Comic riots

The Muslim riots protesting a series of editorial cartoons raise important issues for consumers of news and journalists around the world—and right here in Reno, Nevada, too. At press time, at least a dozen people have been killed in the riots, and the destruction of property is increasing almost hourly.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: According to New Zealand’s Dominion Post, a Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten (Jutland’s Post), published an article on Sept. 30 about self-censorship after Danish writer Kare Bluitgen was unable to find artists willing to illustrate his children’s book about Mohammed for fear of attacks by Muslims. The article included 12 cartoons that depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Islamic law prohibits making images of Mohammed. This law developed, according to some sources, as a method of preventing the prophet from becoming the object of worship.

None of this happened in a vacuum; Salman Rushdie received a death sentence from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a fatwa issued February 1989 because the Ayatollah believed Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, denigrated Islam. Even more recently, in November 2004, a radical Muslim murdered Theo Van Gogh because of the filmmaker’s criticism of Muslims in movies.

In the United States of America, tolerance of religious belief is a cornerstone of our society. That’s the very underpinning of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is not just about journalism: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

And so, when Christian religious fanatics wrote letters to this newspaper demanding, “[A]s a member of the media in a free society, you have a RESPONSIBILITY to publish the controversial cartoons on Islamofascism,” we members of the media in a free society have got to step back and say, “Not so fast.”

Yes, we do have the right to publish those cartoons. People’s curiosity has been piqued by the worldwide riots, so the cartoons have an unquestionable newsworthiness. People want to see what has sparked so much controversy. The curious may see the cartoons at

But with the right comes a certain amount of responsibility. Responsible members of the press don’t gratuitously offend members of any religious sect. Generally, in this predominately Christian country, that means not portraying the antecedent members of the religion in lascivious poses or worshipping at another religion’s altar or any of the thousands of ways that could be thought of as disrespectful to the religion—it’s the original political correctness.

For groups like RightMarch, which claim a Christian foundation, to demand that newspapers like ours publish pictures calculated and proven to offend members of a rival religion and to couch the publication as honoring the First Amendment is beneath contempt and a decidedly unChristian act.

We’ll continue to exercise our rights and responsibilities in ways we believe honor the many facets of the First Amendment. We’d suggest those who’d undermine it send their poisoned letters elsewhere.