When Freedom of Speech is Taken Too Far
Denmark’s largest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 editorial cartoons negatively depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed, on Sept. 30, 2005.
Images of Mohammed are strictly forbidden in Islam and, to make matters worse, some of the images portrayed the prophet in an offensive way—one drawing shows Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban.
While violent riots in response to the cartoons, which have resulted in several deaths, and death threats are certainly the wrong way to go about voicing opposition to the cartoons, the boycott has drawn the attention of Danish officials, who have refused to apologize for the published images.
Muslims have the perception that the West is waging a cultural war against Islam under the guise of a war on terror—and in this instance, they are right. Muslims already feel that their Islamic identity is targeted by the West, and it makes it worse coming from a historically anti-Muslim country like Denmark.
Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, wrote a letter of apology and explanation directed toward Muslims worldwide on Jan. 30. Juste dismisses the theory that the cartoons represent a campaign against Muslims but, rather, explained that they decided to print he cartoons ‘because of the very fact that we are strong proponents of the freedom of religion.’
Although many support the newspaper’s right to expression in printing the cartoons, it is important to be reminded of the limits and dangers of this freedom. Freedom of speech should be used constructively, rather than to offend a marginalized segment of the population.
Journalistic responsibility is reason enough to refrain from printing these images. The printing of these cartoons is comparable to an American newspaper printing offensive material about African-Americans. The paper would be legally protected by free speech, but the respect they hold for reporting fair news would certainly suffer.
Regardless of the newspaper’s intentions, it is nearly impossible to imagine that they did not expect Muslims to be offended by the cartoons.
The drawings negatively portraying Mohammed failed to effectively illustrate a point in exercising freedom of expression, but rather successfully provoked people’s anger. If Jyllands-Posten wants to start a discussion about the freedom of religion, they should begin by showing respect to readers’ beliefs and upholding journalistic integrity.
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