April 2, 2006
NYU's Cartoonish QuarantineBy Andrew G. Bostom
The late Richard Grenier's book The Marrakesh One—Two was a trenchant fictional account of a doomed effort to film the life of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Grenier (pp.3—4) characterized the filmmakers' basic predicament with biting wit:
This past Wednesday evening, March 29, 2006, I participated in a panel discussion of the Danish cartoon jihad where life imitated (Grenier's) art as depressing farce through the actions of the New York University Administration. The NYU Administration's toxic combination of moral cowardice and absurd, offensive 'reasoning' forced a Hobson's choice upon the courageous NYU Objectivist Club student organizers of this important forum: If the cartoons were to be displayed, they could either limit admission to the event to the 'NYU community' and exclude the over 150 off—campus guests who had registered to attend the event, or (as the students ultimately decided) to keep the event open to the (pre—registered) public, agree not to show the Danish cartoons. The FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) website has posted E—mails from NYU administrator Robert Butler on March 27 and 28 documenting this ultimatum.
And NYU spokesman John Beckman mimicked the pious wisdom of the Al Azhar 'doctors' of The Marrakesh One—Two with this astonishing pronouncement:
As a physician and epidemiologist having studied both the historical impact of past infectious plagues, such as small pox, and managed real patients suffering from cruel, deadly viral illnesses still extant today, it is hard to comprehend the warped mindset that makes a glib analogy between deliberate exposure to a highly contagious, lethal virus capable of causing indiscriminate, mass death, and viewing twelve rather tame cartoons which might offend the sensibilities of some Muslims.
Sans cartoons, and amidst intensive (full metal jacket/body scan) security—(Whose 'sensibilities' were offended by that state—of—siege requirement one might ask the NYU administrators? Were those same administrators aware that the unhinged, openly jihadist supporting British Muslim 'journalist' Yvonne Ridley had personally intervened to foment Muslim student unrest at NYU?)—the panel discussion did proceed. Excellent blow by blow accounts of this enlightening evening are available from bloggers who attended. (Atlas Shrugged has provided the most detailed assessment).
The NYU Objectivist Club student organizers, in cooperation with the Ayn Rand Institute, produced a highly informative program representing the eclectic views of attorney Greg Lukianoff, President of FIRE, and specialist in First Amendment Law; journalist and playwright Jonathan Leaf, who recently resigned as arts editor for the New York Press in protest over the paper's decision to withdraw the Danish cartoons from an issue dedicated to discussing them ; Peter Schwartz, editor and author of The Foreign Policy of Self—Interest, and me.
Addressing the symbolic empty jet black easels behind the panel, where a sampling of the cartoons would have been placed, Mr. Lukianoff noted their tragic absence, ruefully:
This tragedy—and the larger failure of mainstream print and other media to display the 12 images—was compounded by the bitter irony, that as Lukianoff observed, the Danish cartoons have become perhaps the most important and 'newsworthy' cartoons in history. Jonathan Leaf emphasized the difficulty of conveying the issues, both literally and figuratively, without displaying the cartoons. Leaf only became aware himself of the banality of the cartoons upon reviewing page proofs of the images for an issue of the New York Press that was never published, leading to his voluntary resignation. Peter Schwartz of the Ayn Rand Institute, made the perspicacious observation that the ultimate goal of those Muslims violently fulminating over the cartoons was to create an atmosphere of such intimidation that non—Muslim societies accepted self—censorship, recasting their fear in principled language as 'religious respectfulness' or 'tolerance.'
During my own presentation, and comments, I emphasized how images of Muhammad, both pious and critical, have been produced almost continuously, for a half millennium by Muslim and non—Muslim artisans alike. And in an age where jihadism is run amok, why not ridicule one of its primary sources, i.e., the sacralized violence of Muhammad himself, emphasized by none other than Sheik Yusuf Al—Qaradawi? The Sheikh is a leading authority in the Muslim world today—'spiritual' leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and head of The European Fatwa Council—lionized (by the doyen of academic apologists for Islam, John Esposito of Georgetown University) as a 'champion of reformist Islam'. During a June 19, 2001 broadcast of one his widely viewed Al—Jazeera religious programs, Qaradawi highlighted the unique characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad when compared to the prophets that preceded him, in a lecture entitled, 'The Prophet Muhammad as a Jihad Model' :
Qaradawi further acknowledged that Muhammad launched armed
Thus I concluded that the cartoons were also an important statement of long overdue criticism of the direct nexus between Muhammad's actions, this 'Ecce Homo Arabicus,' and jihadism, made triumphally by the most prominent contemporary Muslim clerics such as Qaradawi.
John Stuart Mill wrote a letter dated March 18, 1840, extolling the notion of a perfect openness of, '...discussion in all its modes — speaking, writing, and printing — in law' being in government the
The only way we arrive at truth is by open discussion, with full freedom of expression. Thus the NYU cartoon panel discussion, as designed originally by the student organizers, included, appropriately, the display of the actual cartoons in question. Ultimately, stifling such fora enables coercive powers—governments or religious orders for example—to impose any order they wish. Ayn Rand in the climactic speech of her epic novel, Atlas Shrugged, (cited in this brilliant essay by the intrepid philosopher and Muslim 'apostate' Irfan Khawaja) wrote:
Somehow the quintessence of these conceptions of Mill and Ayn Rand—don't ask me to explain precisely—it's more of a gestalt—are reiterated in another idiom by my favorite philosopher, Marx—i.e., Groucho Marx, who stated, 'Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.'
The pusillanimous administrators of NYU, whose cowardice was concealed poorly by hollow (and bizarre) utterances regarding concerns not to 'offend,' need to quarantine their personal fears and stop infecting the broader community with their own virulent strain of craven dhimmitude.
Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad.