Terrifying Cartoons

The Society is hosting an interfaith discussion on global terrorism tonight. One of the problems in the issue of terrorism is that it’s like pornography—people of good will can disagree on how to define it. I was reading about the riots supposedly sparked by cartoons of Mohammed (if you would like to see the original cartoons, click here), and at the end of the article was this notice:

“CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself.”

Similar statements have been made by most American mainstream media–By the same outfits that routinely show photos of Abu Ghraib, racially motivated police beatings, and countless images dangerous and offensive to women. These media outlets are not afraid of being controversial or inflammatory or offensive, but apparently they are afraid of being blasphemous. Imagine if the notices were honest enough to say “We are not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because we are afraid to.” Then more people might notice that when the media self-censor out of fear, we’re all being terrorized.

But the cartoons are not the issue. The small percentage of people who need to chant Death to Whomever and throw away their lives trying to destroy need to do so for a variety of reasons both rational and irrational, and they will accept any provocation to make their lives seem noble and important and exciting. At the same time, the vast majority of people in the Middle East are not out in the streets, though many are also angry; they are wishing the whole thing would just go away, or scared to death that they or their loved ones might be the next target of violence. Let’s remember those people. I know that I would hate to have Americans judged by our small percentage of women’s clinic harassers, book burners, and rioters.