The Washington Post on the Cartoon Flap
Anatomy of the Cartoon Protest MovementOpposing Certainties Widen Gap Between West and Muslim World
By Anthony Shadid and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 16, 2006; A01
BEIRUT, Feb. 15 -- It was Oct. 13 when Teguh Santosa, a 30-year-old editor with wire-rim glasses, slicked-back black hair and a stubbly beard, decided to make a point in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. His idea was a small gesture in a broader confrontation, illustrating the power of images in shaping sentiments. He scanned a dozen cartoons published in September by a Danish newspaper that lampooned the prophet Muhammad and chose to publish the one on his news Web site that has proven the most inflammatory: the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.
"I wanted them to know why it was insulting," said the thickset Santosa, a Muslim who runs the widely read Rakyat Merdeka Online.
To his surprise, there was almost no reaction. A few e-mailed comments to the Web site, he said. That was all. So he republished the caricature more than a week later, on Oct. 22. Again, nothing.
"We were confused," he recalled, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. "Why aren't people reacting to this story?"
What followed was a quintessentially 21st-century battle, a conflict steeped in decades, even centuries of grievances, reshaped by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath. A digitally interconnected world propelled it forward, as did a series of slights and missteps. And a cultural divide, at times so deep two sides cannot seemingly occupy the same space, transformed an almost incidental decision to publish a dozen cartoons on a page inside a small newspaper in Denmark into a global conflagration.
Protests have erupted in an arc stretching from Europe through Africa to East Asia and, at times, the United States. About a dozen people have died in Afghanistan; five have been killed this week in Pakistan. Muslim journalists were arrested for publishing the cartoons in Jordan, Algeria and Yemen. European countries have evacuated the staffs of embassies and nongovernmental organizations, Muslim countries have withdrawn ambassadors, and Danish exports that average more than $1 billion a year have dried up in a span of weeks.
But the scope of the fallout tells only one story. The debate over the cartoons is replete with unintended consequences, some still taking shape this week. On one side is a defense of freedom of expression, on the other an unforgivable insult to a sacred figure. In between are potentially longer-lasting repercussions: a rethinking of relations between Europe and the Muslim world, and a rare moment of empowerment among Muslims who have felt besieged. Given the moral certainty pronounced by each party, some in the middle feel forced to take sides, blurring the diversity of religious thought that might offer grounds for compromise.
In the United States and Europe, some officials have suggested that the governments of Syria and Iran, isolated abroad, have stoked the protests for internal political reasons. A few Muslim leaders have contended the controversy would have ended quickly with an apology. But the conflict illustrates a broader collision of worldviews, often fueled by feelings of Muslim weakness and injury that date back long before the cartoons were published.
"The way I see it, the war has already started," said Daii al-Islam al-Shahal, a Sunni Muslim cleric in the coastal Lebanese town of Tripoli, who helped organize protests this month against the cartoons in his home town and in Beirut. "Will it end soon, or will it come to a close only after it has completely wiped out the two sides? That is up to God."
This is the story of how it unfolded.
Denmark: Challenging a Religious Taboo
In September, Flemming Rose, a tall, soft-spoken editor for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, had an idea.
He had read that museums in Sweden and London had removed artwork that their staff members deemed offensive to Muslims. A comedian told him he would be afraid to desecrate the Koran, a reluctance he did not have about the Bible. Then he read that a Danish children's book author couldn't find illustrators willing to work under their own names to draw illustrations of Muhammad, the 7th-century prophet of Islam, for a new book on the religion.
Frustrated, Rose decided to contact 25 Danish newspaper cartoonists with a request to draw Muhammad as they saw him. A dozen responded, and his newspaper published each illustration on Sept. 30.
"We have a tradition of satire in Denmark," said Rose, 47, the paper's cultural editor, who saw it as a matter of principle. "We do the same with the royal family, politicians, anyone. In a modern secular society, nobody can impose their religious taboos in the public domain."
"We were astonished and extremely shocked," responded Ahmed Abu Laban, a prominent cleric in Denmark. Representations of the prophet are banned by most schools of Islamic thought. For the devout, even his name is rarely uttered without the phrase "Peace and God's blessings upon him." To Abu Laban, it was not just a portrayal: One cartoon pictured Muhammad with the explosive turban. Another depicted him in heaven greeting suicide bombers; in Islamic tradition, martyrs are promised sensual rewards in paradise. "Enough," Muhammad is portrayed as saying. "We've run out of virgins."
"Muslims have been stigmatized," Abu Laban said. The cartoons, he added, are "the drop that made the cup overflow."
Within a week, Abu Laban and others began organizing. He and leaders of 11 Muslim groups wrote letters to the newspaper and to the Danish culture minister. They received no immediate response. They circulated a petition and submitted 17,000 signatures to Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. They met with ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries, who asked Rasmussen for a meeting, which he declined.
"After that, we tried to figure out a way to get more voices with us and how to be heard and get respect here in Denmark," said Ahmed Akkari, 28, a Lebanese-born theological student who has emerged as a chief spokesman for the groups.
Middle East: Envoys of Protest
They decided to travel to the Middle East, where anti-American sentiment has long festered over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and a perceived U.S. intention to dominate the region. In recent years, surveys have shown that Muslims in the Arab world and elsewhere overwhelmingly see the U.S.-led war on terrorism as a war on Islam.
Akkari carried a 43-page dossier with photocopies of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, along with 10 more illustrations that were published on Nov. 10 in Weekend Avisen, another Danish newspaper.
The dossier also included illustrations that depicted Muhammad as a pig and engaged in bestiality. Abu Laban and Akkari said those cartoons, and other obscene drawings of the prophet, had been mailed anonymously to Danish Muslim leaders after the controversy over the cartoons began. Critics have said the delegations deliberately inflamed the situation by passing off those cartoons as the ones published by Jyllands-Posten. Akkari and Abu Laban said those drawings were never represented as having appeared in the newspaper. Rather, they said they were included to illustrate what they called anger and prejudice against Muslims in Denmark.
