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Freedom of speech or intentional insult?

The Danish cartoons have sparked violence and protests around the world.  Osama Siblani, a publisher for "Arab American News", Allan Silberbrandt of TV2 Denmark and Tucker Carlson from "The Situation" join Chris Matthews to examine this escalating crisis.
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Tens of thousands of Muslims continue to demonstrate throughout the Middle East over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that were published in a Danish newspaper last September. 

To discuss this Chris Matthews was joined by Allan Silberbrandt, U.S.  bureau chief of Denmark‘s “TV 2,” MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson of “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”, and Osama Siblani, publisher and editor-in-chief of the “Arab American News” out in Dearborn, Michigan.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL': Mr. Siblani, what do you make of these cartoons where they should have been published in these European newspapers and yesterday or the other day in “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” do you think that‘s appropriate journalism?

OSAMA SIBLANI, PUBLISHER, ARAB AMERICAN NEWS:  I don‘t think it‘s appropriate.  The problem that I have with the cartoons, that they were published in September in a Danish newspaper.  The Muslim community have objected, 11 Arab ambassadors in Denmark requested a meeting with the prime minister, they were turned out.  They were reprinted again in another publication, in Norway and in Denmark and now they‘re spread all over Europe.  This is where the insult comes from, from repeating to insult—the insult of people over and over again, knowing that they have insulted 1.3 billion Muslims, they should have really stopped and apologized from the beginning.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Allan Silberbrandt.  The intention the first time, to publish the first cartoons, what do you understand it was? 

ALLAN SILBERBRANDT, TV2 DENMARK:  Well, it came about because a publishing house wanted to publish a book for children about Islam.  It turned out that they could get nobody to do a drawing of the Prophet Mohammed. 

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s considered blasphemous, right? 

SILBERBRANDT:  Yes.  And then in Denmark they said well that can‘t be.  Why shouldn‘t we be able to publish a drawing of Mohammed.  You have to understand that Danes are not a very religious people and maybe that‘s part of the problem.  So they said that‘s OK too, let‘s see if anybody dares, and they did. 

MATTHEWS:  So it was a test of freedom? 

SILBERBRANDT:  It‘s a test of freedom of speech. 

MATTHEWS:  And what do you think it accomplished? 

SILBERBRANDT:  Well, at least it accomplished—there‘s the point that this is a very sensitive matter, and I don‘t think in the outset, it was not meant to be an insult, but it turned out to be, apparently. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what way—it was an attempt to see if there was—there was no self-censorship among Danish cartoonists, right? 


MATTHEWS:  And the thought was that these people are all censoring themselves, they‘re refusing to do anything that would incite anti-western response and they said, oh no, Dan, we‘re going to prove we are independent.  Why did it take so long to get to the Middle East, this reaction?

SILBERBRANDT:  My guess is the local Muslim population in Denmark, which is about 200,000, tried to get support from their friends in the Middle East, but it took a while and then they went down there numerous times to get support, and suddenly it exploded. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker Carlson, your thoughts on this.  You‘ve been covering this story. 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION,”:  There‘s a tremendous irony here and it is that these cartoons, most of which are not terribly provocative, some which are just likenesses or what we think of likenesses of the Prophet Mohammed, but a couple of them are.  One of them famously has a picture of a bomb in Mohammed‘s turban and the implication, of course, is that this religion in inspires people to violence.

So mobs of people see this and in protest against the notion that this religion inspires them to violence commit acts of violence.  Now it seems to me it‘s the role of the United States government at that point to help teach the rest of the world the lesson about the freedom of the press, the ability in a free society to disagree with one another without killing each other, the rights of minorities to express their views. 

That‘s part of what we‘re supposed to be doing in the Middle East and the rest of the world.  Instead the State Department, the Bush administration, issued a statement essentially attacking the cartoonists.

All 12 of them, by the way, are in hiding right now, fearing for their lives and rightly so.  I think we missed a great opportunity to educate the rest of the world about what it‘s like to live in a free society.  And instead, I think a lot of us in The United States have been cowards.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Siblani, Your response to that? 

SIBLANI:  God knows, Chris, how many times I‘ve been threatened, with my life and with my family‘s life, with a lot of people that work for me with their lives, because some thugs attacked our country on September 11, so every time there is something happening in the Middle East, we are subjected to threats here in the civilized country. 

So please, I do not want to defend the violence overseas and we have condemned it on all terms, but we have to understand that these people have different standards than our standards, and we have to respect that. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Let‘s talk about the future. 

SIBLANI:  We do not want to deal with them on our standards.

CARLSON:  Hold on, respect what?  You are making apologies for the people who are burning—

SIBLANI:  I am not making an apology. 

CARLSON:  We must understand what? 

SIBLANI:  I do not want you to make, Tucker, that all people are the same over there.  There were demonstrations that were peaceful.  What happened in Denmark and in Norway and in other parts of Europe, there were insults, repeated. 

