The great Lakota warrior and spiritual leader Crazy Horse had a vision in which he was told never to take honors for the victories he would achieve. In time, he learned to honor his vision, refusing to allow his likeness to be depicted in any form.
To this day, while there are paintings and photographs of many of his contemporaries, there is no historical likeness of Crazy Horse. His spiritual belief was honored even by those responsible for the near genocide of his people.
By the standards of a free press or freedom of expression, every journalist in the west had a right to depict the greatest warrior of them all. Surely, every photographer and artist had a motive to secure for posterity the first and only likeness ever captured yet they chose to refrain.
I consider it a tribute of the highest order to both Crazy Horse and those who honored him that they chose to uphold a personal religious decree.
Flash forward to the Prophet Mohammed and the Islamic prohibition on any reproduction or depiction of his likeness.
We have heard a great deal concerning a Danish newspaper’s right to publish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet as a terrorist but we have heard little of precedent. Is it possible that the decree had been honored across the generations only to be violated by a rightwing Danish newspaper today?
It is not a question of the right to publish a controversial message or image; it is a question of honor and intent. The newspaper Jyllands-Posten claims it was an experiment to see how the Islamic world would react. An outraged Islamic response not only confirmed their cynical hypothesis but also pushed them to the very fringe of journalism protected under the principle of freedom of the press.
If a newspaper or any other media outlet is fully cognizant that a published work will produce a violent backlash, essentially crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, it must tread carefully. The cause that it represents, the essential content beneath the external image, must be compelling.
It is here that the argument fails. Here is where we can distinguish between the Mohammed cartoons and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Rushdie was attempting to contribute something to the world’s knowledge base, while knowingly endangering only himself and an informed publisher.
Along with everyone who believes in fundamental freedom of expression, I believe that Rushdie was rightly defended but I refuse to rise to the defense of Jyllands-Posten. I consider their actions (and the actions of every newspaper or electronic media that chose to reproduce them) despicable, reprehensible, harmful and intentionally dangerous. Like the planted cops who threw the first stones to incite a riot at gatherings of labor, they did not prove their adversaries unworthy or dishonorable; they stained themselves. They did not stand up for freedom of speech; they abused it.
They stand for the right of the press to be irresponsible and by so doing they bring shame upon their profession. There is blood on the hands of these self-serving journalists.
There are causes worthy of a price in blood but this was not one of them.
Would the editorial board of Jyllands-Posten agree to be listed under a swastika to measure the response of Jews? Would it defend the holocaust or the American Indian genocide? Would it publish a series of treatises on the genetic inferiority of a given race? Would it issue a call for a holy crusade?
Why then would it spit in the face of Islam?
The cause is not defined by the medium or the act of publishing. The cause is defined by the message that it carries. To have published this sacrilege knowing the effect may be protected under the concept of free expression, but in fact, it was a scurrilous act, richly deserving of condemnation.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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