In a web-exclusive story on the web site of U.S. News & World Report, Senior Writer Jay Tolson's article on Muhammad cartoons is headlined "Matters of Faith: Satanic Cartoonery." Satanic? And no quotes? Since when do they use "Satanic" without quotes and mockery? Tolson comes flat-down in the middle of this controversy, believing that free speech needs some respect, but that freedom has been "abused," as Bill Clinton argued. Hmm...Tolson ends by touting the "high-minded sentiments" of one Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim activist the U.S. State Department banned from teaching at Notre Dame. Tolson's theme is the lines are blurred (and guess who's doing the blurring):
Reactions to the cartoon scandal do not simply fall on two sides of an increasingly blurred line between the Islamic and western worlds.
Just this week, Tony Blair and his Labor government tried unsuccessfully to enact a law that would have made it a crime to use abusive or insulting words, and not just threatening ones, about any religious group. The watering-down of the bill by a motley assortment of opponents, including many in Blair's own party, was hailed as a victory for free speech. Still, concerns about the abuses of that freedom, particularly when religion and race are concerned, have been voiced by many prominent non-Muslims in the West. Former President Bill Clinton, for one, directed strong words against the cartoons, calling them "totally outrageous. "
And what about Muslim scholars and leaders living in the West? Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born philosopher who is now teaching at Oxford and serving on one of Blair's commissions on terrorism, says that hard truths need to be told both to hard-core free-speech advocates and to true-believing Muslims. The former need to recognize that Muslims view the depiction of any of their prophets as an affront to their faith. They also have to realize that Muslims come out of cultures unaccustomed to the ridiculing of their religion, even though Ramadan admits that more and more ridiculing of other religions has been happening in the Muslim world.
"On the other side," Ramadan says, "Muslims should know that for the last three centuries in Europe, since the Enlightenment and Voltaire, there has been an acceptance of the cynical and ironic treatment of religious issues and people. Muslims living here must take a critical distance and realize this is not just against Islam but is part of this culture. "
High-minded sentiments. But Ramadan acknowledges that the current polarized climate makes it unlikely that either side will soon be making any concessions.
This is not the first time U.S. News has touted Mr. Ramadan. Daniel Pipes has a detailed blog on his interaction with the man and the media. It includes a tricky article U.S. News created, which he says created a "debate" in 2004 without contacting him, merely quoting an article of his, and having Ramadan try to refute it at length (four web pages).