Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A cartoon too far part 2 - the faultlines of the West

I don't think that a story has provoked such a visceral difference of opinion among conservatives since the Terry Schiavio affair, and I find that very surprising. You would think that the near total unity among conservatives on the WOT would have carried over into this incident of Islamic overreaction and violence in protest of cartoons published under the aegis of freedom of speech. Yet there is a very real faultline cutting across the landscape of commentary by conservatives, and it seems to be getting quite nasty.

The two sides seem to fall into the following categories - those who will unequivocally defend the cartoonists on freedom of speech grounds, seeing the conflict as a battle of wills with a predatory ideology of oppresion, and those who, while affirming the freedom of speech on principle, feel sympathy for the offended sensibilities of the Muslims and are outraged that their principle is being used to excuse blasphemy. By my rough estimate the former is the majority of opinion, but I am surprised by some of the people who I find on the opposite side than the one I would have expected. For the purpose of this discussion I will call the first group the "free speechers" and the second the "anti-blasphemers".

One person I pegged to be an anti-blasphemer, incorrecty, is Father John Neuhaus, the proprieter of FirstThings. Here is what he had to say:

A free press is by no means an unmixed blessing, but it is an essential part of the democratic way of life that we cherish and, as a nation, intend to advance elsewhere. It could turn out to be the case that most of the Islamic world, under the control of those who hold political and religious power, ends up by rejecting the democratic way, which would be very sad. But there should not be the slightest hesitation on our part in making clear that we will not compromise our freedoms by submitting to their rules. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a great deal of timorous hesitation at present.

Of course, it would be much easier to resist Muslim demands if Europe in particular had a positive identity to which it could appeal. In response to those offended by the exercise of freedom, Europe could then say, “Ah yes, we understand your point of view, and you may very well be right about the requirements of Islam. But, you see, we are Christian, not Muslim, countries, and, meaning no offense, your rules don’t apply here.”

It has been a very long time since Europe could speak with such confidence. And, if we are not alert to the nature of the challenge posed, America could be similarly unnerved.

Contrast that with this quote from Joe Carter, a blogger at EvangelicalOutpost and a former Marine, from the Hugh Hewitt show on Tuesday:

I don't think the cartoonists radicalized the Muslims. I think our support of them in our showing that we're siding with them rather than the offended is what's radicalized them. Like the French paper said, they showed their religious dogma has no place in secular society. And the German paper said that they had the right to blaspheme in the West. So it's kind of showing that we're supporting them rather than the offended. And I think that's what's going to radicalize them.

I've mentioned that the Free Speech side seems to be in the majority of the blogosphere and media commentariat. Here are some of the best and most vigorous proponents of the position from the last two days:

Kathleen Parker: The past several days of mayhem throughout the Muslim world — all thanks to a handful of mild cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed — have provided a clarifying moment for those still uncertain about what the West faces from radical disciples of the Islamic faith.

What's clear is that East and West are not just cultures apart, but centuries, and that certain elements of the Muslim world would like to drag us back into the Dark Ages.

What is also clear is that the West's own leaders, both in Europe and the USA, as well as many of our own journalists, have been weak-spined when it comes to defending the principles of free expression that the artists in Denmark were exploring.

Instead of stepping up to passionately defend freedoms won through centuries of bloody sacrifice, most have bowed to ayatollahs of sensitivity, rebuking the higher calling of enlightenment and sending the cartoonists into hiding under threat of death.

Tony Blankley: Similarly, the reaction to the Danish cartoons is merely the latest predictable, intolerant response of radical Islam to any opposition to their view of man and God. (In fact, I did predict a Muslim insurrection against blasphemous European art in the first chapter of my recent book, "The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?").
Those who argue for republication of the Danish cartoons are not "instigating" a clash of civilization. Nor are they pouring gasoline on a fire. Rather, they are defending against the already declared and engaged radical Islamist clash against the Christian, Secular, Jewish, Hindu, Chinese world by expressing solidarity with the firemen.

In this case, the firemen, perhaps surprisingly to some, is the European press. French socialist newspapers, The BBC, and other major secular European media stand shoulder to shoulder with a right-wing Danish newspaper against what they correctly see is an unyielding demand by radical Islam that Europe begin to start living under Sharia law.

The American media is proud of its alleged tradition of speaking truth to power and reporting without fear or favor. Every year journalists give awards to one another under those banners. But in truth, it doesn't take much courage to criticize a president, corporation, Catholic priest or labor union boss in America. A president is powerless to adversely effect a reporter or news organization that criticizes him.

Claudia Rostt: What’s noteworthy about the latest violence is not that it is unusual — but how very ordinary in so many ways it has become. Yes, of course, the grimly whimsical surprise is that this time the lightning rod has turned out to be not the famous London underground, or the grand train stations of Madrid, or the twin towers of New York, but a set of cartoons out of Copenhagen. The Danish drawings did not trigger some previously nonexistent fury. They have simply become the latest litmus test of how very much the worst thugs of the Islamic world believe they are entitled to get away with, whatever the pretext.
As for the cartoons, what ought to jump out here is that it is not, in fact, common for the Western press to caricature Mohammed, or even to run pointed cartoons about Islam. One has to wonder if the organizers of the gunmen, arsonists and death-threat-deliverers (and it takes a fair amount of organization to get hold of Danish flags in Gaza, or burn an embassy in the police-state of Syria) had to scour the ample outpourings of the Western press looking for something, anything, over which to take offense, and — faced with reams of material trying to understand their pain — had to fall back as a last resort on the cartoons of Denmark. To what extent is the Western press already afraid to risk offending those who even before the recent protests had racked up a record of death threats and murder?

