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February 06, 2006

Comments

"In a multi-cultural society you can't demand that non-religious people show respect for your religion.  You can wish that they do.  You can hope that they do.  They probably should.  But Western societies allow for the possibility that they won't."

Yes. Exactly.

Great post.

Nice post and point well taken. To insert a bit of a contrary pov, I would point out that the Western view is a hard won view, coming at the cost of centuries of religious strife. I've mentioned before that major organized religions seem to go thru a spasm of reaction and arch-reaction around the 1000 year mark. Also, as our policies have been to not help moderate muslims develop a political basis of power (the history of the Middle East seems littered with groups that started off as moderates and morphed into strongly advocating violence) but either supported secular regimes or worse, allowed despotic regimes to encourage radicalism outside their borders while keeping a tight lid on it at home, simply invoking the Western point of view falls a bit short. This is not to defend embassy burning or death threats or stupidly worded placards, and I largely agree with both your and Josh's take, but when we wonder 'why can't they be more like us?', we are already in trouble.

Marshall: "...well, all I can think of to use is the clunky 21st centuryism...."

And yet used in the last couple of decades of the 20th century with great frequency.

Sebastian: "The Muslim demand...."

Marshall got it right; you got it wrong. "The demand of some Muslims," or even "the demand of many Muslims." Not "the Muslim demand."

anyone ready for a re-run of the Thirty Years War with a the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna thrown in for good measure?

"Nice post and point well taken. To insert a bit of a contrary pov, I would point out that the Western view is a hard won view, coming at the cost of centuries of religious strife."

And that is precisely why it is very important to not back down from it. We've worked hard for it. We've seen the benefit of it. We have to work at keeping it.

Sebastian: good post. Thanks. (Though I'd echo Gary's qualification, just to be contrary.)

Gosh darn, just everybody is talking about this tonight. Ok, good post, whatever.

"but I think attempts [to] force culture to conform to dogma should be opposed universally." ...Ezra Klein.

I thought this was funny in that it is really is what we are attempting to do to Muslims, the dogma being secular liberalism.
Paul Cella surprises me just a little, because I can link to posts where he complains about a "totalitarianism of secular liberalism."

I frequent the left blogs where discussions of Evolution are settled questions of scientific truth. Where the purpose and value of religion is incomprehensible. The West has a culture. It is my preferred culture, I will fight for it against its enemies foreign and domestic but I just can't seem to eliminate all distance from it, can't build the sufficient enthusiasm to say it is the only possible valuable culture.

So I retain a radical skepticism that forces me to both an antagonism to and empathy for fundamentalists and fanatics of all varieties, Christian, Islamic, or secular liberal.

As far as the violence goes, as I said, I will fight to defend secular liberalism if I feel it existentially threatened or in danger of such vitiation and assimilation that it would lose its unique nature. Thank goodness, I have in most cases the power of the state on my side with it's self-appropriated monopoly on violence.

Isn't that the very definition of a state or nation: a majority culture with a monopoly on violence?

Just asking.

We've worked hard for it. We've seen the benefit of it. We have to work at keeping it.

I guess the humorous response is 'Whattya mean 'we', kemosabe?' But seriously, I link to Juan Cole latest and the previous one, which has a list of stories and little comment, so even if you can't stand him, you may want to read the post for the timeline value.

Sebastian Holsclaw: Blasphemy is about protecting the sanctity of religion itself--not a function of US government.

I agree with the sentiment behind this statement entirely, as should be clear from my comments in the Alito thread. But I didn't come away from that discussion expecting you to ever make such a statement, since it implies a determination of religious purpose, i.e. that the quality being protected is "sanctity". How would you have this standard applied to law?

As a hypothetical, rather than a majority-Hindu Congress outlawing the consumption of beef, lets imagine a majority-Muslim Congress passes a law banning depictions of the Prophet. Of course, such a law would violate the free expression clause, but for the sake of argument lets pretend it doesn't, since your central thesis here is that the issue goes beyond expression to the interaction of church and state.

That is a point worth debating. But they typically did not demand that it never be shown anywhere. And that is a key difference. In a multi-cultural society you can't demand that non-religious people show respect for your religion.

This might be true of "Piss Christ" (I honestly don't know, since I only remember the to do about public funding), but I don't think this would be a true statement were it applied to, say, "The Last Temptation of Christ". Or are you referring only to calls for government-imposed bans?

"I frequent the left blogs where discussions of Evolution are settled questions of scientific truth. Where the purpose and value of religion is incomprehensible."

I'd stand by that first sentence. The second sentence, I think those of whom that is true, are blind.

I say that as someone who is essentially an atheist and always has been so, and who is hardly uncognizant of the problems and horrors religion has also presented over history, and still today.

"Isn't that the very definition of a state or nation: a majority culture with a monopoly on violence?"

It certainly seems to be a necessary part of the definition; I'm somewhat doubtful it's sufficient.

On the uber-issue, I continue to not find a need to take a stance between supporting free speech (which of course I do) and making grand generalizations about Muslims; neither do I yet feel the need to write a detailed exegesis on all the ins and outs of What Is Correct And What Is Not about this affair, which is the only way I'd see as a truly fair approach; somehow, I imagine the world can, for now, get along with my Comprehensive Pronouncement on the topic.

Short version: lotta things going on in this madness.

Most of what most people are saying (not on this blog -- I mean in blogdom in general) is as useless, or worse, as usual. As has long been the case, too many people have worthless opinions, and don't know that. (To emphasize: this is my subjective opinion, and nothing more. Of course.)

There are exceptions. If I see a second one that seems comprehensive and/or original enough to point to, I'll blog it.

Hasn't happened yet, and I'd conservatively estimate that I've read somewhere over 140+ news articles, and 80+ blog posts on the topic by now.

