Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Where to Draw the Line

I am really enjoying the cartoons war raging around the globe, because it reveals how intellectuals are double-faced and how efforts to reconcile civilizations have failed.

We winced first at the Prophet Mohammad controversy, then the Iranian-backed tournament for anti-Holocaust caricatures, followed by a tit-for-tat competition from Israelis and now a cartoon depicting Iranian footballers as suicide bombers in the upcoming World Cup.

The German newspaper behind the latest provocation claims it just wanted to mock a proposal by the Defense Ministry to deploy soldiers beside police officers to keep security during the one-month football tournament.

Malte Lehming, comment editor at Der Tagesspiegel, has said the caricature was meant for "a German audience". Asked whether it had been unwise to print it, he told the Guardian: "The problem is where you draw the line? Cartoons have to be satirical and mean."

OK, let's be satirical and mean.

Germany is going to host 32 national teams in June, so Germans' hospitality will be roughly tested. They will entertain, alongside Iranians, the American, British and French teams, among others. These nations have killed thousands of German civilians during World War II. They fairly deserve more than Iranians to be on the receiving end of jokes about collective fear of insecurity.

Six decades after the Nazi reign, certain Germans tend to entertain some tarnishing methods favored by the propaganda apparatus of Joseph Goebbels. He is famously quoted as saying that repeating a lie can make people believe it. Why these Germans, too gutless to reveal their true colors, try to dupe their audience that all Muslims are terrorists? So who's mean?

Guys, let's be candid. You, the Western intellectual elite, have failed as much as your Muslim counterparts in bridging the gap between the two giant civilizations. Sometimes you spark an alienating controversy; sometimes your Islamic peers preach hatred. Just like two gangs of spoiled school brats. The result: frustrated grassroots and emboldened rightwing fanatics.

My solution: unfettered and equal freedom of speech for both sides. I know you reject it squarely. Whenever there is a shameful revelation on your part, like the new Abu Ghraib expose, you call for media responsibility and respect for privacy. You are, indeed, cold-bloodedly stifling the freedom.

The problem is not where you draw the line; the problem is you draw the line wherever and whenever you wish.


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