we've been witnessing is partly responsible for the conflagration now upon us.  By acknowledging the hitherto unprecedented "sanctity" of a sectarian Islamic law and publicly avowing a desire to honor the sensibilities of those espousing that law (many of whom were cotemporaneously issuing death threats against the artists), most of the western and almost all of the American press has given succor to the enraged jihadists.  But I talked about that yesterday.
At this point it's probably too late to make a difference one way or another.  Things will either calm down because the extremists will recognize their victory and decline to overplay their hand; or they will escalate further because the extremists have smelled the sweet scent of capitulation wafting toward them.
But what precedent has this apologism set?  How will the L.A. Times justify any editorial cartoon supporting abortion, for example, or criticizing the Catholic church, Israel, or Aztec human sacrifice?  (Presumably they have never done so in the past.)  How big a religion must one be to earn their restraint?  How violent?  Has their gentle treatment not been akin to negotiating with terrorists, in that it only encourages future episodes by rewarding appalling behavior?
The founders of America and all that it represents, the authors of our western liberties, understood that nothing, not even religion, especially not religion, should be legally protected from criticism in the press.  This foundational belief suggests they understood that criticism of everything had a vital role to play in the ongoing dialogue of democracy.  If our press is going to begin declaring taboos, they had better be prepared to address the long line of aggrieved religionists and issue-evangelists that are going to be expecting the same kind of kid-glove treatment.
And if our statesmen and -women are going to begin apologizing for "offensive" material in their domestic newspapers to tyrannies and dictatorships abroad, without demanding similar apologies for the hateful screeds so regularly appearing in those nations' presses, we are not merely ignoring our liberties: we are handing them away.
If you must declare the cartoons offensive, be specific: describe which particular cartoons are offensive, and to whom, and in what particular way.  (And take care to describe any cartoons which are not offensive, if you find that in fact not all of them are.)
If you must preface your support for a free press with apologetic talk of respecting religion, at least be honest enough to admit what you're saying: that although Christianity and Judaism have learned to withstand the rigors of a free press, and that Christians and Jews of all denominations find plenty to be offended by in almost every major western media outlet at least once in a while, you're conceding that Muslims are not yet mature enough in their conviction to allow their religion exposure to public criticism.
I think this episode has given the theocratic enemies of liberty enormous encouragement.  I hope we can all live with the consequences.

Unfit to Print 

The front page of the New York Times online at 7:12 am, Sunday, February 5:

Not one mention of this story. Not one.

I just cannot believe America's myopia right now.

Brownshirts in Frederiksberg 

UPDATE: This story is not true. Frederiksberg police revealed on Tuesday that they have no evidence to corroborate the sausage vendor's story, and are considering pressing charges on him for filing a false report.

In case you think I'm overplaying things, here's a new story to warm your heart:

Pølsemand overfaldet med baseballbat
En pølsemand på Frederiksberg blev fredag overfaldet af to unge mænd og slået adskillige gang med et baseballbat, fordi han solgte "urent kød."
- Danskersvin. Du sælger urent kød.
Sådan faldt ordene angiveligt, da en pølsemand på Frederiksberg fredag eftermiddag blev overfaldet med et baseballbat af to unge mænd med udenlandsk baggrund. Forinden havde de to mænd bedt om to brød, men da pølsemanden rakte brøddene over disken, greb den ene fat i hans hænder, mens den anden hamrede løs på pølsemandens hænder med battet og slog hans fingre til blods.
Efterfølgende tog pølsemanden på skadestuen, og lørdag henvendte han sig til politiet på Frederiksberg for at indgive anmeldelse. Vagthavende hos Frederiksberg Politi betegner overfaldet som grov vold, og er nu på jagt efter de to unge mænd, som ifølge pølsemanden har tyrkisk baggrund og er mellem 18 og 20 år.

In English:

Sausage Vendor Assaulted with Baseball Bat
A sausage vendor in Frederiksberg was assaulted on Friday by two young men and struck repeatedly with a baseball bad because he sold "unclean meat."
"Danish pig. You sell unclean meat."
Thus reportedly came the words when a sausage vendor in Frederiksberg was assaulted Friday afternoon with a baseball bat by two young men of foreign background. The two men had asked for two buns, but when the sausage vendor passed the bread over the counter one of them grabbed hold of his hands while the other hammered on the sausage vendor's hands with the bat and beat his fingers to bloodiness.
Afterwards the sausage vendor was taken to the emergency room, and Saturday he reported to Frederiksberg Police Station to file his complaint. The officers on duty at the Frederiksberg PD portray the assault as rough violence [felony assault, if I'm not mistaken] and are now seeking the two young men, who according to police are of Turkiush background and are between 18 and 20 years old.
Is it safe to assume they're wearing brown shirts?

I live in Frederiksberg, so there's no real way for this story to get any closer to home.

Disgusting. And a little frightening. But all part of the rich dialog of civilizations, I suppose.

Archduke Ferdinand is Dead... We Can Make That Play in the Mid-Term Elections! 

Now the Danish embassy in Beirut is under siege.  Beg pardon -- it's on fire.
I went cruising around some of the leading left-wing American blogs and am saddened by what I've seen.  On Daily Kos, there seems to be a dim understanding of what's going on, and that it's bad, but it's being viewed through the prism of such virulent hatred of all things Bush/Republican/conservative/Christian that the best solution they can come up with is...  to mock American Christians.
Let's co-opt them, we must not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let it become, us [the west] vs them [Arab Muslims].  Let's raise and attract the ire of the [American] religious nuts with irreverent and whatever description fits our expressive and creative art in cartoon and caricatures. I'm sick and tired of these opportunistic and hypocritical bastards, we are going to confront them sooner or later. Why not now?
That's right.  Everything going on right now, and the "opportunistic and hypocrtical bastards" to worry about are... America's Christians?  But in terms of this "becoming us vs them," hasn't that already been decided by them?
And on the Democratic Underground, the first post I saw tells the story:
When I see the administration ramping up war rhetoric again, while there's simultaneously embassies on fire in Damascus (wow, what a wild co-inky-dink) I'm of the suspicion that our present administration, who have made their bones playing on fear, might have had something to do with it.
From the right, Andrew Stuttaford seems to be following the events on NRO's Corner, but there's not a whole lot of discussion on the topic.  (There, is though, a link to this "film" -- which gets things mostly right but neglects to show all twelve cartoons -- ignoring the self-deprecating and JP-mocking cartoons entirely -- and doesn't mention the Islamic Trossamfund's tour of misinformation, in which they traveled the Middle East whipping up hysteria.)
My disappointment in America is only deepening.  Get over yourselves, dammit.  The religious right has to realize this has nothing to do with "respect" for religious beliefs, and the far left needs to realize this has nothing to do with America's Christian right.
This is our second embassy burned in twelve hours, and you assholes are fiddling Denmark away, marginalizing the issue and trying to use it to whack each other rhetorically.
That's the kind of behavior I used to expect from Germany and France, but even they see the warning signs on this one.
On the other hand, Europe, it might be time to ask yourself if you're partly to blame: can you think of any reasons why America might be reluctant to involve itself in "European" affairs?
Something powerful and decisive needs to be done soon.  Someone needs to turn on the red light.
(For what it's worth, the Danish embassy in Syria wasn't burned to the ground... some rooms are actually still standing.  I'm not sure about the offices in Beirut: I think they're still on fire right now.  And in case you're interested, the ADL has a whole repository of Arab journalism demonstrating categorically that the notion of "religious tolerance" isn't supposed to be reciprocal.)

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