"Freedom of expression without limits is like a car without brakes," Akkari said.
A delegation of five Danish Muslims went to Egypt on Dec. 4 and met with Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, head of al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam's foremost establishments; Ali Juma, the mufti, or top cleric, of Egypt; and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. They also met with an assistant to Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister. Akkari said the group stayed in Egypt about a week and gave a news conference that was covered extensively in the Arabic-language media.
A second delegation of four Muslims, including Akkari, went to Lebanon on Dec. 17 and met with Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, grand mufti of Lebanon; Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual head of the country's Shiite Muslims; and Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church. The group stayed in Lebanon until Dec. 31. Akkari said he also made a day trip to Syria and gave a copy of the dossier to Sheik Ahmed Badr Eddine Hassoun, the grand mufti of Syria.
Among those they met was al-Shahal, the Lebanese cleric in Tripoli, who cringed at the sight of the pictures.
"Ugly and repugnant," he recalled thinking.
Saudi Arabia: 'A Revolution Inside Me '
Over the weeks that followed those trips, the conflict germinated, sometimes by the most modern of means.
In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Hashim Balkhy, a 43-year-old plastic surgeon who would not consider himself unduly conservative by his country's standards, heard about the cartoons on about Jan. 21. He received a text message on his cell phone from a friend in Medina, one of Islam's holiest cities, saying Danish newspapers had been making fun of the prophet for months.
We must boycott them, his friend said.
That night, after his wife and children had gone to bed, he spent almost four hours online, smoking Carlton cigarettes and reading Web sites. He discovered that within weeks, an entire virtual world had already been dedicated to the subject. He stayed up past dawn.
A few days later, he got an e-mail from a Yahoo discussion group called al-Bostan, which published the cartoons. His eyes wandered over the photos until he got to one portraying the prophet wearing a turban as a bomb. He stared at it.
"They don't know our prophet," he recalled thinking. "And they can't get away with this."
Balkhy was already upset with the West. The photos of torture by members of the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had outraged him. He was bitter at American support for Israel. He had already stopped drinking Pepsi and Coke, as a symbolic gesture. But the victims in those cases were people -- Palestinians and Iraqis -- and this was the most pure man we know, Balkhy said.
"A revolution inside me started," he said.
He found that the most informative Web sites were the most religiously rigid. In the past, he had recoiled at some of their views, but he now came to rely on them for help in what had become a personal campaign.
On one Web site, he found the e-mail addresses of Danish embassies overseas, and a form letter to them. He cut and pasted a 27-page letter, written in both Arabic and English, and sent it to the embassies. The following day he sent a shorter version of the letter to the same list as well the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet, which had republished the cartoons in January. This time it was only in English. The third day, he e-mailed the same group a copy of a letter calling for a boycott.
He sent a copy of each e-mail to a separate list of 100 people, including colleagues in Egypt and Lebanon. Some he knew from training in Canada, others he met at conferences in the region. In the past, the list was often used to send jokes. This time, his messages encouraged those on the list to boycott Danish goods and, like him, write letters of protest to Danish diplomats, journalists and businessmen.
He joined what had become a virtual sphere of activism, with themes repeated from London to Jakarta, Indonesia. Its speed and scope were unprecedented; to him, it was empowering. As Balkhy sent his e-mails, thousands of others were circulating as well. Dozens of Web sites were set up. Among them was http://www.no4denmark.org/. Text messages beeped on cell phones: "Danish papers are making fun of our prophet," read one. "Boycott their products." Supermarkets in Saudi Arabia began pulling Danish goods from their shelves, and Saudi companies published advertisements citing their support for the boycott. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Denmark.
"We had accomplished something," Balkhy said. "Our campaign was working."
Denmark: Stopping Short of an Apology
By Jan. 30, intense pressure had built on Rasmussen, a tough-talking farmer's son, and the editors at the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Protesters in Muslim countries were burning Danish flags. The economic boycott that started in Saudi Arabia had nearly shut down sales of Danish cheese, butter and other products in the Muslim world. On that day, a Monday, Rasmussen expressed his first public criticism of the cartoons.
"I personally have such respect for people's religious feelings that I personally would not have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or other religious figures in such a manner that would offend other people," Rasmussen told Danish television. He stopped short of the apology demanded by Muslim leaders, saying he could not apologize for what was printed in a newspaper exercising free speech.
At about the same time, Carsten Juste, editor in chief of Jyllands-Posten, posted a similar statement. "In our opinion, the 12 drawings were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims, for which we apologize," he wrote.
Al-Shahal, the Lebanese cleric, watched Rasmussen's remarks on al-Jazeera satellite television. So did Balkhy, on both al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, another Arabic-language satellite network. Both felt the same way. "Truthfully, it wasn't a real apology, in the precise meaning of the word," al-Shahal said. Balkhy was blunter: Rasmussen had "tried to weasel out of an apology."
Berlin: A Free Expression Paradox
In Berlin, Roger Koppel, editor of Die Welt newspaper, saw the apologies by Rasmussen and Juste as an alarming defeat for Europe's tradition of free speech. The next day, Tuesday, Jan. 31, he met with his editorial team and ordered up a front-page story on the issue, including a reproduction of the cartoon of Muhammad with the bomb in his turban positioned at the top of Page One. At least six other European papers did the same, sharply increasing anger in the Muslim world about how the dispute was being handled.
"This had now become a huge political story," Koppel said. "In a secular Western society, a prime minister and a newspaper had to issue an apology for exercising their right to satire."
Koppel said he found many of the cartoons "ridiculous," but the quality of the images wasn't the point.
"You don't deliberately stir up religious hatred, but, sorry, we live in a secular country in the West," he said. "It's part of our culture. It's just not possible that our culture gets somehow penalized by threats." It is illegal in Germany -- and punishable by prison time -- to make statements denying or questioning the existence of the Holocaust. It is also a crime to make "patently false statements" about the Holocaust, such as minimizing the number of victims. Some Muslims have argued that such laws constitute a double standard: in the West it's fine, they argue, to denigrate Muslims, but not Jews.