But that's just me, of course. It's not intended as a criticism of anyone who feels differently, or who has read great stuff I have not.

In a multi-cultural society you can't demand that non-religious people show respect for your religion.

This might be true of "Piss Christ" (I honestly don't know, since I only remember the to do about public funding), but I don't think this would be a true statement were it applied to, say, "The Last Temptation of Christ".

I believe that the existence of William Donohue tends to strongly support this claim. Maybe he "can't do" what he has a long history of doing. Maybe Gromit's suggestion that Sebastian's claim is limited to "referring only to calls for government-imposed bans" is the correct interpretation of Sebastian.

Perhaps Sebastian will clarify.

This is diametrically opposed to the bargain that Western cultures have made to allow religious tolerance in our societies.  Expressing offense is permitted.  It might encourage people not to be rude.

Careful with your generalisations. Britain still has a Christianity-only blasphemy law on its books, that is still occasionally enforced.

The "contrary" view is that the blasphemous cartoons are instances of the rich and powerful west bullying poor and powerless minorities in Europe and the populations of adjoining countries, most of which are former colonies. Lampooning the revered exemplar of the religion itself, rather than the behavior of his followers, was arguably unfair and certainly inconsiderate.

Although there's a longstanding tradition of similar treatment of European religion (the few bits of Greek mythology we still enjoy are dirty stories about Zeus or Athena) most of flavor went out of it a few hundred years ago.

We have to defy any religion's restrictions on what we may say or do, and the fear of retribution was the point of the cartoons' publication. Since then, the most any government can say is "Sorry about that. We don't control the press." and, for the most part, that's what they're doing.

It would have been fun if the cartoons had been a bit more ecumenical. Brokeback Mountain might not be the best theme, since Jesus and Mohammed were in the building trades, not pastoralists.

This might be true of "Piss Christ" (I honestly don't know, since I only remember the to do about public funding), but I don't think this would be a true statement were it applied to, say, "The Last Temptation of Christ".

I'm pretty sure isn't a true statement when applied to "Life of Brian"; albeit, almost 30 years ago in that case.

Apart from that, an excellent post Seb.

(Oops: Aphrodite. Talk about revealed preferences!)

Sebastian, in another thread quite some time ago, I called you a liar. Hilzoy promptly (and justly) banned me for 24 hours to cool down. You did not, then, post at length on free speech and my right to insult you. The posting rules evolved at Obsidian Wings are, in fact, in principle against the principle it seems to me you are coming damned close to advocating here: that gratuitous insult for the sake of it is not acceptable.

The ObWing posting rules:

-Be reasonably civil.
-No profanity.
-Don't disrupt or destroy meaningful conversation for its own sake.
-Do not consistently abuse or vilify other posters for its own sake.

These are rules for civilised communication. People have a legal right to break them. But breaking them is not a matter for celebration or admiration.

That said, I agree with Jonas Cord: This is not an acceptable standard to hold a free society to. The only problem is, I've never, ever, seen you write anything against this principle before, nor do I anticipate ever seeing you do so again. (Teaching "intelligent design" as if it were science? Pretending that evolution is "just a theory"? The Bush administration's financial support of Christian charities and a specific kind of Christian attitude to sex? The opposition to safe legal abortion for all, or to civil marriage for same-sex couples? You've never written anything against these ideas. A reader might suppose that it only occurs to you that it's wrong to impose religious principles on others when the religion involved is not Christianity.)

Forget, temporarily, that the Danish newspaper's gratuitous insult to the Muslim community in Denmark was blasphemous in nature. You're right to say that people have a right not to be forced to hold by religious principles they themselves do not adhere to. (And I hope you remember that for the future, in other arguments.) The point that should concern us (that is, we as citizens of a secular society) is not that the insult was blasphemous: it is that the insult was gratuitous, made for no other reason than to cause offense and stir up trouble.

Watch it, bad Jim, you know what they are like when you choose one over the other...

"Maybe he "can't do" what he has a long history of doing. Maybe Gromit's suggestion that Sebastian's claim is limited to "referring only to calls for government-imposed bans" is the correct interpretation of Sebastian."

How about "the demands are not well received by the culture"? And frankly don't get much of anywhere even with other Christians. My mother, a surprisingly good indicator of evangelical Christian thought, said of "The Last Temptation of Christ" that protesting it was counterproductive. Far better to let it vanish into obscurity. And the reaction is absolutely not with the intensity that leads to embassy destroying.

People demand all sorts of stupid things--and are ignored. Violently demanding stupid things becomes another problem entirely.

bad Jim: Since then, the most any government can say is "Sorry about that. We don't control the press." and, for the most part, that's what they're doing.

Actually, the whole problem might well not have gone international had the Danish government's response to the cartoons been on the order of "We do not support the publication of these cartoons: they are offensive and insulting, and we deplore the prejudice expressed by them. No legal action can be taken by us or by you against the newspaper, since it committed no crime in publishing them, but we express our sympathy with your offense at being so gratuitously insulted."

As I understand the initial response from the Danish government was more on the order of "We've got a free press. Suck it up."

Remember that Salman Rushdie was condemned to death for a mild jape in a thick book and Theo van Gogh was murdered for making a critical movie.

The insult was hardly gratuitous; the reciprocal response has been made manifest on many occasions and has been repeated anew with the burning of the embassies in Damascus.

Jesurgislac, no quibble. I'm sure the Danes could have been more sensitive. The U.S. government's response could have better defended the freedom of speech, had it any credibility in that regard.

Japonicus: the goddesses know me too well by now, unfortunately.

