Charles Taylor talks back

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Taylor defended his position against the printing and reprinting of the caricatures, and refuted the argument that printing them was somehow a defense of a free press.

BERLIN — Several months after the first publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and a little over a month after they were reprinted in various German newspapers, Canadian moral philosopher Charles Taylor spoke in Berlin about his reaction to the controversial cartoons and their reprinting.

“The publishing of these caricatures shows a lamentable disrespect,” said Taylor, who elaborated on his views to an audience of nearly 200 people at an event organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation. “Freedom of speech means you can't outlaw the printing of these cartoons,” acknowledged Taylor, “but in order to get through this difficult time, we need an informal code where that kind of gratuitous insult can not take place.”

Taylor questioned why the editors of the Jyllands-Posten didn't consider the 100,000 Muslims living in Denmark before they printed the caricatures and the reactionary responses to them. He referred to Denmark as a xenophobic country where “Muslims are one of the most fragile and dumped upon minorities.”

Flanked by three German writers who participated in the event as panelists, Taylor's position regarding the caricatures was not always met with agreement. Miriam Lau, the chief parliamentary correspondent of Die Welt — one of the German papers that reprinted the cartoons — argued that freedom of speech is of the utmost importance, and that reprinting the caricatures opened up a kind of dialogue in Europe about Islam and press freedom. This argument was reiterated by a number of audience members.

Taylor defended his position against the printing and reprinting of the caricatures, and refuted the argument that printing them was somehow a defense of a free press. “Who can take away your press freedom? The German government can, not the government in Damascus. I don't understand why [people here] are so hypnotized by this idea of press freedom. It's just raving lunacy,” he said.

A native of Montreal, Taylor told the audience that he puts “a very high priority on keeping the conversation open,” later reiterating to journalists and newspaper editors that they should “say something back, don't just reproduce!”

Charles Taylor is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin.

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