Friday, February 03, 2006

The Danish cartoons controversy: one Arab's reaction 

The Arab News serves up what seems at first blush to be the popular Arab reaction to the Danish cartoons controversy: in a nutshell, that the government of Denmark is culpable because there are laws that would permit the prosecution of Jyllands-Posten, the offending newspaper.
Arabs and Muslims are justified in their anger against the action of the newspaper. The publication of the cartoons may constitute a hate crime, which is considered an offense in most Western countries. They certainly should not have been brushed off as being protected under the universal right of free speech as they were initially by the Danish government.

In response the newspaper offered a lukewarm apology. The government of Denmark also claimed it had no power over the newspaper. But we know that is not true.

Well, the author is certainly correct that it is impossible to reconcile hate crimes legislation with a principled defense of free speech. The author might want to think twice about pushing this argument, though. He is an Arab-American stand-up comedian. A man who makes his living under the blanket of the Constitution of the United States has this to say about free speech in this country:
Everyday, newspapers throughout the world libel not only Islam but everything that the Arab world stands for that is principled and just. Everyday, the righteous Palestinian cause is victimized by hate crimes in newspapers all around the world, especially in the United States where free speech has exceptions when it comes to Arab and Muslim voices.

Yet we do nothing about these offenses.

Ironically, we sometimes help the offenders in their libel. In several major American cities, mainstream newspapers are often sold to the American public over the counters of hundreds of thousands of Arab- and Muslim-owned stores. These newspapers depend on us to help them sustain their circulations.

Er, Ray, if in the United States "free speech has exceptions when it comes to Arab and Muslim voices," how is it that you are able to attack it in print? You could get away with an essay like this in some small fraction of the twenty or so Arab countries.

Now, about that claim that mainstream newspapers count on Arabs and Muslims to help them sustain their circulations: there are 1.2 million Arabs in the United States, and around 5 million Muslims. If we artificially assume that none of the Arabs in the United States are Muslim (to eliminate double-counting), Arabs and Muslims account for 2% of the population of the United States. They must be prodigious readers for newspapers to "depend on them." And how likely is it that there are "hundreds of thousands of Arab- and Muslim-owned stores"? Suppose there are two hundred thousand Arab- and Muslim-owned stores. That implies that there is one store for every 30 Arabs and Muslims in the United States.

As it happens, there are only around 280,000 food stores of all kinds in the United States, including supermarkets, specialty stores such as butcher shops, convenience stores and ethnic food stores. Toss in the approximately 2300 newsstands still operating in the United States, and it begins to seem highly unlikely that Arabs and Muslims own "hundreds of thousands" of stores in this country.

It does, however, explain a lot of Arab frustration. If they think that as an ethnicity they control "hundreds of thousands" of stores, when in fact the number is probably a few thousand at most, it's not surprising that they feel they're getting screwed.

Here's the best part, though:
In some places like Chicago, newspapers could not survive without the support of Arab- and Muslim-owned grocery stores located in the inner city. The reality is that Chicago newspapers depend these grocery stores to sell their newspapers in poor communities because the newspaper owners fear that their newspapers will be stolen from news boxes placed on the streets of those communities. The sales policy of the newspapers in inner cities is itself racist.

Hmmm. The big media companies don't put boxes on the street in poor neighborhoods because of a racist belief that the locals will steal newspapers. Yeah, that's the ticket. It makes sense if you think about it. I mean, we hear all the time about the cops pulling over people with hot newspapers stashed in the trunk. I've heard that in Chicago, when the cops want to bust somebody for stealing newspapers, they secretly mark them and leave them out as bait. That's entrapment! And then there are the broken boxes out on the street, every copy of the Chicago Tribune taken and nothing left but the money. If it weren't for hundreds of thousands of Arab and Muslim shopkeepers risking their lives to keep newspapers out of the hands of thieves, there would scarcely be a viable press in this country.

UPDATE: Captain's Quarters examines some relevant cartoons from the Arab press (h/t commenter davod).

Of course, you won't find examples of Muslim cartoons ridiculing Jesus Christ per se, because Muslims revere Christ as a great prophet, just as Christians revere the Jewish prophets that came before. That fact just exacerbates the poignancy of this crisis: there simply is no way to reconcile Western traditions of free expression with Islam's demand that nobody, anywhere in the world, show disrespect for the Prophet Mohammed. Indeed, wars have been fought over substantially less important questions.


By Blogger squiggy, at Fri Feb 03, 12:28:00 AM:

Regarding the Muslim cartoons outrage; I think the GOOD MEDICINE religious cartoons are MUCH funnier! See what I mean: http://goodmedicinecartoons.tripod.com  

By Anonymous davod, at Fri Feb 03, 06:46:00 AM:

The hypocrisy of the Arabs is mind boggling. I have not seen much commentary on the cartoons the Arab press has vilifying Jews, Christians and other religions in the middle East.

Nor have I seen this brought up by the MSM.

I know we do not want to spread the hate that is emodied in the cartoons but maybe the publication of some examples would be worthwhile.

With the above in mind I wonder whether the Anti-Defamation league has come out in favor of removing the Muhamed cartoons.  

By Anonymous davod, at Fri Feb 03, 07:21:00 AM:

I spoke to soon Captains Quarters has some examples at: http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Feb 03, 01:04:00 PM:

You've got to be kidding. muslims bash every religion, and have no respect for anything but their f'ing quran. they teach their own people to hate other religions tell them it is ok to do so. hypocrisy!  

By Blogger Ogilvie, at Fri Feb 03, 07:57:00 PM:

Muslims have a perfect right to protest, short of violence and death threats, the denigration of what they hold sacred. I wish more Christians would stand up for their faith when it is attacked.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Feb 04, 03:29:00 PM:

I don't think that "protest" is the issue here. My objections, at least, is two-fold. First, I'm against exhortations to violence, such as fatwas against individual writers or artists, and actual violence, such as arson. Second, I abhor the idea that the opinions of these cartoonists are anybody's other than their own. This idea that the opinion of one Dane is somehow the responsibility of all of Denmark is not just laughable, but it is dangerous. If we socialize the responsibility for expressed opinions, soon nobody will express their opinions.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 10, 12:03:00 AM:


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