John Leo

The cartoon controversy is an ugly one-Muslim boycotts of Danish goods, death threats against publications that ran the cartoon and against a number of Christians and westerners in Arab countries. The editor of the Danish newspaper issued an apology, and the managing editor of a French paper that ran the images was fired.

My civility argument, I think, is weakened by two problems. First, it is one thing to call for civility and restraint in a nation that has a First Amendment and lots of people willing to defend it. It is something else in Europe where civility often has the power of the state behind it, i.e. hate speech laws.  Some European nations are as eager to punish speech as any American university. In France charges against Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for anti-Muslim prose were dropped. In June, she is scheduled to go on trial in Italy on similar charges. A Protestant minister in Sweden was convicted of making anti-homosexual remarks in church. He was unexpectedly cleared by the Swedish Supreme Court.

Second, pressure to avoid publishing things that offend Muslims has been rising, particularly when death threats are made or expected. Fallaci, the target of many such threats, is said to be in hiding in New York. Nobody knows how many death threats have arisen from the cartoon dispute. Under the circumstances, civility might emerge as less important than standing up now to the danger of censorship through fear.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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