There are a few principles that should be emphasized while considering the ongoing "Muslim cartoons" furor.
- The Western media has an absolute legal right to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, providing they do not incite hatred.
- The Western media is now awash with these images.
- Those who publish these images now are fully aware that there is no genuine legal restriction on this right. They are defying no formal laws on freedom of expression, only informal laws governing social behavior.
- Just because it’s wrong for Muslims to threaten death and riot over these cartoons doesn’t mean that it is a virtue to publish them. Only a child thinks that way.
- Ezra Levant is an ass, always has been ass, and always will be an ass.
Consider: For over sixty years, the music of Richard Wagner was not heard in Israel. Wagner, a notorious anti-Semite whose music was embraced by Hitler and the Nazi Party, was considered anathema in a Jewish state with a significant population of Holocaust survivors. There was no "ban" on Wagner’s music — only a social consensus that performing such music was insensitive.
Performers who wished to break that social contract could expect to suffer abuse. When the Israel Philharmonic tried to break the taboo in 1981, a Holocaust survivor stormed the stage in protest and the concert had to be stopped. Daniel Barenboim managed the feat in 2001 only by deceiving organizers of the Israel Festival and conducting an unadvertised Wagner encore.
Those who flout such taboos like to pose as fierce and principled defenders of freedom of expression. They are nothing of the sort.
As Richard Taruskin observed in the New York Times five years ago, such people "[fail] to distinguish between voluntary abstinence out of consideration for people’s feelings and a mandated imposition on people’s rights…. Censorship is always deplorable, but the exercise of forbearance can be noble. Not to be able to distinguish the noble from the deplorable is morally obtuse."
Of course, expecting Ezra Levant to behave nobly is like expecting a donkey to sing "Nessun dorma." We have the right to behave like children — for our entire lives, if we so wish. Just don’t expect to be congratulated for it.
A note: Taruskin’s article, "Music’s Dangers and the Case for Control," is not available anymore on the Times’ website. I was able to find a copy of it here. It is one of the finest essays of the immediate post-9/11 period.