As noted previously on Newsbusters, the violent Muslim protests against the publication of cartoons lampooning Islam has clearly put The New York Times in an uncomfortable position. The rioters, while to the Times an embattled minority in the West, are attacking free speech. Not good. But their most vocal critics are conservatives. Indeed, the Times describes the paper that first ran the cartoons as “conservative.” Can’t side with them.
In today's “Critic’s Notebook” piece, headlined "A Startling New Lesson in the Power of Imagery" and featuring a photo of children holding a sign "Danish People Not Welcome Here," writer Michael Kimmelman unwittingly describes the paper’s dilemma halfway through his meandering 1,396-word item:
One may be excused for wondering whether the silence of the art world has something to do with the discomfort of staking a position where neither party offers the sanctuary of political correctness.
Replace “art world” with “The New York Times” and you can hear Kimmelman’s frustration. His entire piece displays “the discomfort of staking a position” on a controversy that most non-liberals see in moral clarity. If he wasn’t clear enough with the previous line, he makes himself clearer later that he believes conservatives are just as to blame for the rioting as Muslim extremists:
The current bloodshed, fueled by political extremists and religious fanatics, turns the culture war once again into real war.
Kimmelman oddly compares the anti-cartoon rioters to the liberated citizens of the Soviet Union and Iraq tearing down statues of Lenin and Saddam Hussein: "Beginning with the ancient Egyptians...through the toppling of statues of Lenin and Saddam Hussein, violence has often been directed against offending objects, though rarely against the artists who made them." Huh? How many miles rope do you need to connect people violently protesting opinion art to those turning on regimes that murdered and oppressed millions?
He accuses the Bush Administration of “political hypocrisy” because the Pentagon objected to a cartoon run in the Washington Post featuring a legless and armless, wounded U.S. soldier, but denounced the violence that greeted the Danish cartoons. Apparently, one can’t distinguish between firing off a letter to protest a cartoon and killing people to protest a cartoon without being hypocritical. Kimmelman helpfully links to liberal blogger John Aravosis in attempt to make his strained connection.
Kimmelman labors just as mightily to liken the violent Muslim protests to those of Catholics upset when the Brooklyn Museum featured a painting of the Virgin Mary painted with elephant feces and cutouts from pornographic magazines. With one difference: while the Danish newspaper published “callous and feeble cartoons, cooked up as a provocation,” the protest over the “Sensation” exhibit of 1999 simply ended up “obscuring even the quality of what were, in fact, a few not-so-bad works of art.”
Of course, unlike in the current controversy, the offensive Virgin Mary exhibit was subsidized by the government.
In a separate, 1,437-word, Times article, the paper tries yet again to justify its reluctance to treat the rioting the same as other, historical threats to free speech. Headlined "West Beginning to See Islamic Protests as Sign of Deep Gulf," by writer Alan Cowell in London, it ends up being more comically feeble than Kimmelman’s twisted take.
Among the unintentionally funny takes on this serious subject is the headline: “West Beginning to See Islamic Protests as Sign of Deep Gulf.” To which millions of Western non-liberals respond: “There’s been a deep gulf? Gee, do you think?” Cowell then reports the startling news that Westerners and Muslim radicals “view each other with miscomprehension and suspicion.”
But Cowell saves his best for last, as he solemnly reports that the United Nations, European Union and Organzation of Islamic Conference issued a joint statement declaring…something:
"We fully uphold the right of free speech," the statement read. "But we understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim World. We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions. But we also believe the recent violent acts surpass the limits of peaceful protest.” [EMPHASIS ADDED]
Follow that? Cowell ends with a quote from the joint statement that is supposed to be poignant, but will illicit only more “Gee, do you really think so?” responses from anyone living in the real world since 9/11: "Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam."