Sunday, February 12, 2006

What is the value of a free press to the world?

What you won't read in the London Free Press. From the Boston Phoenix:

Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.
Compare and contrast with the the faint acknowledgement of the same in an editorial by Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of the London Free Press — equivocated to the point of imperceptibility:
Pssst! Here's a secret: Newspapers censor themselves every day.

[…] So why would we print cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad — especially given what we now know about the likely reaction? We didn't.

The Danish editor who printed the now-infamous cartoons did it believing he was encouraging a useful dialogue about freedom of expression and freedom of the press. He must have known he would inflame some of his audience, but if he had known it would be that offensive, create so much anger and lead to the violence and worldwide demonstrations we saw explode throughout the world in recent weeks, I expect he would have reconsidered.

The editors in France and Germany and elsewhere (including the very few in Canada and the United States) who reprinted the cartoons recently believed they were taking an important stand for press freedom and solidarity. Others who published the cartoon decided the events in recent weeks were important enough that they needed to graphically explain to their readers exactly what all the fuss was about. Excellent arguments all and I am sympathetic to them. Meanwhile, those using violence to protest are hardly doing themselves or the religion a favour.

But printing the cartoons now, given what we know about the reaction, is asking for trouble and is an invitation to violence.

The question then becomes whether the printing of the cartoons makes the newspaper a part of the solution or part of the problem.

Freedom of the press is an important part of democracy, but with that freedom comes responsibility.
I could have sympathized with Berton's position or entertained his rationale… until the use of the cowardly platitudes of the last two paragraphs. Of what solution and what problem is he speaking? "[W]ith that freedom comes responsibility?" What does that mean? Freedom and responsibility are not necessary conditions of each other — they are both conditions of a free life. Of course, the Free Press does not have a responsibility to publish the cartoons and they are free not to do so. But I should like it if Berton were a little more forthcoming — to what does he feel responsibility as an editor? The frightening suggestion is that the editor-in-chief of the Free Press holds no convictions about the privileges of his position. The imprecision with which he exposits leads one to conclude that he has no reasons for which he has the strength of conviction. The timid editor hopes instead that the inattentive reader confuses imprecision with innocuousness.

Maybe he doesn't want to be visited with the police. From the Calgary Sun:
A local Muslim leader has filed a police complaint and will be seeing a lawyer over the running of controversial political cartoons in two Calgary-area publications.

Alaa Elsayed of the Muslim Council of Calgary (MCC) said he will also be asking The Jewish Free Press, which published the cartoons Jan. 9, and the Western Standard, which is expected to feature them in tomorrow's issue, to apologize for the slight.
It is refreshing to see the extent with which some Canadian Muslim leaders have adopted the national custom of imposing one's feelings of victimhood through the mechanisms of the police and legislation. One might ask, however, on what legal or procedural grounds the police could even begin to investigate the publications. There have been no suggestions of trespass against property, or assault, or confinement, or fraud, etc.

This fellow, however, has the right attitude:
Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and Muslims Against Terrorism said he encourages people with questions about the furor to attend an information session today.

But, Soharwardy said he hopes to use the cartoon flap to educate people about Islam, and why the images of the Prophet Muhammad are so offensive.

"People can ask me any question they want, even offensive ones, and I will answer them with patience," he said. "There are many reasons and people in the western world, they still don't fully understand what Islam is.
Update, February 13:Let It Bleed cites a section of the Criminal Code of Canada under which an attempt could be made to investigate and prosecute the Western Standard:
296. (1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
Strange… wouldn't the only person or entity that could be libelled — or harmed by libel — by blasphemy be a God or prophet, in other words someone who could hardly initiate an action? Jim Whyte in a comment notes an applicable subsection:
296 (3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.
… which, as he notes, would indicate that "intent is part of the essence of this crime, and legitimate argument 'on a religious subject' is fine. Publication in Canada would probably be on a political subject, as an illustration of free speech."

The Globe & Mail reports:
[T]he leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry, warned yesterday that his organization will seek to have charges laid against the magazine under Canada's laws against distributing hate literature.

"It's unfortunate," said Mr. Elmasry, who had urged Mr. Levant not to republish the images. "I think he really goes against the will and the values of Canadians by this provocative action."
How very European of Canadians to attempt to make timid paralysis the national standard. From the CBC:
Section 319 deals with publicly stirring up or inciting hatred against an identifiable group based on colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. It is illegal to communicate hatred in a public place by telephone, broadcast or through other audio or visual means. The same section protects people from being charged with a hate crime if their statements are truthful or the expression of a religious opinion.
It would seem that the only people being "stirred up" or "incited" are the muslims. As invidious and damaging to freedom as this legislation is, wouldn't there have to be some burden of proof that "hatred" against the intended group had been "stirred up" or "incited" in the first place?


Anonymous said...

Syed Soharwardy, I am getting a grasp on what Islam is all about from the recent actions of a whack of its followers. From what I can gather it goes like this.....believe what we believe, or we are going to kill you. Don't question what we believe or we are going to kill you. Don't make fun of our beliefs, or we are going to kill you. You can have your own beliefs, but we are going to kill you. We can't draw pictures of our god, and neither can you, or we are going to kill you.

With all due respect Mr. Soharwardy, it appears to me that your god needs an extreme makeover, and perhaps an early xmas gift of the book, "How to Make Friends and Influence People"

Sky Captain said...

The Free Press combines two essential Rights, the Right to Speech and the Right to Property.
It does this by creating organic, centralised bodies that specialise in speech(eg newspapers) and do so in a profitable way.
When the Free Press is attacked,it is nothing more than a direct attempt to destroy our complete civilisation.
To do nothing when the press is attacked is like Churchill doing nothing until the invasion ships for Operation Sealion had already arrived on the coast.

Pete said...

" "[W]ith that freedom comes responsibility?" What does that mean? "

This statement means that if one is to exercise their freedoms they should do so using reason and responsibility. It is immature and ignorant to exercise your freedoms merely to make someone angry or to prod them towards radical violence just so you can decry them. It is also called respecting others rights.

gm said...

Freedom from debate. The new rights shall begin.
Must we respect flat earthers and ufo buffs with the same respect?

command economy said...

"This statement means that if a woman is to dress provocatively to exercise her freedoms she should do so using reason and responsibility. It is immature and ignorant to exercise your freedoms merely to make someone aroused or to prod them towards rape just so you can decry them. It is also called respecting others rights."

MapMaster said...

For the record, my question was rhetorical. I am fairly sure that I am aware of the responsibilities I have concomitant with my own freedom. I was curious what Paul Berton meant by the statement.

MapMaster said...

Mike, I am reminded of this, from Mark Steyn:

A professor at the University of Oslo explained that one reason for the disproportionate Muslim share of the rape market was that in their native lands "rape is scarcely punished" because it is generally believed that "it is women who are responsible for rape."

So Muslim immigrants to Norway should be made aware that things are a little different in Scandinavia? Not at all! Rather, the professor insisted, "Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes" because their manner of dress would be regarded by Muslim men as inappropriate. "Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it."

Sky Captain said...

Shouldn't that read,"Moslems must realise that they live in Norwegian society and adapt themselves to it."

MapMaster said...

It would read that if it weren't a university professor speaking.