If statehood, citizenship, and civilization itself are to mean anything, we are all in the end accountable for our own actions. When people riot and brutalize and burn, there are individuals in the crowds who are responsible. And in the places where this is happening, if the governments will not call these individuals to account, we need to hold those governments themselves responsible. Cartoons alone, to quote another line from Hamlet, are in a class with nothing more than “words, words, words,” and those are grounds on which newspapers, nations, and religions may have their disagreements and their dialogues. But when violence enters the picture, that is a matter for governments to settle, and in the free world the job of government and politicians is not to opine upon cartoons, but to lay down the law that no one may with impunity threaten our liberty and lives.

Hugh Hewitt's take on the cartoons, besides being as he sees it highly insulting to a whole religion, seems to be that the GWOT should be left up to the professionals in the Defense department, the intelligence services and professional writers. Here is a quote from his dialogue with Tony Blankley on his show today:
It's really a question of who, what talents are brought to bear. If it's Mark Steyn, or if it's you and The West's Last Chance: Will We Win The Clash Of Civilizations?, I have a lot more sense of comfort that the stakes are at least understood. Publishing a bunch of cartoons, which are easily transformed into propaganda, that's where I ask people to sit back and wonder are you really up to this game that you want to wade into the middle of? And I think that's an appropriate caution to give to people. And I also disagree with you on this, and I want to get to this now, about republication. Since they are such a hot point, what is the point of republishing them, when in fact, it might prove the tipping point for critical masses in Turkey and Morocco, and other of our Islamic allies around the world?

Hugh is missing one major, whoppingly obvious point, which is that the GWOT is not merely a military and progaganda war to be waged by professionals. It is a cultural war pitting two civilizations and their respective wills to defend their values. He looks at provocative cartoons and only sees it as an embarrasing gaffe to be used against us by the Muslims. I see it as an act of defiance in the face of intimidation which can rally the will of a culture. Sometimes the best way to get your point across is through a crude gesture. Contrary to Hewitt's assertion that we are dealing with a sophisticated psy-ops strategy by Al Quaeda, what we are dealing with is basically the cultural equivalent of the schoolyard bully. The sophisticated, articulate logic of a Mark Steyn is not going to make them back down. The bully is looking for signs that you fear him. You don't face him down with reasoned debate, you don't calm his anger by soothing words of sympathy - you spit in his eye and dare him to do something about it. We will not win this war by being loved. We will only win it by being feared.

The last example of the anti-blaspheny position comes from Robert Duncan:
The Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten's published a series of cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed back in September 2005 – some of the cartoons were obviously meant to offend with the turban of the Prophet being in the shape of a bomb.

I as a Catholic can identify with the sense of frustration that many Muslims must feel as a result of the publication of the cartoons. And the intent behind their publication.

How many times have I too felt concern and outrage against several news and entertainment outlets, or supposed art exhibitions, for their gross depiction of the Catholic faith.

The callousness, and repeated weak attempts to justify those actions by arguing for Freedom of the Press, or similar, frankly makes me sick.

And while I would never have thought of fulfilling my frustrations for calls for War and Death, I do believe that Christians need to take a lesson from Muslims with regard to righteous indignation. While I think there are some problems with the Islam faith, if anything these riots show that many Muslims do live their religion fully, having a faith that permeates their entire being and reasoning.

I admire them for that.

I'd be willing to chip in some airfare to send Mr Duncan to Pakistan to experience the fullness of Islamic devotion. Laura Ingraham does a segment on her show called the "But Monkey", where she plays soundclips of liberal politicians or celebrity mouthpieces voicing some support for a moderate position, quickly qualified by a "but" phrase. It goes something like this: "I'm all for free enterprise, but (sonds of the but monkey squealing) blah blah blah (anti-business blather)". I think we need to start calling out the But Monkey on such equivical statements of support for free speech as demonstrated by Mr. Duncan. When the war starts getting hot, I don't want this guy in my platoon.

What to make of this divide? Is it a serious rift in the wall, or just a normal, healthy difference of opinion?


Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Good post, Duck. Thanks for the links.

As one of the "anti-blasphemers" in the minority, I'm getting a little cranky about being accused of cowering to Muslim sensibilities or the Arab street or whatever. Although there is nothing wrong with pointing out the strategic stupidity of intentionally inflaming people who are absurdly easy to inflame, that isn’t the primary source of my objection. I think Joe Carter summed that up in your link when, after talking of his pride in fighting for political and religious liberty as a Marine said:

But just once I’d like to be called upon to champion speech that is true, honorable, just, and pure. Just once I’d like to defend a freedom that wasn’t vulgar, degraded, and profane. Just once I’d like to defend freedom that aspired to the ideals of Thomas Jefferson rather than to the inclinations of Larry Flynt.

