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University of Chicago Mohammed Cartoon Panel:

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The three-man panel discussion, organized by the university's chapter of the Objectivist Club, mainly focused on the U.S. media's reluctance to reprint the cartoons, first published in Denmark in September.

Panelist Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the issue was simple: Journalists are afraid....

There was little disagreement among the panelists, ... [Lukianoff], Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine.

Discussion organizers said they invited Muslim students, activists and faculty to participate, but they all declined. The Muslim Student Organization arranged a showing of the Palestinian film "Paradise Now," which is about suicide bombers, in another building at the same time as the panel's talk. The group's leaders repeatedly declined to comment Tuesday night.

About 60 people attended the discussion in the Kent Chemical Laboratory building's lecture hall. U. of C. spokeswoman Julia Morse estimated that about half the attendees were students....

Brook suggested that U.S. media were right to be afraid of publishing the cartoons because there are violent strains of Islam in the United States, as there are worldwide.

Flynn disagreed, saying that the unique freedoms and social makeup of the United States precluded any violent outburst over the cartoons, such as seen elsewhere.

"I think the American-Muslim community is dealing with this in a mature way," Flynn said....

Thanks to reader Ben Wilson for the pointer.

Humble Law Student:
How interesting. The MSO's response is to show a film that is at least partially sympathetic to suicide bombers. (The film is pretty complex and nuanced, but it at a minimum protrays suicide bombers in a fairly friendly light.)

I think their choice of response speaks volumes.
4.26.2006 2:05pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
I wouldn't assume the showing of the film was a response to the Objectivist Club. I know nothing about the particulars of these events, but generally, student organizations schedule things like speakers and films relatively far in advance. Odds are, it's just a coincidence that the film was being showed the same night the Objectivists had their panel.
4.26.2006 2:31pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
I might be missing something obvious... but why is this noteworthy? Are people upset that the MSO didn't participate? Or is this just part of Volokh.com's continuing efforts to be Your Source for Cartoon News?
4.26.2006 2:53pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Ohh C'mon the claim that journalists didn't print the cartoons out of fear of physical violence against themselves is just absurd. Many of these journalists are braving great risk to report from war zones and past history doesn't suggest that the editors are this cowardly.

Perhaps the danger to their reporters overseas in places like Iraq played some role. However, I suspect the real answer is more simple and partially more sad.

Part of the reason they didn't print was probably a sense that now wasn't a good time to piss off muslims give our efforts in Iraq. Since I don't think this denied people in the US any essential news (they knew about the cartoons and could go see them online) I'm not too bothered by this.

However, probably the other reason they didn't post them is the generally greater regard for religion in the US. Yes some of these newspapers were willing to take stands in defense of piss-christ and other exhibits but in the context of a homegrown newspaper in an essentially christian nation (I don't like it but it's true) these were going to be interpreted as disagreements about how we should react to offensive attacks. When it is something that 'attacks' islam there is a certain unfortunate sense that the muslims get to decide what counts as an attack and what doesn't. Therefore publishing the cartoons would be seen as an attack on a certain sort of religious faith.

Unfortunatly the prevaling attitude in the US is that religion is sancrosinct and immune from attack/criticism. Rather than taking our freedom of religion to be a springboard for a broad discussion of religious truth and justification Americans instead use it to justify a sort of religious relativism where criticism of religious belief is just regarded as beyond the pale. Not everyone feels this way about islam but enough people do to influence the newspaper's views (the educated class tends to believe this more).

Personally I think this is just an unfortunate side effect of having a nation with so many fundamentalist/thoughtless believers. People feel defensive about their religion because they know they can't justify their belief (and I see no reason why religious beliefs should have some special epistemology) so they protect themselves by effectively taking such criticisms off the table. The islamic cartoon controversy just reveals why this is such a troublesome attitude.
4.26.2006 3:10pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Several outlets, such as Borders, have been explicit that it was about fear.
That a correspondent might be braving war someplace is meaningless when the fear is vandalized newspaper dispensers, or home offices, or paperdeliverypersons.

IMO, the Muslim community ought to be protesting furiously at the presumption they're a bunch of easily-provoked homocidal maniacs. Which is the presumption behind the reluctance.
4.26.2006 3:15pm
abb3w:
Brook's and Flynn's arguement both seem to share a false premise: presuming that the impact of US publication and the concerns of the journalists/editors/publishers are domestically limited. However, the end result is likely the same: self-censorship due to some form of Fear.

Aubrey: Similarly, all Americans ought to be furiously protesting every time some politician proposes a flag-burning law/amendment, implying that we cannot distinguish between the symbol and the substance of freedoms.
4.26.2006 3:52pm
Tuch (mail):
Richard Aubry wrote:

"IMO, the Muslim community ought to be protesting furiously at the presumption they're a bunch of easily-provoked homocidal maniacs. Which is the presumption behind the reluctance."

That is not the presumption. It is the weaker and extremely prudent assumption that there are some crazies among the Muslims living in the US (this is true, I suspect, about all ethnic and religious communities in which dominant cultural themes are oppression of and discrimination against members as members).
4.26.2006 3:59pm
poster child (mail):

Ohh C'mon the claim that journalists didn't print the cartoons out of fear of physical violence against themselves is just absurd. Many of these journalists are braving great risk to report from war zones and past history doesn't suggest that the editors are this cowardly.


Isn't there a difference between (a) reporting from a war zone where you might be (in most cases) accidentally or mistakenly attacked and (b) publishing material that you reasonably believe would be likely to incite a direct attack upon you or your organization? The former is kind of like being willing to walk through a bad neighborhood at night while the latter is closer to approaching someone you know to be violent and insulting his mother. Being willing to do (a) doesn't necessarily include a willingness to do (b).
4.26.2006 5:09pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Tuch.
What other community provides the promise of violence to the extent that people go out of their way to avoid offense?
The other minority groups are protected by politeness, civility, or political correctness, not to mention that the issue doesn't arise.

