Buschirac?: The Presidents Share Words

Posted by John Rosenthal

American government officials continue to sound surprisingly like their French colleagues in their responses to the Muhammad cartoons controversy. (See my earlier post "Freedom, But…" for some prior examples.) And now this astonishing resemblance concerns not only low-level press officers of the State Department, but the President himself. President Bush’s comments at his press conference this morning with Jordan’s King Abdullah are virtually indistinguishable from the line supposed to have been laid down by his French counterpart during a meeting also today with the members of the French government.


Thus Mr. Bush:

…we believe in a free press. We also recognize that with freedom comes responsibilities. With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others.


And thus Mr. Chirac, as related by French government spokesmen Jean-François Copé:

Everything that could hurt the sentiments of others should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be used with a sense of responsibility. [sources: Le Figaro, Le Nouvel Observateur]


Both Presidents might be advised to recall the response of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen when faced last Fall with complaints from Muslim countries about the original publication of the cartoons by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten:

Some people say that the press needs to be constructive and sometimes I also think that’d be nice. But who’s to say what’s constructive? That’s an unfair demand to make. The press needs to be critical – I need to bear that as prime minister and religions must do so as well.


Equally, who is to say what is a "responsible" use of liberty? In a democracy, not the government. Otherwise, it would not be liberty.


It is a shame that the US government seems to be coordinating its response to the "cartoon crisis" with a country – namely, France – in which press freedoms and, more generally, freedom of expression have been under assault for years now (see here and here, for instances): a country, moreover, that – as its recent actions in blocking an EU-NATO meeting on counter-terrorism efforts show – has hardly been a reliable ally, if it is an ally at all, in America’s war with Islamic terrorist organizations.


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