I’ve been following the controversy over editorial cartoons published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper that show the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb under his headdress, saying that paradise was running out of virgins for all the suicide bombers, and holding a sword with his eyes blacked out. Since Islam forbids any visual depiction of Mohammed, and since these cartoons basically argue that terrorism is inherent to Islam, Muslims across Europe have taken offense, some countries have boycotted Danish goods and a few are up in arms–literally.
Armed gunmen surrounded the EU office in Gaza, and in Pakistan a crowd burned Danish and French flags as they shouted "Death to Denmark." (And while these violent demonstrations were tiny, of course, this isn’t going to help dispel the images so many in the West hold of angry, teeming, violent Muslim masses.) And now the managing editor of France Soir, who republished the cartoons to demonstrate solidarity and freedom of expression, has been fired.
It’s complicated, but I’m strongly in favor of supporting those who publish even right-wing, offensive cartoons, poor judgment or no. Editorial freedom, including satire, is a deeply prized and hard-won right that we shouldn’t be intimidated into giving up. It’s a slippery slope. Just as we can’t allow Christian fundamentalists to prevent satirizing the church in American papers, or the Bush Administration from prohibiting protest, nor should we allow fundamentalists of any kind to rewrite the world in their image. Secular papers have the right, and the duty, to live by secular rules.