Thursday, February 16, 2006


Tilting at windmills: The Stranger's battle for the First Amendment

The fantastic and truly independent Seattle weekly, ”The Stranger,” printed the controversial Danish cartoons that has caused the freedom of speech ruckus across the globe, largely at the behest of editor, Dan Savage. Savage sees the controversy solely as a freedom of speech issue. He was outraged that the nation’s mainstream papers decided as a body not to print the cartoons, and ran the caricatures in defiance of self-censorship. The decision has sparked quite a lot of controversy, none of which involves Muslims. (See Slog posts here, here, here, here, and here. And, yes, you do know commentor “Touchstone.”) Dan Savage is my hero. But I don’t know if I agree with him on this one. Check out this cool post over at Power of Narrative: The Freedom to Foster Hatred. Excerpt from a Salon article:
"Make no mistake about it: The recent West versus the Muslim World contention over 12 ignorant and offensive cartoons is not about freedom of expression and its limitations. It is first and foremost about the bleak reality of a great many powerful forces -- on both sides of the Atlantic, north and south of the Mediterranean and all the way to the Indian Ocean -- having a decided stake in perpetuating and escalating the so-called clash of civilizations, even if for a whole range of very different reasons. This is no conspiracy but, rather, an ugly convergence of equally repugnant interests. [snip] "Triggered by cartoons, the latest episode of the clash of civilizations is the caricature of a caricature, one in which our fundamental humanity is diminished, the almost limitless richness and diversity of that vast world of the intellect and the imagination that we call culture is flattened and shadowed over, the profound commonality of our human condition rubbed out, until finally all that remains is the horrible and the grotesque: the "liberal" West represented by a T-shirted female American soldier holding a prone and naked Arab on a leash, and the 'devout' Arab/Muslim world represented by a masked and hooded terrorist holding a knife to a hostage's neck under a banner of 'God is great.'"
From the blogger:
"To be absolutely clear: you unquestionably have 'the freedom to foster hatred,' if that is what you choose to do. But if that is indeed your choice, don't dress it up as a noble and valiant fight for freedom of speech and for 'Western values' -- unless, of course, you think that accurately represents 'Western values.'"
It is true The Stranger ran the cartoons in response to the mainstream media's self-censorship, and for that, I give this paper the benefit of the doubt. To me what's more disturbing is the effort of some Western governments to curtail freedom of speech in the "civilized" portion of the globe, from Britain's banning of the "glorification of terrorism" (does that mean no more gloating about the Sons of Liberty?) to the prosecution of Holocaust-denier, David Irving, in Austria. Will we see a serious journalistic attempt from the Stranger to deny the Holocaust, because no other reputable US paper will?
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