Defend Freedom of Speech…Everywhere

I have said it before, and I will, unfortunately, have to say it again: Leave the cartoonists alone! Okay, so maybe it’s not cartoonists this time, but it’s all the same. All together now: Leave the editors alone!

Jihad Al-Momani, the editor of the Jordanian daily Al-Shihane has been fired for reprinting one of the infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons in the February 2nd issue of his newspaper, along with an editorial in which he asked: “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?” Al-Momani was arrested on February 4th, while King Abdullah was on an official visit to the United States. He was released without bail, the following day. He is now awaiting trial.

Also in Jordan, editor Hashim Al-Khalida reprinted and denounced the cartoons in Al-Mihwar. He has now run into trouble. What’s interesting is that Al-Khalida reprinted the cartoons back in November, and only now has he been charged with “harming religious feelings.” Like Al-Momani, Al-Khalida is now awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, in Morocco, Annahar Al-Maghribiya reprinted the most offensive of the twelve cartoons, the one in which the Prophet is portrayed with a bomb in his turban, along with a caption attributing the drawing to Jyllands-Posten. The editor, Abdelhakim Badie, was asked to come to the police station to answer questions. He, too, expressed surprise, considering he had published two of the cartoons, without hitch, on October 20. It’s unclear yet whether Badie will be charged with a crime.

The latest arrests come from Algeria and Yemen. Kahel Bousaad of Errisala and Berkane Bouderbala of Iqraa are facing charges today in Algiers for reprinting the cartoons, even though the drawings were deliberately “fogged,” and were accompanied by articles denouncing them. Mohammad al-Asaadi, the editor of the English-language Yemen Observer, and Akram Sabra and Yehiya al-Abed of al-Hurriya weekly newspaper have all been arrested; a warrant has been issued against a fourth editor, Kamal al-Aalafi of al-Rai al-Aam.

Ironies abound, of course. President Bush, who was so keen on offering Denmark support over freedom of speech, didn’t bring up the case of Al-Momani or Al-Khalidi during King Abdullah’s visit. Freedom of speech, in this case, is secondary to Jordanian-American relations in the so-called war on terror. And France-Soir, La Stampa, Die Welt, and all those other European newspapers who were so keen on putting the cartoons on the front page in the name of freedom of speech might do well to offer front-page support to the Arab editors who face charges for the same decision. Similarly, let’s not forget that, despite the offense that Arab readers must surely have felt at seeing the cartoons in the local press, the fraction of them that ended up protesting on the street did so only at the behest of the Islamist parties, which were eager to pose themselves as the defenders of Islamic honor and identity against an imperial West. Finally, it’s also quite clear that the Moroccan and Jordanian governments had no problem with freedom of expression until the right-wing religious parties fell on the cartoons like flies on, um, a Danish.

Related:
Caricatures: Clash of Civilizations, Clash of Ignorance
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Fire: Meet Dry Gunpowder
Cartoon Shmartoon

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