Washington Post Opts Out of Free Speech Where Islam Is Concerned

The American press has not exactly distinguished itself in reporting on hostile Islam. Physical attacks on those who comment honestly about the curious “religion” have had the desired effect — cowering terror among editors.

Last January, for example, an axe-wielding Somali broke into the home of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard to kill the artist for drawing Mohammed. Westergaard survived in his reinforced safe room.

More recently, Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who suggested Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, was forced to go into hiding because of death threats against her for exercising free speech.

When Yale University published “The Cartoons That Shook the World” in 2009, the press left out the images that sparked Muslim violence throughout the world, citing a well founded fear as the reason.

In fact, the MSM is helping the Islamic incursion of the West by cringing in fear of violence for using free speech about the curious “religion.” It’s troubling to reflect about the many members of the armed forces who died in defending our liberties from tyrants when the media won’t use freedom of expression when it really matters.

Today’s example that Islamic intimidation works comes from the Washington Post, which refused to post a cartoon (the one shown at the right) that pointedly did NOT contain an image of Mohammed, the thing that makes the Sons of Allah go head-choppy nuts. In the Sunday paper, the official ombudsman Andrew Alexander urped out an unsatisfying explanation of the Post’s fear-based censorship.

Where was the ‘Where’s Muhammad?’ cartoon?, Washington Post, October 10, 2010

“Non Sequitur” is a popular comic that runs daily in about 800 newspapers, including this one. But the “Non Sequitur” cartoon that appeared in last Sunday’s Post was not the one creator Wiley Miller drew for that day.

Editors at The Post and many other papers pulled the cartoon and replaced it with one that had appeared previously. They were concerned it might offend and provoke some Post readers, especially Muslims.

Miller is known for social satire. But at first glance, the single-panel cartoon he drew for last Sunday seems benign. It is a bucolic scene imitating the best-selling children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” A grassy park is jammed with activity. Animals frolic. Children buy ice cream. Adults stroll and sunbathe. A caption reads: “Where’s Muhammad?”

Miller’s cartoon is clearly a satirical reference to the global furor that ensued in 2006 after a Danish newspaper invited cartoonists to draw the prophet Muhammad as they see him. After the cartoons were published, Muslims in many countries demonstrated against what they viewed as the lampooning of Islam’s holiest figure.

Miller’s Sunday drawing also keyed on “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!,” a free-speech protest this year by cartoonists responding to what was widely interpreted as a death threat from an Islamic cleric against two animators who depicted Muhammad wearing a bear suit in an episode of the “South Park” television show. If enough cartoonists drew Muhammad, protest organizers reasoned, it would be impractical to threaten all of them.

What is clever about last Sunday’s “Where’s Muhammad?” comic is that the prophet does not appear in it.

Still, Style editor Ned Martel said he decided to yank it, after conferring with others, including Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli, because “it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” He added that “the point of the joke was not immediately clear” and that readers might think that Muhammad was somewhere in the drawing.

Some readers accused The Post of censorship. “Cowards,” e-mailed John D. Stackpole of Fort Washington, one of several who used that word.

Miller is fuming. The award-winning cartoonist, who lives in Maine, told me the cartoon was meant to satirize “the insanity of an entire group of people rioting and putting out a hit list over cartoons,” as well as “media cowering in fear of printing any cartoon that contains the word ‘Muhammad.’ ”

“The wonderful irony [is that] great newspapers like The Washington Post, that took on Nixon . . . run in fear of this very tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire,” he said by e-mail.

Through an apparent oversight, the “Where’s Muhammad?” cartoon was put on The Post’s Web site. Brauchli said he was unaware, adding, “Ideally, we wouldn’t have done that if we withheld it from print.”

Oddly, The Post published a similar cartoon by Miller at the height of the Danish cartoon controversy in 2006. It showed a street artist next to a sign reading: “Caricatures of Muhammad While You Wait!”

Miller said he has received no negative reaction to last Sunday’s cartoon. On the popular http://GoComics.com Web site, which has a loyal audience of cartoon fanatics, most comments laud the drawing.

But is it offensive to Muslims?

“The reference [to Muhammad] in this case was so vague that I don’t even know if offense comes into it,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group that combats stereotyping of Islam and Muslims.

The Post should always consider the religious sensitivities of readers. But in this case, I think editors were wrong to withhold the cartoon.

Clearly, Miller has a right to draw the cartoon, and The Post has the right to run it. But this is a question of editorial judgment.

Yes, Miller was trying to be provocative. But “Non Sequitur” followers expect that. And there’s a difference between provoking anger and provoking readers to think.

Surely some may be displeased by “Where’s Muhammad?” But unlike with the Danish cartoons, it’s hard to imagine it would incite protests. Miller intentionally did not depict Muhammad, and the cartoon is not a blasphemous attack on the prophet. If anything, it’s a powerful and witty endorsement of freedom of expression.

Post editors believe their decision was prudent, given the past cartoon controversies and heightened sensitivities surrounding Islam. But it also can be seen as timid. And it sets an awfully low threshold for decisions on whether to withhold words or images that might offend.

Timid! The Ombudsman admits Timid!

Of course the most important question to the Post is whether Muslims find the cartoon offensive (asked twice) — or would find it offensive if it were published. But even the evil Ibraham Hooper (from Hamas-affiliated CAIR) found the toon too vague to be disrespectful. Oh well!

So an artist made a clever point about the politically useful sensitivity of Islamists, but the Washington Post dropped the ball on a painless demonstration of free expression. The public is not well served from such admitted timidity.

(See also Robert Spencer’s observations, Washington Post bows to Islamic violent intimidation, pulls cartoon that mentions Muhammad but doesn’t even depict him.)

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