What’s Not Done is Done

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The cartoon crisis brings out a blind spot in libertarians. The best example is Virginia Postrel’s blog, with which I generally agree. But while embassies burned, Postrel posted the inflammatory caricature of Muhammad: “My response to this nonsense is to wonder why Muslims don’t grow up. If your co-religionists are going to take political stands, and blow up innocent people in the name of Islam, political cartoonists are going to occasionally take satirical swipes at your religion. Those swipes may not be nuanced, but they’re what you can expect when you live in a free society, where you, too, can hold views others find offensive. If you don’t like it, move to Saudi Arabia.”

I disagree. Liberty is about what the government does. I agree that the government should not enforce standards of religious blasphemy, but there is more to the cartoon calamity than that. There is an issue of decency and respect. In America, at least, you do not attack the other fellow’s religion – at least, not unless he’s signaled that he’s open to it.

That is not the law, but it is the custom, and helps make freedom of religion work. An image of a bearded man in a turban, with a bomb on his head, is not objectionable as such; label it Muhammad and it is.

I worked for a Muslim managing editor once, and I learned that. The editors in Copenhagen knew the page of cartoons was, to Muslim eyes, blasphemous. Certainly the French and German papers who reprinted the cartoons knew it. They printed them anyway, as if to say, “Hey, look here. How ya like this, you silly believer?” We don’t show images of Jesus with his pants down or the Pope embracing a prostitue, or – well, you can imagine a hundred things that are

In America, you do not attack the other fellow’s religion, not unless he’s signaled that he’s open to it. It’s not the law, but it is the custom, and helps make freedom of religion work.

 

not done, whether you have a free press or not. In a world where there are Muslims, showing cartoons of the Prophet is one of them. That some Muslims are violent, and burn down buildings, or are fanatical and have failed states or believe in what you call “Islamofascism” is totally beside the point. The images don’t single out those Muslims; they attack all Muslims, and that is not done.

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