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Monday, February 06, 2006

By the Way

The first chapter of the Koran (from the
Library of Congress)

Sisyphus Shrugged posted this up

Shouting fire in a crowded theater, Piss Christ, Der Sturmer and other speech issues

A few things you may not know about the danish cartoon controversy, if you've been reading the same stories I found on Google News

A right-wing danish newspaper printed a number of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (I am, naturally, not linking to any of the papers whose stupidity set this off). According to the paper, they were exploring the effects of muslim activism on self-censorship. Islam, historically, has been against representational art, and pictures of Mohammed are a big, big taboo as they're thought to lead to idolatry. Caricature is considered blasphemy.

Some of the pictures commented on the paper's inflammatory intentions, while some were, given the intrinsic insult of the assignment, suprisingly respectful. Amongst the others: Mohammed with a lit bomb in his turban, Mohammed with devil horns sticking out of his turban, and Mohammed informing terrorists that they had to stop blowing things up because Islam has run out of virgins to reward them with in heaven.

The talking point of the moment is that the cartoons were mild, not intended to be interpreted as anti-islamic statements and merely a comment on freedom of speech. That is, of course, utter bullshit, as prominent liberal organizations the Vatican and the ADL agree. The ADL, by no means an apologist organization for radical islam, compares the cartoons in matter and intent to antisemitic caricatures in the muslim press, which is a fairly strong statement coming from the ADL. Both agree that the speech should have been suppressed.

That last, of course, isn't right either.

On the other side of the debate, we have the people represented by the Danish Prime Minister, who believes that the matter is purely a free speech issue and (despite the urgings of 22 former danish ambassadors) has refused to meet with diplomats from muslim countries accedited to Copenhagen to discuss the issue in late December.

This again is bullshit. It is in no way a restriction of anyone's freedom of the press for the head of government to say that the country, while supporting the right to free speech, condemns the racism and religious bigotry expressed.

It was still a primarily diplomatic wrangle, though, until two Norwegian evangelical Christian magazines reprinted the cartoons a week later with the stated intention of making a comment on Islam and terrorism (are you beginning to notice a common thread amongst the free speech enthusiasts here?) and all hell broke loose.

Well, not all hell - arab groups called for a boycott, there were threats against the newspaper that commissioned the cartoons, protesters burned flags and fired bullets in the air, and islamic countries recalled their ambassadors.

No, full-metal hell didn't break loose until various newspapers in Europe, giving reasons ranging from support of free speech (see above) to anti-religious principles (France, of course), went ahead and reprinted the cartoons again. One brave soul printed them in Jordan. He's been fired. The boycott, largely a pipe dream before last week, is now severely damaging danish industry.

Meanwhile, the original newspaper, which apparently has more sense than the Prime Minister does, acknowledged that although the publication of the cartoons was completely legal, they were offensive, and apologized for causing offense. European leaders (with, of course, the exception of Denmark and Norway) have pointed out that while free speech is a basic human right, the material printed in this case was deeply offensive and to be condemned.

By this time, of course, the culture warriors of the anti-islamic right had succeeded in attracting enough attention to their antics to draw the attention of the violent extremist wing of the muslim world.

So now embassies are burning and (while mainstream islamic leaders condemn the riots) there is lovely juicy footage of islamic mob violence on every station and in every newspaper just as the effort to escalate against Iran ramps up.

Quel coinkydink.

If you want a real educational experience, go look at the Google hits for this, and read what the LGF wing of the blogosphere has to say about it, and how few facts about the situation they give you (among other things, they uniformly suggest that the boycott and the violence have been going on since the original publication of the images in September rather than since late December or mostly in the past week).

If you want another educational experience after that, Google what the same sites had to say last week about free speech in the matter of Cindy Sheehan's tshirt.

If you want to break your heart, Google for what they have to say about rape and asking for it.

There was a joke going around when Salman Rushdie had the (thoroughly inexcusable) fatwa aimed at him that he was using his time in hiding to work on his next book, "Buddha, You Fat [rude anglo-saxon noun]" Dave Barry, on the other hand, back when he was still funny, wrote a piece about nature documentaries where he imagined the producer, seduced by the prospect of highly salable attack footage, gravely intoning "Now we're going to see what a shark does when you poke it in the testicles with a cattle prod"

Free speech means that you have the right to express yourself. You even have the right to be protected by law from people you've offended who want to express their offense in illegal ways. It does not mean that if you act like a dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun] you're really a brave warrior for truth and the rights of man or anything but a really, really dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun].

Congratulations, o culture warriors of the right. You've gotten the deep offense and the highly-telegenic violence you wanted. You must, although resembling them closely in many other significant ways, be much happier than pigs in shit.

You know, I'm really fascinated by the discussion I'm seeing, both here and around the internets, about this subject.

I find particularly interesting how Good Liberals are ignoring the fact that state-sponsored islam shares quite a lot of ideological space with the extreme millennialist right-wing corporate christianity that's in bed with our own ruling party. Women, speech, individual rigihts - lot of common ground there. If you recall, they were the only religious leaders who wanted us to go to war.

US foreign policy has been the single most influential factor in building the political structures of the islamic world, and we didn't give a shit about it as long as the oil kept coming and we were given the russkis whatfor. We installed the House of Saud, the House of Saud funded wahhab. We installed the Shah and we propped him up when we knew him to be every bit as noisome as Saddam Hussein (who we also installed and propped up and sold lots and lots of arms to - fun fact: he was developed as an asset by the CIA under the senior George Bush). We funded the Taliban and taught them to fight. We were perfectly OK with the governments we supported in the region ruthlessly shutting down free speech, and we were perfectly OK with the people of those countries being kept ignorant and poorly informed about the world.

Just as the right and the (koff) "credible" center are willing to pretend that our own homegrown extremists are valid voices and adjust our laws and what we teach our own children in public schools for them as though they represented mainstream religious thought because their preachers tell them how to vote.

it's a bit precious for us to turn around and deplore the way people who have lived their lives in a world we built and maintained think about us. If we had given a shit about them at any time in the last sixty years this would not be happening.

posted by Steve @ 2:35:00 AM

2:35:00 AM

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