For proof, look no further than the cartoonish violence generated by some cartoons.
Last fall, a Danish newspaper decided to print several political cartoons that showed illustrations of Mohammed, Islam’s prophet. It requested the drawings to make a point: Very few artists would be willing to draw Mohammed, since Islamic tradition supposedly prohibits doing so, and most artists were afraid they’d be targeted for violence.
Newspapers across Europe reprinted the cartoons in recent weeks, and the predictable violent protests erupted throughout Muslim countries. “Whoever defames our prophet should be executed,” marcher Ismail Hassan told a reporter in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Small wonder the cartoonists are now in hiding. “Some of them are really, really scared. They don’t want to see the pictures reprinted all over the world. We couldn’t stop it. We tried, but we couldn’t,” a spokesman told The Times of London.
The artists’ fear is understandable, but their prescription is the wrong one. It’s certainly tempting to withdraw the cartoons, apologize and never print them again. But in the name of tolerance, the cartoons ought to be republished in every newspaper in the world.
Some disagree. As State Department press officer Janelle Hironimus put it, “Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable.” And United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned, “Honestly, I do not understand why any newspaper will publish the cartoons today. It is insensitive. It is offensive. It is provocative and you see what has happened around the world.”
But that’s exactly why they should be reprinted. And reprinted. And reprinted again. Until the violence burns itself out. Otherwise, we’re telling the extremists that if they respond to what we say with violence, we’ll give in. We can’t afford that.
This isn’t about tolerance. Like the expression “celebrate diversity,” “be tolerant” has become a cliché. But as philosopher Thomas Mann observed, “Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.” Throwing rocks and threatening to kill cartoonists is evil, and we can’t tolerate that.