Ah, those neo-platonists.

This is about us and how we got it into our heads that standing quietly by when one’s religion is insulted is the price of admission to Western culture. It is one thing to defend the legality of flag-burning, quite another to paint it as a test of one’s commitment to freedom and accuse those who react to it of being ignorant opponents of liberty. As Simon Jenkins said, “We don’t punch people in the face to test their commitment to non-violence.” But unfortunately it appears we do and we are.

I am amused by all the compliments surfacing from your side to those reasonable old Christians of ours who stood by fuming over Piss-Christ, but did nothing else. Gosh, it must drive the likes of Harry and Skipper crazy. I mean, they get up every morning ready to battle the dark forces of theocracy and all they come across are these milquetoast Christians passing resolutions and penning letters to the editor that begin “While I stand firmly behind the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression...” C’mon, admit it, guys. Islam is a godsend for you. You can almost hear Harry salivating about the coming Armageddon.

Well, Piss-Christ is one thing, but I’m hearing darker warnings from a more distant past: Cartoons intended to mock and editors as courageous of expulsion and cultural incompatibility...getting past all that tolerance crap and telling it like it is....the need for them to disown their faith in order to fit in...intrinsically evil religion...backward culture... “us” vs. “them”, etc. Been there, done that, regret it.

Good luck in your “cultural war pitting two civilizations and their respective wills to defend their values.” Me, I’m just a country boy and I’ll stick with more concrete things like overthrowing Iran, standing for Israel and destroying Al Qaeda. And I’ll also stick with my naive assumption that I’ve lots of allies in Muslimland to whom I’ll extend respect no matter how nuts they drive me. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but the idea that we are in some kind of existential war strikes me as absurd and I’m confident there will be lots more warnings before we are. As for improvement from where we were just five years ago, I see lots of evidence you guys don’t even want to hear about. It’s never enough and always too late for you, which is kind of scary to be frank.

A word of warning: I sure hope you have it clear in your head who your enemy is and especially what values you are fighting for and how and why. If you just keep quoting the same passages from your copies of “The Koran for Dummies” to the point where you have demonized everyone on the other side and expanded the “infection” to encompass a sixth of the globe, you may convince yourself you are perfectly justified in doing things you won’t be very proud to tell your grandchildren about.

February 09, 2006 4:14 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I’m neither a ‘free speecher’ (on your definition) nor an ‘anti-blasphemer’.

My concern isn’t over whether something is technically defined as blasphemous, or about the sensibilities of over-sensitive people. Nor is my concern about personal fear of turning moderate Muslims into extremists.

My concern is about the perception of that Muslim population which constitutes the largest minority group in many western European countries, and obviously I’m personally particularly concerned with the perception of British Muslims.

We are not, and should not be, engaged in a ‘culture war’ with Islam. That’s a wholly wrong-headed, irresponsible and dangerous way of looking at what’s going on today.

What ‘we’ are engaged in is a battle against a small minority within a minority of fundamentalist Muslims who are prepared to commit politically aimless acts of violence against random people – including their fellow Muslims.

That ‘we’ includes the vast majority of Muslims. (Indicentally, the more I’ve actually looked for it, the easier I’ve been able to find moderate Muslim statements on virtually every issue, from 7/7 to Hamza to the cartoons. Look at any of the BBC website’s in-depth reports.)

Non-Muslims must be very, very careful not to see themselves in a culture war with Islam, because what that translates into on the ground is the inexorable transformation of the normal British Muslim man or woman into the Volksfeind – the enemy within.

Over on Think of England, Harry describes moderate Muslims as being ‘entirely hypothetical’. Well, maybe in Harry’s esoteric library they are only hypothetical, but I can tell you as a brute fact that in the real world that that’s complete and utter tosh.

It’s not just our boxers and cricketers and TV presenters. I could introduce you to plenty in my home town.

One of Mrs Brit’s best mates is a Shairin Mohammed. She’s a Muslim by birth, culture, name, and is assumed to be one because of her skin colour, but she’s as secular a Brit as you could hope to meet. She works for a legal firm, goes out with a white man, drinks cocktails and reads The Daily Mail. She takes us out for curries cooked and eaten by other not-exactly-devout Muslims. She wears westernised versions of Middle-Eastern clothing (the kind you get modern-Britain East-meets-West shops like Monsoon.

But even not-very-devout Muslims – which is most of them – are Muslims. They’re Muslims because their parents are Muslims, and although most are far less devout than their parents and grandparents, they want to keep the core of the culture that as part of their identity.

Some of the views I’ve heard expressed here can only have been made by people who don’t personally know anyone like Shairin – and have probably never even heard that people like Shairin exist.

Some of the views I’ve heard here sound horribly like the sort of thing that could have quite easily been said by Nick Griffin. Nick Griffin thinks ‘we’ are engaged in a War with Islam too – or he wants us to think that.

Nick Griffin wants to send Shairin back to Pakistan – a ‘homeland’ of several generations distant origin that she has never even visited.


So, why my concerns about the cartoons?

Again on Think of England, Harry says: “I just don't get the argument that the cartoons were not great art. It's OK to insult people with style but not crudely?”