The insult was hardly gratuitous

I wasn't aware that it was a Danish imam who issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Or that it was a Danish Muslim who murdered Theo van Gogh. Are you lumping all Muslims in all countries together, and arguing that if one Muslim murders, or sends out a religious instruction to murder, all Muslims deserve to be condemned? If so, do you accept the reciprocal: if one Christian commits a murder, all Christians should be condemned for it?

"Sebastian, in another thread quite some time ago, I called you a liar. Hilzoy promptly (and justly) banned me for 24 hours to cool down. You did not, then, post at length on free speech and my right to insult you."

Only once?

You have a right to insult me. Just not here in a private space. If you want to do so on your own weblog, on a street corner, or on the radio--have at it.

"it is that the insult was gratuitous, made for no other reason than to cause offense and stir up trouble."

It wasn't just to cause offense and stir up trouble. It was to illustrate that a disturbingly large number of Muslims were willing to back up blasphemy charges against non-Muslims with violence. I believe that point as been adequately confirmed.

"The posting rules evolved at Obsidian Wings are, in fact, in principle against the principle it seems to me you are coming damned close to advocating here: that gratuitous insult for the sake of it is not acceptable."

If I were teaching my children what is polite and correct I would of course say that gratuitous insults are not acceptable. If I were having a party in my house I might ask you to leave if you were giving gratuitous insults to my guests. If I were hosting a weblog I might make a rule against gratuitous insults.

But in society at large I wouldn't make such a rule. Why? Because "gratuitous insult" is a tough category which is ruled more by informal social norms than by law. Is my poster to Mr. Phelps ("Mr. Phelps. I've been out of the closet for ten years. Funny that you've been to more Gay Pride events than me") an insult? Almost certainly. Why? It implies that he is gay. Why is that an insult when I don't mind gay people, am not homophobic, am in fact gay myself, and think being gay is wonderful? It is an insult to Mr. Phelps because being gay is one of the most awful things he can imagine. It is such a horrible evil in his mind that he spends most of his life protesting it. I tailored the insult specifically to him to highlighy his weird beliefs. Is it a gratuitous insult? No. It is a cheeky little response to his threats and his venom. Just like these cartoons--commissioned to highlight the fact that some artists feel rightly physically threatened by a disturbingly large number of Muslims. That is not gratuitous. It is the artistic response to a physical threat. It exposes the ridiculousness of the mindset behind the threat.

People get their messages across in different ways. Governments ought not be involved in figuring out which insults are gratuitious and which ones aren't. It shouldn't be in the business of determining which ones are insults and which ones are legitimate speech.

Little communities can do that on their own with social pressure (but not violence). Governments ought not do that generally. If Muslims want to try to make the artists feel bad for drawing--feel free. If they want to threaten their lives, I'm not ok with that.

"I wasn't aware that it was a Danish imam who issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Or that it was a Danish Muslim who murdered Theo van Gogh. Are you lumping all Muslims in all countries together, and arguing that if one Muslim murders, or sends out a religious instruction to murder, all Muslims deserve to be condemned? If so, do you accept the reciprocal: if one Christian commits a murder, all Christians should be condemned for it?"

You don't have to lump 'all'. You can lump together the sufficiently and disturbingly large number of Muslims who support such religious instructions. You can note that there seem to be a lot of people this last weekend who are willing to act on them with physical violence. You can note that there seem to be an even greater number who don't seem to understand the concept of "secular" which might speak to the important issue of how this large number of Muslims might interact with Western culture.

The percentage of Muslims who believe these things doesn't have to be at 100 to be very disturbing. 5% would be very disturbing, and I'm very sure it is much more than 5%.

"I'd stand by that first sentence"

Gary, I am a radical enough skeptic to say that scientific truth is not an unassaible good but a cultural preference. The real point of the Evolution opponents is that the benefits of scientific totalitarianism do not always exceed the benefits of revealed ethico-religion.

I keep returmimg to the specifics of the complaint. The Muslims are not asking that churches be torn down or crucifixes thrown into the flames; or that all publications be subject to total review; or that Denmark become a sharia ordered society. As in the Judith Miller case, the press is frequently prone to hysterical slippery-slope arguments, that if we give an inch, all will be lost.

They, specifically fundamentalist Sunnis, the Shia are not so strict on aniconism, are asking that Muhammed not be the subject of images, and I do not see why acceding to that request would be a very huge sacrifice or loss. I am not aware of any further aniconic requests or demands, although Salafi and Wahhabi adherents would be consistent in making them.

Arguments from principle without an empirical analysis (Not "We really need freedom of speech" but "Do we really need to depict Muhammed?") or slippery-slope arguments carry small weight with me.

Sebastian: It was to illustrate that a disturbingly large number of Muslims were willing to back up blasphemy charges against non-Muslims with violence.

In short, it was to cause offense and stir up trouble. And because it did cause offense and stir up trouble, you think it was justified?

As best I can recall, it was an Iranian who issued the fatwa against an Indian novelist residing in Britain. That the threat is not purely local is a good part of the point.

Matt Yglesias (my hero, swoon) is currently making a similar argument about the display of the ten commandments in public areas. That this is a concession the left can make with some gain and little cost, and without great fear of creeping theocracy.

If we put alleged blasphemy to votes, and "Piss Christ" was banned while "Last Temptation" and "Dogma" were permitted on artistic merit, a result I would guess likely, I would not feel our freedoms compromised beyond repair. There is an absolutism to much of this controversy that frankly feels anti-democratic, irrational, and quasi-religious in its expression.

badJim: As best I can recall, it was an Iranian who issued the fatwa against an Indian novelist residing in Britain.

So, on those grounds, precisely why is not "gratuitous" for a Danish newspaper to set out to offend Danish Muslims? Because George W. Bush is an evil man who lied the US into an aggressive war against Iraq, is that sufficient to make all insults against right-wing Christians - any nationality - not gratuitous, but entirely justified and justifiable?

