February 9, 2006
Strange New Respect

By Thomas Lifson

It is hard for us Westerners to understand the deep reverence so many overseas have for this man. He was, after all, human, not a god in the eyes of even his most devout believers. But his followers regard him as a special and different kind of human being, one whose life was a story of miracles and triumphs inexplicable in ordinary mortal terms, and a man who brought enlightenment and a vision of a perfect world to all of humanity.

Having created a comprehensive guide for all aspects of life for all time, his adherents venerate him with a passion that sometimes seems oddly fierce to those of us who are not believers. They feel a mixture of pity, anger, and contempt for those of us who have not yet understood the beauty, wisdom, and eternal truth of his message, and who dare to criticize his actions during his lifetime.

Sometimes, those of us who live in societies with a tradition of freedom of speech callously castigate his historic deeds and are tempted to regard him as brutal, cruel, and bloodthirsty toward his enemies. We note his history of aggression and his slaughter of those who dared oppose him during his lifetime.

Sometimes, a few such Westerners even dare to mock him. They cannot imagine the pain such outright insensitivity brings to those whose entire lives are organized around following his teachings. Where his doctrines have been codified into law, such behavior is punished very severely.

I refer, of course, to the late Kim il-Sung, known as the “Great Leader” of North Korea during his lifetime, and now sometimes called the “Eternal Leader.”

Now that virtually the entire antique media have decided that we must respect the prohibition against representations of the image of Muhammad which some (but not all) Muslims demand, is it time to re-examine our behavior with regard to other leaders and historic figures held in deep awe and venerated by members of cultures very different than ours?

The new norm seems to be that although we have the Constitution and laws protecting free speech, in practice we need to be sensitive to the hurt we inflict on the deeply-held beliefs of others. Who are we to impose our parochial Euro-centric standards on other cultures and belief systems?

With the sole exceptions of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Riverside Press-Enterprise, and New York Sun, no significant American newspaper has dared to publish the 12 cartoons at the root of the protests, embassy burnings and deaths roiling the Islamic world. Despite intense public interest in this major story, Americans who do not view their news on the internet have almost no chance to actually see these key images. Such remarkable restraint is a rather new phenomenon in American journalism.

The new standard has been set and is already being observed with a remarkable degree of unanimity. None of the broadcast television network news have shown the cartoons, with the exception of ABC’s Nightline*. CNN did televise them but obscured the images with dancing pixels. Fox News Channel has shied away, even when commentator Michelle Malkin brought along her own visual aid to the Hannity & Colmes broadcast on Tuesday, February 7.

Imposing current day politically correct standards on historic figures is all the rage these days, when the names of slaveholders Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are deemed unfit to grace the names of schools in some circles.

Perhaps it is time we re-evaluated Charlie Chaplin’s famous movie The Great Dictator, which mercilessly and insensitively mocked Adolf Hitler. At the time of its theatrical release in 1940, millions of Germans worshipped Der Fuhrer with religious passion, and the United States enjoyed peaceful, if strained relations with Germany. The pain which many Nazis must have felt at seeing their beloved leader denigrated and made to look ridiculous must have been searing.

If sensitivity to the spiritual feelings of believers in great leaders were the real criterion by which media gatekeepers decided what to publish and broadcast, then Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ would never have been seen, and universal media condemnation would have greeted the theatrical release of The Last Temptation of Christ.

Let’s be honest about the current sudden new respect the antique media exhibit toward religion.

It is physical intimidation which is at the heart of the media’s new-found principle of tender sensitivity to the feelings of certain religious believers. The assassination of Theo Van Gogh sent a message loud and clear to everyone contemplating a critical look at Islam or Muhammad. For all their brave talk of speaking truth to power, most people in the media with established careers, families, and lives will sacrifice principle to save themselves from possible harm or death.

They are thus establishing a very clear set of guidelines for those who seek to govern the media portrayal of topics and people of keen sensitivity. Threaten to shoot, stab, burn, and terrorize those who displease you, and then back up the threat with actual violence, and you, too, can control the images the broad public sees. You can even constrain the asking of awkward questions about your cherished beliefs.

This is also known as handing power to the thugs among us. The Constitution may establish the rule of law and various rights to free expression. But in practice we will return to the state of nature, where brute force sets the actual terms under which we live our lives, discuss ideas, gather data and make decisions.

Those very few Westerners who travel to North Korea place themselves in the tender hands of a regime which allows no dissent, and which enforces a strict reverence for the Eternal Leader whose teachings still guide the nation. It is a very common experience for Westerners to be taken to the great monument to Kim il-Sung in Pyongyang, where they ritually lay flowers at the base of the enormous statue looking out over the city. Regardless of their inner views on the man, the wisdom of capitulation to force dictates abject compliance.

The regime in Pyongyang understands very well that if questions are allowed to be asked openly, it will weaken the hold of Kim il-Sung’s Juche philosophy on the masses. Muhammad and his followers understood the same point almost 14 centuries ago. But unlike North Korea, Islamic radicals, thanks to numbers and immigration, are able to enforce the norm placing their religion and its founder above criticism almost anywhere in the world. Film maker Theo Van Gogh’s death has never become a cause celebre among the brave dissidents of Hollywood because they are quaking in their boots.

If the antique media consensus that we obey the same logic of force (disguised as sensitivity) prevails in our depictions of Muhammad and our inquiry into Islam, then we are on the path to a world in which one religion is placed above all the others, subject to no questions or subjects objectionable to its most radical adherents.

Osama bin laden put it very well. People are naturally drawn to the strong horse over the weak horse. Our media, with their reporters and producers living in places where mobs and assassins have ready access to them, understandably are reluctant to enrage those with a track record of violence.

In the process, they weaken the horse of freedom, and strengthen the horse of tyranny. The much-praised and much-sought moderate Muslims of the world will find no support from abroad for their questioning of the most extreme adherents of their faith, and, subject to even more intimidation than pampered media panjandrums, will accede to the doctrines of their most violent co-religionists.

*hat tip to alert reader John Sanchez for the information on the ABC broadcast.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.

Thomas Lifson

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