That’s not the argument. The argument is about the attitude behind the cartoons.

Are they just satirical bites at fundamentalism? Skipper thinks so – I’m not nearly so sure about that.

We can all tell the difference between a clever cartoon satirising, for example, Israel’s policy towards Palestinians - or an affectionate joke about Jewish mothers feeding their sons and harping on about marrying a doctor or a lawyer - on the one hand, and a Nazi-style hideous Shylock caricature of a Jew, designed to express Fear and Loathing, on the other.

Now I’m not saying that these cartoons are at that latter level – but neither are they clearly on the former level, and it’s one hell of a slippery slope once you’re on it.

And Harry also points out that it is the fact of the publication that is at issue. That’s true. And what was the nature of that publication? The simultaneous blanket publication – with ‘free speech’ as a justification - of a whole bunch of scatter-gun cartoons of very variable quality, with Muslims as the butt of every joke, all in one go with no sense of balance or context.

Basically, one big raspberry at a minority. It would be utterly unthinkable to do the same with Jews, or with a racial minority, free speech or no free speech.

War on Terror? Count me in – let’s fight the terrorists.

War on Islam? Does that include Shairin and the population of Turkey? No thanks, this stop is where I get off.

February 09, 2006 4:34 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Just once I’d like to defend freedom that aspired to the ideals of Thomas Jefferson rather than to the inclinations of Larry Flynt.

Yes, I read that too. The good thing about freedom of speech is that whenever you defend any speech, you defend all speech. So Joe Carter has always defended Jeffersonian ideals. There is no need to distinguish between them.

This is about us and how we got it into our heads that standing quietly by when one’s religion is insulted is the price of admission to Western culture.

No one says you have to stand quietly by. You can make as much ruckus as you want, as long as it is a peaceful ruckus. If you thing it is tough being a traditional Christian, Peter, try being an athiest of French ancestry in America. I'm offended on a regular basis. It's the price of freedom, and I'm willing to pay it.

But when I hear all the anti French blather in the media and the Internet, I know where it's coming from. I know it isn't directed at me, and I don't take offense. It should be blindingly obvious to every moderate and secular Muslim in the West where the cartoonists derived their image of Islam from, and they likewise shouldn't reflexively jump in the path of a rhetorical bullet that wasn't aimed at them.

This is a civilizational war, and on the part of Westerners it is a defensive war. The most imporatant front of that war is the rhetorical front, the front of ideas. The shooting front is no contest, there is no doubt that we'll win that. The only way that we can lose this war is on the idea front, from a self-inflicted wound. I'm not suggesting a wave of hatred directed at Muslims, I'm suggesting a clear, unequivocal and unapologetic commitment to preserving Western values. That's all. No speech codes or anti-blasphemy laws. No political proclamations of outrage for offended sensibilities. Where's my proclamation of sympathy? If Muslims can get one, why not athiest Frenchmen?

The worst thing that we can do for the moderate and secular Muslims is to acquiesce to the offended sensibilities of the radicals. Think of it in the context of radical feminism. Radical feminists don't represent the majority of women, and to assuage their outraged sensibilities only hurts the level of respect that society will hold for all women. Women don't want radical feminists representing their gender to society. By representing the cartoons as a slander on all Muslims, we're just walking into a multi-cultural trip net that the radical Islamists have set for us. Their propaganda victory comes from the apologies of Western leaders, not from the riots. The apologies show that we don't take our values seriously. When they stared us down, we blinked.

February 09, 2006 6:40 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I have to pick up on this line that you quote from Kathleen Parker:

What is also clear is that the West's own leaders, both in Europe and the USA, as well as many of our own journalists, have been weak-spined when it comes to defending the principles of free expression that the artists in Denmark were exploring.

Exploring free expression? This really is crazy.

There are editorials criticisng Islamic fundamentalism and intolerance and outdated Muslim attitudes to women and Jews etc every single day in European newspapers and TV news shows.

In the UK, just check out the Telegraph, Times, or especially, the Mail or Express.

Anyone who thinks normal freedom of speech is under threat from Muslims needs to get real.

Given that, there must be something about the nature of the republication of these cartoons that is different.

And this line from you, Duck:

I'd be willing to chip in some airfare to send Mr Duncan to Pakistan to experience the fullness of Islamic devotion

What's wrong with going to Pakistan? England and its fans just got back from a cricket tour there. They couldn't have had a warmer welcome from the locals, who worship the team that beat Australia in the summer. Andy Flintoff, England's star player, is treated like a Deity there.

They made a big fuss about security before the tour, but when they got there, there was nary an single anti-British flag, let alone suicide bomber, to be seen.

Don't be a victim of the US's famously isolationist media: "the rest of the world is a hell-hole, don't leave your timezone!"

February 09, 2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Anyone who thinks normal freedom of speech is under threat from Muslims needs to get real.


I beg to differ. The very fact that so many papers refuse to re-publish the cartoons is an obvious result of Islamicist intimidation.

As for Pakistan, I had more in mind one of the tribal regions where Mr Duncan could study under one of the madrassas. My beef with Duncan is that he is a worshipper of religious piety without any consideration of the underlying values of the religion in question. The fervor and completeness of immersion in a belief system seems to be what he values most. That these fervent, committed believers are capable of murder seems not to concern him much. I'd just be interested to see if his love for religion that permeates one's entire being would survive a visit with the most fervent Islamic radicals.

