Our sensitivities have eroded freedom of speech |
Featured Commentary

Our sensitivities have eroded freedom of speech

Joe Wos

For centuries, cartoonists have been drawing fire on the front lines of freedom.

In 1871, the corrupt Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall said, “I don’t care what they say about me in the papers, but stop those damn cartoons!”

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Samuel Pennypacker passed the 1903 anti-cartoon law and shared his opinion of cartoonists: “In England a century ago, the offender would have been drawn and quartered and his head stuck upon a pole outside the gates.”

On Jan. 7, terrorists murdered 12 people, including five cartoonists, at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, thus assuring the artists’ legacy would live on for at least three days as the Twitter hashtag #jesuischarlie. For days, the media referenced the pen being mightier than the sword and celebrated its role as protector of #freespeech.

Now, a few weeks later, it’s #shortmemory.

In America, the cartoon website has been under cyber attack. The website shutdowns have gone largely unnoticed by the media.

These attacks share the same motivation: Stop those damn cartoons.

Terrorists are not the only ones without a sense of humor.

Following the Paris attacks, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, condemned the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. He expressed solidarity with the terrorists on at least one point: “What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.” He also blamed the editor for having a role in his own death.

Pittsburgh isn’t immune to religion-induced humor deficiency disorder.

The Pittsburgh Jewish Federation fires off a letter every time someone eats a falafel at Conflict Kitchen and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh got its rosaries in a bunch over a costume worn by a CMU student.

If a rabbi and a priest were to walk into a bar, it would be to write a letter to the editor over a cartoon about a rabbi and a priest walking into a bar.

American cartoonists know the danger in poking fun at religious extremist groups … and vegans. Sometimes, the real threat isn’t terrorists, or hellfire and brimstone, but a fear of being labeled insensitive, intolerant or politically incorrect.

Labeling is a powerful tool in the arsenal of those destroying free speech: intolerant, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and a list of “ists” that inhibit other “ists” like cartoonists and humorists. Sometimes labels are a justified defense against a real threat, and other times sensitive types just don’t like being mocked.

Our nation’s sensitivity has chipped away at freedom of speech.

Criticize the policies of Israel and you’re anti-Semitic. Mention that Muslim terrorists are, in fact, Muslim and you are intolerant and racist and probably hate puppies, too. Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists. Some are cartoonists. You decide which is worse.

It’s time for cartoonists to draw the line. In this war to protect free speech, people are going to be offended. Feelings will get hurt and ink will be spilled. But no one ever will stop those damn cartoons.

Joe Wos, a cartoonist, writer and pop culture correspondent for WESA Essential Pittsburgh, lives in Penn Hills.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.