Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Censorship or judgment call?

This is an overarching issue that is touched on by my two previous posts. Should inflammatory material be disseminated by responsible media. What is paramount, the right of the public to see the material, freedom of the press, the possibility of offending individuals or groups, or even the risk of endangering lives? This is a knotty and complex problem that unfortunately has no one-size-fits all solution.

It has been pointed out (alas, I don’t have a link), that in reporting on other controversies, such as some of the artwork that has been seen as defaming Christianity in recent years, American newspapers and news shows have often shown the works in question. I’m not sure to what extent the vicious anti-Semitic slanders found in some areas of Muslim culture have been reproduced by those who oppose it, but I am sure that sometimes these things have to be seen to illustrate just how bad they are. I would think that if I were a Muslim who was offended by the cartoons I would feel the same way, but of course if I were offended by any representation of Muhammed, positive or negative, I might consider reproduction of them to be a mulitiplication of the offense. This situation is a very difficult call.

A similar dilemma was presented in the Talmud class I was at today, although the dilemma itself wasn’t the question we were studying. If a person is on trial for blasphemy, must witnesses repeat the blasphemy in describing what happened? It seemed that in some cases they would substitute another, innocuous word for the name of God, but this didn’t seem to be true in all cases, since it was stated that upon hearing the report of the offense the judges (and presumably anyone else within hearing) were required to rend their garments. This implies to me, at least, that the witness was repeating the actual blasphemy.

In the case of the Abu Ghraib material, the (obviously self-serving) argument is made by the government that it should not be made public because it a) would violate the privacy of the victims and b) would inflame the Muslim world. This is absurd, since as many people have pointed out, it is the acts themselves which are inflammatory and degrading, not the photos, although certainly the photos may have made things worse. These things were known over there; the photos only prove it to the rest of the world. As long as there were no photos or videos, we could dismiss the allegations as propaganda, so it seems to me that the perpetrators who took them unintentionally did the country a service by forcing us to acknowledge that these things were done. I also believe that they should be made public so that the American people know what is being done in their name, and the incredible hypocrisy of an administration that denounces Saddam’s “torture chambers“ while doing its level best to replicate them.

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