As someone who is, perhaps regrettably, prone to making insults against right wing Chritians gratuitously, I can't disagree with your conclusion, not that I understand its provenance.

Is it really that important to understand why this one newspaper printed the cartoons? A bigger paper could have printed better ones.

I keep wanting to move the argument to the question of whether the rest of the European papers should have printed them, and then to their absence in the English-speaking world.

badJim: Is it really that important to understand why this one newspaper printed the cartoons?

Yes. The context in which they were published makes clear that the newspaper's intent was to cause offense and stir up trouble. We can fairly assume that the editor supposed this would remain a Danish, or at least a purely Scandinavian, issue: the context is of a right-wing xenophobic newspaper, in a country in which Muslims are a minority group already subject to racist attacks even by prominent politicians, deciding that it would be fun to cast an insult at Muslims that he knew they would find unbearable.

bad Jim: two New Zealand newspapers - the Dominion Post (Wellington) and The Press (Canterbury) - have published the cartoons. Those two papers are owned by an Australian company, Fairfax, which in Australia publishes, among others, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (Melbourne), neither of which has published them.

I'm not sure what this means; just thought I'd let you know.

Suppose we leave aside the possibly indeterminate motivations for the original commissioning, execution and publication of the cartoons, as well as the reciprocal rabble-rousing of the clerics who gave them wide circulation among the populaces who have protested them so memorably.

Was their general republication across Europe an affirmation of racism or an assertion of solidarity with blasphemers?

My own country is in neither category, so far, and I'd ascribe it rather to cowardice than kindness. We're occupying Iraq.

badJim: Was their general republication across Europe an affirmation of racism or an assertion of solidarity with blasphemers?

Affirmation of racism, for the most part, I think.

I find myself in pretty broad agreement with Sebastian here. One has to keep in mind the context, of course, which is that many Moslems feel beseiged in both political and religious senses. So there's an element of insult-to-injury* that Sebastian hasn't fully captured. I certainly wish more Moslems (all Moslems! all religionists!) would go the route of Sebastian's Mother, but then it's hardly a surprise that demagogues of one kind of another use incidents like the cartoons, or the Last Temptation, to rouse their flocks. Nor is it a surprise that in the context of religion, demagoguery works to a real extent.

Sure there's a difference, but it's just context. If Dobson et al. had to advocate violence (and that mostly against buildings) in order to be taken seriously by their followers, I've no doubt we'd see different rhetoric from them. As it is, though, they, and the followers, are content with (a) foaming at the mouth and (b) massive fundraising.

Was their general republication across Europe an affirmation of racism or an assertion of solidarity with blasphemers?

Obviously these choices are not mutually exclusive. And you have to add petulance, of the kind endorsed by von and Edward_ on the other thread, into the mix.

* Injury, in this context, is in the eye of the beholder. Of course there have been plenty of injuries visited upon non-Moslems by Moslems, in Europe and elsewhere. The question is whether a broad swath of Moslems feel like they are on the short end of the injury stick. The answer is yes, and this, more than hating-our-freedoms, or bloodlust, or "evil," is what motivates our enemies (and their supporters) in what we've chosen to call a war. This episode is not going to end well for people in that swath -- no matter what happens over the next month or two wrt the drawings, the sense of grievance will only have increased, and consequently, at the margins, sympathy for the other side among the uncommitted/poorly committed. Way to go Danes!

Put cartoons of Muhammed in the same category as flag burning. It used to be that flag burning was a protest against the United States, now it's become by many a demonstration of peoples' free speech rights.

Sebastian mentioned that there was a "disturbingly large number" of Muslims willing to resort to violence for cartoons drawn and published by non-Muslims. I would say that there similarly disturbingly large number of Muslims who need to grow up.

I wonder what the reaction would be if someone produced an Islamic version of the Life of Brian, and whether it would make a difference if the person were Muslim, former-Muslim or never-Muslim. Like the cartoons, the movie would be a test as to how free dissenting speech really is. Not that I would do it, but I reserve the right for me (and for anyone else) to write a book or make a movie that is virulently anti-Muslim. Or anti-Hindu. Or anti-Christian.

I, too, appreciate Sebastian's post and agree with its substance. But I wonder what comes next. What is our long term goal? My objection to von's post is that he seemed to me to be descending right to the level of the people he was objecting to. After all "enemy" and "evil" sound like fighting words to me. Unless the long term goal is to literally fight and literally defeat religious fundamentalists, then resorting to their rhetoric and inflaming ourselves with anger isn't helpful.
The war on terror has to be a hearts and minds war. Not exclusively, but primarily. After all, terrorists can be anywhere, can move around, are willing to sustain loses that would be unacceptable to most people: whack-a-mole. That kind of thing is extremely difficult to defeat with military power. So the hearts and minds are important. We can't just huff and puff and blow their house down.
I don't think it is caving in on an important principle to oppose deliberate rudeness. We need to prevent the moderate Muslims from being further marginalized. The basic impulse behind the publication of the original cartoons was a "fuck you" to Danish Muslims. One can condemn the people who use this as an excuse for violence while still condemning the individuals who who provoked it with their public display of rudeness.
If the long term goal is to defeat extremism, then a short term objective has to be to keep the moderates on our side. That means that somehow, over time, the Muslim preception of disrespect and alienation has to be addressed and the tension between secular governments and theocratic views has to be addressed. So how to do that?

"Put cartoons of Muhammed in the same category as flag burning."

While I generally agree with this sentiment and think both should be permitted, it is clear that many people, especially in Congress, do not think that in at least one case.

