Monday, February 13, 2006

Editors Have Freedom Too.

So the cartoon drama continues with Iran having a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust and a "renowned" Austrian cartoonist has entered with something that, while critical of modern Israel, only vaguely mentions the Holocaust even though the cartoonist believes that the Holocaust was a big fraud to fool the world into creating Israel. In the light of what has run in Middle Eastern publications for years, it has no chance of winning a contest designed to offend.

"As a show of solidarity with the Muslim world, and an exercise in free speech, I would like to submit a cartoon to you on the theme of the Holocaust," Leunig was quoted as saying on Irancartoons.com, the website organizing the competition with Iran's biggest selling newspaper Hamshahri, triggering outrage in the US and Germany in particular.

Outrage, but no violence or riots yet. Go figure. He goes on to say that he wanted to highlight the hypocrisy of European papers who would not publish a cartoon such as his. Don't newspapers have the right to decide which material they want to print and what they do not? It would be hypocritical if he got this cartoon published and western nations enacted sanctions against it, (or issued threats and encouraged riots).

Since this great effort is being made to change the subject by addressing the hypocrisy of the west, (hypocrites are apparently not given freedom of speech) let's look at that issue. Some European nations do have criminal penalties against promoting denial of the Holocaust. While I sympathize with the desire to keep this garbage out of public consumption, it is misguided. Stupidity should never be silenced by the state. When idiots are not allowed to speak their mind there are three negative consequences:

1) It is harder to identify who the idiots are.

2) It pushes stupidity underground where it can get a more private audience from the impressionable and the gullible, instead of having to stand against public scrutiny, including responses from people who are learned in the subject.

3) It provides stupidity with a kind of bizzaro credibility. If the government forbids it there must be something to it.

Leunig is a perfect example of the first two consequences. If he had not submitted this cartoon to Iran's Nazi rag, I would never have known that this renowned cartoonist is a big old Nazi fool. So, if he wants to expose himself as such he should have that right. If he wants to send out the message that all of his criticism of the Israeli government is based on the motivation of someone who hates Jews he should also have that right.

He does not, however, have the right to pick which publication he will get his cartoon published in. Editorial decisions still rest in the hands of the editors. If they feel there is more reason to criticize political Islamic culture for being fundamentalist, violent and irrational then there is to criticize holocaust victims for allegedly being fictional, then that is their choice. If they make the opposite choice, I am free to cancel my subscription and write a letter to the editor of that paper and, if they don't print my response, to any other paper. Hell, I could make a big sign and about how I think that any paper printing Leunig's trash is a rag and carry it around the paper's front door as long as I obey the laws of the land. I should not have the right to seriously call for Leunig's head or that of his editor. I should not have the right to burn down embassies or for that matter, have the state intervene to kick his ass for me.

There are certain extreme forms of hate speech that should be banned, specifically those which call for violent action against a people or a specific person but not everything a hateful person says is hate speech even if it is hateful and ignorant. We do, however, have every right, as editors and as citizens to shun those works and authors which we find offensive. While Leunig is showing solidarity with the Muslim world by pandering to their basest representatives and encouraging the view that the entire Muslim world is a nest of anti-Semites, he might consider the possibility that the reason no one in the west publishes his cartoons is because nobody outside of Iran likes his creepy-assed Nazi work. And still no one calls for his head or burns down Iranian embassies. Funny how that works.

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