Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Just because it is a right, doesn't make it right...

As I mentioned in my last blog piece, the Danish newspaper; Jyllands Posten got into a bit of hot water recently for printing twelve caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. As I mentioned, this is seen as a sacrilege by Muslims. Criticism and condemnation poured in to Denmark from around the Islamic world as well as from the Islamic community in Denmark urging the Danish government to punish the newspaper. The Prime Minister, Anders Fogh-Rasmussen said flatly that he would not act because Denmark has a free and independent press (unlike many of the nations where the outcry came from).

It is totally understandable that the Prime Minister of Denmark took this stance. He should not and could not have taken action for this. As such, the Danish government is in the clear. Jyllands Posten, on the other hand, is not. Just because you can print whatever you choose to deem news worthy, does not mean that you should. These caricatures were an insult to Muslims, many of whom are Danish citizens.

Certainly the cornerstone of an enlightened and free society is free press and the ability to express opposing view points on many issues. From a purely legal stand point, Jyllands Posten did nothing wrong. From an ethical perspective, what Jyllands Posten did was reprehensible. It is not okay to insult a people of a particular religious faith simply because it is legal. The editorial board at the newspaper needs to use better judgment in the future. Hurt feelings are not easily repaired and discretion must be used. Faith is the single defining characteristic of many people’s personalities. That may be a strange and foreign concept to many Danes and people in the wider (readers will know I hate this term, but for lack of something better) “western world” but that does not excuse the affront.

As our societies continue to liberalize and become more accepting of people with alternatives lifestyles we must make sure that we continue to be equally respectful of those who wish to live traditional lifestyles as well.

Hold the Turkey, pass the mashed potatoes!

Nobody thinks that Turkish membership in the European Union would send a more positive message to the Islamic world then I. To have an Islamic nation join the greatest multi-national achievement of mutual respect for liberal democratic principles in the history of the world would send a clear message that Islam and the principles of a free and enlightened society are not incompatible.

That is all really good sentiment. I just have to point out one little wrinkle in this grand plan; Turkey does not embrace the values espoused by the European Union. There is clearly a cultural difference between Europe and Turkey, but that should not be a barrier. There are cultural differences between Portugal and Finland too, but both Finland and Portugal embrace the fundamental belief that people are endowed with basic human rights.

I offer as evidence the recent events that occurred in Denmark when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a joint press conference with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh-Rasmussen when he spotted a Kurdish journalist from the RojTV network. The Turks maintain that RojTV has ties Kurdish separatist groups that employ terrorist techniques in their struggle.

I can certainly understand the Turkish government’s desire to stamp out terrorism, but many human rights groups are alarmed with the repressive circumstances that Kurds in Turkey exist under.

This incident occurred shortly after Erdogan chastised the Danish Prime Minister for not punishing the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten which had published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. For those that don’t know, caricaturizing the prophet is considered sacrilegious by Muslims. Fogh-Rasmussen responded simply by saying that if the Turkish government thought that it was within his power to punish the newspaper that had misunderstood the free press principles that Danes (and more over, Europeans) cherish.

There was a paid advertising insert in the newest issue of Foreign Policy magazine obviously promoting all of the progress that Turkey has made in an effort to join the economic big boys club that is the European Union. I applaud them for all their progress, but they are not there yet. They have not, as a society, grasped that freedom, liberty, and justice are more than just marketing ploys.

Some may point out that minorities in Europe subsist under some pretty harsh circumstances as well, to which I reply; yes, absolutely they do, but there is simply no comparison. Turkey may one day be ready to join the European Union, but that day has not yet come. When they show the respect for all voices, even voices of dissent, then the dialogue towards their integration into Europe can begin. Not before.