Wednesday, February 08, 2006

About those Mohammed Cartoons...

Lynn Johnston, the cartoonist behind one of the most-loved comics in history (a strip I've read since I was three feet tall), has issued a press release about the Mohammed cartoon controversy. Lynn, like most cartoonists, is torn on this issue. On the one hand there's the desire to defend freedom of speech, and on the other hand there's the desire to respect different cultures and faiths. It's a tought balancing act, and here's where Lynn comes down on the issue:

Kansas City, MO (02/07/2006) A Statement from Lynn Johnston, cartoonist of "For Better or For Worse"

As a cartoonist with over 30 years' experience, I am outraged by the way cartoons are being used to inflame a world religion.

Freedom of speech does not give us the right to ridicule, to flaunt power, or to invent explosive cover stories for the sake of sensationalism.

Freedom of speech allows a controversial point of view to be published. If this point of view is derogatory, is it "free speech" to then publish it again and again and again?

Like pornography, inappropriate material can be found if inquisitive people want to find it. I am therefore appalled by the lack of respect and total disregard for human life-- all for the sake of a headline.

People who wear the apparel of their faith live their faith 24 hours a day as a statement of their constant and unwavering devotion. Comedy and sarcasm of our concept of God may not be liked by many, but we have a history of tolerating it.

They do not. Can we not respect this deeply religious way of life?

I believe these cartoons have a right to exist. The media does not have the right to use them callously in the name of freedom. Freedom for whom? If one innocent person dies because of this capricious incident, publishers must accept the blame.

On behalf of conscientious humorists and illustrators worldwide, I want to say to the nation of people who have been understandably offended – an apology is due. This is not comedy. If a cartoon or a statement causes such pain, it enters the category of hate literature and should be treated as such.

Laughter is a language we can all understand. For the sake of decency and good taste – stop reprinting this inflammatory image and allow a people already in crisis to heal.
-Universal Press Syndicate press release

Most of the cartoons at the heart of this controversy are poorly-though out, childish, amateurish and off-target, as far as I'm concerned. Some are mild and inoffensive, unless you're the type who suddenly decided to get offended that the prophet has been depicted at all (despite the fact that centuries of artwork and sculpture depicting Mohammed have passed without any ensuing rioting and torched embassies).

That said...

I can't agree with what (I think) Lynn is saying. I respect when other people observe their own sacred edicts, for the most part (e.g. not depicting the prophet Mohammed in a derogatory light, fine by me... stoning women to death for adultery, not fine by me). I understand when the faithful demand that others of their faith respect such an edict. That's their business. But when people demand that those who *don't* share their faith also respect those edicts, that's where they lose my support.

It's the same reaction I had when Giuliani and some Catholic groups temporarily went ape-shit over a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporated elephant dung (which is sacred in the part of Africa that inspired the painting) back in '99. The big difference is the degree of the overreaction, but the nature of that overreaction is the same. It's irrational to expect people of other religions (or no religion at all) to obey the rules of your own. People of any religion need to be disabused of the notion that their orthodoxy can be forced on outsiders. I think Lynn's approach - and the condemnation so quickly handed out by our government, does the opposite -- it only reinforces that deadly notion.

A couple of the cartoons are ok, but the offense committed by the majority of them is that they're boring. I wish the images at the center of this controversy were better cartoons (click on the image to the right to see them), but I don't believe you can effectively defend free speech if you only stand up for it when you agree with it. I also don't believe that suggesting something has the right to exist but shouldn't be shown to the public is the same thing as defending free speech.

And it's an odd suggestion that papers should stop reprinting the cartoons as part of their reporting on the story. Papers have to balance their mission against the desires of their communities, but their mission remains one of educating the public. You don't educate the public by hiding important facts. And speaking as someone whose cartoons have been misinterpreted by reporters, I believe when the story is about reaction to a cartoon, you have to show people the cartoon so they can decide for themselves.

Lynn and others who share her argument are essentially using the "yelling "fire" in a crowded theater" rationale. But that assumes that the cartoonists didn't believe what they were saying. How could they possibly know what those cartoonists believed? They forget that people have every right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater if they really think there's a fire.


Clark Braxton said...

I've enjoyed your series on Google and, until yesterday, thought you might be a bit too harsh.