"It's not a double standard because it's the right of every culture to have its own taboos," Koppel said.
Koppel said that given Germany's painful history with the Nazis and the Holocaust, German society had chosen to establish certain limits on free speech. He said people in Germany must abide by those laws, just as people in Muslim countries must abide by the laws and traditions of those lands. He said a newspaper publishing the Muhammad cartoons in a Muslim country should expect to be punished, while a newspaper publishing them in Germany should expect to be protected by German guarantees of free speech.
In Milan, Gianni Riotta, deputy editor of the Corriere della Sera newspaper, was framing it in a different way.
While defending Jyllands-Posten's right to publish, he said the Danish newspaper made a mistake in judgment by running all 12 cartoons, which he said carried the implication that "all Muslims are terrorists." Riotta said it reminded him of his days studying at Columbia University in New York under famed American television news producer Fred Friendly. He recalled Friendly telling the class, "Shouting fire in a crowded theater is not freedom of expression, it's being stupid."
Riotta had in mind publishing something with what he thought was a clearer perspective. The Corriere, one of Italy's most respected papers, ran a package of nine cartoons: three of the "least offensive" Danish cartoons, along with three anti-Semitic cartoons taken from Arab newspapers and three Nazi-era propaganda posters.
"We wanted to publish to show that these cartoons were really offensive and really racist," Riotta said. "We wanted to give our readers some perspective: This was not Salman Rushdie." Riotta said that, as a reporter, he had covered the controversy over Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses," and that he believed the Danish cartoons could not be considered in the same literary league with Rushdie's book.
Muslim World: Building Solidarity
Republishing the cartoons unleashed a torrent of response.
Governments were already taking action: Interior ministers from 17 Arab nations called on the Danish government to punish the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The Saudi interior minister urged the other nations to recall their ambassadors from Denmark. Protesters burned a large photo of Prime Minister Rasmussen outside the U.N. compound in Gaza City, scenes repeated elsewhere in Muslim countries. Algeria and Yemen, among others, were calling for U.N. action against Denmark.
In Indonesia, Santosa, the Web site editor, decided to publish one of the cartoons yet again.
"But then after I published the picture, a lot of Muslim people got angry at me. Then I said, 'Oh my God, what happened?" He put the cartoon up at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2. He pulled it down less than 12 hours later.
In time, editors in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan were arrested for publishing the cartoons, often to bring attention to the offense.
Some of the region's most influential leaders weighed in.
Fadlallah, the senior Lebanese Shiite cleric, dismissed defending the cartoons under the principle of freedom of expression. Why, then, were some European networks banning al-Manar, the television station of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, on the grounds that it incited people? Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, a leading Sunni Muslim scholar, called on Muslims to use the dispute to strengthen solidarity. "The whole nation must be angry and rise up to show their anger," he said. "We are not a nation of donkeys. We are a nation of lions."
Protests erupted the next day, Feb. 3, after Friday prayers in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. They would be dwarfed by the scenes that unfolded that weekend in Lebanon and Syria.
Middle East 'Defending the Prophet'
For days in Damascus, diplomats had heard about protests planned for Saturday. In the streets, there were posters of a Danish flag with a red X across it. Text messages went out on Friday, their source unclear: "Join us in defending our prophet and what is sacred." It added, "What are you going to do in order to answer to your prophet in the afterlife?"
The Norwegian and Danish embassies requested extra security, the diplomats said, but received none.
The protesters gathered on Feb. 4 carrying Syrian flags and banners calling on the Danish ambassador to leave the country. They tore down the flags hanging on the building. Soon, people began throwing rocks and gasoline bombs. Diplomats said they saw what appeared to be Syrian intelligence agents in the crowd. Before dusk, the Danish Embassy was ablaze, and other protesters went to the Norwegian Embassy, burning it as well. Another crowd went to the French Embassy, but was driven back by water hoses.
Ammar Sahloul, a wealthy businessman, heard about the demonstration through text messages, canceled work on Saturday and went with nearly 60 of his employees. He said he reached the Danish Embassy's doors and tried to calm things down, in vain.
"I wanted to express our resentment in the way that the prophet taught us," said Sahloul, 40. "He would not have wanted things to happen the way they happened outside the embassies."
That day, typewritten leaflets were circulating in neighboring Lebanon, calling for another demonstration in Beirut on Sunday. "They have declared war," it read. "So for the victory of our Prophet, we must accept the challenge." The 1,000 leaflets were issued by the Salafi Group in Lebanon, headed by al-Shahal, who first met the Danish delegation in December.
Hundreds boarded buses in Tripoli, flying green-and-black banners with white Islamic inscriptions from the windows. They passed at least seven army checkpoints on the way to Beirut unhindered. In time, thousands gathered in the Lebanese capital, some rampaging through a Christian neighborhood and setting fire to the building that housed the Danish Embassy. Al-Shahal, carrying a loudspeaker, said he was among the clerics who tried to restrain the crowd.
"The truth? I felt sorry when I saw it," he said. "The protest should have demonstrated strength, but with wisdom."
A day later, in Afghanistan, protesters chanting anti-American slogans tried to storm the U.S. air base in Bagram. Afghan security forces fired on the crowd, killing at least three people. More protests followed in other Afghan cities, the grievances multiplying and mixing. In all, about 12 people were killed. Unlike in Lebanon and Syria, calls were passed not by technology, but word of mouth. Few had seen the cartoons, but they had become the topic of Friday sermons there, each retelling tinged with another exaggeration.
"I haven't seen the cartoon itself, but I was told that our prophet has a hand grenade on his turban and each of his fingers, too," said Haji Mohammed Rafiq Shahir, head of a council of professionals in the western Afghan city of Herat.
