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Jewish World Review
Feb. 23, 2006
/ 25 Shevat, 5766
Journalists are brave, unless the subject is Islam
If only the Danish cartoonists had drawn a picture of Dick Cheney shooting ...
Well, we have to be careful here, don't we. The way things are today, one could get in trouble for describing a hypothetical, nonexistent drawing. The very mention of the sinful syllables "Danish cartoonists" is sufficient to set 16 cities in Nigeria aflame. So let's just put it like this: If a Danish cartoonist had drawn an image of Cheney unloading a blunderbuss at (THAT PARTICULAR PERSON. YOU KNOW. HIM.), the press might finally have a cartoon they could show. White House correspondents would put it on T-shirts and wear them on cable news shows.
Or would they? On one hand, it would keep Cheneygate alive for another week, buoying hopes that the regrettably non-fatal shooting accident will cast out the Evil One. For some reason the left has become convinced Cheney will leave soon, if they concentrate hard enough. It's the modern-day version of the hippies levitating the Pentagon. If Cheney leaves, they think, his replacement will be less evil, since no one is as evil as Cheney — for heaven's sake, they can't let the man in maternity wards, because the babies all start to sweat pitch and sulfur.
On the other hand, showing such a cartoon would be like throwing gas on a fire, and with a worldwide network of radical imams already organizing a bucket brigade from the petrol pump to the tinder-mobs, this might not be wise. As the Boston Phoenix put it: "Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question." Gosh: turns out there is something worse than the Patriot Act; the FBI may snoop on your library records, but they wouldn't burn the building down and stone the librarians in the name of peace and respect.
After a few weeks, and demonstrations in several dozen countries including the usual deaths and church burnings, you would think that this hypothetical cartoon might be shown on TV without the pixelation normally employed when Paris Hilton's dress falls down. But it would take a personal request from Dick Cheney not to show the cartoons to ensure they showed up on the nightly news — and even then they'd superimpose the veep's face on the infamous Muhammad-with-a-bomb-in-his-turban cartoon, and congratulate themselves on their courage. Speaking truth to glower, man!
As it happens, the threat to free speech isn't coming from the government. While we don't doubt that the Patriot Act will be invoked any day now to criminalize dissent and seal up Cindy Sheehan in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it should be noted that the people who've suppressed the pictures are the ones who run the big old high-and-mighty mainstream media. Smaller outfits with spines have run them, with less than happy results — the editor of a college paper in Illinois was suspended for running the Horrid Scribbles of Doom, for example. This hardly means the death of the First Amendment. But add some riots, some flaming fatwas, some imams upping the bounty on the heads of cartoonists, and it has that "chilling effect" we hear so much about when government officials criticize a news story.
So we're all Rushdies now, like it or not? Perhaps. If one cannot draw Muhammad without editors fearing the mob in the lobby, then it's only a matter of time before the idea seeps into the heads of cartoonists everywhere. It's simply not worth it; who needs the aggravation? Who needs the meetings with the community groups, the mandatory sensitivity training, the sinking feeling of finding your picture on a placard in a London protest, next to the sign that says "BEHEAD THOSE WHO ACCUSE US OF BEHEADING."
It will all blow over. The press will get its nerve back, and start investigating whether Jack Abramoff bought Cheney a beer in 1997 and thus impaired his aim in 2006, or something. They'll return to their old brave role: Questioning Authority. Unless it's located in Mecca.
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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, James Lileks