I will modify my statement to say that the Muslim community ought to be protesting furiously at the presumption that they have within them--because they raised and educated them--so many easily provoked homicidal maniacs that the rest of society walks on eggshells out of fear.

The Muslim community is not protesting this presumption.
Why not?
4.26.2006 5:13pm
carl 3 (mail):
It seems like it would have been nice to have a panel with differing opinions so there could perhaps have been some wider community participation. However, I doubt the MSA would even be willing to be in a debate on this topic, since that would likely advertise a little too widely that they don't actually fully support the University's free speech policies. It's easier to "no comment" on these panels and just sort of hope the whole issue blows over.
4.27.2006 11:44am
sbw (mail) (www):
Fear just wasn't a consideration. I know. I publish a newspaper. I decided.

At the time, it just didn't seem necessary. To anyone who read and understood Taking offense at offense, the strong editorial stand we took at the outset in favor of the necessity in any free society to be able to offend, it would not have seemed necessary.

I changed my mind and published Danish Mohammed cartoons -- and Iranian and Israeli cartoons, as well -- because Borders (and later the Cartoon Network) collapsed. They mistakenly believed newspapers not publishing cartoons meant newspapers were afraid. Rubbish. We are all in this together, for the sake of civilization.

For our explanation why this is important, see: Courage to stand up to thugs.

Fear was never in the equation. Those who believe otherwise... well, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but you don't have to know anything to have one.
4.27.2006 12:13pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
sbw

Nice to know you did the right thing.

Who is the "they" you refer to when you say "they" mistakenly believed....".

Several papers have actually said they chose not to publish because of the threat of violence of some type. That's fear, although you may call it prudence.


And it has to be fear of or prudence regarding something.

What would that be?
4.27.2006 1:16pm
Benjamin Wilson (mail):
The Tribune did not catch many of the panelists' comments in this article.

The panelists took the American press to task on many points, not only fear.

Fear was and is absolutely in the equation, even if it was not editors' fear for their personal safety. Fear of escalating the riots overseas, causing more deaths, or starting a violent outbreak in the US count.

When the NYT and other liberal newspapers have published images offensive to religious communities but refused to publish the Danish cartoons, what are we to make of that? The panelists gave another explanation besides fear, one being a hatred or disregard of Western values. Multiculturalism has won.

When the WSJ, on the other hand, didn't publish the images and stand up for free speech, Yaron Brook attributed that to an unwillingness to offend a religious group, out of their own sympathy for religion. Brook and Tom Flynn both found this ominous because religions must be criticized and be open to scrutiny.

The most important point was that the principle of free expression was violated by the riots and death threats against the cartoonists and Jyllands-Posten. The American press should have acted in *solidarity with them* by printing the cartoons. Meanwhile, those cartoonists and editor Flemming Rose are still in hiding.
4.27.2006 3:16pm
markm (mail):
A journalist out in the field only has to worry about rotecting himself - and he is a moving target. A publication with a fixed address and many employees is vulnerable to more and worse attacks.
4.27.2006 3:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Good for sbw and the Rome paper.

I do not publish a newspaper, but I report for one. Mine didn't publish the cartoons, for the entirely defensible reason that we don't even editorialize on national/international issues. Our letters page is full of hyperventilating letters from readers about cartoons etc., but the paper itself is silent.

So the issue of fear must not even have arisen for our publisher.

How much did it affect bigger papers? Hard to say. I did notice that the image of a Koran in a toilet was widely published.

Not being a Muslim, this would seem to me at least as offensive as a cartoon. But nobody got bombed over that.

Could it possibly have been the subtext? That the Koran in a toilet pictures implicitly condemned American values/behavior, even if they formally, in some sense, desecrated a text sacred to some?

(I wouldn't want to push that too far. Murdering people over formalistic offenses is a daily event in Islam. I cannot think of an example ever in the United States by non-Muslims.)

Richard Aubrey's comment about what Muslim behavior (or lassitude) implies about Muslim values is exactly right.

And sbw's editorial about respect misses a point. We could all (except Muslims, who cannot seem to get over calling me a Great Satan, even if it hurts my feelings) probably agree that being impolite (such as shouting at someone at his prayers) is unproductive. But we should not let that sort of personal, limited 'respect' slop over into a generalized, empty-headed respect for values that are in themselves hateful. Logicnazi got that part right.

If Muslims want their religion, apart from their personal space, to be respected, they need to purge it of its savage components.
4.27.2006 8:17pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Richard Aubrey> "Who is the "they" you refer to when you say "they" mistakenly believed....",

First, Borders executives when they refused to carry the book with Mohammed images in it, and, secondly, the Cartoon Network when they blocked the South Park cartoon of the Family Guy drinking tea with Mohammed.

Harry Eagar> "sbw's editorial about respect misses a point. ... we should not let that sort of personal, limited 'respect' slop over into a generalized, empty-headed respect for values that are in themselves hateful."

We don't miss the point. While the editorial may not speak to your concern, other editorials of ours and my blog certainly do. For instance, "Measured steps toward civilization":
A society that does not allow peaceful problem resolution not only plants the seeds of its own destruction, it is a danger to other societies. Other societies need to be prepared to defend themselves from those who do not believe in institutional processes that allow peaceful change.
The underlying fabric of civilization requires defense. You can't stifle words with threats of murder.
4.27.2006 10:17pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Better and better. I'm going to start reading your on-line edition.
4.28.2006 4:25pm