Admit it: You're afraidREV. RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
'I'm afraid, but fine, so deal with it," said Ezra Levant, publisher of the Western Standard, of his decision to publish the world's most famous cartoons. "Get security or just be careful. But I'm not so afraid that I'm going to sell out our heritage of freedom."
So what is he afraid of? He's afraid of violence.
Is that far-fetched? In Canada, there has been no violence. But in other parts of the world, American fast food outlets, Norwegian cellphone companies and others with no relation to the cartoons have been attacked, along with Danish government targets.
Journalists don't like to concede that fear of reprisals may influence their judgment, but it's a reality and it is better to be honest about it. It is unbecoming for newspapers, television networks and bookstores to dissemble with their audience.
Doug Kelly, the Post's editor-in-chief, told me flatly that his decision not to publish the cartoons to date was an editorial one, made on principle, not from fear of reprisals. He added that he would not publish an offensive image of Jesus in similar circumstances.
Given the Post's track record, that's credible. But what about other Canadian media, which have carried material offensive to, say, Christian sensibilities? Take, for example, Tony Burman, editor in chief of CBC news:
"We felt that we could easily describe the drawings in simple and clear English without actually showing them," he wrote. "This was intended, without embarrassment, as an act of respect not only for Islam but for all religions."
Is that plausible? CBC is not shy about news reports which show swastikas painted on Jewish institutions, or blasphemous "art" using Christian images. They cover those stories without asking, as Mr. Burman does, "Why should we insult and upset an important part of our audience for absolutely no public value? … Where do we draw the line?"
If fear of reprisals is at work, let's be honest about it.
Air Canada, which is in the business of safely flying airplanes, decided to pass on carrying this issue of the Western Standard. Likely they decided the added risk would be too costly. And costly it is, and not just for airlines. Newspapers and television networks have large staffs, publicly accessible buildings, expensive printing plants and studios — the cost of upgrading security on all those facilities would be staggering for even a few weeks. It is not ignoble to take security considerations into account. It is ignoble to dress security concerns up as editorial principles.
Indigo/Chapters bookstores have decided not to carry this issue of the Western Standard. Of course, you can still order a copy of The Satanic Verses should you ask. Or if your taste in blasphemous fantasy runs to the anti-Catholic instead, you might pick up The DaVinci Code, prominently displayed with related spin-offs. So the claim that Indigo does not want to offend its customers is patently implausible. More likely they are afraid for the security of their stores and their staff. There is no shame in saying so.
No one wants to concede that the terrorists win, or that the mob rules. But they do, because they make us afraid. The terrorists have already won a small victory when we disrobe to get on airplanes, or leave our knapsacks outside football stadiums. The rampaging mobs may have won another victory this month, if indeed news organizations decided to tell-and-not-show out of fear of reprisals. That's an important part of this story, and it should be told.
Ezra's afraid, but he is not the only one.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Admit it: You're afraid." National Post, (Canada) February 16, 2006.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
© 2006 National Post
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.