U.S. State Department on the Cartoons Depicting Mohammed:

Reuters reports:

Washington on Friday condemned caricatures in European newspapers of the Prophet Mohammad, siding with Muslims who are outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion. . . .

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question. "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."

"We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices," he added. . . .

A longer version also includes this quote:

"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

A Reason Online piece links to the shorter version, and condemns it as "a craven condemnation of an affair that is none of their business."

I'm glad to say, though, that the State Department response was a good deal more assertively pro-free-speech than the Reuters account suggests. I couldn't find the Kurtis Cooper statement, but here's the relevant excerpt from the Sean McCormack press briefing:

QUESTION: Yes? Can you say anything about a U.S. response or a U.S. reaction to this uproar in Europe over the Prophet Muhammad pictures? Do you have any reaction to it? Are you concerned that the violence is going to spread and make everything just --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen any — first of all, this is matter of fact. I haven't seen it. I have seen a lot of protests. I've seen a great deal of distress expressed by Muslims across the globe. The Muslims around the world have expressed the fact that they are outraged and that they take great offense at the images that were printed in the Danish newspaper, as well as in other newspapers around the world.

Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy — democracies around the world — and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.

We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may — like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.

Sounds to me like McCormack, at least, is repeatedly stressing that the cartoons ought to be protected from governmental punishment, but is simply exercising the government's right to speak out against them. Naturally, the Reuters story could only quote a small part of the comments, but it's unfortunate that the quoted excerpt seemed to understate the State Department's expressions of support for free speech.

breen (mail):
As an academic exercise, what the State Department said is wholly correct. As the main organ of diplomacy, though, I think they should know when it is not necessary to elaborate the nuances of an argument.
2.3.2006 7:24pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Porky Pig and Miss Piggy are offensive to muslims also, don't forget to condemn them.
2.3.2006 8:50pm
So is it fair to say that the United States government officially disapproves of "Piss Christ"? And condemns the governments (state and local museums) that have displayed this sort of art? Or do you have to riot before the State Department cares about your opinion?
2.3.2006 8:56pm
jamal (mail) (www):
when it comes to free speech, in an ideal world, discretion should be excercised, particularly when the impact of publications can by such that it causes disunity within society.
2.3.2006 9:00pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
You would expect a more robust defence of freedom of expression from the State Department. Although my father, z"l, always said that they were a bunch of anti-Semites in the hip-pockets of the Arabs.
2.3.2006 9:39pm
Seems like the right response to me, since we're talking about caricatures which carry the unmistakeable message that all muslims are terrorists. Is the State Department supposed to agree? Why is it a less "robust" defense of free speech to say the U.S. doesn't endorse the message? That's not a nuance at all.
2.3.2006 10:11pm
Some Guy (mail):
Sheesh. Thank God these State Department folks weren't around in 1944. I can just picture it now, some clown from State pointing to that propaganda poster showing the hooded Dutch resistance guy before he was shot:

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the honor of the noble German people," said State Department spokesman John Smithy, III. "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable."
2.3.2006 11:15pm
Fishbane (mail):
Some guy's comparison to WWII should become interesting, the next time any GWOT supporter says this is *just like* other massive challenges.

'Cause damn, I know I feel just like this is World War II. I'm porposefully not including consideration here.
2.3.2006 11:37pm
Pendulum (mail):
Somewhat off topic, I just wanted to mention that the consequences of the "boycott" will inevitably fall on the Muslim world. Companies formerly willing to invest in Muslim countries - or even considering expanding shipping to Muslim regions - will take one look at this behavior, and realize that their Dollars, Euro, and Yen are better spent in other emerging markets. After all, what business can operate under the threat that sales drop to nil if some newspaper in your country prints an offensive column.

Naturally, this will serve to depress quality of life in the Muslim world.
2.4.2006 12:10am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I actually thought the "What Would Muhammed Drive?" cartoon funnier, the one that depicted Muhammed driving a Ryder rental truck full of explosives.
2.4.2006 8:34am
Anton Stravinsky:
Suppose for the moment that the NY Times had a run a pornographic piece in its Sunday Magazine depicting Jesus and the Apostles in debauchery.

No one would question its admissibility as free speech. However, Christians would be an uproar, and rightfully so, over its publication in a newspaper such as the NY Times. It's a question of judgment and taste, not free speech. Images of Mohammad are sacrilege and viscerally felt by Moslems as worse than pornography.
2.4.2006 10:05am
Gary McGath (www):
McCormack's comments don't include the words pronouncing the cartoons "unacceptable," so however reasonable they are, they're a separate issue and don't mitigate the State Department's statement.

