Tooning out

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.

6 thoughts on “Tooning out”

  1. Talk of “balanced” reporting is ridiculous. Accurate and information-packed reporting should be the agenda. Just because there are opposing viewpoints doesn’t make these opposing viewpoints newsworthy, relevant, well-reasoned, etc. Facts and opinions are different, and “the news” has a responsibility to get out all the facts, rather than to disseminate all opposing viewpoints. The “shame” we feel from the Abu Ghraib pictures isn’t because of the spin that these pictures were presented in, but because of their factual basis. Cartoons are editorial pieces that don’t represent factual information, and thus are not in the same category as journalistic reporting. The media keeps on getting these two points confused. Balanced reporting merely means to get out as much information as possible, hopefully untainted with politics. Whatever agenda our government has should have as little an affect on what news is reported as possible.

  2. A bigger issue perhaps is that Dershowitz and Bennett’s piece smacks of racist apologetics; writing like this almost screams,”We want to say that we feel okay about these cartoons!” in spite of the blatantly insidouness of these cartoons, Dershowitz and Bennett, i think, don’t see anything wrong with them, because they agree with the intent of the author. They want to provoke and ridicule Muslims because they don’t like them, because the face of the Muslim male has become the face of the enemy. Apologizing for these cartoons, or worse, rationalizing them away by equating them with the violation of Western religious iconography, is simply an admission of guilt. The hate for the west that has fueled the riots in Lebanon is wrong, but equally wrong is the banal bigotry of the cartoonists who chose their meager forum to parade an unapologetic ignorance of the farreaching consequences of their actions and the imperially arrogant drivel of western columnists who defend their actions as if they have done nothing wrong.

  3. Man, after reading that article again, I am even more angry. The last paragraph could be the most ridiculous caricature of the Islamic position I have ever heard: “When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms.”

    First of all, why is it that any time a Muslim or group of Muslims takes offense to something, they are immediately dubbed (pejoratively) “Islamists?”

    Second, what the hell are “our” virtues?

    And third, were we supposed to miss the historical relevance in the introduction of the piece regarding our noble media establishment? The two events brought to our attention, NY Times v. Sullivan and the Pentagon Papers, were critical attacks by the media against our government! They would have improved their point had they actually brought up cases in the past where our news media went after targets other than our own government. In light of these cases, I would say our news media did a pretty good job by reporting on Abu Ghraib, secret CIA prisons, mistreatment of “enemy combatants” at Gitmo, etc.

    All in all, a poor argument. Its sad that a professor at Hahvad and PhD in philosophy can be so handily refuted by lowly people like us. Too bad no one will read our arguments.

  4. If I characterize someone as evil, it implicitly follows that I am good; furthermore, it goes towards ablsoving me of anything I may have done to drive that person to the supposedly evil act(s), for, in labelling the them evil I imply that this is, in fact, their nature–to be evil. When Dersherwitz and Bennett construct this strawman of the hatred for the west, they provide themselves with a nearly unassailable platform from whcih to spew hatred; it is simply another version of “You are either with us or against us!” No one would side with those who hate “our way of life, our virtues, and our freedoms,” would they? Nay! This false dichotomy has become a mainstay of those columnists who are drinking the administration kool-aid.

  5. So you mean that if people had drawn Mohammed in a more flattering way that people would still have murdered, burned and caused general mayhem? I very much doubt it.

  6. if we (gasp!) assume for the moment that the reasoning behind the extreme–to put it mildly–reaction to these cartoons was not the manner in which the prophet was depicted, but the mere fact that he was depicted, then, yes, that is exactly what I meant. Now, reason might dictate that not to be the case, so obviously the cartoons were created intentionally to not only offend, but to incite. I cannot fully answer your hypothetical situation, because i am not a Middle-Eastern Muslim male–I cannot therefore, possibly grasp the intense disenfranchisement that person must feel. perhaps a kinder portrayal of the prophet might have provoked a lesser reaction, but it would have provoked nontheless, because the prohibition is against any image of the prophet, not just the ones where he sports an exploding turban.

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