Beirut Silencing Voices of Moderation
Amira el-Solh, 28, is a Lebanese Palestinian who lives in Beirut. She had heard about a text message calling for the protest in Lebanon. She, too, was angry about the caricatures, but recalled thinking that the Lebanese have greater worries today.
"Ten minutes of thought," she said she gave it.
The next day, as the protests raged in Beirut, she stayed glued to the television: Lebanese channels, CNN and the BBC. She talked to friends in Beirut, in Europe and the United States. At night, she met with friends, all disgusted with the way things had turned out.
But as she looks back at the dispute -- from the repeated publishing of the cartoons, to the protests, to the violence that pulled at Lebanon's frayed sectarian tapestry, to the moral certainty infusing the debate -- she sees the controversy as less about a dozen cartoons and more about a sense of siege in the Muslim world that forces everyone to take sides. "It's upsetting that you have to defend your identity as a Muslim constantly," she said.
She thought back to other divides in history -- the Green Line that partitioned civil war-era Beirut, the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall. She resented having to qualify herself as liberal or conservative, secular or religious. She worried that, in time, those definitions might become irrelevant. Perhaps they already have.
"These walls weren't so long ago," she said. "It was people who built them, and it will be people who will resurrect them."
"Do you want to silence voices of moderation, of coexistence?" she asked this week. "And this is what the generalizations of these cartoons do. It silences any individual as a Muslim and groups me along with everyone else."
End of story.
Widespread Outrage Over CartoonsAnger Grew in Months Following Publication in Danish Newspapers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2006; 12:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Anthony Shadid , who is based in Beirut, was online Thursday, Feb. 16, at noon ET to discuss the fallout over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as continuing outrage has soured diplomatic relations and violent protests have lead to deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Read more: Anatomy of the Cartoon Protest Movement, (Post, Feb. 16, 2006)
The transcript follows.
Anthony Shadid: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to join you all today from Beirut. I see there are a lot of questions already so I'll go ahead and get started.
Williamsburg, Va.; Are the protests of these cartoons based more on the mere fact that they depict the Prophet, or because they indicate that he is a violent terrorist?
Anthony Shadid: I think it's both. But if we take a step back, it's really a broader issue. What we've seen the past weeks, I think, is the elaboration of an accumulation of resentments and grievances, the cartoons being the latest and, in some ways, the most tangible.
Los Angeles, Calif.; The magnitude of the cartoon protests is not surprising given the incredible cultural disconnect between Muslim nations and the West. It seems like the only ones surprised by this reaction are the European newspapers that took a "militant" stand for secularism and free speech by printing the cartoons. But images of widespread rioting and protests in Muslim countries reinforce the cartoon-stereotype of rigid, fanatical Muslims. Does lack of surprise over the violent reactions mean that we have insight into the Muslim perspective or does it mean that we believe the cartoons?
Anthony Shadid: I think it's an interesting point. I was interviewing a cleric in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, and I asked him that question. Basically, does the violent response, in some instances, reinforce stereotypes that many in the region think the cartoons represent? He agreed. And, to his credit, he was one of the clerics, with a bullhorn, trying to restrain protesters during the rampage in Beirut. There has certainly been a backlash to the violent aspects of the response, from Ayatollah Fadlallah in Lebanon, to Sistani in Iraq, to Sunni leaders elsewhere. I guess I'd add that there has been a sense of empowerment as well -- that the Muslim community is having its voice heard, in part through a successful boycott of Danish products. A mixed bag, I guess.
Aarhus, Denmark; At first I was opposed to Jyllands-Posten printing the cartoons. But now I feel it was necessary. The fanaticism and intolerance of a few have been exposed. We have seen our flags been burned; many Danes have received death threats. We are deeply offended, but I am proud to say that none of the 200.000 Muslims in Denmark have anything to fear. Not even the extremists. I am sorry that Muslims have been offended, but I and our Prime Minister cannot apology for something a single newspaper has done.
Anthony Shadid: As a journalist, I feel conflicted about the decision. As someone living in the region, I understand somewhat the depth of the response. We are talking about a divide here, and there is a certainty on each side that often drowns out voices that might be contrarian.
Montreal, Canada; Your timeline of the cartoon crisis has a gaping hole: why didn't you mention that al-Farj (also spelled al-Farg) a 100,000 copies weekly newspaper in Cairo also published the Danish cartoons on October 17 during the Ramadan?
Nobody reacted to this publication. But last week, as if on cue, Egyptians suddenly exploded in anger with the rest of the Muslim world.
Anthony Shadid: I tell you -- with the word limit we had on the story, we left out a lot. I'm sorry about that. You're right about the Egyptian newspaper. But the lead of the story noted that they were published in October in Indonesia, as well. I thought we addressed that point right at the top of the piece.
Washington, D.C.; Having lived in the Middle East for five years, I can't help but shake my head at the fact that these people are so easily being manipulated by their governments. I totally understand them being offended by the cartoons- goodness knows there are many times I've been offended by something mocking Christianity- but shouldn't they be demonstrating against their governments not doing enough to give them jobs, security, etc.?
And can you please shed some light as to why Muslims think that non-Muslims should be expected to adhere to Muslim rules?
Anthony Shadid: My sense, this isn't solely a case of manipulation. I suspect there was some of that going on. But was Syria responsible for what happened in Beirut? Its sympathizers may have had a hand, but there was plenty of anger already there to let things get out of hand. Like I said in an earlier question, we're talking about accumulated grievances here, many of which date back to Sept. 11. I'm not sanctioning them, I'm just pointing out they exist. Often those grievances are stated in existential terms, that the war on terror is, in fact, a war on Islam. I suspect most Americans would disagree, but that perspective is out there.
Buffalo, N.Y.; How much of the anger was really about the cartoons and how much was it just a dislike of the West? I saw quite a few American flags burning even though the cartoons had nothing to do with America.
