What do Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and Neville Chamberlain have in common? The answer is nothing very much, to my knowledge. Chamberlain, fairly or unfairly, is now typecast as an appeaser. Mr O’Reilly is a conservative straight talker who does not, in the ordinary course, give any impression of sympathising with a policy of appeasement. But appeasement is insidious these days when it comes to combating militant Islam, and this was underscored by a couple of things O’Reilly said recently. I am sure that he does not wittingly side with appeasement, particularly given his conservative bent, but that serves only to emphasise how insidious and widespread it has become.
In a segment on the Iranian development of nuclear arms, Mr O’Reilly said that he thought any American bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities "could lead to world war three". Clearly, no-one wants to do anything that would cause world war three. If you accept this view, therefore, it is tantamount to giving carte blanche to Ahmadinejad to build as many nuclear warheads as he likes. But, in fact, this view, like many these days, grossly overstates the dangers and risks of opposing primitive despotism as against the risks of allowing it to flourish in a nuclear world. The chances of a United States’ strike on Iran causing world war three is so highly unlikely as to be hardly measurable as a possibility. On the other hand, leaving Iran to obtain nuclear weapons could potentially, and with a much greater probability, lead to some scale of nuclear disaster. Any expressed caution about the risks of striking Iran’s nuclear capability should therefore be measured and, at the very least, balanced by saying something, at the same time, about the risks of doing nothing. If we don’t get that from Fox News where in the media do we get it?
In a segment on a recent episode of South Park, an innocuous piece on what Muhammad might look like; Mr O’Reilly said that he would not include any satirical piece about Islam on his show. Even though, as he said, “I hate to give in to intimidating forces of evil”.
With 9/11 and other terrorists acts in mind, and in circumstances were fatwas are issued and jihads prosecuted, where a Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh has been killed and the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, and those who published his cartoon, threatened with death, circumspection within the media is understandable. You have to be brave to stand up, publish and take the risk.
There is of course a problem if it comes down to a choice between bravery and appeasement. Not many people want to face the need to be physically brave in their ordinary daily lives, or to be constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of attack, or to place those in their immediate circle in danger.
However, there does seem to be a way of proceeding which does not involve being brave or leaving the few brave souls out to dry. There is strength and safety in numbers. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, were brave enough to poke a bit of irreverent fun at Islam as they have done throughout the years at almost everything. Every media outlet worth its salt should overtly and unequivocally support Messrs Parker and Stone for upholding free speech. They don’t have to do what Parker and Stone or Westergaard did, but why make it clear that they have been intimidated into not doing it? That simply gives comfort to those who want to cow the Western media into compliance and silence.
The free world is much more powerful than militant Islam or any other despotic force. One way to counter the threat is to stand together. For example, every newspaper and media outlet might agree to reprint or to otherwise cover each Human Rights Day (10 December) any meritorious story or picture or cartoon, in circumstances where organised threats of violence or death have been used to deter or prevent its publication. Presumably the United Nations would support that; wouldn’t it?