Hard to believe that we could find an op-ed dumber than George Will’s today (but we did). Will argues that conservatives are happier than liberals, as a recent Pew study holds. Will, never much for careful thinking, alleges that this shows his brand of a conservativism leads to happiness (and he argues this by fiat; the study doesn’t make the distinction he alleges it makes. If recent events–and recent op-eds of Will’s–are any indication, conservative Republicans are likely to be less “conservative” in Will’s semi-libertarian sense than liberals). But he at least was trying to be funny.
The sad thing is that Alan Dershowitz and Bill Bennett (yes, the gambler) were not. In a Post editorial, they argue that the American press has been inconsistent since the beginning of the war on terrorism. On the one hand, they have no problem printing images detrimental–in the minds of some of the Fox News variety–to our war on terrorism, yet at the same time they will not print images deemed offensive by some significant number of Muslims.
>Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had no problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind — images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the Muslim world as well as the U.S. military.
But Bennett and Dershowitz confuse photographic reporting of events most Americans should be ashamed of (not to mention the print reporting of abuses of presidential power) with the gratuitous printing of cartoon images of the Prophet Mohamed, for the sheer non-newsworthy joy freedom exercising. Any numbskull can see that this is a difference of logical category. The images of Abu Ghraib are offensive for two primary reasons. First, the events depicted actually took place. Second, the actual abuse, depicted in the photos, aimed to humiliate the prisoners as Arab Muslim men. Our conduct, in other words, is offensive. Such events, depicted in photos, undermined our efforts to win support from Arab governments because they events, depicted in photos, took place.
The cartoons of Mohamed don’t depict any actual events, but were inspired merely by the very prohibition of representing the Prophet. For this reason, they can hardly be compared to the images of Abu Ghraib. The proper contrast–attempted later in the piece–is between cartoons of a similar type.
>What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists — their threats more than their sensibilities. One did not see Catholics claiming the right to mayhem in the wake of the republished depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung, any more than one saw a rejuvenated Jewish Defense League take to the street or blow up an office when Ariel Sharon was depicted as Hitler or when the Israeli army was depicted as murdering the baby Jesus.
Cartoons of Sharon, or even representations of the Virgin Mary, are not properly comparable. There is no explicit prohibition of representing either of them (which the original publication of the cartoons purposely tried to flaunt). Context is everything.