The worst abuses perpetrated by religions have been at the hands of the most fervent and passionate (which is not to say that all passionate, fervent believers have been guilty of abuses). Someone who can admire the fervor of Islamic radicals is someone that I don't trust to share a free culture with.

February 09, 2006 9:42 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


The quality newspapers refused to republish the cartoons because they rightly viewed them as offensive junk.

But they all had editorials offering every viewpoint in the spectrum, from highly critical of the cartoons to highly critical of the Muslim protestors for protesting.

Free speech is about the right to express opinions, however popular or unpopular. But good newspapers do that at the level of reasoned debate, not at the level of "Yah boo, you Muslims are dummies."

BBC Radio 4 is our main current affairs channel. Rarely a day goes by in which the issues surrounding Islam in modern Britain aren't discussed, again with every shade of opinion expressed.

The Religious Hate Bill was designed to tackle people like Abu Hamza and Nick Griffin. The trouble was, the nannying Blairites went too far in the wording and would have ended up tackling stand-up comedians and cartoonists (though I doubt it would have been applied to them in practice), which is why they were defeated.

(And if you know anything about British politics, you'll know that a large majority Government being defeated on any Bill is a Big Deal. Blair has only lost 3 in his entire time in office).

We don't have a problem with freedom of expression, or a failure to debate the issues. We have a problem with a small number of noisy lunatics. The number is so small that they virtually ALL seem to have come from Hamza and Finsbury Park.

Who hates them most? Local Muslims, who get tarred with the same brush.

The cartoons are just piling on more tar.

February 09, 2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

How offended are your Muslim friends to the cartoons? And how would you rate the level of offensiveness of these cartoons to the level of offensiveness to Christans that the quality British media is willing to air or print?

February 09, 2006 11:35 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I haven't spoken to any of them about it yet, but I will, though none are any more politically-minded than your average bod.

Shairin mostly watches soaps and goes shopping. Even if she's seen the cartoons (which I doubt), my guess is that she would just ignore them, with possibly a vague shudder at the one with the women in burkhas.

Look, Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden and those protesting nutters burning the Danish embassy are just as distant and ghoulish as figures to them as they are to you and me.

I can summarise the general thrust of previous 'political' conversations thus: "They're all as mad as each other. So, did you watch Eastenders last night...?"

As regards comparing this to how the media are willing to print other 'blasphemous' cartoons, I don't see any inconsistency.

Again, there are frequently irreverent political cartoons involving Muslims in our papers, as there are involving CofE Bishops. But they are at the level of satire that Skipper thinks these ones are (and like the one he linked to on TofE), but which they clearly are not. ie. they make a particular satirical point about some aspect of the religion.

No newspaper worth reading would dream of publishing a cartoon which made no other point than "Christianity is stoopid", let alone 7 or 8 at once just to test how annoyed Christians might get. What could they possibly hope to achieve? Hooray, we've pissed some people off, give us a medal.

Duck, I scorn those extremist protestors as much as you. And I fully opposed the Religious Hate Bill because I think satirists should be legally allowed to take the piss out of anything.

What I really disagree with here is your suggestion that the mass republication of these cartoons should be applauded as some sort of blow in a cultural war against Muslims. There is no cultural war against Muslims.

If all the cartoons were at the level of satire of Skipper's cartoon, or the ideas I came up with on TofE - that is, clearly taking the mickey out of fundamentalism rather being than a mass of scattergun jibes at Islam, I would not be arguing.

February 09, 2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Here's an idea that would be a purer test of freedom of speech without the offensive bit. If a magazine commissioned a serious portrait of Mohammed from some unknown artist (to protect his life) and published it on the cover with the title "This image could get us killed", do you think that would be legitimate? Or would that be just more stirring up the hornet's nest for no reason?

February 09, 2006 12:28 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

You can mean two things by 'legitimate'.

I think the magazine should be legally allowed to do that. I would defend it's right to do so.

But I wouldn't applaud them for doing it, and I wouldn't do it if I was editor. That's not out fear of reprisal or because I'm kowtowing to those scary Muslims - let's assume the hypothetical that everyone involved is safe and anonymous. It's because I don't see any value in offending people for the sake of offending people.

Similarly, I would happily publish a well-reasoned critique of Islam (or any other religion) inside the magazine, but would not publish just the words "All Muslims are dumb and evil."

Your example also misses this important difference: an artistic portrait of Mohammed might offend Muslims, but it wouldn't have any of the 'propaganda' element in terms of its effect on non-Muslims that a vulgar caricature would.

February 09, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Over at Pharyngula I posted some comments about the difference in reactions to 'Piss Christ' and Jyllands-Posten.

The point I made there was that the provocation in the cases of 'Piss Christ' and Ofili (whom I did not mention by name) was far greater than the worst possible construction Muslims could put on the J-P cartoons, because in the U.S. cases Christians were obliged to pay to be insulted.

At the time, I supported Giuliani's move to strip the Brooklyn Museum of public funds.

Free speech without ANY restrictions, but on your own nickel, not mine.

