Monday, February 06, 2006

The saga of the Cartoons

In reply to the continuing controversy of the publishing of various cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depict the Prophet Muhammad, the Vatican issued yesterday a statement. has the translation.

In response to several requests on the Holy See's position vis-à-vis recent offensive representations of the religious sentiments of individuals and entire communities, the Vatican press office can state:

1. The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously for any religion.

2. In addition, coexistence calls for a climate of mutual respect to favor peace among men and nations. Moreover, these forms of exasperated criticism or derision of others manifest a lack of human sensitivity and may constitute in some cases an inadmissible provocation. A reading of history shows that wounds that exist in the life of peoples are not cured this way.

3. However, it must be said immediately that the offenses caused by an individual or an organ of the press cannot be imputed to the public institutions of the corresponding country, whose authorities might and should intervene eventually according to the principles of national legislation. Therefore, violent actions of protest are equally deplorable. Reaction in the face of offense cannot fail the true spirit of all religion. Real or verbal intolerance, no matter where it comes from, as action or reaction, is always a serious threat to peace.

[Translation by ZENIT]

To be honest, I am conflicted over this statement. The first point is a nice ideal and the second point is a true statement. Yet the implication of both in the Western civilization of our times is that political correctness comes out ahead of freedom of speech.

The third point most of all is what I see as being really not a very good statement. Just yesterday, I read about Tony Blair's defeat in trying to pass a religious hate law. Hate speech is a subjective thing. One person's graphical critique of Jihadist influence in Islam is another person's blasphemy. Does the second person's right to not have his sensibilities offended trump the first person's right to make a statement? In fact, is there even really a right to not having one's sensibilities offended?

Basically, the statement calls for national legislatures to clamp down on free speech in the name of not hurting anyone's feelings while at the same time saying that printing cartoons is equal to torching embassies. And I thought we as a Church were trying to get away from moral relativism.

I also wish to commend the large number of moderate Muslims around the world who have come out to vigorously condemn the violent protests. Hopefully they'll take this lesson to heart and realize that due to their relative silence over the last five years, they've let themselves be marginalized by the extremists and that they need to come out and reclaim their place in their religion.

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