Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Guardian and Those Cartoons

One of those cartoons. My profound apologies if this 'offends'. But that's free speech. Firebombs to the usual address.

As I have already mentioned, all mainstream British newspapers have so far refused to publish any of the notorious Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. The Guardian, edited by Alan Rusbridger and standard-bearer of the freethinking liberal-left, has been particularly verbose on this subject, explaining in at least two leader columns its decision not to publish.

Firstly, the Guardian has made plain that it does support, absolutely, the freedom to say what you like, when you like, about religion. As is only right in a newspaper born of the struggle of working people to win freedom in all arenas - economic, cultural, religious.

But this present a problem for the Guardian. Why won't they, therefore, publish these particular cartoons? Because, the Guardian says, the mere fact that you are allowed to publish does not mean you have an obligation to publish. Put it another way, the Guardian explains, there are rules of courtesy and good manners - and these rules mean you should not seek to gratuitously offend peoples' sensitivities, including the deep sensitivities surrounding religious faith.

Is this a good argument? Ultimately, I think not. To my mind, a freedom (like the freedom to satirise and lampoon religion) is worth having only if you are prepared at some point to exercise it. Otherwise it is empty and meaningless. A simulacrum of freedom.

The Guardian avoids this difficult issue. But it does say, in its own defense, that it would apply its 'sensitivity' criteria across the board, i.e., the Guardian would not publish cartoons or images that were gratuitously offensive in other ways. Such as child porn, or images of an anti-Semitic character, or images that unnecessarily offended people of other faiths, besides Islam.

Oh really? Read on.

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