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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Let’s be honest
about the current sudden new respect the antique media exhibit
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.
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.
Lifson is the editor and publisher of The