One of the more interesting aspects of the controversy about Muslim cartoons is the decision of the vast majority of news outlets here in the States not to publish them.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the few outlets to have published the images. It did so on Saturday. The paper was picketed today by a group of Muslims in response. In any case, the Inquirer defended its decision:
The Inquirer’s senior editors decided at Friday’s afternoon news meeting to publish the most controversial image. It is being published “discreetly” with a note explaining the rationale, said Amanda Bennett, The Inquirer’s editor.
“This is the kind of work that newspapers are in business to do,” Bennett said. “We’re running this in order to give people a perspective of what the controversy’s about, not to titillate, and we have done that with a whole wide range of images throughout our history,” she said.
Bennett compared it to decisions in the past to publish photographs of the bodies of burned Americans hung from a bridge in Iraq, as well as the 1989 photography of an artwork by Andres Serrano showing a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine.
“You run it because there’s a news reason to run it,” Bennett said. “The controversy does not appear to have died down. It’s still a news issue.”
It’s nice to see this debate taking place. And even nicer to see it taking place in relative calm. It also needs noting that many reporters (including me) have repeated the “fact” that Islam prevents any depiction of Muhammad. And a few other folks have noted that might not be the case, given the myriad depictions of Muhammad in art museums around the world, such as the Persian example above. A frieze on the north wall of the Supreme Court also shows Muhammad. He’s the one in the middle in the image below. Go here for more examples.
Reporters really need to start explaining some basic information in this story. It’s getting incredibly frustrating. There are huge groups of Muslims responding to this story in widly divergent ways. Look at the restraint with which American Muslims have responded. Compare that, even, with the extremely violent language used in protests in London this weekend. And then compare those with the property damage, extreme violence, kidnapping and murder occurring in the Middle East and Asia. Is this not a story worth looking into? Charles Moore raises both of these points in the Daily Telegraph:
There is no reason to doubt that Muslims worry very much about depictions of Mohammed. Like many, chiefly Protestant, Christians, they fear idolatry. But, as I write, I have beside me a learned book about Islamic art and architecture which shows numerous Muslim paintings from Turkey, Persia, Arabia and so on. These depict the Prophet preaching, having visions, being fed by his wet nurse, going on his Night-Journey to heaven, etc. The truth is that in Islam, as in Christianity, not everyone agrees about what is permissible.
Some of these depictions are in Western museums. What will the authorities do if the puritan factions within Islam start calling for them to be removed from display (this call has been made, by the way, about a medieval Christian depiction of the Prophet in Bologna)? Will their feeling of “offence” outweigh the rights of everyone else?
Why are reporters and editors so reticent to discuss these differences in Islam? It seems like it would be so newsworthy. It seems like opinion pieces and blogs offer the best news and analysis, which doesn’t bode well for mainstream media.