I also happen to agree with lily's sentiments that these cartoons are amazingly counterproductive to our cause in the GWOT. Not a reason to ban them, but a reason to question at least the judgment of those pressing for them to be published as frequently as possible.

"The question is whether a broad swath of Moslems feel like they are on the short end of the injury stick. The answer is yes, and this, more than hating-our-freedoms, or bloodlust, or "evil," is what motivates our enemies (and their supporters) in what we've chosen to call a war."

Part of the problem as I see it is that a borad swath of Muslims choose to take as injury what we see as our freedoms. They don't hate our freedoms because of a dislike of freedom. They see what we do with our freedoms, far beyond anything that is done with direct reference to Muslims, as causing injury to their faith. Allowing homosexuality is an injury to their faith. Letting women wear allegedly revealing clothes is an injury to their faith. Certain types of music are an injury to their faith. Drinking is an injury to their faith. Allowing non-Muslim religions to have the same legal status as Islam is an injury to their faith. Forcing Muslims and non-Muslims to the same standard of proof before a court (not trusting a Muslim man's word over that of a non-Muslim) is an injury to their faith. This particular instance is merely part a more directed than usual injury to their faith.

This isn't the only injury to their faith which brings violence. They all do. And that is precisely the problem.

"If the long term goal is to defeat extremism, then a short term objective has to be to keep the moderates on our side. That means that somehow, over time, the Muslim preception of disrespect and alienation has to be addressed and the tension between secular governments and theocratic views has to be addressed."

The medium term goal has to be to get the moderates to actually choose sides. We cannot address the tension between secular governments and theocratic views in the favor of theocracy and remain Western culture. If the moderates choose theocracy they aren't actually moderates. Thinking otherwise is what gets us in to trouble in Iran thinking that those who want to stone homosexuals but not attack Israel with nuclear weapons are moderates. They aren't. They are just a slightly different but very nasty fundamentalist. We all know this in the "creation science" debate. It is no different in the Islamist terror situation--only it is much more important.

"The Muslim demand (even in its non-violent form) is that their view of blasphemy ought to be respected and enforced. This is diametrically opposed to the bargain that Western cultures have made to allow religious tolerance in our societies..."

Ironically, this does not seem to be the case in Denmark. As stated by the Danish publisher in the newsweek interview http://msnbc.msn.com/id/11179140/site/newsweek/
there are laws against blasphemy and racism (that restrict freedom of speech) in Denmark, so expressing offense is NOT permitted. I think equating the US approach to freedom of speech with the overall Western approach is misleading, as neither the culture nor the laws are uniform. In Danish culture there are limits to freedom of speech, which at least suggests, it is reasonable to demand not publishing material that knowingly insults other people.

What is even more puzzling to me is that apparently Danish courts decided that the cartoons were not blasphemous!
Almost all of the arguments I've read so far discuss whether or not blasphemy is permitted, etc. and considers the cartoon blasphemous. I'd like to find out the rationale of the Danish court in deciding

Regards,

Berkay

Sebastian, February 06, 2006 at 04:27 AM:

How about "the demands are not well received by the culture"?
Sebastian's post:
In a multi-cultural society you can't demand that non-religious people show respect for your religion.
I take it you are now withdrawing this statement in your post? Will you be posting a correction to that effect? Stating that, in fact, you can make such demands, so long as they are peaceful and do not threaten violence, but that you can't expect society to necessarily either listen to your demands or follow them?

Or am I misunderstanding your 04:27 AM? If so, I do hope you clarify further.

The sense of injury felt by some Muslims might come in part form cultural differences rooted in religion ( like American Christians who hate gays), but I think there is more to it than that. There is the history of the relationship between Europe and more recently America and the Middle East , a history that includes frequent invasions, a period of colonialism, the support of repressive governments, and the overthrow of at least one democracy, all of this justified in Western minds by a strong sense of Western cultural superiority. Also Muslim people living in some Western countries have found that no matter how hard they try, they cannot achieve acceptance. The root cause of the riots in France a while back was the accurate perception that French Muslims had that no matter what they were not quite French enough. And now a Danish paper, involation of Danish law, according to the poster upthread, was deliberately and maliciously rude. So the grievance is real. This doesn't justify riots, of course, but it does mean that righteous wrath on our part isn't helpful. To win hearts and minds one has to have sensitivity to other people's views. Al Quiada doesn't want us to understand why Muslims feel disrepected. They'd prefer we got all huffy and puffy and disrespectful ourselves. Are we going to fall for it?

Sebastian,

"The medium term goal has to be to get the moderates to actually choose sides. We cannot address the tension between secular governments and theocratic views in the favor of theocracy and remain Western culture. If the moderates choose theocracy they aren't actually moderates."

While not disagreeing with this sentiment, somehow I doubt that the most effective choice of places to start drawing the line is tolerating blasphemy. Pretty much any of the items you listed: "Allowing homosexuality is an injury to their faith. Letting women wear allegedly revealing clothes is an injury to their faith. Certain types of music are an injury to their faith. Drinking is an injury to their faith. Allowing non-Muslim religions to have the same legal status as Islam is an injury to their faith. Forcing Muslims and non-Muslims to the same standard of proof before a court (not trusting a Muslim man's word over that of a non-Muslim) is an injury to their faith."

As you note, "This particular instance is merely part a more directed than usual injury to their faith.". To me that means that this is a tactically poor idea to begin with, and rubbing Muslim noses in this injury on a repeated basis is even worse. And that's why von's suggestion of "To hell with them. Publish that cartoon fifty times a day for the next thirty years. Let 'em scream. It's the sound of freedom, baby." is a recipe for disaster.

words missing from prior comment. Add at the end of the second paragraph:

would be a better starting point.

I would say that there similarly disturbingly large number of Muslims who need to grow up.