Anthony Shadid: There's no question that grievances were conflated, interconnected and so on. I think we saw that especially in Afghanistan. In some ways, that's what worries me. I've always been struck, in the Arab world at least, by the ability of people to distinguish American policy, for instance, from, say, Americans, or European policy from individual citizens. I fear that's becoming less the case these days.
Sterling, Va.; Why is most of the news media willing to publish old photos of Abu Ghraib but are unwilling to publish the "cartoons of blasphemy"?
Anthony Shadid: This is an interesting point -- the most graphic Abu Ghraib images were, in fact, not published. I'm not sure what that says, but I think editors (I'm not one, so I won't speak too much for them) make decisions several times a day on language, taste and so on. There's no firm rule on what gets in a paper and doesn't. I think the Post's decision on the cartoons probably fits within that notion of what is appropriate.
Ocala, Fla.; If these groups are so angry at the West, why do they keep moving into Western countries? It seems like they should fix their own countries first.
Anthony Shadid: I notice a real danger in American discourse (and in the discourse here, as well) to make sweeping generalizations. Who are "these groups" you're talking about? Which countries do you mean? I don't think all Americans would want to be associated with every U.S. policy. I don't think all Muslims would want to be grouped with those who burned the embassies in Damascus. We fall into that problem in journalism, as well. "Muslim opinion," "the Muslim world," and so on. I don't always see a way around it, but usually, I don't think it helps us understand the real issues at stake.
Alexandria, Va.; Isn't what is different about the cartoon protests that we think the cause of the protests is not appropriate? But the reality is that they are protesting against us on a regular basis. It's not the protests that are different this time, its that the purported reason for them is different, and this is what we notice. When they protest a book being abused, we think it odd, but since we don't want to abuse books, we don't notice as much.
Anthony Shadid: I don't know about that. The depth of the reaction is far greater this time around. I think it touched a nerve. I think it reflects, as I've said a couple times, accumulated grievances and resentments. I think a lot of people here see it as a little over the top -- maybe not even the cartoons, but the decision to publish them over and over.
Philadelphia, Pa.; It seems a sham that European newspapers and governments evoke "freedom of expression" to avoid criticizing the publication of tasteless cartoons. It reminds me of high school students distributing a "spoof" newspaper that makes offensive comments about fellow students. In both cases, "freedom of expression" should not prevent criticism of the materials as offensive and inappropriate.
Additionally, it appears that in many post-Enlightenment European societies minorities gain full admission only if they accept assimilation and secularization. That is in contrast to the United States, where religiosity and religious diversity has been accepted, more or less. That attitude arguably can be traced to George Washington, whose letters to diverse religious institutions are proudly displayed by those institutions to this day.
What developments do you expect in Europe in regard to tolerance of religious and ethnic minorities?
Anthony Shadid: I can't really answer to the last two paragraphs, but as to the first, I'd point you to the discussion in today's story with the German and Italian editors. I thought it was fascinating, the way they elaborated their positions and the point they were trying to get across. I thought both were pretty nuanced and reflective.
Springfield, Va.; In today's report you called this "a rare moment of empowerment among Muslims who have felt besieged." I don't know anyone living in the west who views the violent protests, boycotts, and publishing of anti-Holocaust cartoons as a step forward for Muslims. Please expand on how you see the various actions and reactions empowering Muslims.
Anthony Shadid: This is an interesting question, and it was a point that struck me in writing the story. I don't think Muslims would measure their empowerment vis a vis Western attitudes. And I'm not sure that empowerment, in itself, is, as you put it, a step forward. My point was this: There is a widespread sense among many in the Arab and Muslim world that they've been on the receiving end since Sept. 11. Their voices are not always heard. They're overwhelmed by what they see as double standards. Here was an instance when they communicated their outrage, sometimes in peaceful ways. Perhaps more tellingly, and specifically in Saudi Arabia, they carried out a boycott that was, from their view, successful. The doctor we mention in the story would see this as the success of a grass-roots campaign, and I think in one reading, that in itself is empowerment.
Gothenburg, Sweden; How widespread is the anger caused by the cartoons? How does the "man on the street" in the Arab world feel about this? Is the anger and protest and so on mostly fueled by fanatics or is it more widespread?
Anthony Shadid: I have to say I think it's more widespread. The woman I ended the story with, I thought, was an interesting perspective. The issue itself was peripheral to her, but that didn't mean it didn't resonate at some level. There's no question it's what people are talking about and watching on television.
Knoxville, Tenn.; I am a Pakistani immigrant. Though I felt insulted by the cartoons I was very disappointed at the recent violent riots in Pakistan. Why are Muslims today so emotional and lacking in smart thinking? A peaceful protest would have worked far far better.
Anthony Shadid: I've heard that point quite a bit. The cleric in Tripoli I met made the same argument: a protest should have shown "strength with wisdom."
Seattle, Wash.; Arab newspapers print anti-Semitic cartoons of Jews every day. How come these same Muslims who are so upset about the Danish cartoon think these cartoons of Jews eating babies is OK?
Anthony Shadid: That was the point the Italian editor tried to make in today's story.
San Diego, Calif.; Could you comment on The Post's decision not to publish these cartoons? In the interest of full disclosure, I believe the cartoons ARE the story and that not republishing abandons journalistic integrity. You cannot publish dozens of pictures of the riots caused by the cartoons without publishing the cartoons themselves. I'm very concerned that these cartoons have not been widely republished in the U.S. out of fear of retribution.
Anthony Shadid: This is a question that is coming up a lot in this forum. (I'm sorry, I'm not able to get to everyone's.) Like I said, I'm not an editor, but my understanding of the decision is that it seems to fit within the same thinking on publishing photos of dead soldiers, of the most graphic Abu Ghraib shots and so on. I don't think it's fear of retribution. I think it's a certain community standard that the Post feels obligated to uphold.
