The Philadelphia Inquirer's story about the cartoon controversy included the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. The story noted,
This cartoon and others have inflamed many Muslims since they were first published as a group in a Danish newspaper last year and reprinted in Norway last month. Islam teaches that any portrayal of Muhammad is sacrilegious. Some Muslims accept respectful representations but object to the cartoons' portrayal of Muhammad as a terrorist or as a caricature of Muslims or Arabs.
The Inquirer intends no disrespect to the religious beliefs of any of its readers. But when a use of religious imagery that many find offensive becomes a major news story, we believe it is important for readers to be able to judge the content of the image for themselves, as with the 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix in urine. On that basis we reprint this cartoon.
This strikes me as quite right: People need to see the cartoons to really understand what the controversy is about. Nonetheless, the Inquirer was then picketed, and an "umbrella group for mosques in the Delaware Valley" is "calling for a boycott of The Inquirer until it issues a public apology to its Muslim readers."
Now here's my question: As I understand it, many Muslim critics of the cartoons are themselves distributing (and presumably reproducing) the cartoons, precisely because they believe it is important for Muslims to really understand what the controversy is about. Are they too committing blasphemy? Should they too face boycotts and protests?
One possible response is that actually expressing sentiments as if you endorse them (even if you're just presenting them as a bunch of works that you've commissioned, which is something of an endorsement) is different from quoting material. This might explain why some people would be upset by the original publication, but not by publications that reprint the cartoons to illustrate the controversy. Yet this would mean that the Inquirer's position is proper, just as the position of those Muslims who quote it in order to show other Muslims how they're supposedly being abused is proper.
Another possible response is that even if you quote the cartoons as part of a sincere attempt to report the news, that's still offensive and still blasphemy. Yet I take it this would cover republication in Muslim countries aimed at informing Muslims as well as republication in the U.S. aimed at informing Americans.
Another possibility is that some Muslims think such quotation of the cartoon is OK when done to inflame Muslim sensibilities, but not when done to inform non-Muslim readers. Yet that seems to be a position that's hard to defend, and I see no obligation (even a good manners obligation) for American papers to accede to it.
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