Ah, infantilization. Always a good tactic. Works wonders.

I wonder what the reaction would be if someone produced an Islamic version of the Life of Brian, and whether it would make a difference if the person were Muslim, former-Muslim or never-Muslim.

Do you know what Life of Brian is actually about? Hint: It is not anti-Christian, and contains no mockery of Christ. Quite the opposite.

Bob: "Gary, I am a radical enough skeptic to say that scientific truth is not an unassaible good but a cultural preference."

Another point we'll have to agree to disagree about.

"...scientific totalitarianism...."

Not a phrase I find useful, so we'll have to agree to disagree about that, as well. If you were to decry those who extended use of scientific understanding of the universe into mandating a belief in atheism, I would rejoin you there. But if "scientific totalitarianism" means "we can objectively test, falsify, and prove our results," then I'm all for it. Not as the only approach to the universe, but as a necessary one to understand a crucial aspect of it, which is to say, the "objective reality" part of it. (Other approaches, such as poetic, artistic, philosophical, etc., are also invaluable in other ways.)

Jes: "In short, it was to cause offense and stir up trouble"

In defense of Sebastian's points, the "trouble" was and is clearly there, as epitomized by ongoing threats, and the examples such as Salman Rushdie and Theo van Gogh, and, indeed, the stimulus for the whole affair, the fact that no Danish artist could be found willing to illustrate the book on Islam, purely because of fear of threats of violence. That fear is based on reality, obviously, and that is not tolerable status quo for a free society.

Denying this or ignoring this, or pretending that if we all look away, it will go away, is also not useful.

Bob again: "Matt Yglesias (my hero, swoon) is currently making a similar argument about the display of the ten commandments in public areas. That this is a concession the left can make with some gain and little cost, and without great fear of creeping theocracy."

As always, Bob: Okay, assume that arguendo. Now, do we put up the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments, the Protestant version, or the Jewish version, which aren't even necessarily called "the Ten Commandments," but are called something else? Whose version do you say we should use? How do you solve that question?

Lily:

My objection to von's post is that he seemed to me to be descending right to the level of the people he was objecting to. After all "enemy" and "evil" sound like fighting words to me.
Think von was bad? Try, say, Stephen Green. And that's one of the milder and saner responses from the American right blogosphere.

Since I've poked Sebastian on some other points, I'll note that I see nothing I disagree with in his 10:33 AM.

I see people talking past each other here, still.

There are two values in conflict: free speech, and desire not to be offended by free speech. Neither is inherently wrong. The question is how to best resolve this conflict.

Simply ignoring the other value isn't going to lead to a useful solution.

I've said this before, and I'll go on saying it until people engage with each other's points usefully, rather than simply insisting that there's only one side worth paying attention to (plenty of people are engaging, of course, but the answers still tend to be of a simplistic -- and these are broad paraphrases, not quotes of anyone here -- "free speech must triumph, and that's all there is to it!" or "we must not be rude and offensive, and that's all there is to it!" nature.

Regarding relevant Danish laws and other aspects:

The wikipedia entry

gives a little more information.

"Section 140 of the Danish Penal Code prohibits blasphemy. However, this law has not been used since 1938. [16] Section 266b of the Danish Penal Code prohibits expressions that threaten, deride or degrade on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin, belief or sexual orientation. It has never, however, been used to prohibit statements offensive to religion. The Danish public prosecutor determined that the Muhammad cartoons were not blasphemy in Danish law.[6]."

The whole article is probably worth checking out, but this being wikipedia, I'm of course not saying that this has to be 100% accurate, especially since it deals with a current event. Still,
there's a lot of interesting stuff there, note the "Rumors and disinformation" section for example.


Is it safe to say that the Dutch paper was trolling for a response?

Sebastian: This particular instance is merely part a more directed than usual injury to their faith.

Except it's not. It's a distinctively different thing. Your other instances - that some Western nations (even, in some circumstances, the US) give GLBT people equal civil rights to straight people: that women don't "dress modestly" (never mind that there is massive disagreement within Islam on what constitutes modest dress for women, and that the Prophet's original injunction was to both women and men, and the fantastic censorship of the mainstream media in the US, where one man killing another man is PG13 but a man making love to another man is over-18s only, that there is disagreement within Islam (as there is disagreement within Christianity) about what kind of music is religiously acceptable, that drinking is okay but smoking pot is an offense, that to many Christian Americans the idea that non-Christian religions have the same legal status as Christianity is an injury to their faith, and that everyone has the same standard of proof before a court as everyone else (except for George W. Bus, of course)... all of these things are cultural. Accepting that it's okay to have two men or two women get married is something a lot of Americans seem to be struggling with - Bush used their homophobia as a campaign tactic last year, remember? But all of these things are part and parcel of the standard of a civilised, multicultural, secular society.

Those cartoons were not part of the standard of a civilised, multicultural, secular society. They were a deliberate attempt to unset civilised standards. Not because they were blasphemous to Muslims, but because they were deliberately, nastily, provocatively, insulting to Muslims.

In case that there is a misunderstanding, I don't consider "note-25" that important, that was simply a mistake by me :).

Deliberately, nastily, provocatively, insulting things are said to people in Western culture all the time. We think the benefits of free speech are worth it. Blasphemous things get said about Christianity, Judaism, and every other religion all the time. We think the benefits of free speech are worth it.

Gary, "Since I've poked Sebastian on some other points, I'll note that I see nothing I disagree with in his 10:33 AM."

Surely you could at least diagree with my spelling of "broad" as "borad".

:)

On that note I'm busy most of the day so have at it, I'll respond more later.

Aqoul provide a helpful summary page to their commentary on the issue. Highly recommended for anyone looking for well-informed, intelligent commentary.

