While the American media spent this week trying to figure out the difference between buckshot and birdshot, the violence over the Mohammad cartoons continued in the Middle East and Pakistan. Most major news outlets have taken a position best described as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œthe violence is bad, the cartoons are bad.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? Such a stance is incredibly misleading as it makes the radical Islamists and the cartoons seem equally egregious.
In reality, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the radical Muslims that are to blame and the Imams that fanned the flames by disseminating fake cartoons far worse than the real ones originally published in Denmark. Amba at Ambivablog has it right when she says:
This is not a “clash of civilizations,” it’s a calculated and scandalously successful offensive by radical Islamists in their war on the West. And the West has played right into their hands. The only fault of the Danish cartoonists was providing a weak pretext for this disinformation campaign, but if it hadn’t been that it would have been something else. The campaign’s success depends both on the West’s desire to respect others’ legitimate sensitivities (in itself not a bad thing, within reason), and on the “Arab street’s” penchant to believe whatever emotion dictates.
These are clever, clever devils, these Islamists, and so very dangerous. They have no scruples about inciting mobs by any means necessary, and they are bent on seizing power and getting nukes.
This view is, by its nature, a lot more complex than the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œviolence bad, cartoons badÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? message heard from much of the American media. Sometimes I think the media confuse balance with giving equal weight to both sidesÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ version of the truth. Trus, sometimes the truth is hard to uncover and I sympathize with the many good journalists who work hard to separate fact from spin. But this cartoon row is not one of those cases where the truth is all that hard to find.
The radical Islamists are very, very wrong. And itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s not being unbalanced to say so in a news report. The truth never compromises objectivity. That only happens when you believe there are somehow multiple and equally valid truths.
But maybe the problem is that some journalists simply donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t believe in a universal truth. Such an instance is described and debated by Callimachus at Done With Mirrors where he summarizes one newswomanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s view of things as:
Don’t criticize Muhammad. Don’t criticize Islam. Don’t criticize anyone except the President of the United States. Only Bushco is a fair target. Otherwise, it’s not “free speech,” it’s “hate speech.
If this really is a prevalent attitude in American newsrooms, as Callimachus seems to suggest, we have a serious problem with the American media. Look, I donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t want to be one of those snarky bloggers always bashing the media. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve said before and IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll say again that, on the whole, the American media does an excellent job. But there are failings. The impulse that led to hyperventilation over CheneyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s hunting accident is an annoying but generally harmless failing. But the inability to accurately depict the radical Islamist threat is a major failing.
We simply cannot pretend that the radical IslamistsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ complaints are reasonable or that their violent reactions are in the least bit justified. And we cannot pretend our culture deserves equal or even a significant minority of the blame for the violence and hate spewing from the radical Islamists. We have to get a better grip on the situation and the media is going to have to help us do that.