Of course, blasphemous cartoons of Jesus are published all the time, though not by respectable U.S. papers -- Fark has hundreds, including ones showing Jesus as a pedophile.

Daily newspapers ignored Fred Phelps's antics for a long time, until he crossed a line.

Now they're paying attention. And Phelps really does represent no one.

The Muslim protesters do not represent no one. We will have to disagree, I guess, about how many they do represent.

Lileks today has a link to an India Press story about violent riots because somebody found a Koran in a ditch.

To shrug and say that Muslims are touchy seems to miss the point.

February 09, 2006 12:54 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I think that because the cartoons have been used to fuel rioting in the Muslim world as well as threatening, inciteful speech by radical Muslims in Britain and elsewhere that the publication of the cartoons is necessary from the standpoint of their being the central focus of a news story. I think it is important for everyone who wishes to see them to be able to make up their own mind about the controversy.

Beyond that I have no desire to give offense for offense's sake. But death threats change the whole dynamic of what should be seen as respectful consideration between groups. Are people being respectful out of actual respect, or out of fear? I don't think that a free society can let a sword of Damocles hang above itself like that.

February 09, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...


However, the demand that we respect Islam means nothing to me. I don't respect it. I despise it.

I think there has been conflation between respect and politesse.

You earn respect. Everyone is entitled to as much politesse as he extends back, and a little more.

On neither grounds do any Muslims have room to complain.

February 09, 2006 3:45 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Glenn Reynolds leads me to Austin Bay who leads me to Anne Applebaum at the Washingto Post, who wrote:

'At the time, many U.S. newspapers that refused last week to publish the Danish cartoons -- the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe (but apparently not The Post) -- did publish "Piss Christ." '

Let's not hear any more about US newspapers not being willing to publish offensive cartoons about Jesus.

Nor about the artistic merit, or lack thereof, of the J-P cartoons.

February 09, 2006 5:23 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Brit, you have not answered my questions about what your cricketeers would do if their side was on top.

The fact that they drink does not, I believe, separate them from the ones who flew into the towers.

I have a little story about that.

Many, many years ago, when I was a cub sportswriter, I was sent to hear Edward Villela, then America's primo ballerino, address a sports club.

He delicately addressed the question of whether dancing boys were gay.

'Let me just say this,' said Ed. 'At the end of an afternoon of practice, I could kill for a beer.'

Got that? Queers don't quaff beer or quiff.

February 09, 2006 7:06 PM  
Blogger Brit said...


What 'side'?

Nassar Hussein is as English an Englishman as you could find. I would say "apart from his name", but even that's not the case any more.

The point is we don't have a 'Muslim' and a 'non-Muslim' side. That's not how we divide the world up. We have the English versus the Aussies, Indians, Pakistanis etc.

Some people, like Hamza and Griffin and some commenters here it seems, would like there to be a Muslim side versus a non-Muslim side. I hope they never get their wish, but the scary thing is, it might be heading that way.

Anyway, of course queers quaff beer. I know a gay Welsh farmer who plays rugby and downs nothing but real ale. He disco dances like a proper queen, mind, but that's just what I was talking about on the other thread.

February 10, 2006 1:17 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

This is a good, balanced article from a moderate.

Some of the things I've read on BrosJudd are pretty disturbing.

If anti-Islamicism doesn't count as racism, then it's only let off on a technicality. If it's not racism, then nor is anti-Semitism. If it's not racism, why have the BNP switched their focus from blacks to Muslims?

February 10, 2006 4:00 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Blasphemy, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. This is precisely what makes the whole concept of blasphemy as close as darnnit to utter fatuousness. When you point out the strategic stupidity of intentionally inflaming people notoriously prone to spontaneous combustion, you are correct, but only at the level of facile politics.

For those theologically inclined towards immolating others, your very existence is blasphemy. That you (presumably) drink alcohol, mix with women not related to you, eat pork and fail to bow to Mecca is blasphemy pure and simple. After all, by definition, you reject as unworthy of serious consideration every religious tenet of Islam (and any other religion, for that matter) that conflicts with your own.

You reject Mohammed's divinity. You are a blasphemer.

Of course, as Duck has noted above, you intentionally and explicitly blaspheme other's religious beliefs. I am a areligious agnostic, fundamentally separable from atheists and Deists only by spelling. In order to give that belief system corporate heft, I shall call it Dunnoism, which encapsulates certain spiritual beliefs that I hold just as firmly as you hold yours.

Yet somehow spiritual beliefs that incorporate revelation and icons somehow deserve an a priori immunity from criticism and ridicule that those same beliefs do not accord to others. Dunnoism is routinely subjected to all kinds of abuse from pulpits across the nation. Dunnoists are apparently, without guidance from their spiritual superiors, incapable of anything but self centered nihilism. According to at least some religionists: Dunnoists are a threat to society, cannot comprehend the Declaration of Independence, and should be disenfranchised if outright deportation isn't possible.

Religionist sensitivity to blashpemy is rather a one-way street, isn't it?

Sorry, I don't see it that way. Religious claims to immunity from criticism or ridicule are baseless and hypocritical. Muslim assertions that we should abide by their prohibitions against depicting Mohammed are no more worthy of adherence than the logically identical demand that we force women to wear burkhas.

