Can't think of a cutesy title...
When writing truth is a crime
It was bad enough when, one after another, major American and Western European news organizations capitulated to violent Islamic extremists and refused to let their readers or viewers see any of the cartoons depicting Muhammad that have triggered what amounts to a pogrom against Danes and other Westerners across the Muslim world. This craven abrogation of the standards by which news judgments normally are made was matched by the cringing, minor-key response that passed for diplomacy on the part of Washington and most of the European governments.
The Western news media's stampede for safety has created quite a draft, and left to swing in the wind are the courageous Arab journalists who printed some of the cartoons in connection with stories and editorials denouncing the violence.
In Yemen, three journalists already are in jail and a fourth is a fugitive. A local imam says, "The government must execute them." Their crime? Writing editorials that urged fellow Muslims to avoid violence and to accept an apology from the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, which first published the cartoons.
Eleven journalists facing prison, perhaps death, for the crime of publishing sense and where are the outraged editorials in American and European newspapers? Where are the letter-writing campaigns and protests on their behalf from their colleagues in the United States?
This indifferent silence is all of a piece with the way in which the major Western news organizations have treated the ongoing story of the Iraq war's appalling toll on the journalists trying to inform the world about what's going on there. That's not to argue that the killing of reporters or cameramen is any more lamentable than the deaths of Iraqi civilians or the coalition's servicemen and women. Still, as advocates for — and beneficiaries of — a free press, Western news organizations ought to take some responsibility for defending the principle that makes their service to society possible.
According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, 82 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the American-lead invasion began three years ago. Of all the foreign news organizations working there, al-Arabiya has suffered the heaviest losses. Six members of its staff have been murdered.
But the news organization that has suffered the heaviest losses isn't based in the Gulf, London or New York. Its headquarters is in — of all places — Baghdad. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, 10 employees of al-Iraqiya television have been murdered.
Just imagine what would be happening on this country's editorial pages and television stations if 10 correspondents from the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times or ABC or Fox News had been killed?
Similarly, of the 38 journalists kidnapped in Iraq since the war began, five were killed. Four were Iraqis and one was Italian. Every editorial page editor in America can tell you about Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter currently being held by insurgents somewhere in Iraq. Next time you meet one of these people, ask them to name one of the Iraqis who were murdered in similar circumstances.
Arab journalists and their counterparts throughout the Muslim world willing to speak up at all deserve the full measure of their Western colleagues' support not only because they are defending one of the fundamental principles that make a civil society possible, but also — and most important — because they are agents of transformative hope.
The jihadis, who have more to fear from hope than they do from all our weapons, know this, and so they kill independent Muslim journalists. The corrupt and sclerotic regimes in power across the Middle East who fear change more than hell know this, so they throw independent editors and reporters into prison.
Western journalism's institutional silence in the face of these outrages is neither wise nor prudent. It is cowardly and, ultimately, self-destructive.