February 10, 2006

Canadian cartoon cowardice

Tony Burman, editor-in-chief of CBC News, rationalizes the CBC's refusal to reprint the Dread Cartoons of Blasphemy thusly:

At the CBC, we decided not to show the original cartoons in our extensive coverage of the controversy. We felt that we could easily describe the drawings in simple and clear English without actually showing them. This was intended, without embarrassment, as an act of respect not only for Islam but for all religions.

Why should we insult and upset an important part of our audience for absolutely no public value?

[Full Text, emphasis in original]

Damn, I wish Burman had been my English teacher back in Grade 11, when we were subject to pseudo-literary claptrap like The Catcher in the Rye. I would have liked nothing better than to have not had to read it - it was boring as hell, and J .D. Salinger offended my intelligence with his hippie-hugging, Rousseauian philosophy. Certainly the experience had "absolutely no public value" that I could see. I should have been able to get by with a summary of the novel "in simple and clear English" without actually reading it, right?

Of course not. Intrinsic to the study of any work of literature, whether it's the Bible, Shakespeare, or dreck like Catcher, is reading the work itself. That's why teachers tell you not to rely on the Coles Notes - you're cheating yourself. Reading literature is intrinsic to properly understanding literature. Similarly, I submit that one cannot properly understand a newsworthy event like the controversy over the Dread Cartoons of Blasphemy without seeing the cartoons themselves.

Burman asks:

What if those cartoons had instead focused on Christianity? And on Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary engaged in unspeakably offensive acts?

See Serrano's Piss Christ Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, McNally's Corpus Christi, Godard's Hail Mary, Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, etc., etc. Yes, there was outrage, vocal protest, and public demonstration against some or all of these works of "art." But I don't recall anyone recalling their ambassadors, boycotting an entire country's exports, torching embassies, or putting bounties on the heads of the artists. (That isn't to say that some mentally-challenged "Christians" didn't do so in isolated cases, only that it wasn't a chief characteristic of the protests.)

By contrast, for example, where was the CBC to defend the sensibilities Roman Catholics against Michael Enright's frequent tirades against the Roman Church, such as his infamous likening of the church to the Mafia in 1997? The consequence to Enright was promotion. Indeed, as CBC Watch points out, the CBC is frequently on the cutting edge of offending Christians of all stripes. But now that the CBC can't bend over quickly enough to appease the Muslims, retroactively they have decided that maybe it's not very nice to offend the Christians, either.

Burman should be honest: it's not giving offense that motivates the CBC's refusal to publish the cartoons. It's an outright lie to say that no "public value" comes from publishing them; isn't reporting the news a public value? Isn't a worldwide riot a newsworthy event? Is the cause of that riot not intrinsic to understanding that event? Burman, like much of the Western media, is motivated by fear of reprisal.

But it gets worse. The University of Prince Edward Island's student newspaper, the Cadre, printed the Dread Cartoons of Blasphemy this week along with an editorial in defense of freedom of expression. In response, the school administration actually sent in the campus cops to confiscate every copy of the Cadre "on grounds that publication of the caricatures represents a reckless invitation to public disorder and humiliation."

Reckless? Last I checked, Muslims were morally responsible human beings. Yet UPEI's powers-that-be seem to think that they are some sort of robots, programmed for rage with the right stimuli, and therefore publishing cartoons is the moral equivalent of driving a car at top speed down a crowded sidewalk, or causing panic by shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.

Meanwhile, the current issue of the Imprint, the student paper of my alma mater, printed not one, but two wishy-washy editorials about freedom of speech. (The author of the first, Wasin Parkar, whines about the "minority of Muslims" that have resorted to violence: not, however, because of the destruction of property or loss of life that resulted, but because they make Islam look bad.) This from the paper which, in my first year, published images from Hustler, photos by Robert Mapplethorpe, paintings by Tom of Finland, and others for an article about censorship; and in my last year, took on Scientology™. I guess a lot can change in ten years.

Congratulations, Tony Burman and H. Wade MacLachlan, president of UPEI. For brazen cowardice in the face of a threat to the constitutional rights of Canadians, you receive the coveted DIM BULB du jour.

The civilized nations of the West are not subject to Islamic law. Nor do the barbarians of the Middle East have any right to impose their laws on us. Unfortunately, thanks to people like Tony Burman and the UPEI bureaucrats, the barbarians win.