How the State Department Fumbled the Cartoon Controversy

Posted by John Rosenthal

Many American observers were surprised last Friday when the US State Department appeared to issue a condemnation of the Danish Muhammad cartoons – referring to them as "unacceptable incitation of religious and ethnic hatred" – and then confused when, barely a couple of hours after this statement first appeared, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack provided a vigorous defense of freedom of the press. For an exploration of how this discrepancy may have arisen and for details on the background in French law of the, for American ears, decidedly odd expression "incitation of religious and ethnic hatred", see my new article "Freedom, But…" on TCS Daily.

 

Note that the State Department, by way of an unnamed official cited in the Washington Post, seems to have responded today to the question that I pose in my article and that I posed directly to a State Department press officer on Tuesday: namely, does it stand behind its condemnation of the cartoons as "incitation"? Note too that the official does not provide any convincing response – merely remarking lamely that "there is not entire uniformity in the U.S. government about how we feel about these things" – to the question, which I also posed to the officer with whom I spoke, as to how the initial condemnation, with the specific language used, came to pass in the first place. As I say in my article, we will probably never know the answer to this question. I suggest a couple of hypotheses, however, and neither is flattering for State.

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