Is failure to publish Muhammad images a sign of cowardice?

Is failure to publish Muhammad images a sign of cowardice?

Organizers of the recent Muhammad cartoon exhibit and contest in Texas say media outlets are pretenders if they don’t publish his image. Is that true?

Curtis Culwell Center.
Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, site of recent ISIS attack. (Via Wikipedia)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 18, 2015 – The debate continues over the publishing of Muhammad cartoons in this country and our constitutionally protected right to free speech. Robert Tracinski had an interesting take in an article for The Federalist. “The non-subtle problem,” he wrote, “is the commentators who outright opposed the publishing of the cartoons and have openly given up on free speech.”

Tracinski’s perspective is twofold and his argument is well taken, but there is a rebuttal. First off, there is the basic question regarding the right to publish images of the Prophet Muhammad, which is forbidden in Islam. That, however, is an entirely different matter from promoting a cartoon festival whose primary purpose was to antagonize the Islamic belief that representations of the prophet are wrong.

Tracinski et. al., a group that now includes conservative commentator and author Mark Steyn, are of the opinion that, if you are afraid to publish Muhammad’s likeness, you are merely a pretender when it comes to the opposition of Islam. “Sometimes the only way to protect an endangered right is to exercise it. The only way to protest against a restriction on freedom of speech is to violate it,” says Tracinski.

It is difficult to argue against that premise, but there is a legitimate response. Why should any media outlet, either broadcast or print, intentionally subject themselves to the potential for a terrorist incident like the one at the Charlie Hebdo office just to prove a point? Even more to the point: why purposely taunt the beliefs of another religion simply to prove that you have the right to do so?

When a newspaper, magazine or broadcast organization makes the editorial decision NOT to publish offensive images in the belief that the decision will immunize them from a potential attack, such a decision could be considered as much a matter of conscience and security as it could be considered succumbing to political correctness. In fact, by NOT publishing such material, it might be said that media sources are confirming the reality of the danger that does exist by not reproducing the images.

Ultimately, the choice should be left up to individual media outlets. If an organization chooses not to publish given images, its decision should not be immediately regarded as cowardice or capitulation to the threats of Islamist radicals.

Tracinski counters this argument by saying, “The answer, for publishers, is to tell the Muslim fanatics that they can’t single out any one author, or artist, or publication. The answer is to show that we’re all united in defying the fanatics.”

That, too, is a valid point. But how long has it been since we gained a consensus about anything in this country, given the countless and confusing variables that are thrown into the mix for every subject?

“The subtler problem is with those who agree that the Mohammed cartoons are free speech and should be protected, and who want to express how much it makes them sad that someone would kill over a drawing—but who won’t even show us the drawings that the controversy is all about. They have decided that this is one controversy in which the public shouldn’t be encouraged to see the evidence and judge for themselves,” continues Tracinski.

Perhaps what is more important is to continue to establish true awareness of the cancer that is Islam. If Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication, chooses to publish images of Muhammad because it is their right to do so, then more power to them. The same is true for “Saturday Night Live” or the Washington Post or any other media source. But the choice should be theirs to publish or not to publish. That is what “free speech” is about.

On the other hand, creating a public exhibition that is purely designed with the intent of harassing another organization for its beliefs is not the same thing as establishing editorial philosophy.

Hundreds of thousands of so-called Muslims remain Muslims simply because they understand the threat of death if they convert to another religion or renounce Islam. Is that being cowardly or pragmatic?

Many of these people are the very Muslims we are asking to stand up against extremism. For them, it is not possible to do so because they are Muslims-in-name-only. They merely want to live their lives without conflict and they have no dog in the hunt other than the fact that they grew up as Muslims without knowing  the basic tenets of the faith.

The argument that displaying a few cartoon pictures is hardly as offensive as beheadings or stonings or mass executions is true. But there are other ways to demonstrate that without intentionally antagonizing the enemies. It merely provides them with the excuse, the justification and the validation they are seeking, at least in their own minds, by reducing the exercise our own rights to the lowest common denominator.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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