Cambridge, Mass.; Mr. Shadid:
With reference to freedom of the press and respect for religion aside, do you believe the current escalating tension and wanton violence will precipitate widespread conflicts as backlashes against Muslims (inevitably) begin to materialize, leading to a kind of "clash of civilization"? Thanks.
Anthony Shadid: I'm going to speak as someone who lives in the Middle East. I don't have a good feeling about the state of affairs today. It's a gut reaction, but sentiments in this region (and let's face it, the tenor of discourse in the West, too) have changed dramatically in the 10 years or so that I've been a reporter in the Middle East. What does that mean? I don't know. But in a lot of ways, I find it sad.
Fredericksburg, Va.; In 1989 artist Andrew Serrano produced the art piece "Piss Christ" a crucifix in a jar of urine. Many were offended, many were disgusted. but no one rioted, no one burned down building and no one was killed. In fact the work was subsidized by the Federal government through an arts grant. This controversy isn't about a cartoon, this is about a group of religious zealots imposing their beliefs through violence. If it wasn't the cartoon it would be something else.
Anthony Shadid: This is a question that's best answered by someone a lot smarter than me. But I think there's a danger in viewing this as a simple issue of religious representation. We're talking about different world views -- the relationship between religion and society/life, the taboos that come with representing figures in Christianity and Islam, the disempowerment felt by so many in the region, differing shades of the very notion of identity . . . the list could go on and on. My point is this: There's a context here that's sometimes lost, and I think that context is crucial in understanding the depth of the debate as well as the reaction.
Nichols Hills, Okla.; How strong is the belief in the Middle East that Western governments control the Western press, and therefore the Western governments are accountable for the cartoons? And if it is a strong belief, is that due to their only experiences being state controlled media? or otherwise?
Anthony Shadid: OK, I'd be a miserable Okie, if I didn't get to the questions from my hometown. I think that point is often made in the West -- that Arabs and Muslims don't understand the very notion of a free press. To be honest, I don't agree with it. I think people -- not all, but many -- do understand that the newspapers in Europe are not state-controlled. These requests for an apology were often stated in broader terms. I'm not agreeing with the requests, but I think often those making them do not think the governments themselves were responsible for publishing the cartoons.
Oklahoma City, Okla.; How do Muslims "in the Middle East street" perceive the more moderate U.S. Muslims who have not reacted violently to the cartoons? Are the moderate U.S. Muslims viewed just as bad as the U.S. infidels?
Anthony Shadid: And another from Oklahoma. There's definitely been a certain revulsion at the violence, particularly in Beirut. But I haven't really come across a moderate/extreme divide that's all that pronounced on the issue. And here's why -- again, it's not solely the cartoons. I think the most sophisticated will make that point that it's a representation that feeds into stereotypes and generalizations, made by those with the power to impose them. Does that make sense? It's similar to what the woman who concluded the story was saying: I'm being grouped with everyone else, depriving me of a middle ground, and in that case, I have no choice but to identify myself as such.
Austin, Tex.; I have a more general question. Who (if anybody) speaks for the US and Europe in the Arabic media?
Quality news shows in the US (the NewsHour, for instance) generally find some pretty eloquent spokesmen for different Arab/Muslim points of view.
Are there comparable figures on TV in the Arab/Muslim world explaining why some people in the West think that these cartoons should be published? Or even explaining facts, like for instance that the Pope can't stop publication of the cartoons?
Are there even many people with the Arabic-language skills to do so?
Anthony Shadid: You might be surprised by how many Western voices make it on Arabic television. I'm always struck that Jazeera and Arabiya will sometimes dedicate more air time to, say, a State Department briefing or a news conference than their Western counterparts might.
Richmond, Va.; Unfortunately I have to agree, like it or not, that the response to the cartoons brought out, for some at least, the very characteristics that the cartoons mocked. It would be like an Irishman beating someone up in a bar who said that Irishmen love to drink and fight.
Having said that, I'm glad that the response hasn't been worse, given the magnitude of the insult that many Muslims consider the cartoons to be. I'm glad to see that many Muslim leaders are calling for a more measured response.
I hope everybody learns something from this.
Anthony Shadid: It's a good point, and one that I've heard often. It will be interesting to see how we look back on this in five or 10 years. Was it symptomatic of a much greater problem, an aberration, or the start of a dialogue? I suspect it's the first, but we'll see.
New York, N.Y.; To what extent were Syrian officials involved in the embassy attacks there? You mentioned that intelligence agents were seen among the crowd, and this is a country where spontaneous demonstrations are quite rare, if they occur at all.
Anthony Shadid: This is a good question, and to be honest, I don't know the answer. My best guess, and again, it's a guess: Authorities didn't mind the protest, and they might not have minded it getting out of hand, but they probably didn't incite or plan the burning themselves.
Washington, D.C.; Mr Shadid:
What kind of apology for these cartoons do you think would make a difference? At this point there has been so much violence, I'm wondering if any apology would make any difference at all. (Whether anyone would be willing to make such an apology is an entirely separate issue.)
Thank you for taking our questions today.
Anthony Shadid: I'm probably wrong, but I suspect a lot of this would have been avoided had the meetings, apologies and petitions been received differently in the first place in Denmark. I'm not blaming the Danish authorities. I'm just saying that those events unleashed a far more aggressive campaign that brought the issue to the region, where, in a remarkably interconnected world, it took little time to ignite.
Madison, Wis.: Since the original cartoons were published last year, and there has been violence for the last few weeks, just how long do you expect these protests over the cartoons to last?
Anthony Shadid: I don't know. They're still going on, and I suspect they'll go on a little while longer. I think it depends on whether the cartoons are republished and what happens in the region.
Anthony Shadid: I think I'm going to have to wrap it up. I apologize. I got to less than half the questions, but I've never seen this much interest in an issue on Live Online. That says a lot about the subject itself, I guess. Hope to join you all again soon.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.
© 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive
End of story.
