As I'm sure you've heard by now, Mr. Green Jeans of Crawford, TX dropped a megaton revelation upon us all last night when he declared that America is addicted to oil. Right behind the President, Dealer Dick was heard to mutter, "and we're all out of methadone, heh, heh..." Elsewhere in the same room, Justice Alito was heard to affirm that Congress is too right-wing these days. The American mass media has been studiously analyzing these remarks all day long, wondering whether this is a new strain of environmentalism in Bushland or a return to "the familiar and the modest" (the New York Times).
The President also warned us of the dangers of isolationism. This is akin to those warnings you see on the side of a pack of Marlboros: I and my policies have created nothing except isolation and division, and continue to do so; therefore, be warned. Oh, and let me give you a light...
But as the American mass media continue to parse the deep meaning of the latest SOTU, the media in Europe are dealing with a somewhat different problem: bomb threats and fatwas. This is a story that's getting virtually no coverage here, but it's headline news across the EU. That's because, last September, a Danish newspaper had published a mildly satirical cartoon featuring a picture of the prophet Mohammed; then, after its editor and publisher received death threats, a few more papers in France and Germany re-published the cartoon as a show of journalistic solidarity. So now we have an international storm brewing that may exceed the Newsweek Koran-in-the-toilet-at-Gitmo drama or even the fatwa on Salman Rushdie and his 1989 novel, Satanic Verses.
Well, as George and his Dick have shown us on this side of the pond, there is nothing like fear to make people kick dirt on the body of democracy. That's exactly what the war-talk from the Muslim maniacs has done to the publisher of France Soir—one of the papers that had published the Mohammed cartoons. He fired his editor.
But the Germans, who have had enough experience of their own with intolerance and ideologically-driven violence, stood firm. The editor of Die Welt spoke for all who prize democracy over dogma when he wrote, "The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical."
The American media have been silent on the issue, and with good reason: they, who are frightened by a half-wit from Texas and a snarling corporate bully from Wyoming, are understandably afraid. What if one of these stupid cartoons is published and some lunatic Ahmed decides to blow himself up on the Number 6 train at Grand Central Terminal as retribution? The Newsweek debacle was enough of a close call for these guys. Admittedly, such an argument appears sobering: aside from the waste of human life to result from a terrorist attack incited by a cartoon, what about the future of the free press in America (or what remains of it)? Wouldn't the public backlash to such a hypothetical event completely destroy the press as we have known it?
The problem with that argument, of course, is that it's hypothetical. If I were to publish those cartoons in my newspaper, and a terrorist attack occurred in my city the very next day, there would still be no causal link proven between the two events. And what is the cost of the media's continued weak-kneed silence in the face of power and violence? Well, we get more power, more oppression, and more tragic and destructive violence.
So am I advocating for the publication here of a cartoon about the prophet Mohammed? Nope; but I sure wouldn't mind reading more about the global and domestic dangers of fundamentalism. But fear breeds silence: fearful people tend to forget that they have a job to do. Fear can make a man settle for mediocrity; it can make a person who is paid to seek and to tell the truth settle for a neutered and watered-down ambiguity, which is the essence of fundamentalism, wherever it is practiced, and from whatever holy book it is preached.
Incidentally, the God-figure in the cartoon above is saying, "don't worry, Mohammed, it's all a cartoon here..."