That's when Blogspot (owned by Google, and the hoster of your blog as well) censored a very moderate post I made about the Muhammad cartoons.

Actually, they didn't censor the post, they DELETED it!

My blog (and the link to my deleted post) are here: and at

As you'll see from my post, I happen to agree with you.

Clark Braxton said...

One way to test whether or not they are still censoring posts about the cartoon is to make one yourself and INCLUDE the cartoons themselves.

The link is here ...

As you can see, the cartoons are not lurid and hateful as those who have never seen them are (well, except for one which shows Muhammad as a bomb ... but that depiction is far gentler than most newspaper editorial cartoons concerning political figures).

The Danes have always had more courage than us. They're out front defending freedom of speech. And 50+ years ago when the Nazis declared that all Jews had to wear a star of david, EVERYBODY -- Jew or nor -- wore a star of David to thwart the roundup.

People are making judgements about this without ever seeing the cartoons. That's an abdication of the First Amendment responsibilities of the media. My understanding is that the Philadelphia Inquirer is the only U.S. newspaper linking to the cartoons themselves.

Darrin Bell said...

Thanks, Clark, I've edited my post to add the cartoons. Oddly, when I tried uploading the image through Google, it kept shrinking to an illegible size. They must have a pixel limit, or something. It worked fine when I uploaded it to my own website and sourced the image from there.

Clark Braxton said...

I think they have reached that compromise level of censorship ... the physical size of the cartoons are not too large for the site to handle... when I originally uploaded them on Saturday, the cartoons appeared on my blog large enough to make out the individual cartoons clearly... and clearly enough for people to inform themselves and make a decision ... which, after all, is what a free press is about.

I think what they have done is to prevent the cartoons from being visible enough to blogspot visitors ... thus your need (and mine) to upload these somewhere else ... it's still censorship because they have exercised the graphic equivalent of deleting 80 percent of the words in a written piece.

Suppose somebody didn't like your portrayal of C-Dog, felt his rendering was insensitive or something to the thug culture ... and a bunch of selfsame thugs got $%#@!-ed off and stormed the Oakland Tribune ... and thereafter, the Trib hyperpixelated C-Dog so you couldn't really make out exactly what he looked like?

I don't see that being all that different from what Google's doing.

Always On Watch said...

irrational to expect people of other religions (or no religion at all) to obey the rules of your own. People of any religion need to be disabused of the notion that their orthodoxy can be forced on outsiders.

But that's the problem with Islam! It's a my-way-or-the-highway ideology.

Lewis Perdue said...

My friend Clark Braxton sent me a link to this thread (appropriate because I was the one who put him on to Candorville back when it started running in the SFChron.)

Anyway, this is a real conflict for me.

I have some very close personal friends here in the United States who are Muslims. Like Christians and Jews, my Muslim friends find insensitivity upsetting, but they do not riot, kill and burn when upset.

I am also a believer in freedom of speech and religion. I agree with my friend Clark Braxton that freedom of speech and religion protects hateful, insensitive speech and completely looney religions beliefs as long as they don't hurt others. In other words, regardless of whether you are a member of the communist party or the Ku Klux Klan, you have a right to express your views.

I am also very upset with the media as a whole, the ACLU and other "progressive" organizations which feel free to allow, protect and fight for hateful speech and disrespectful behavior when it comes to Jews and Christians, but who are silent now.

Newspapers seem content to allow their "arts" sections to publish articles and pictures ridiculing Christianity and Judaism. The treatment of The Passion of the Christ is a fine example. While I thought that was so bloody and violent that it was religious porn, (an opinion may disagree with) I support the right of Mel Gibson to make it and the right of his detractors to disrespect it.

But when fear and political correctness come into the picture, those who scream most boldly about freedom of speech -- The ACLU and the media -- run for cover.

The word for that is "hypocrite." Coward comes to mind as well.

Google is a particular hypocrite for censoring posts about this.

And if you cannot fight for the rights of all expression, then you stand for no freedom at all.

My posting of the Danish flag on my blog ( my way of saying that freedom of expression and religion applies to everyone, not just those you agree with or are afraid of.