After seeing Gary's link to Stephen Green and Duane's link, I just realized that I haven't seen any other 'this is what I agree with' posts. I like this Guardian piece by Tariq Ramadan

I hasten to add that I'm not suggesting that Gary agrees with the Green link, just that we've had quite a bit of hashing out on this, and not so many links of this nature.

Sebastian: "Deliberately, nastily, provocatively, insulting things are said to people in Western culture all the time. We think the benefits of free speech are worth it. Blasphemous things get said about Christianity, Judaism, and every other religion all the time. We think the benefits of free speech are worth it."

I personally agree that it is worth it as well, but this does not mean that we can expect others to agree. There is precedence for restricting freedom of speech in Europe in socially sensitive matters. For example public denial of Holocaust is a criminal offence in several many European countries.
One can still argue that this is not right, and holocaust deniers should be able to say what they want as well (as Noam Chomsky). But there is a difference between supporting freedom of speech by being against such laws and supporting the behavior by republishing the offensive material, supporting the people who do the insult. We need clear distinction between:

1. Support for the freedom of speech "the principle"
and
support for the people who use this right poorly by publishing something that knowingly insult other people

2. Protesting by any peaceful means from screaming your lungs out to marches, to boykots
and
any kind of violent response or enticing violence. i.e. threats, attacks, etc.

If we don't make these distinctions, we would just play to the hands of extremists at both sides who would want nothing better that escalation of the hostilities. As put nicely by lily above: are we going to fall for it?

Regards,

Berkay

Phil: Do you know what Life of Brian is actually about? Hint: It is not anti-Christian, and contains no mockery of Christ. Quite the opposite.

Not that anyone implied otherwise, but the same can be said of "The Last Temptation of Christ", contemporary news stories notwithstanding. If anything it's a perfect vehicle for endearing Christianity to left-coast-latte-liberals. All the folks who went apesh*t over the movie just reinforced that there can be a really ugly side to the faith, too.

Sebastian Holsclaw: Far better to let it vanish into obscurity.

Relative obscurity, maybe. Given that it is actually a quite good picture directed by an American master, the most that could be hoped for is that it is overshadowed by true masterpieces such as "Goodfellas" and "Taxi Driver".

Slightly off-topic, but (warning, funny sound) this has a lecture on free speech and is hilarious and isn't even that partisan, mostly.

Excellent post, Sebastian.

I echo Farber and Hilzoy re the quality of the post with the caveat, but with some greater emphasis on the caveat. It is extremely important to realize that we are talking about some Muslims -- the goal should be to lend support for those who do not buy into the extremist nonsense.

I would suggest this historical backdrop regarding Muslim extremism. A root cause of this is the 100+ year history of Muslims trying to accomodate their culture to the dominant Western culture -- a conflict that came to a head with the collapse of the Ottomans post WWI.

There have been many different strategies for that reconciliation -- Attaturk and the adoption of Western values; Nasser and secular pan-Arabism with a partial rejection of Western values; and religious fundamentalism and the complete rejection of Western values as the most recent manisfestation of this struggle.

There are plenty in Muslim culture who do not accept this extremism. There are plenty in Muslim culture who understand the importance of maintaining some degree of separation of religion and the secular. One goal of extremists is to marginalize moderates by polarizing all issues -- the cartoon hullabaloo is fundamentally about this. Don't assist this goal by buying into the other polar opposite.

Sebastian: Deliberately, nastily, provocatively, insulting things are said to people in Western culture all the time. We think the benefits of free speech are worth it.

Who are you calling "we", white man?

Surely you could at least diagree with my spelling of "broad" as "borad".

LOL!

Isn't the argument for laws restricting blasphemy mostly a straw man - at least in this argument between us westerners? I mean I've heard a couple Muslim leaders complain that Europeans have anti-blasphemy and anti-anti-semitism laws on the books and argue for similar protections for themselves. Whether that debate is currently taking place in Europe I have little idea. But I haven't heard anyone here argue that such laws are needed.

Meanwhile, the main discussion is revolving around whether the Danish newspaper was behaving responsibly. The point of contention between myself and Jes is that I do not see any person as having a responsibility to refrain from blasphemy out of respect for someone elses religion. I don't think Kayne West had a responsibility to refrain from dressing up as Jesus on Rolling Stone, I don't think Trey Parker and Matt Stone had a responsibility to refrain from doing a South Park about a statue of the Virgin Mary that starts bleeding profusely from the vagina, and I don't think the Danish newspaper had a reponsibility not to run the cartoons. In every one of these cases, the offense the blasphemy would cause was well known and therefore could therefore be viewed as a deliberate intent to offend. I also do not believe that the artistic or social or intellectual content of any of these three "works" are particularly important or compelling. Therefore, I'm going to have to admit that I consider the value of free expression in general great enough to excuse these things - because I believe that discourse would be too strongly contrained if everyone was refraining from expressing offensive ideas.

http://www.weblog.ro/soj/2006-02-05/Muslim+Cartoon+Controversy:+What+the+Media+Isn't+Telling+You.html#66675>This Romanian blogger believes the outrage was whipped up by the Saudis to distract Muslims from the deaths at the Hajj. (via Mahablog)

haven't read all the comments yet, but this in one excellent post!

But demanding that Muslim ideas of blasphemy be enforced is not part of how we do things.

Nor should it be, ever, not even passively.

Believe it or not, this is raising the first dispute about religion my partner and I have ever had and more than anything else, that's really pissing me off. So much so that I'm falling back on my previously abandoned theory that all religions are at their core bad for humanity and hopelessly flawed (which, if you accept, tells you everything you need to know about whether they reflect the will of an omnipotent being or some group of mortal fools, IMO). Look at their histories...violence and oppression followed by oppression and violence, endlessly. How on earth could a loving God have gotten it all so perfectly wrong?

