Lou Sandler

Cartoons, Copenhagen and Free Speech

The most recent attacks in Copenhagen are no more a principle attack on ‘free speech’ than the Bush/Cheney still ongoing catastrophe of Iraq had anything to do with ‘exporting freedom (or) democracy.’ To continue as if ‘free speech’ is truly and uniquely being prioritized is little more than incredibly simplistic. It is also only peripheral to the larger and far more comprehensive issues at play.

This is more the right to be stupid, self aggrandizing and irresponsible.

The Dutch cartoonist, Lars Vilks, has apparently now gone into ‘hiding’ taking his free speech with him. Bet he’s even now secretly working on more stupid cartoons to distribute from his bunker. As soon as he ‘hid,’ any claim Vilks had as a pantheon of free speech collapsed. To exert one’s right to free speech should also mean maintaining primary and personal responsibility for that same free speech.

Free speech also is not and should not be cowardly as Mr Vilks runs leaving his community on its own to defend him and, potentially, suffer for him. If he stands by his work; he also need to stand up to those perceived as intolerant of or trying to repress that work.

Creating that which is intended almost purely to inflame and taunt is more the profile of an intimidated juvenile who throws stones at the windows of disliked neighbors running to hide each time thereby allowing those neighbor’s anger to increase collectively against all neighborhood children.

Regretfully, political Islamophobia and ‘free speech cartoons’ have become their own kind of tragic cottage industry. Is this the best the West can do in its growing confrontation with Militarized Islam?

And do stupid, often juvenile and deliberately offensive cartoons create any particular benefit by disgusting and generating sincere and honest anger among the additional billion plus followers of Islam? For Militarized Islam, such cartoons only wind up as recruiting posters and as part of recruitment propaganda. Is this the best the West can do?

There certainly is a free speech right to draw stupid cartoons but to what degree? Free speech also requires personal responsibility.

If such an intensity of response wasn’t ever present; if generating constant attention and likely, cash, back to Mr. Vilks and like minded peers in cartooning  wasn’t present, would Vilks – and his peers – be drawing offensive, stupid anti-Islam cartoons so routinely? Otherwise, they might have to start coming up with new and more original ideas. Or, for some, is offending a billion plus Muslims their only skill and limit to their ‘originality?’

If the West considers the drawing of these stupid and often juvenile cartoons driven by political Islamophobia as a serious and thoughtful way to respond to the growing and ever more deadly geopolitical reality of Militarized Islam, the West is failing even while patting itself on its own self righteous head. At least when a Matador waves around a red cape in front of the bull, he knows and expects the bull’s attack (please note that this is an analogy rather than an intent to equate any human to bulls or animals).

The West, however, feigns cluelessness.

Similarly, if one were to be locked in a room with an unknown but very large and really angry looking adult and both given sticks, would the first adult poke the second with a stick because he can; because the stick is there; because such a ‘right’ exists? Free speech also comes with the ‘right’ to be smart, mature and, above all, purposeful with that speech. These cartoons appear to have little purpose but to taunt and generate cheap attention.

Cartoonists as Lars Vilks have become their own version of bottom feeding while being able to get armed protection and services also at the expense of others; being able to hide while deliberately increasing the risk to their entire communities. I, for one, would not want my tax money (or anyone’s, for that matter ) being used to pay for his personal protection and living arrangements.

It would be my recommendation that Vilks should be (if he is not) paying for his own protection out of pocket rather than depending on the state. He needs to demonstrate his rights and right to ‘free speech’ rather than passing cartoons out from under the door of his bunker to his protectors for publication.

Because we can doesn’t always mean we should.

As has been written, one can’t yell ‘fire’ in a very crowded theatre because they can. Even as the ‘free speech’ exists, it still must be pursued with purpose rather than largely as, and little more in these instances, self-aggrandizing  and attention getting taunts.

That isn’t free speech; that’s the actions of a coward.

And, as a highly relevant aside, global Islam also need to stop creating hysteria over each of these often juvenile, usually offensive and almost always stupid cartoons. Far more real issues, threats and realities exist.

Global Islam should – probably does – realize that a great many of the rest of us strongly do not support either politicized Islamophobia or these stupid cartoons. But just as global Islam is honestly angered by these cartoons and vitriolic, political Islamophobia, the rest of us are becoming similarly and honestly very angered by global Islam’s persistent lack of a clue and parallel vitriol.

There really are much better ways for us all – individually and in collaboration – to be organizing and spending our time.

About the Author
I was born in Baltimore, MD and have since had a wide range of experiences including a year plus in Israel. I've been a progressive organizer, writer/media spokesperson, coordinator and freelance. I am a PhD level Clinical Behavioral Analyst specializing in severe behavioral need in children (and adults) and their families. I write through no ‘agenda or special interest’ other than being a passionate supporter of Israel and Israel's future.