If you just keep quoting the same passages from your copies of “The Koran for Dummies” to the point where you have demonized everyone on the other side ...
Acknowleding Brit's point that most religionists buy into the lifestyle then a detailed exegisis of the underlying text, it makes no sense to demonize everyone on the other side.
But those passages are in the Quran. It is yet another trip along the hypocrisy road to elide them while decrying rationalism in the guise of Mein Kampf. Particularly when, according to the Micheal Medved show Duck linked to, at least 10% of Muslims actively buy into those passages. I'll bet that number is competitive with the portion of Germans who actively bought into Nazism.
I don't demonize Muslims, but there are plenty of Islamists out there worthy of the effort, and their source of inspiration is no more worthy of deference than is Mein Kampf.

February 10, 2006 4:16 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I have to admit finding your position on this somewhat surprising.

Well, no, that's not quite right. Your position is unsurprising, given your interpretation of the cartoons' intent.

There is virtually no way of ascertaining whether your interpretation or mine is the more correct.

Given the near impossibility of resolving that, how does one become anything other than a free speecher?

And once those cartoons' become the genesis of ongoing, important, events, how does one justify not republishing them?

February 10, 2006 4:23 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said... does one justify not republishing them?

What a bizarre question.

February 10, 2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


My attitude stems from the importance I place on distinguishing criticism of particular aspects of Islam or extremist Muslims, from criticising or deriding actual Muslims merely because they are Muslims.

That distinction must never be blurred, or we end up with that 'culture war'. I don't want to avoid a culture war because I'm worried about the 'safety of the West', it's because I'm worried about the safety of Britons who happen to be Muslim.

February 10, 2006 6:11 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


Those are admirable concerns, and I share them. But let us be clear that the cartoons are not fueling the hatred of Muslims by non Muslims. The culture war is there and it is based on the hatred of non-Muslims by radical Muslims. The cartoons are not the cause of that hatred, their hatred is the cause of that hatred.

The cartoons are now the subject of a news story that is swirling around everyone in the West. They are no longer the property of the cartoonists, they are exhibit A in the case for the defense of Western freeedoms. Everyone has a right to see what this struggle is about. Everyone, both Muslim and non-Muslim, has the right to make up their own mind about whether these cartoons rise to the level of provoking violence.

February 10, 2006 6:50 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


Once again, I've never said that the cartoons should be supressed by the forces of law.

I think that the editors' actions were shoddy. Peter's quote summed it up: it's a damn shame we have to 'test' freedoms of speech by insulting lots of good people merely to confirm whether the bad people were as bad as we suspected.

But the cartoons themselves are virtually an irrelevance now, other than in the underlying attitudes they've exposed.

I have to say, most of my worst fears about the image of Muslims in general, certainly in the US, seem to have been confirmed - at least as far as conservative bloggers are representative, which might not be very much.

February 10, 2006 7:06 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


I don't see it that way. Relations between American Muslims and non-Muslims have generally been better than in Europe. From what I've read or heard of the conservative commentators here, their anger is directed at three targets - radical Muslims, apologetic government officials and hypocritically timid media organizations. They are not calling for a counter-jihad against all Muslims.

I'm thinking that your fear may be related to a more volatile racial situation in Britain, and I'd like to get your comment on that. My sense is that there may be more racial antagonism directed at Muslims, not just religious but racial. I've heard the term "Wog" thrown around by some Brits, and I wonder if the tension between groups is higher than it is here.

February 10, 2006 8:27 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


Seems to me that the general mood on BrosJudd is that they're the 'headchoppers' who need to be crushed, and those not damning them are no more than 'headchopper-lovers.' Peter's had some horrible stick.

There are so few Muslims in the States (less than 1% I think, though I might be wrong), that they're unlikely to come across any Shairins to give some perspective.

As for racism, it's the same everywhere. People who know some Muslims tend not to be racist, those who've only seen Muslims on TV are more likely to be racist in a vague sort of way, and finally there are flashpoints in some communities among horrible young men of all creeds and colours.

Britain as a whole is extremely un-racist compared to most places I've visited, though you couldn't have said as much 20 years ago. Actually, you probably could. We're at least 20 years ahead of France, Spain or Italy, for example.

We have a totally different idea of what 'multiculturalism' means, too.

February 10, 2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


What a bizarre question.

Not so bizarre, actually. The cartoons are an intrinsic part of the story.

Without seeing them, people are completely unable to come to any conclusion as to whether the aggrieved have a point, or have a long ways to go before they reach the 17th century.

I presume you don't judge the merits of a case without reviewing the evidence.

February 10, 2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hmmm. Publishing them to finger the bad ones, if that was anybody's purpose, does not seem to have worked.

I still cannot tell the good ones from the bad ones.

I know how I COULD tell 'em apart.

As far as publishing the cartoons so that everyone can see what it's all about, as Duck suggests, that's an awfully western and civilized approach.

Muslims, who do not think like we do, have not felt any desire to examine the evidence before burning down offices.

They have only two switch positions:

Off: sullen resentment

On: murderous riot

There's a culture war right there, and not a damn thing we infidels can do about it.

