One of the persistent arguments coming out of the Newsweek debacle is that, even if Newsweek could prove with certainty that Koran desecration took place, that Newsweek should not have printed it.
I completely understand this impulse. We conservative americans are frustrated that this nation has not united in the War on Terror as it did during World War II. Then, a reporter like Ernie Pyle faced fire in person, and delivered treasured and trusted front line reports that reinforced rather than questioned our sense of righteousness in the conflict. Our resolve was not diluted by thoughts that perhaps we were doing wrong. But now Newsweek prints a story that it surely would have buried during World War II. Why would it print such an incendiary story now? It appears either that Newsweek favors the the wrong side, or is not taking the War on Terror as seriously as it has taken other conflicts, or both. After all, nothing compelled Newsweek to print the story. Why would it then?
Well, we simply should not be destroying the Koran, not because muslims hold us to that standard, but because we demand that standard of ourselves. And if we break that standard we might be hypocritical, but we can only be hypocrites if we have standards to violate in the first place. If we are breaking our own standards, that alone is newsworthy and would have given Newsweek the right to print the story. Abu Ghraib was a bad bit of publicity too - but it was only a story because it was a man bites dog story, it was the exception that proved the rule. And did it not ensure that basically anything like it will not occur again? We have shown that we can be shamed, but that shows that we have shame. The power of truth may ultimately work itself out in odd ways, and bad publicity is easier to overcome when the entire affair is exposed, as opposed to the rumors that build in the mind when facts are absent due to coverups.
I wonder if it is completely lost on the middle east that, what they are witnessing in this Koran flushing episode might not be an american weakness, but an indication of american strength. How obtuse would an average middle easterner have to be, to believe that his native government is perfect, while nothing but bad comes from the U.S.? Which is more likely: that his government has achieved perfection in all things, or that his government does wrong things too, and hides them? And are the abysmal human rights records of the various middle east nations a complete mystery to the arab street? A surprise? The arab street sees the worst the U.S. has to offer, but can only guess as to what depths their own government has sunk.
Free speech serves many purposes, but one of its main functions is exposing error. And this mechanism is what gives free societies a structural and organizational advantage over tyrannies - we have a mechanism in place to discover error. In fact, politicians have great incentives to find errors, to fling at their foes. Free speech also places a great premium on sharpening your persuasion, rather than your sword.
Nations with a 'supreme leader' have no such way to uncover error, and thus no way to correct it. In fact tyrannies seek ever more effective ways to hide error. If a nation such as the U.S. shows that it is aware of its problems and organizes openly to fix them, is it in a better or worse position vis a vis the dictatorship?
Perhaps there are some contrarian afghanis, iranians or pakistanis who see this american-style openness as the key to its strength, and as salvation for their own national woes.
So fear not the truth, even when it arrives at your door covered in warts and smelling badly, it may yet set you free.
Ken Says: Try this on for size, and tell me if my logic is faulty - When you have pared away all errors, you arrive at the naked truth. If free speech is a tool to remove error, its ultimate goal must be truth. The salient features of truth is that it is universal and applies to all. Thus when we have truth, universal concensus is possible. With universal concensus comes the true lasting peace we sane people crave. Heh, couldn't fit this little aphorism into my essay up there, but I didn't want it to go to waste.
Scratch a cynic, and you will uncover a disillusioned utopian.
Linked to Mudville Gazette's Open Post and Outside the Beltway's Beltway Traffic Jam and Wizbang's Carnival Of The Trackbacks XII.
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