Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Preventing New Cartoon Crisis"

Robert O. Freedman, Preventing New Cartoon Crisis, (Baltimore) Jewish Times (5 May 2006).

This short op-ed contains perhaps the most surprising and nearsighted response to the Danish Cartoon Controversy I've seen in the Western press. According to Freedman, "to prevent a future crisis of this type from erupting, what is needed is a 'code of conduct' for the newspapers and other media in both the Western and Muslim worlds. All governments must agree that the negative depiction of religion is 'out of bounds,' and penalties should be imposed on those who violate the code of conduct." In order to distinguish between "legitimate criticism" and "negative depiction of . . . religion", Freedman then proposes "the creation of an International Religious Court, composed of Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergymen . . . . Anyone feeling that his or her religion was insulted could appeal to the International Religious Court for a ruling on the matter, and the court would then determine whether a penalty should be invoked." Freedman then goes on to explain that the government with authority over the wrongdoer would have the responsibility to carry out the International Religious Court's punishment.

Although Freedman acknowledges the difficulty in finding a single Christian, Jew, and Muslim to represent the vast diversity within these particular religions on such a court, he overlooks several obvious problems. What about all the other religions in the world--wouldn't they deserve representation? What about non-religious individuals? How would such a court, composed purely of clergymen, reconcile international human rights guarantees of freedom of speech with the alleged "negative depiction of religion"? How could domestic nation states implement their findings without running afoul of domestic constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech? Is "negative depiction of religion" an intelligible and worthy standard to begin with? Although Freedman's desire to prevent another controversy is understandable, the problems with this proposal multiply the more one thinks about it.

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