Please copy this flag, post it on your site. It does not imply support of insensitivity, but it shows solidarity with freedom of expression and condemnation of those who would suppress it -- whether by violence or silence.

Clark Braxton said...

It seems that Google/Blogspot are sensitive ONLY to Islamic issues. I blogged about the Iranian media's "ridicule the Holocaust" cartoon contest, posted a link to some of the 'toons. I also decided to test whether Google/Blogspot applies its religious sensitivity censorship evenly.

Apparently NOT as evidenced by the cartoon at this post which is still large enough to read.

Clark Braxton said...

I just re-uploaded the Muhammed cartoons at

The images are full-sized as of this current uploading and appear easily readable in preview mode.

In addition, the posts appeared on the blog in their proper form at 11:58 a.m., Saturday, 18 February, 2006

I wonder if Google has felt any heat, or whether it just going to take a little time for them to catch the 'toons and censor them.

Darrin Bell said...

I suspect they had some filtering in place that shrunk anything with "islam" or "mohammed" automatically. I haven't tested that theory yet. I think I'm hoping that by the time I get around to testing it, Google will have come to its senses and cut out all this nonsense.

Lewis Perdue said...

I noticed that over on Braxton's site, the cartoons are still up even though the file name does have "Mohammed" in the file name. Perhaps they have felt the heat?

Now then, there's China.

The cover story on last week's Businessweek was about how techies are helping thwart Chinese censorship. I wonder if Google's writing any of their code to make it easier for the techies to do that?

My next novel's going to deal with global corporations and individual freedoms. It will be the third in the Delphi trilogy on this subject which I began in 1981.

Shamick said...

One cannot escape a feeling of DOUBLE Standards. A guy mumbles about the crazy idea that Holocaust did not happen and the media gives him the attention and eventually wants to jail him (for his stupidity) ... while screaming left and right about the FREEDOM of speech when it comes to VIALATING Religious rules.

I am not a Muslim, but I think for them to even see a picture of Mohamed, not to mention with bombs, is as seeing Jesus raping ... oh, let's see ... let me be cynical .. what was his girlfriend, the one that was a prostitute and he "saved" ... like you know, like you would go today and "pay" for sex .... and then ... and what about 12 guys hanging around with families and wives ... hm …. Hm …

What, Freedom of speech right? or do you want to jail me too?

Anonymous said...

For most of us in the "two thirds world", the entire cartoon controversy was proof that justice in the "west" means "just us"

When an idiotic historian denies the holocaust, Western Europe sends him to jail for three years while at the same time proclaiming the sacred right to insult the faith of a billion.

Thank you very much for the lesson on what free speech is all about. It is very helpful. Free speech means that it is ok to insult us lesser peoples.

Darrin Bell said...

You're welcome for the lesson, but...

"Lesser peoples?" Friend, you need to learn not to internalize what other people say about you. And yes, free speech means people can deny the Holocaust or insult whomever they feel like insulting. It also means you can insult them right back.

In a society that values free speech, when someone says something you consider damaging, it's your right -- it's your duty -- to stand up and TELL people why that person's an idiot. You'll notice not a single Muslim in Denmark rioted over those cartoons. That's because they understood what freedom of speech is, they understood that they can't expect non-believers to adhere to the doctrine of Islam, and they probably realized it would be not only counter-productive, but idiotic. You'll notice the only countries to see rioting were the ones in which freedom of speech is not a ubiquitous cultural trait.

The best way to fight free speech is with more free speech, not with violence and attempted censorship.

Lewis Perdue said...

"The best way to fight free speech is with more free speech, not with violence and attempted censorship."

And the more the better ...

Yes, many double standards at play here, most disappointingly with the American media sticking its head in the sand re: Muhammad cartoons but also with respect to Google and China ... and Google censoring Americans (for a while).


I don't suppose that after the shooting that Cheney now has thug "street cred" and has, therefore, found favor with C-Dog? Hmmmm, perhaps a "Don't Snitch" tee-shirt with Cheney's picture on it? Hmmm ... that sounds like a Zazzle or CafePress thing to me...profits to benefit something like Books 'n Blues (

Just a thought.

Darrin Bell said...

That would've been a great idea, unfortunately the whole UAE port story came along to wipe away the Cheney story, something I comment on in next week's strips...

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