Moderate Muslims must “abandon the illusion that they can placate the Islamists by straddling the fence.” At least that was the position taken by The New York Times editorial page on Saturday. It’s pretty good advice for members of a faith going through some very serious identity searching. It’s advice The Times – along with the vast majority of the U.S. media – refuses to take itself.
The editorial, you see, was urging “moderate” Muslims to help quiet the furor in the Islamic world over those Danish cartoons that have caused so much violence and destruction. Of course The Times joins every major media outlet (including CBS News) in refusing to show those very cartoons, a fact that makes this editorial position almost laughable. The Times starts out strong:
With every new riot over the Danish cartoons, it becomes clearer that the protests are no longer about the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, but about the demagoguery of Islamic extremists. The demonstrators are undeniably outraged by what they perceive as blasphemy. But radical Islamists are trying to harness that indignation to their political goals and their theocratic ends by fomenting hatred for the West and for moderate regimes in the Muslim world. These are dangerous games, and they require the most resolute response.
It then ventures into the surreal, noting that 11 journalists in 5 Muslim countries have been arrested for printing the cartoons:
In most of these cases, the legal action represents attempts by cowed authorities to appease the Islamists. But the effect — in Yemen, Jordan and other countries — has only been to give extremists a dollop of legitimacy, and to encourage them to turn up the heat.
Replace “legal action” with “refusal to show the images” and “cowed authorities” with “a cowed free press” and you see how twisted this position has become. No mention of how these moderate Muslims should feel about trying to explain images The Times won’t even print because they are viewed as too inflammatory. It’s one thing for them to risk arrest and prosecution (or worse), but we don’t need any trouble for our own press thank you very much. The longer this self-censorship-in-the-name-of-tolerance attitude goes on, the sillier it seems.
Some news organizations have included links to Web sites that have posted the cartoons, something that highlights the Internet at a time mainstream news is struggling to reassert its own value. The message: We’ll continue to be the filter, go to the Web for the whole story. If you really want to see these cartoons, you can find them with a little effort (or very little). Of course, with a little effort in China, you can still use Google to find out the real story of Tianamen Square.
This cartoon episode may be near its end, something that surely has the U.S. press anxious to breathe a sigh of relief. The captains of the media industry would be mistaken to think it will soon be forgotten, however. The decision not to run newsworthy images that are readily available (and benign, at least to non-Muslims used to much worse) will be a card played in any “offensive” situation. When it comes to free speech, the press may wish it had taken The Times’ words to heart: “These are dangerous games, and they require the most resolute response.”