Creeping Sharia

This is good – every day that I go to the mailbox and don’t find the books that should be here by now and that I’m quite (and by quite I mean violently) keen to have, my mood becomes fouler and more bitter, so that’s very good for doing an intemperate N&C. Lovely.

The Staggers does the predictable. Surprise surprise.

The New Statesman has never been afraid to ruffle feathers. Thus it is fair to ask why we, like others in the media, have refrained from publishing the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad. The reason is simple: we are prepared to take great risks and to cause offence, but only in the name of good journalism. By good journalism we mean breaking stories of malfeasance and other deeds, or producing original and sometimes unpalatable comment. It doesn’t mean poking fun just to prove a spurious point about press freedom.

And it also, of course, doesn’t mean making the cartoons available to readers (reminder: not everyone has internet access) so that they can understand the subject. No, why would it mean that?

There is nothing brave about causing gratuitous offence. But there is everything courageous about challenging the powerful, about exposing facts that individuals and institutions would rather stayed hidden.

And…therefore they have refrained from publishing the cartoons. Eh?

Andrew Sullivan does much better. Much.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, it might be helpful to view the actual cartoons so you can see what on earth this entire fuss is about. But the British and American media have decided that it is not their job to help you understand this story. In fact it is their job to prevent you from fully understanding this story. As of this writing no major newspaper in Britain has published the cartoons; the BBC has shown them only fleetingly and other networks have shied away. All have decided not to give you this critical information, without which no intelligent person can construct an informed and intelligent position on the matter. You’re on your own.

Well, exactly. So what is the New Statesman doing patting itself on the back for not doing its job?

The fundamental job of journalists is to give you as much information as possible to make sense of the world around you. And in this story, where the entire controversy revolves around drawings, the press is suddenly coy…If you want to see why newspapers are struggling, surely this is part of the reason. They have forgotten their fundamental task: to provide information.

That’s been one of the oddest things about all this self-congratulation from media and government about witholding the cartoons – the fact that that meant witholding the core of the story. Editors and politicians talked as if the only possible reason to publish the cartoons would have been to ‘offend’ Muslims further – but that would not have been the only possible reason; not even close. It’s very forgetful not to realize that.

But the bad news is that the Islamists have just scored a huge victory. Their hope has always been what can only be called creeping sharia. Bit by bit, free societies abandon small freedoms to accommodate the sensitivities of Muslims or Christian fundamentalists or the PC police or other touchy fanatics. Bit by bit, we cede our freedoms to fear and phoney civility — all in the name of getting along. Yes, in this new war of freedom versus fundamentalism I always anticipated appeasement. I just didn’t expect the press to be among the first to wave the white flag.

Bingo. Creeping sharia, of many kinds. Abortion is harder to get, public prayer is harder to avoid, and bland cartoons are hidden away as if they were magic.

The Economist also eschews woolly evasions. I wonder if Anthony Gottlieb wrote the piece .

When the republished cartoons stirred Muslim violence across the world, Britain and America took fright. It was “unacceptable” to incite religious hatred by publishing such pictures, said America’s State Department. Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, called their publication unnecessary, insensitive, disrespectful and wrong.

Yup. Both were noted here. No, not noted, reviled. That’s all I do these days: revile. Good thing I’m in such a bad temper.

But the Muhammad cartoons were lawful in all the European countries where they were published. And when western newspapers lawfully publish words or pictures that cause offence—be they ever so unnecessary, insensitive or disrespectful—western governments should think very carefully before denouncing them. Freedom of expression, including the freedom to poke fun at religion, is not just a hard-won human right but the defining freedom of liberal societies. When such a freedom comes under threat of violence, the job of governments should be to defend it without reservation.

[Shouts] Exactly! [Normal voice again] I do wish more newspapers and magazines had managed to see it that way.

In Britain and America, few newspapers feel that their freedoms are at risk. But on the European mainland, some of the papers that published the cartoons say they did so precisely because their right to publish was being called into question. In the Netherlands two years ago a film maker was murdered for daring to criticise Islam. Danish journalists have received death threats. In a climate in which political correctness has morphed into fear of physical attack, showing solidarity may well be the responsible thing for a free press to do. And the decision, of course, must lie with the press, not governments…There are many things western countries could usefully say and do to ease relations with Islam, but shutting up their own newspapers is not one of them.

No it is not. Thank you, Economist. (I don’t say that every day.)

Excuse me, I have to go spit some nails now.

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