CARLSON:  Wait, Mr. Siblani, that doesn‘t excuse killing people.  Never does it excuse killing people.

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about the freedom we have in this country, at every level of technology, the freedom you have in Western Europe, sir.  And of course, emotional, intellectual, nationalistic responses by people doing what is done in freedom. 

Let me ask you this.  We have a blogging situation out in this country where people basically through their own ingenuity and their own wit are able to develop messages based on their own personal reporting and editing that they can send anywhere.  They are their own editors.  What happens when bloggers sending stuff out without even the institution of a newspaper or TV station behind them and that incites a riot?  How do we avoid this?

SILBERBRANDT:  Exactly.  In a free society, in a world of liberties, you have to understand that sometimes you‘re going to be offended and that‘s how it works. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Siblani, does the world of Islam, the 1.3 million people you say who are offended, do they understand how free we are in this country, that one person, even an editor of a newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer can do it this weekend, or some blogger and there‘s nothing that the United States government can do about it in a free society. 

SIBLANI:  They wonder how free we are and how free the world is when Ahmadinejad made a statement about the Holocaust, we condemn them from all around the world and when someone else says that the Holocaust does not exist, we come over them like flies. 

People say that you have hurt our feelings, you‘ve hurt our dignity and integrity and our beliefs, and no one is listening, you know, to us or nobody is willing to listen to them.  And until—and it results in violence and they say look they‘re a violent people. 

CARLSON:  You‘re missing a key distinction, Mr. Siblani and it‘s this.  Everyone is free to disagree, of course.  The question is do you disagree with violence?  No one has burned the Iranian embassy in the United States or anywhere else in the world after hearing about this cartoon controversy.   That‘s the key to distinction I think that is lost, sadly, on a lot of people in the Middle East. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come back.  I want Mr. Siblani—I guess he‘s on the opposition here—

SIBLANI:  What I‘m saying Chris, how many Mosques have been burned in the United States after that attack? 

MATTHEWS:  Well you know in the world today, there are Madrassas schools all over the Islamic world teaching bad stuff about the west and I haven‘t seen any riots against those Madrassas schools.  Let me ask you, Allan, if your colleagues in Denmark had known that running these cartoons this past fall would trigger these riots and deaths around the world, would they still feel it was worth the exercise? 

SILBERBRANDT:  Probably not.  They would probably say this is not what we intended, but since it‘s out there, they‘re still sticking to their decision and so, I would guess, is the Danish people because we value freedom of speech very highly and we think that humor is part of free speech.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Siblani, if this happens again in another forum or the same way, a newspaper in “The Washington Post,” “The New York Times,” NBC, someone else airs an iconic criticism of any kind against the Prophet Mohammed, will there be more of this?  Is this the world we‘re facing right now, this sensitivity?

SIBLANI:  I would like to see more protests of civilized kind, like the one we‘re doing right now on your show.  But I think that freedom of speech comes with responsibility and accountability.  I think the Danish newspaper does not practice responsibility, nor do they practice the accountability.

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough, but the whole idea of freedom is that some people will abuse it.

SIBLANI:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s the nature of the beast, right?

SIBLANI:  Perfect example of an abuse of freedom of speech.

MATTHEWS:  And you think that they should stop doing it for now? 

SIBLANI:  I think they should stop doing it and apologize for those people who they hurt their feelings.

MATTHEWS:  Are there any other sacred cows, if you will, that the American and Western media should honor besides Islam?  Are there other areas we should be equally careful about?

SIBLANI:  I think we should be respectful of all religions, you know, not to attack religions or make mockery out of it.

MATTHEWS:  All right, let me go to Tucker Carlson.  Tucker, we‘ve got a long century ahead of us.  Is this the beginning?

CARLSON:  It is the beginning.  I mean, look, here‘s the bottom line.  News organizations offend intentionally and unintentionally, religious groups all the time.  News networks puts Kanye West dressed as Jesus on the television of millions of Americans.  Nobody rioted it.  Every time there‘s a McDonald‘s ad, Hindus are presumably offended.  We are being bullied and held hostage by the violence of a small group of Islamic extremists and I don‘t know why we are.  I don‘t think we ought to be.  I think there‘s an important principle at stake.

MATTHEWS:  How do you end the violence?

CARLSON:  You begin by doing what we say we‘re going to do, which is educating people about what pluralism and a liberal democracy means.  And that‘s my taking a moral stand.  This is unacceptable.  Say so unequivocally, that‘s the first step.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a large educational program you‘re undertaking Tucker.  I wish you well.  You‘ll need a lot of travel money, a lot of language training to conduct this.  But good luck.  Anyway, thank you, Tucker Carlson, thank you Allan Silberbrandt, thank you for coming.  Osama Siblani, thank you sir for joining us.  I‘m afraid we‘re going to have these incidents again and I want to hear your voice here on HARDBALL, sir, thank you.

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