Why I Published Those Cartoons
By Flemming Rose
Sunday, February 19, 2006; B01
Childish. Irresponsible. Hate speech. A provocation just for the sake of provocation. A PR stunt. Critics of 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad I decided to publish in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have not minced their words. They say that freedom of expression does not imply an endorsement of insulting people's religious feelings, and besides, they add, the media censor themselves every day. So, please do not teach us a lesson about limitless freedom of speech.
I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn't mean you publish everything. Jyllands-Posten would not publish pornographic images or graphic details of dead bodies; swear words rarely make it into our pages. So we are not fundamentalists in our support for freedom of expression.
But the cartoon story is different.
Those examples have to do with exercising restraint because of ethical standards and taste; call it editing. By contrast, I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously -- and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.
At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.
This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. Last September, a Danish children's writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. The person who finally accepted insisted on anonymity, which in my book is a form of self-censorship. European translators of a critical book about Islam also did not want their names to appear on the book cover beside the name of the author, a Somalia-born Dutch politician who has herself been in hiding.
Around the same time, the Tate gallery in London withdrew an installation by the avant-garde artist John Latham depicting the Koran, Bible and Talmud torn to pieces. The museum explained that it did not want to stir things up after the London bombings. (A few months earlier, to avoid offending Muslims, a museum in Goteborg, Sweden, had removed a painting with a sexual motif and a quotation from the Koran.)
Finally, at the end of September, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a group of imams, one of whom called on the prime minister to interfere with the press in order to get more positive coverage of Islam.
So, over two weeks we witnessed a half-dozen cases of self-censorship, pitting freedom of speech against the fear of confronting issues about Islam. This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show, don't tell. I wrote to members of the association of Danish cartoonists asking them "to draw Muhammad as you see him." We certainly did not ask them to make fun of the prophet. Twelve out of 25 active members responded.
We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.
The cartoons do not in any way demonize or stereotype Muslims. In fact, they differ from one another both in the way they depict the prophet and in whom they target. One cartoon makes fun of Jyllands-Posten, portraying its cultural editors as a bunch of reactionary provocateurs. Another suggests that the children's writer who could not find an illustrator for his book went public just to get cheap publicity. A third puts the head of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party in a lineup, as if she is a suspected criminal.
One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent characteristic of the prophet.
On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings or death threats when we published those.
Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
This is exactly why Karl Popper, in his seminal work "The Open Society and Its Enemies," insisted that one should not be tolerant with the intolerant. Nowhere do so many religions coexist peacefully as in a democracy where freedom of expression is a fundamental right. In Saudi Arabia, you can get arrested for wearing a cross or having a Bible in your suitcase, while Muslims in secular Denmark can have their own mosques, cemeteries, schools, TV and radio stations.
I acknowledge that some people have been offended by the publication of the cartoons, and Jyllands-Posten has apologized for that. But we cannot apologize for our right to publish material, even offensive material. You cannot edit a newspaper if you are paralyzed by worries about every possible insult.
I am offended by things in the paper every day: transcripts of speeches by Osama bin Laden, photos from Abu Ghraib, people insisting that Israel should be erased from the face of the Earth, people saying the Holocaust never happened. But that does not mean that I would refrain from printing them as long as they fell within the limits of the law and of the newspaper's ethical code. That other editors would make different choices is the essence of pluralism.
As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak. The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labeling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.
The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our fundamental values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.
Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people's beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue -- in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV. We have had no anti-Muslim riots, no Muslims fleeing the country and no Muslims committing violence. The radical imams who misinformed their counterparts in the Middle East about the situation for Muslims in Denmark have been marginalized. They no longer speak for the Muslim community in Denmark because moderate Muslims have had the courage to speak out against them.
In January, Jyllands-Posten ran three full pages of interviews and photos of moderate Muslims saying no to being represented by the imams. They insist that their faith is compatible with a modern secular democracy. A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People's Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.
This is the sort of debate that Jyllands-Posten had hoped to generate when it chose to test the limits of self-censorship by calling on cartoonists to challenge a Muslim taboo. Did we achieve our purpose? Yes and no. Some of the spirited defenses of our freedom of expression have been inspiring. But tragic demonstrations throughout the Middle East and Asia were not what we anticipated, much less desired. Moreover, the newspaper has received 104 registered threats, 10 people have been arrested, cartoonists have been forced into hiding because of threats against their lives and Jyllands-Posten's headquarters have been evacuated several times due to bomb threats. This is hardly a climate for easing self-censorship.
Still, I think the cartoons now have a place in two separate narratives, one in Europe and one in the Middle East. In the words of the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the integration of Muslims into European societies has been sped up by 300 years due to the cartoons; perhaps we do not need to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again in Europe. The narrative in the Middle East is more complex, but that has very little to do with the cartoons.
Flemming Rose is the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
End of Story.
My letter to Flemming Rose.
Dear Mr. Fleming [and no, I don't know why I confused his first and last names]:
I just read your opinion piece in the Washington Post, and I can't help but feel you were a bit naive, if you thought that those cartoons wouldn't provoke violence.
But otherwise, I agree with everything you wrote. It's necessary for us in the West to make it clear that we are willing to welcome Muslims into our society, WHEN THEY BECOME PART OF THAT SOCIETY. Otherwise, no.
You mentioned the West's refusal to bow to totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. It's worth remembering that in the Baltics in 1939, the Soviets demanded the right to base troops, and a voice in the composition of the government. Then, when the citizens committed "anti-Soviet Acts," the Kremlin demanded the right to a greater say in the Baltic governments, and the basing of more troops in the Baltic countries. The end came with the Soviets taking the Baltics over.
The Soviets made the same demands of Finland. The Finns refused, and had to fight an invasion, but they retained their independence.
So I'm proud of you for standing up to the Radical Islamic Fascists. Denmark is fighting for all of us in the West, and I support you wholeheartedly and unquailifiedly.
DELENDAM ESSE SAUDI ARABIA!
End of Letter.