February 10, 2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


So I take it you are suggesting there was a positive duty on newspapers to republish the cartoons in order to inform the public. So much for freedom of the press.

February 11, 2006 5:08 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I can see where what I wrote might well have come across that way.

I should have been more careful to ensure my actual meaning, which was more along these lines:

The cartoons, pivotal as they are to the story, are noteworthy by their uniform absence from ongoing coverage of the ensuing riots.

This strongly suggests there is self-censorship going on, not because the cartoons aren't newsworthy, or because they are particularly disturbing images, but because the papers fear violent retribution.

Undoubtedly, they also fear inciting additional rioting, but that is rather the same thing, isn't it?

(BTW -- in re-reading my post to you above, I may have come across as antagonistic. If so, that was not my intent; rather, I hoped to put the shoe on the other foot.)

February 11, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Today in London there was a peaceful Muslim deonstration: against both Islamaphobia, and also the extremist Muslims from the earlier 'protests'. About 4,000 tuned out.

It was organised by the moderates - the Muslim Association of Britain.

Reports here:

Here are some quotes:

The event aimed to explain the views of moderate Muslims towards cartoons published in a Danish newspaper which led to worldwide protests.

Organisers also said it wanted to dissociate the mainstream Muslim community from a "minority of extremists".


"It's been a brilliant day, a very cold February afternoon," said Ihtisham Hibatullah, one of the organisers.

"One can only hope the extremist element can be marginalised and we can move on."

In his speech, which was met with cheers from the crowd, he said: "The only way our community can survive is by showing mutual respect to each other.

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather described the cartoons as "a juvenile posturing exercise".

"Nothing was done to further the cause of liberal values or the freedom of speech - the publication of the cartoons was just plain racist," she added.

While Bruce Kent, friend of British hostage Norman Kember and representative of Christian group Pax Christi, said religious groups should be working together for "a world of justice and peace".


What Harry fails to acknowledge is that so many different people with so many different views of life class themselves as Muslim that it is meaningless to say "They (meaning all Muslims) think or act like x".

Islamic monotheism might be a contributary factor to tyranny and dictatorship, but it is neither necessary (Societ Union, China) nor sufficient (Turkey).

Some immigrant Muslims to the West adapt easily, a few don't.

Have you seen the movie 'East is East'? If not, you should.

February 11, 2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, no one expects Weekly World News or Entertainment Weekly to publish the cartoons.

But any news outlet that wants to be taken seriously on the subjects of Islam, international politics, western values or religion in public life must publish them. (Along with any Muslim statements defending the right to publish, if it could find any, which it couldn't.)

Yes, Brit, I am familiar with 'moderate Muslims.' I read their magazine, American Muslim. It is their intention to introduce America to 'a genuine rendition of monotheism.'

Considering what goes along with that, I rank moderate Muslims as politically and spiritually equivalent to the KKK.

I notice that Red Ken was there, too, calling for surrender of western values.

The only statement from a Muslim that would cause me to change my opinion is, 'Go ahead, publish the cartoons, you jerk. Doesn't matter to me.'

February 11, 2006 3:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


You are talking to a wall here. It doesn't matter whether you know ten million decent and admirable Muslims or what they believe. Experience doesn't count. Our pals have read their Koran and drawn their conclusions.

February 11, 2006 5:18 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Two brick walls. That's how you get a clash of civilizations, or, since Muslims are hardly civilized, civilization with religion.

You might note that the other side also reads the Koran and also takes it seriously.

It is the middle group that either doesn't read it or doesn't take it seriously that seems to me to show disrespect for the religion.

February 11, 2006 10:47 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Maybe, but the middle group are what humans are all about.

The literal creed and the 'religion' itself are two different things in all tribes, because the religion includes the people, culture, practice, compromise and the passage of time.

I think we look at the same set of flawed people, but I can't see many human flaws without at least some vestige of affection, or without seeing some reflection of my own flaws.

You're without doubt the cleverest person in BrosJudd blogland, but I can't really fathom your icy disdain for such a large slice of humanity. Or rather, since it applies to all non strict materialists, for 99% of humanity.

February 12, 2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Icy disdain?

I'm the Rodney King of blogland.

I have no interest in being converted to Islam, and equally no interest in converting anybody to materialism.

If Muslims want to offer human sacrifices to a rock, I'm not about to try to stop them, but don't ask me to admire them.

February 12, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Then that's the difference. I would want to stop human sacrifices, and I distinguish human sacrificers and suicide bombers from Britons, Frenchmen and Americans who happen to also be Muslim.

February 13, 2006 8:12 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

(This is a repeat from the history of blasphemy)


Ayatollah Al Sistani has some particularly interesting things to say about non-Muslims.

Why should I, or any non-Muslim, for that matter, have even a shred of respect for Islam? It would seem out and out disdain would be manifestly in order.

I think that American Muslims aren't demonstrating because they have at least partially integrated one of the fundamental capacities of free speech: putting things on disregard.

But this goes beyond what Muslims themselves think about what their book tells them to think.

I am reasonably good at contempt, but even my gifts are put to the test when faced with a text that puts me in the same category as s***t, when it isn't advocating my murder.

February 13, 2006 8:50 AM  

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