“The institutionalised weakness of the West is epitomised by its
reaction to the riots over the cartoons,” says Miranda Devine in The
Sydney Morning Herald
– “the apologies from
governments, the sacking of an editor in France, the ready
acceptance by newspapers of a limit to free speech, despite the
fact the cartoons are so tame by the standards of Western satire.”
There’s been a “creeping acceptance of intolerance in our midst” in the
wake of the published cartoons, with rioting and uproar across the
Western world tolerated to some extent. Teaching young Muslims that
Australian and Western society is “evil is not a
recipe for cultural harmony.”

“This Government has crippled the concept of ministerial accountability,” says The Australian. During the AWB inquiries Alexander Downer has established a new political convention: that “ministers
are only responsible for the actions of the public servants they manage
when the news is good.” Public servants should be worried. But “for
as long as politicians suggest they are not
responsible for what their officials say, and while mandarins hide
behind ministers, there is no accountability in the way we are
governed.” And if nothing else, AWB has shown us how important
accountability is.

The crux of the current cartoon crisis is the fact that those “cartoons of the Prophet were so ill-conceived, so
ill-drawn and so unfunny” that they were offensive, says Alan Coren in The Times
(UK). But suppose they had been funny – not to us infidels, but to
Muslims. During my time spent editing cartoon magazine Punch, “I always
found the altruistic outrage as cheering as the egoistic support,” says
Coren – “it was as reassuring to find our readers sensitive to the
possibility of causing hurt as it was to learn that the unhurt relished
the inclusiveness the joke suggested.” But the joke is the thing: if
it’s actually funny then there’s scope for tolerance. “I would like to
believe that taking belief seriously gives believers the strength to
take it comically.”

When President Bush announced in his State of
the Union address that the US was addicted to oil, it contained a “higher
quotient of truth than his typical utterances,” says Joe Conason in The
New York Observer
. He rightly pointed out that the US and the world “cannot
risk the catastrophic climate change that may ensue if the world
continues to burn fossil fuels promiscuously.” But it’s coming a little
late. Bush is a “lifetime captive of the oil-industrial complex,” and like so many in the US right, the “melting
ice caps, mercury in our children and despoiled wilderness were the
symbols of our ‘progress.’ ” The US is finally facing the bloody price of its profligacy, but we’re still about 30 years behind.

The Japanese Right are making a bad habit out of offending some of their Asian
neighbours – the ones still reeling from Japan’s strict imperial rule,
says The Boston Globe. “The new Japanese nationalists peddle myths
about the benevolence of
Japan’s imperial past with the intent of reviving a spirit of
militarism,” and while many in the government argue their neighbours
don’t care or aren’t worried, they do and they are. There may be no
inevitable revived hostility between Japan and China, but to avoid it
the Japanese Right will have to “change their bellicose ways,” and
China’s communist leaders must refrain from whipping their own people into a nationalistic frenzy.

“Probably the most ubiquitous complaint against prizes like the Grammys
(and the Oscars and the Pulitzers) is that they sully the arts,
reducing them to sports-style contests with winners and losers,” says
Jody Rosen in Slate. “Pop music in particular has always been a
fiercely fought contact sport,” and despite what some cynical pundits
say, the Grammys and other awards like them have “plenty of
real-world meaning.” They speak to an artist’s competitive drive, and
help show that one of the “main functions of cultural prizes is to
uphold the myth of art’s transcendence” – even the Grammys.

The least bad outcome over the cartoon controversy will be a “painful compromise between the
universal right to free speech – the oxygen of all other freedoms – and
the need for voluntary self-restraint in such a mixed-up world,” says Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian.
“The danger at this critical moment is that we will see the beginning
of
a vicious spiral, with Muslim extremists blowing wind into the sails of
anti-Muslim extremists.” This debate is not a war, and it will not be
won or lost by the West; it’s an argument within Islam and inside
Europe. And “offering platforms of civilised free speech for European
Muslims to conduct their debate with each other” is the best answer we
can give to hate.

Worth reading Highly recommended

Peter Fray

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