Two things to keep in mind about those Danish cartoons

1: These riots are not the spontaneous uprisings of an outraged cartoon-reading Muslim population. The cartoons first appeared in Jyllands-Posten back during in September, and there was no such upheaval — until a group of Danish imams spent a few months lobbying Islamic leaders across the Middle East for support, with a dossier that included images that didn’t even run in the Danish paper to begin with. Just look at the news photos of neatly printed protest signs, all clearly produced by the same hand, in English, for the benefit of Western cameras. The cartoons may be — probably are — genuinely offensive to Muslims, but this is manufactured outrage, and if weren’t about these cartoons, it would be about something else. A movie, a novel, the back of a cereal box, whatever.

2: American newspaper editors are in a tough position. If they run the cartoons as an act of defiance against repressive morons (i.e., the imams who stirred all this shit up to begin with), then they play right into the hands of those same repressive morons, giving them even more fuel with which to fire up their fundamentalist base. Actually, let me amend that. The newly-minted free speech absolutists demanding that American newspapers publish these cartoons as some sort of badge of ideological correctness are in many cases the same people who’ve spent the last five years denouncing the domestic publication of cartoons and commentary with which they disagree, often going so far as to declare such commentary to be an outright act of treason. Make no mistake: in this one instance only, they have become champions of unfettered free speech, but that’s only going to last until the next time some American cartoonist annoys them. (And yes, of course I understand that our homegrown wannabe censors are probably not going to be out setting fires in response to cartoons — they’ll just be out trying to get the cartoonist fired.)

At any rate, it’s probably more accurate to say that newspaper editors must decide whether to run the cartoons as an act of defiance against repressive morons abroad in order to appease repressive morons at home, playing right into the hands of repressive morons everywhere.

Update: Mikhaela has more. And I tend to agree with what Joe Sacco has to say, here.

My initial reaction was, “What a bunch of idiots those Danes were for printing those things.” Did they not think that there was going to be some sort of backlash? Cartoons like that are simply meant as a provocation…

… I think maybe the idiot cartoonist should feel a need to be a little more self-censoring, when it comes down to it, but a thinking cartoonist weighs what he or she is doing. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about these Danish cartoons. In the end, yes, there is a principle about the freedom of expression that concerns me, but I’m always sorry to have to rush to the defense of idiots.

…It’s a hot time on this planet, and tempers are going to flare, and people are going to get hurt with these sorts of things. Freedom of the press, or the idea that you can depict anything–we simply don’t subscribe to that when it comes down to it. I mean, child porn is not allowed. There are certain barriers or borders we all sort of agree, or most of us agree, where you are taking things too far. I personally don’t necessarily think that attacking a religion is taking it too far, or even working within the imagery of religion to attack it. But you have to judge each instance, and what it means.