My letter to The Washington Post
Dear Post Editors:
The good news about your story of February 16th, "Anatomy of the Cartoon Protest Movement," is that it's some of the best coverage I've seen of this story in the MSM. The bad news is, it's a disgraceful failure, journalistically and morally.
Let me start with your purely journalistic failures. One of your story's authors said "I tell you -- with the word limit we had on the story, we left out a lot." All print newspapers have space restrictions, but the web doesn't. You could have put up a 'full' version of the story online, and a space-constrained one in print. Instead, you left things out of both versions.
And when you're trying to make a space limit, it behooves you to leave out the less important stuff, and concentrate on the most important. Looking at your story, I can't help but notice the things it leaves out. For instance, the story notes that there were extra cartoons in the dossier the Muslim "leaders" took to the Mid-East:
"The dossier also included illustrations that depicted Muhammad as a pig and engaged in bestiality. Abu Laban and Akkari said those cartoons, and other obscene drawings of the prophet, had been mailed anonymously to Danish Muslim leaders after the controversy over the cartoons began." And who were these Muslims who received the drawings? No one has ever said. The Muslim leaders won't tell anyone their names. Threatening letters supposedly accompanied the drawings, but the Danish Muslim leaders won't provide copies of them. Of the three cartoons, one is an altered picture of a participant in a French pig-squealing contest, as a blogger documented at http://www.neandernews.com/?p=54%20. Another, labeling Muhammad a demonic pedophile, has lettering that appears to be drawn by an Arab, as documented at http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_02_05-2006_02_11.shtml#1139559700 and http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_02_05-2006_02_11.shtml#1139697364. In short, anyone who paid attention would have known, by the time the story was published, that there is something very suspicious about these three extra cartoons, and that it's quite possible that Danish Muslims deliberately faked them. But there is no mention of that in the article, or any attempt to investigate their origin.
Another thing the article leaves out is the meeting with the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Mecca, between the two Danish Muslim visits, where the Egyptian Foreign Minister showed the dossier to representitives of other government (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/09/international/middleeast/09cartoon.html?ei=5088&en=ab6eabaaf6fd940b&ex=1297141200&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=print). It was only after that meeting that the protest took off. This strongly argues for government involvement in the organization of the protests. Again, the Post doesn't follow up.
Your story moves to January, where we read this:
"In Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Hashim Balkhy, a 43-year-old plastic surgeon who would not consider himself unduly conservative by his country's standards, heard about the cartoons on about Jan. 21. He received a text message on his cell phone from a friend in Medina, one of Islam's holiest cities, saying Danish newspapers had been making fun of the prophet for months.
"We must boycott them, his friend said.
"That night, after his wife and children had gone to bed, he spent almost four hours online, smoking Carlton cigarettes and reading Web sites. He discovered that within weeks, an entire virtual world had already been dedicated to the subject. He stayed up past dawn."
Let's stop and review for a second. On September 30th, the cartoons are published. In October, Muslims put them up on websites (your story) and publish them on the front pages of newspapers (http://i1.tinypic.com/nfik52.jpg, http://freedomforegyptians.blogspot.com/2006/02/egyptian-newspaper-pictures-that.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Jyllands-Posten_Muhammad_cartoons_controversy). Yet there is no reaction. No riots take place. No one appears to be paying attention.
Then, in December, the Danish Muslims bring the issue to the attention of governments in Islamic countries, and THEN, suddenly, "an entire virtual world" springs up, and Muslims are arranging a boycott of Danish goods. Just who created this virtual world, and how, and why? Who thought up the boycott idea, and started spreading the idea? Apparently, the Post doesn't think that question important.
In February, the riots start. In Tripoli, Lebanon, someone lays on buses and brings in hundreds of demonstrators to Beirut. The army passes them through checkpoints, and the Danish embassy is set ablaze. Reports The Guardian:
"And then in the early afternoon, as suddenly as it had all begun, it ended. The leaders of the mob turned to the angry young men beside them and told them it was time to leave. Obediently the crowd thinned out and began walking back to the buses, even as the Danish embassy continued to burn. By 3pm there wasn't a single protester left on the street."
Who organized these buses? Why weren't there more police and troops on hand? Who were these obediently dispersing demonstrators? Again, the Post doesn't think that's important. Yet you had room for much less interesting material in the article. I don't know if your reporters and editors were ignorant of the facts I've mentioned, or deliberately decided not to cover this information, but it's lousy journalism regardless of the causes.
As for your moral failure, it comes down to apparent cowardice and hidden editorializing. It is obvious from what is in the story that various people deliberately worked on stirring up Muslim outrage over the cartoons, but you are determined not to see that. We get talk of "compromise" from the reporter, without any discussion of what such a compromise might look like. Just to what extent is Anthony Shadid willing to allow Muslims to tell Western newspapers what they may publish, and what do the papers get in return? Is the Post willing to allow any other group the right to tell it what's acceptable to publish? It looks from here like the answer is 'Well, if the other groups are willing to kill us over trivia, we'll do whatever they want too.' After all, you Ombudswoman said recently that you're supposed to offend people from time to time.
The story and the online discussion at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2006/02/15/DI2006021501630.html keep coming up with the idea of "Opposing certainties," without mentioning what these certainties are. But it appears the Post is CERTAIN that whatever said certainties are, if people were in doubt, everything could be worked out peacefully. The story talks about Muslim outrage over the depiction of Muhammad with a bomb in his turbin, but never asks the obvious questions 'What's outrageous about that? Muslims set bombs in the name of religion every day. Are you willing to denounce all of those bombers too? Do you have any plans to stop their actions?' And your reporters keep talking of "centuries of grievances" being responsible for the riots and demonstrations, without ever producing any quotations from the demonstrators or rioters on their motivations -- or on anything else, for that matter.
The impression of The Washington Post and its staff I'm left with is "Good little Dhimmis." And that in turn makes me ill.
Very Sincerely Yours,
DELENDAM ESSE SAUDI ARABIA!
End of Archived Material
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