A US government agency that talks about any publication in terms of "acceptability," particularly when people are already threatening violence against that publication, is throwing its weight in favor of censorship. When it does this with a foreign publication, it's engaging in international bullying. There could be exceptions for threats or willful deception, but those don't apply here.
2.4.2006 10:26am
MDJD2B (mail):
Many of the issues inthe Danes v. Moslems controversy have been congounded in farious posts in the blogosphere. I believe they are:

1. As a moral or esthetic matter, should respectable people publish materia that, while not inciting, are disrespectful towards religious beliefs not their own-- disrespectful by criteria that would be reasonable to disinterested people not wihin that religious tradition. (NO)

2. Should there be laws against such publication? (N, at least not here)

3. Are members of a religious tradition privileged to define the bounds of respect toward their own tradition, e.g., by proscribing pictoral representation of their revered figures-- or, hypotheticaly, py proscribing any criticism ot their doctrines? (NO. An example would be that observant Jews do not print he name of the Deity, as in preferring to write "G-d" rather than "God." Thier anger at me for writing "God" in full would be analogous to Islamic anger at pictoral representations of Mohammed that are nor otherwise derogatory-- as some of these cartoona certainly were.)

4. What is the appropriateness of boycotts as a means of protest? (Always appropriate if someone or their friends are doing something you don't like, but please don't torch the Danish Embassy. But if the Danes change their speech laws in response to a boycott, then they are doing something despicable.)
2.4.2006 10:31am
"A US government agency that talks about any publication in terms of "acceptability," particularly when people are already threatening violence against that publication, is throwing its weight in favor of censorship."

This is completely absurd. Anyone that doesn't understand the difference between legally allowable speech and morally acceptable speech doesn't have a very good understanding of what free speech means. Holocaust denial, for instance, is an example of morally unacceptable speech that should be legal (though it's not in much of Europe). Nobody would demand that news outlets re-print holocaust denial as a way of defending free speech. Defending the rights of offensive speech while distancing oneself from it's contents is what free speech is all about. I find it vile that this is now construed as appeasement.
2.4.2006 10:34am
tefta (mail):
... but it's unfortunate that the quoted excerpt ... Rather than unfortunate, I'd say it was a deliberate attempt to spin 180 degrees.
2.4.2006 10:39am
j.pickens (mail):
The comment about economic damage to Muslim countries because of non-investment and disinvestment is very true. To a large extent, this economic deficit is already present. Look at Lebanon, for instance. If it were stable and perceived by the West as a "nice place", it would probably triple its GNP. It could once again be the "Paris of the Middle East".
As an example, New York City, that bastion of economic enterprise. Guess what its largest industry is? Tourism. That's right, the desire of people from all over the world to visit and spend money in NYC makes tourism its biggest revenue producer.
Now look at Bali. Used to be a big tourism destination.
Not any more.
2.4.2006 1:15pm
I have a "nuanced" view of this myself. Some of the cartoons are offensive and some are not.

Most of the cartoons did not show anything offensive. They were just pictures of Mohammed. According to the Moslem religion, it is sacrilege to draw him. Nevertheless I don't think everyone in the world should feel bound by those strictures. Many Jews consider it sacrilege to write the word God and will instead write G-d. Yet non-Jews do not and should not feel bound by their beliefs.

Some of the other cartoons were offensive by picturing Mohammed, a symbol of Islam, as being dedicated to violence. These are analogous to anti-Semitic cartoons depicting Jews in disreputable ways. Or imagine a cartoon commenting on the Catholic priest abuse scandal by depicting Jesus laughingly buggering a little boy. These kinds of depictions cross the line and are justifiably to be criticized.

Unfortunately, the Danish cartoons contained examples of both kinds. Only three or so of the dozen cartoons were genuinely offensive. The remainder were drawn just to challenge the prohibition against depicting Mohammed, and as I argued above this is a valid point.

So there's some nuance for you. Why do you suppose you have never read anyone drawing these seemingly-obvious distinctions?
2.4.2006 2:47pm
Bradford (mail):
I will point out that the outrage expressed on this board for the State Department is clearly borne of ignorance. Make no mistake that with Karen Hughes running Public Diplomacy at State, any statement that comes out regarding these cartoons is cleared at the highest level. So while it may help you sleep at night to think that the "pinkos" (and I believe someone referred to them as "anti-semites)at State are cozying up to Muslim extremists, don't for a second think that this admittedly muddled statement didn't come from the administration.
2.5.2006 2:37pm
Philip Prescott (mail):
Our forefathers adopted a system of respect for the One Who Is Love, no matter what sort of religious-fascist fairy tail an individual may have been brainwashed into believing. Dogmatic socialist fascism was correctly regarded for what it was and will always be, and complete seperation of Religious Fascist socialism from the political affairs of state became the new paradigm for Nations offering individuals freedom of and from religious fascism was enthroned.

This system of governance free from hateful, violent and destructive tyranny of religious fascism is called Republican Liberty.

If someone wants to draw honestly derisive cartoons of these imaginary, fictional fascist tribal folk heroes, more power to them. Mankind has more than enough real, living and breathing hateful religious fascist and mercantile tyrants to deal with, and the self-appointed pious brokers of biased hateful and destructive fascist 'religiousity' are high on those lists
2.6.2006 12:31pm