Guess what? It’s okay for Danish Christians to print racist anti-Muslim cartoons, but cartoons critical of well-documented US torture are “a disgrace” and require an apology. Mike Luckovich’s 22 June political cartoon in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (reprinted above) depicts an American torturer, giving lessons in “torture etiquette” to an Al Qaeda torturer. According to the newspaper’s public editor Angela Tuck, the cartoon resulted in a powerful “backlash,” with 90% of 18,000 readers disapproving of the piece in an online poll. Tuck all but apologized for the publication of the cartoon, saying it was “ill-timed,” since it was published alongside photos of the mangled remains of two US servicemembers who had been tortured and killed in Iraq. Luckovich himself apparently “believes now that allowing some distance between the murders of Tucker and Menchaca [the mutilated US soldiers] and the cartoon’s publication would have been better.” 
One reader wrote in to the Cumberland Times of Maryland/West Virginia, which also carried the Luckovich piece, saying the paper’s editorial staff has “reached a new low.”
I believe in freedom of the press, but I also believe that it comes with a responsibility to print the truth, and also to maintain some measure of character, class, and dignity…[W]e have more than our share of families who currently have loved ones “in harm’s way” still fighting, as all of those other veterans have done down through history, to protect the rights of you and your staff to be mouth breathing, drooling, idiots whenever you choose. What a disgrace! You should all be ashamed. When you guys awake from your collective moronic stupor, you owe all of us an apology. 
An advertiser to the Journal-Constitution, the Mercedes-Benz dealership RBM of Atlanta, printed a full page ad apologizing for Luckovich’s cartoon. The ad reads in part:
To Our Clients: We are sorry!
While we strongly affirm the right of free speech, the June 22, 2006 Mike Luckovich cartoon depicting the U.S. as torturers on par with Al-Qaida was very offensive to us. Moreover, to publish this cartoon directly above the pictures of the two brave men who gave their lives, willingly, and were tortured and mutilated in service to their country (and each of us) is unacceptable.
The Hawaii Reporter published an op-ed by Jeff Emmanuel that finds “revolting” the “hinting at moral equivalence between the U.S. and bloodthirsty terrorists.” Emmanuel considers this “another shot in the mainstream mediaâ€™s seemingly unending battle to blur the moral line between America and the brutal, barbaric enemy we are facing.” According to him, “America DOES NOT torture prisoners, and America DOES NOT target civilians; no nation in history has been more of a global force for good than America.” 
Remember the Western pontifications in favor of the free speech rights of newspapers that wanted to publish the Jyllands-Posten anti-Muslim cartoons, one of which shows the Prophet with a bomb for a turban?  Some considered those cartoons racist, since they painted all Muslims as terrorists 
Many commentators thought the cartoons deserved to be printed, and many publishers did so, simply to make a point about freedom of speech, or because the cartoons were “news.” The Hawaii Reporter published an op-ed by Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute, that described a “fear of criticizing Islam,” and expressed contempt for governments that took offense at the cartoons. According to Ghate, governments should instead “defend our freedom of speech by force,” because “an individual’s freedom of speech is sacrosanct, no matter who screams offense at his ideas.” Ghate rightly criticized the death threats that were issued by ultra-conservative clerics and others, but his disdain seemed to encompass all Muslims who demonstrated against the cartoons, as if nonviolent protest was not also covered by free speech rights.
The two cartoon controversies are not equivalent. Here are some significant differences:
- Some of the anti-Muslim cartoons are racist, painting an entire group of people with a negative stereotype; the Luckovich cartoon could only be said to generalize US military policy
- The anti-Muslim cartoons were drawn by non-Muslims, outside of the criticized community; Luckovich is a member of the society he is criticizing
- The anti-Muslim cartoons, being racist, are by definition false; the truth of the Luckovich cartoon is at least worth debating
I think point 3 is important. The Jyllands-Posten cartoons were not designed to inspire debate on the merits of violent resistance (for example), only to insult Muslims. Luckovich’s cartoon, on the other hand, should be debated. Does the US torture prisoners? Is it any better than Al Qaeda in that regard? Emmanuel’s claim that “no nation in history has been more of a global force for good” is an attempt to stifle the debate that the people of this country need to have about the role of the US in the world. His statement that “America does not torture prisoners” hurts his credibility and calls into question the rest of his argument against the printing of Luckovich’s cartoon.