“There are whole societies where unpleasant news doesn’t make the local papers.”

When a Chinese editor runs an editorial about police extortion, the cops beat him senseless.

When Jordanian editor Jihad Momani (and boy isn’t that an unfortunate name) republishes Danish caricatures, he gets fired, then he gets arrested for crimes against religion.

These aren’t isolated incidents. These are the rules of life for BILLIONS of people around the world. These people aren’t happy, I imagine. (Maybe they are.) I expect that most of them go through life in a bit of a sad fog. They don’t like their governments, but they don’t hate them, either–they don’t have enough of a basis for comparison. The world as it is presented to them is a little harsh, a little heavy, a little hungry. But it’s predictable. Their government gives them scapegoats and straw men. Their civic and spiritual leaders tell them that the outside world is full of malice and conspiracy, and, by and large, the people accept this interpretation of events. It’s not all bad. They love their families. They play sports. They tell jokes. If it all rings a little hollow at times, well, hopefully it’ll get better in Paradise. You and I, Western snobs as we are, may think such a life dull and dim, but if dull and dim is all these people know, well, their eyes adjust until it all looks pretty okay. And life is fine until...


The blindfold gets yanked away. There’s a dazzling flash of light, a few [tasteless and rather provocative] cartoons get through the haze and the isolation. And suddenly they realize that the rest of the world is laughing at them! Well, that’s pretty mean, but surely the government will shut down the newspapers and make the jokesters apologize, right? Because that’s what happens in Aman, and Riyadh, and Beijing, and Havana. But leaders of Denmark and Norway, they get up and say that they are powerless to interfere with the independence of the press. And then newspapers all over the place start re-printing the cartoons! The joke, the cruel and horrible joke is spreading!

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