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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Freedom’s fight: This time it’s for real

    Caitlin Hallguest columnist
    Caitlin Hall
    guest columnist

    In the days before Hurricane Katrina washed away New Orleans, one could hear a subtle desperation in the voices of the men forecasting the storm’s arrival. “”We’ve said it before,”” they seemed to say, “”but this time we really mean it. This time, it matters.””

    But having wasted all their hyperbolic language on two years of spectacular but inconsequential storms, they were tuned out by a public that had learned to be underwhelmed by media panic.

    In much the same way, there has emerged in recent weeks a public attitude of indifference toward the conflict over the publication of depictions of the Prophet Mohammad. Many mistakenly view the row between Western media and Middle Eastern sentiment as a routine squabble called wolf by noisy talk show pundits.

    So even now, as its first bands lash American shores, we daftly ignore the storm to follow. And those in the media can say nothing but this: It really matters.

    The American public has yet to figure out what radical Muslims already know: This isn’t a quibble over a few measly lines scrawled on newsprint. The illustrations have brought to a head, as nothing before them, the cultural war between Islam and the free world.

    Domestic opponents of the cartoons argue that it’s simply a matter of taste – that the media unquestionably have the right to print such illustrations, but should refrain from doing so lest it offend a volatile Muslim readership. That position, symptomatic of an idle public unaccustomed to genuine threats to freedom, could not be more mistaken.

    When journalists have prices put on their heads, when their nations’

    In this case, they demand that Mohammad be off-limits to everyone on the grounds that he is off-limits to adherants of Islam.

    do embassies are firebombed, when militants march through Western cities calling for the murder of those who insult Islam, the question is no longer what we should do – it is what we can do.

    Equally disturbing as the public’s reaction – but much more unexpected – has been that of the Bush administration.

    When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, a move that contravened 200 years of non-preemptive foreign policy, it did so on the grounds that the value of freedom could not be negotiated between cultures. But now, when that freedom is in jeopardy on American and European soil, the nation’s official response has been to acquiesce to a bunch of Muslim thugs. The men who once christened themselves the vanguards of freedom are shrinking like animals from a campfire.

    Officials’ justification, which has been echoed in letters to the editor in this publication and in others, is that the publication of anti-Muslim illustrations violates a proud tradition of religious tolerance in the U.S. They’ve put their finger on the right issue, but wagged it at the wrong side.

    Tolerance, at least so far as our legal tradition is concerned, is the idea that people should be left alone when it comes to religion -ÿthat they should be as free as possible to practice, or not practice, as they see fit.

    But the cartoons’ opponents have no interest in that tradition. They view tolerance not as a cease-fire, but as a treaty – an agreement that minority opinions are beyond reproach, even beyond discussion. As rational people use the word “”tolerance,”” it means we agree to disagree. As radical people use it, it means we pretend there’s no disagreement.

    In this case, they demand that Mohammad be off-limits to everyone on the grounds that he is off-limits to adherents of Islam. In effect, they demand that journalists abide by the tenets of Islamic law, a grave violation of the doctrine of tolerance if ever there was one.

    By capitulating to an angry mob, we send the message that freedom of speech and freedom of religion can acceptably be rejected because they constitute cultural choices we lack the moral authority to criticize. That notion is patently false, and moreover dangerous. And as the relationship between the West and the Mideast grows increasingly complex and consequential, it really matters.

    Caitlin Hall is a non-degree-seeking student. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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