February 15, 2006
The Free Press Has Surrendered to Islamic Fanatics

By Ed Koch

If there were any lingering doubt that large numbers of fanatical Islamic adherents want to kill us or bring the democracies of the world to their knees, this past week should have settled the issue.

Last September, a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 cartoons or caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad -- the one receiving most publicity depicting the Prophet with his head and turban looking like a bomb fused to go off. Four months later, riots, looting and killings by Muslim mobs are being organized around the world.

According to The New York Times, the cartoons have been republished in “Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Hungary, as well as in Jordan.” The U.S. State Department, according to The Times, “defended the right of the Danish and French newspapers to publish the cartoons.”

According to The Times, “Major American newspapers, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, did not publish the caricatures. Representatives said the story could be told effectively without publishing images that many would find offensive.” Surely, that excuse is inadequate in the U.S. with a population of 300 million, more than 75 percent Christian and subjected to seeing, as columnist Charles Krauthammer pointed out in his brilliant column of February 10, 2006, “publish[ed] pictures of the Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung and celebrat[ion of] the “Piss Christ” (a crucifix sitting in a jar of urine) as art deserving public subsidy, but [these newspapers] are seized with a sudden religious sensitivity when the subject is Muhammad.”

So why the reluctance to report the real story? Did these stalwarts who believe they are protecting the civil rights of the American public when they write editorial after editorial denouncing the Patriot Act and the spying activities of the National Security Agency without court warrants, both of which the President of the United States and leading members of Congress have told us time and again are necessary -- with the President insisting he is using the power provided in both the Constitution, law and court decisions in time of war -- to defend the U.S. from terrorist attack?

Some observers suggest that the newspapers fear physical attacks upon their buildings, presses and worse still upon editors and journalists. In the past, The Times has published material that was classified under U.S. law, e.g. the Ellsberg Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War and the recent article alleging illegal National Security Agency eavesdropping on telephone conversations -- which the government believed to be taking place between people in the U.S. and people abroad where the government has probable cause to suspect that one of the parties was involved with international terrorism.

Surely when deciding to take actions that might lead to a criminal indictment by the U.S. government against the newspaper for publishing classified material, there must have been some discussion at the paper on whether the story should be published. One can only wonder what arguments were made when the decision was made not to publish the Muhammad cartoons, when the basic principle by which all of these guardians of the First Amendment pride themselves and constantly evoke is their commitment to provide all the news that’s fit to print, without fear or favor.

Bill Bennett, who was Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, and John Zogby, President of the Arab-American Institute, were interviewed on this subject by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on February 9th. Zogby sought to explain, but not excuse, the violent response in the Muslim world, saying, “As it [the publication of the cartoons and the face of Muhammad] spread into the Arab world, another sensitivity, insecurity took over, and that was the fact that there is a deliberate insult against Islam. And Muslims are an iconoclastic religion. They don’t use icons, and they find them deeply insulting.”

At that point, Blitzer interjected, saying to Bennett, “You can understand, Bill, that feeling among many Muslims, that this is beyond the pale when you insult the Prophet Muhammad.” Bennett, as penetrating and brilliant as Krauthammer, responded, “Sure. And if I were a Jew watching what CNN just led in with [anti-Semitic cartoons used in Muslim countries], I might be a little upset, too. But CNN doesn’t have the solicitude for Jews it has for Muslims. Your policy is not to show these cartoons that were shown in Denmark, but to show one after another of the most anti-Semitic cartoons they could come forward with. CNN -- I don’t mean to pick on CNN, just because I work for you. But NBC, The New York Times, other media -- the Virgin Mary in cow dung, that was fine. We can show that everywhere. Now, the Islamists have won, in that they have intimidated the major news media from showing these cartoons. They have lost, however, in the wider world, because people see that this is just totally nutty behavior, that these cartoons are shown and people, as a result, want to kill people, behead people, burn buildings down. And, whatever the argument with the Danes, what is the point of burning the Jewish flag? What is the point of burning the U.S. flag and saying death to Israel and death to the United States? People get a good, close look at this and say, you know, these people are unhinged.”

Bennett’s most important comment was, “I promise you, they have won. They have silenced -- these -- these mobs have silenced the mainstream media, who are afraid of the mob.” Later on in the discussion, Bennett stated, “One of the difficulties with the cartoons is, they hit pretty close to the bone…Is there no suggestion that, in the name of Islam, in the name of the Koran, in the name of Allah, people are having their heads cut off? These things hit their target.”

To me, that is the crux of the matter. There is a war of civilizations being waged in the world with the Islamic fanatics subliminally seeking to storm once again the gates of Vienna, where, in 1683, they were defeated. If by threats of terror against them, the great media institutions can be brought to their knees, we are in big trouble. Before this occurred, I had no doubt that, no matter how difficult, no matter how long the war we are now engaged in continues, the democracies of the world would win, as they did when first facing Hitler and later Stalin. Today, I am no longer so certain.

That Bush-haters Cindy Sheehan and Harry Belafonte seek to sap our strength as a country does not worry me with regard to outcome. But when the greatest, most important institutions in the land -- the free press -- get frightened and surrender, as the German press did under similar assault in Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s, I worry about the final outcome.

For years prior to the outbreak of World War II, Hitler and his Nazi party made their murderous agenda very clear, while frightened democracies refused to heed the warnings and kept their heads in the sand. Today there are new ostriches in our land. They refuse to take terrorists at their word. The Times reported on February 4th the comments of a cleric at the Al-Omari mosque in Gaza, “We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible.” Regrettably, many Westerners don’t take Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden’s principal deputy, at his word when he said, “Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute.”

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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