I doubt I will find many things to agree with Christopher Hitchens about but on this Islamic cartoon “scandal” he and I can agree. In a column at Slate Hitchens makes my argument much better than I could about why the fanatics in the Muslim world are hurting themselves and are even somewhat successful in their goal of affecting and changing life in the United States and other “western” countries.
The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent.
We cannot, and indeed, should not, refuse to publish such a cartoon as that published first in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Our news media should not bow to extremism in any of its forms — there is sensitivity and then there is fear and cowardice.
I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings.
Hitchens doesn’t reserve his criticism for just the weak-kneed U.S. media or the over-reacting extremists but also lashed out at the Bush administration for its own trampling of the 1st Amendment and disregard for upholding its own rights in the face of such scrutiny. He closes his rant with the following remarks:
And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.