Friday, February 10, 2006

A Lesson in Restraint

European arrogance versus Islamic intolerance. I’m not going to go over the details of the cartoon issue, by now you’ve heard it all and surely, most of us who have not taken sides must conclude that this has not been humanity’s finest hour. However, there is another, stranger side issue affecting us journalists: why it didn’t happen in the rest of “The West”.

I’m a European journalist. Like many of my colleagues around the continent, I have had to contend with fact that my superiors have chosen to reprint one of the cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad on our website, presumably as an expression of freedom of speech and out of solidarity with the Jyllands Posten, the Danish daily that initially and published them. Not to be outdone, Europe’s rabble rousing Arab European League, the AEL, is publishing a cartoon every day in an effort to “break many taboos in Europe”. Above you can see part of one depicting Anna Frank in bed with Hitler. There’s more to it, but I assure you, it’s as tasteful as it sounds.

But here’s the thing. While we Europeans were busy fanning the flames of unrest in the name of free speech, over in the Anglo Saxon world they were exercising taste, restraint and maturity with almost no sensational publications. Huh? I thought Karl Rove had vivisected the backbone out the American press. I thought the British press was still reeling from the Hutton report. And, hey, don't commercial considerations trump conviction every time over there? Apparently not. So what do they know that we don’t?

I think it’s this: a history of immigration. Countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and even Britain, have long made peace with the idea that they are destinations of immigration. Successful, ethnically mixed societies know that cultural sensitivity is a prerequisite to order and function and that there is strength in diversity. In other words, they are an ethnic quilt of colors living alongside one another, if not together, and that’s OK.

This is why in the U.S. Sikhs wear green turbans on St. Patrick’s Day and intermarriage amongst different kinds of Caucasian groups is widespread. Britain is awash in South Asian culture. How is this possible? Decades of civil rights struggles starting with women, followed by blacks and continued by every other group. It may not have lead to racial paradise, but it has created awareness that all of society’s institutions must walk a fine line if there is to be peace. The Jyllands Posten crossed that line it will take us long time to find our way back.

If you must see Radio Netherlands’s use of the cartoon and the article with it, click here. In the interest of balance, here is also the website of AEL, which has an equally, if not more, offensive cartoon depicting Anne Frank and Hitler in bed together.


At 5:10 PM, Blogger Borscht said...

Lest we forget this.

This isn't the first time Mohammed cartoons have been posted.


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