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The Danish Cartoons

Reader comment on item: Cartoons and Islamic Imperialism

Submitted by Stephen Cipolla (United States), Feb 12, 2006 at 11:44

Professor Pipes:

People must stand unreservedly with Denmark in favor of free speech, the right to criticize, insult, caricature and dissent. This is a true, and hardly controversial, statement. But, "peoples" is the term used in your piece. Your examples of prior failures of "democratic" governments to support freedom of expression refer to the actions of states, not people. If your use of the term "peoples" is meant to apply to the individuals who constitute the political states of the world, then I do wholeheartedly agree.

If you mean to refer to states, as I suspect, then I think your last sentence is either not accurate or but incomplete. What you have pointed out is that many political states that have domestic policies, constitutions, statutes, mores, customs, etc., that recognize the individual's the right to criticize the government have stood silent in the face of such expressions of political dissent at times when speaking out would be politically inexpedient for the state. The US and UK are perhaps among the most generous in letter, if not spirit, of those governments that explicitly guarantee freedom of expression. But, isn't the conclusion to your brief analysis that these are the governments that have quite notoriously, suppressed dissent domestically when in times of crisis, real or imagined? Think of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Writs, the Palmer Raids, the attacks on the "Huns" and "Japs," the internment of Japanese, German and Italian citizens in WWII, the McCarthy attacks, the HUAC hearings and blacklisting...and need I add, the Patriot Act and all of its tentacles.

The states to which you refer will not step up and support the right of a Dane to do caricatures of Islamic extremism and, not too surprisingly, they would be subject to legitimate counter-attacks of hypocrisy if they did. This is absolutely not an excuse or a justification for the shameful behavior of the US and UK in the current matter or those to which you make reference. Your outrage is not only justified, but welcome, but, can one really be genuinely surprised by this behavior?

Your reference to Rwanda and the US government's inaudible murmurs of protest in the face of slaughter, is sufficient (though certainly not exhaustive) basis to conclude that individuals can never really expect their political states, whether nominally democratic or not, to act on moral principle or custom, when doing so does not further the state's agenda. And, in the case of American foreign affairs, that agenda is neither the product of democratic processes, nor is it subject to significant judicial review.

As for the individuals within those states, rights of dissent, and mores or customs of free expression, are contingent upon the courage and willingness of individuals to criticize their own government, as you have done quite effectively, but with due respect, inconclusively, in your article. Thus, I modestly suggest an edit to your last sentence:

"People who would stay free must stand unreservedly with Jyllands-Posten, and its cartoonists in Denmark in support of the right publicly to criticize any state at any time for any reason, or else democracy is lost."

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