Merkel honors Danish Mohammed cartoonist with freedom of the press award

Via Reason’s Michael Moynihan, who notes the media buzz over this today and wonders, “Why does a limited defense of free speech by the leader of a Western democracy provoke such astonishment from the press corps?”

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Anything rare is astonishing.

Presenting him with a press freedom award, Mrs Merkel said Mr Westergaard was entitled to draw his caricatures.

“Europe is a place where a cartoonist is allowed to draw something like this,” she said…

“We are talking here about the freedom of opinion and the freedom of the press,” Ms Merkel said at the ceremony in the German city of Potsdam…

Speaking at the award ceremony Ms Merkel also described as “abhorrent” a plan by US pastor Terry Jones to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 11 September terror attacks.

She said she found the idea disrespectful and “simply wrong”.

The chancellor of Germany obviously has special historical reason to forcefully denounce book-burning, so even if you disagree here, don’t be too hard on her. (If you want to criticize her for something, criticize her for this.) Besides, as Moynihan suggests, it’s almost impossible to imagine Westergaard or Lars Vilks or any other high-profile blasphemer being similarly honored at the White House. And not just because Obama’s in office, either: Revisit this excellent Hitchens piece written during the height of Mo-toon madness to see how the Bush administration handled the free speech issue at the time. I can understand their attitude to some extent, in the same way I understand Petraeus fretting about attacks on his men if the Koran-burning happens. Governments worry about the bottom line, so if they can save a few lives by denouncing someone’s exercise of free speech, why not do it? That’s the “hearts and minds” strategy in a nutshell: Any offense to Muslims makes things easier for jihadis, so obviously we should avoid any offense to Muslims. No wonder the press is astonished at Merkel’s behavior. In fact, here’s a little incitement from before the Westergaard ceremony happened today just to remind her, in case she needed reminding, of what the stakes are here:

Aiman Mazyek of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany said in a statement: “Merkel is honoring the cartoonist who in our view trampled on our Prophet and trampled on all Muslims.”

“By having her photo taken next to Kurt Westergaard, Merkel is taking a huge risk,” wrote the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung before the ceremony.

So she is. Which again, at the risk of repeating myself, is what makes the Koran-burning a more difficult issue than it appears at first blush. The FBI’s already warning of “retaliation,” possibly at the burning itself, if the event comes off; the free speech interest involved, as always, is now under tremendous pressure from the most violent, retrograde elements inside Islam. Would canceling the ceremony mean that the terrorists win? Or, as the “hearts and minds” crowd perpetually argues, would going through with it let the terrorists win by providing them with propaganda? No good answers.