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Taxpayer-funded NPR has decided against posting on its website or even linking to the twelve cartoons that caused the Muslim world to erupt in deadly rioting. According to Bill Marimow, the network’s Vice President of News:
[T]he cartoon is so highly offensive to millions of Muslims that it’s preferable to describe it in words rather than posting it on the Web. In this case, I believe that our audience can, through our reports — on radio and the Web — get a very detailed sense of what’s depicted in the cartoon. By not posting it on the Web, we demonstrate a respect for deeply held religious beliefs.
First of all, it’s not one cartoon, Bill, it’s twelve. Did NPR describe them all? If so, I can’t find it anywhere on your website.
NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin says the reaction to this decision has been overwhelmingly negative:
Of the hundreds who wrote to me, more than 70 percent insisted that NPR was wrong not to show the cartoon, while 20 percent agreed that NPR did the right thing in not reprinting any of the drawings to avoid exacerbating tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. The remaining 10 percent expressed frustration over being forced to choose between the two legitimate values — freedom of speech and religious tolerance — that now seem to be in conflict.
Dvorkin posts a number of the e-mails he received. Here are two that struck me as particularly insightful:
I am a Norwegian and have seen the cartoons. They are not the least bit offensive compared to other depictions of, let’s say, Jesus, that have been printed throughout time. Seeing the cartoons will shock people, for if those innocent cartoons are considered blasphemous, then nothing questioning Islam should by implication be printed. Without the publication of the cartoons no fully informed decision can be made by your readers. You say that one should not publish lest one hurt religious feelings; I say that one cannot grant tactfulness to irrational feelings, for by doing so one sanctions the ideas behind those feelings and the aggressors who respond with violence instead of peaceful discourse.
That’s the real shame of the media’s reaction. Free speech has been defined down to the lowest common denominator where groups can restrict speech to their liking, as long as enough violence is employed. If every aggrieved group used such tactics, speech would become little more than a recitation of numbers, because anything beyond that is sure to anger somebody.
I am surprised that in all of the coverage of the riots in the Islamic world following the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad that I have heard on NPR (and I am a regular listener) that no one has mentioned the vile posters (regularly visible in network TV and cable news broadcasts) that plaster walls in cities throughout the Muslim world. Surely it is an important bit of the context of these riots that they occur in societies whose citizens seem to be utterly untroubled by posters that resemble anti-Semitic propaganda in 1930s Germany.
It shows the utter hypocricy of the situation. On the one hand, we’re supposed to ignore beheadings, “honor” killings of gang rape victims, cities where by law only Muslims may tread, and—relatively low on the list—any insult lodged at the religions of the West, yet we’re supposed to bend over backwards to avoid inflaming the insane sensitivity of those who have no trouble murdering others over relatively tame speech. Is that the kind of world you want to live in?
The sensitive souls running NPR seem to think so. And their decision does nothing but help cement in place the veto-by-murder that the Islamic world now holds over our speech.