I know many people treasure their faith...but really, does any of this bullsh*t sound even remotely like the will of God?

Believe it or not, this is raising the first dispute about religion my partner and I have ever had

I don't believe it. How long have you been together? Have you just been carefully avoiding the subject up till now? :)

"After seeing Gary's link to Stephen Green and Duane's link, I just realized that I haven't seen any other 'this is what I agree with' posts."

Italics mine.

You may not have meant the implication, and I suspect you didn't, and were just writing carelessly, but since Duane seemed to be linking to something he agrees with, I must point out that I most certainly do not agree with Stephen Green.

I linked to him as an example of what I consider to be a terrible case of "lumping," of treating all Moslems (in this case) as one undifferentiated, homogenous, mass, when of course they are not, and when, of course, most Moslems in the world, let alone in America, are not out burning embassies or calling for killing, or anything remotely of the kind.

I utterly disagree with him.

four years and no, we discuss it all the time.

the issue this time is one in which we both feel our side is being disrespected...and that's the reason we've never argued before...we've always discussed differences with respect.

(I forgot to mention we're both as stubborn as mules, as well.)

It won't last, but it's frustrating all the same.

How on earth could a loving God have gotten it all so perfectly wrong?

Maybe it's we humans that have got it wrong, Edward. Advancing the notion that the areligious and religious have been roughly equally inclined to nastiness, what's the common element?

I know that doesn't answer your question, but it's something to think about.

"I hasten to add that I'm not suggesting that Gary agrees with the Green link...."

And now that I've come back from doing other stuff, I've read this. Okay.

Slarti: "Maybe it's we humans that have got it wrong"

If one believes, as I do, that God gave us free will, including to disbelieve in him/her/it, then we do have to look at ourselves for most of our misery.

Particularly in terms of what is being discussed here.

I have not really seen much less of a tendency toward violence towards our fellow beings among atheists and agnostics, just a different rationale at times.

In reading this thread and its predecessor on the same topic, I have seen constantly the declaration of not retreating.

Mayhaps I am denser today than usual, but what would be construed as a retreat? I don't think it is likely that you will see Western governments start censoring the papers any more now than they did before.

Also, reading other blogs and news, I am actually surprised by how small many of the protests are, and their limited localities.

Far fewer than those inspired by the Koran flushing incident, which was, BTW, blamed on Newsweek and how irresponsible they were for publishing anything like that.

Granted, there have been some violent components, which I heartily condemn, but many have been merely the shouting variety.

But shouting threats is rather meaningless, and to view anyone that does so as an enemy condemns a lot of Americans, both left and right as enemies.

Really only meant to post the first part of this commet.

four years and no, we discuss it all the time.

Wow, impressive record. I guess you must find other things to fight about then. B-)

Re religion, besides what Slart said, I think this question betrays a problem with your framing:

How on earth could a loving God have gotten it all so perfectly wrong

Not every religion starts from that assumption, you know.

This Romanian blogger believes the outrage was whipped up by the Saudis

this blogger disagrees.

FWIW

Which is an interesting point, really: a loving parent occasionally has to do things that someone who isn't a loving parent might view as cruel, unnecessary, unkind, unsupportive, etc. What a loving God has in mind for the human race might, then, be outside of your ken (not to be confused with kenB).

Which is one of at least a few reasons why I don't try to explain events in a religious context, because I mostly don't understand it myself.

I guess you must find other things to fight about then. B-)

Indeed...

Not every religion starts from that assumption, you know.

Forget loving, then, if God, whether angry or whatever, has as a major goal of his interferring with mankind at all that of providing guidance, then again, he's woefully undereffective.

Which is one of at least a few reasons why I don't try to explain events in a religious context, because I mostly don't understand it myself.
An issue I have with mystery religions is that one gets a set of data part of which one is supposed to reason about and part of which is not subject to reason, who knows which is which. For me that's just as good as a set of data one is not able to think about, and we're back to divine command theory.

who knows which is which

the true believers know - or at least they know someone who can tell them.

One thing that might be worth noting is that the premis claiming "It is that there is a specific and deeply-held taboo in Islam against graphical portrayals of Mohammed. You're not supposed to draw pictures of Mohammed, to put it quite simply" might not necessarily be accurate, which might have implications for the direction the debate is going. As explained here; http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/2/5/13149/60748
There is further information here;
http://info2us.dk/muhammed/
For what it is worth, I'm of the view that freedom of speech either exists or it does not; there isn't a half way house. Having the responsibility to use your freedom of speech wisely is another issue; I don't think that any of the participants in this controversy can lay claim to that.

Maybe it's we humans that have got it wrong,

Which is precisely why religious beliefs held with great certainty are sacrilege - they presume that human understanding of the divine is infallible.

I don't have the time to google and make a linked post (it's evening here), but I seem to remember that the main reason for not making the new Abu Ghraib pictures was that they would be inflammatory?

I also seem to recall that there was a media guy who, at a conference, said that he thought journalists were targetted unnecesary by the US. And as a response there was not much mentioning of his right to give his opinion, but a lot of talk about his responsibilit, and his duty towards the troops in Iraq.

I read the Danes (Danes, Neodude, not Dutch. I've seen the mistake before and we are really about as far from each other as the Dutch and the French) are not having a wonderfull time in Iraq currently. They are attacked, where they previously were not.

I think anyone who thinks of God as onmipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent is going to have a very difficult time reconciling that with all the suffering in this world. The "God gave us free will" explanation that john miller offered is the most common attempt; I don't find it very convincing, partly because I don't know what it would even mean to "give" someone free will, partly because a heck of a lot of suffering occurs independently of any act of human will.

But as to whether religion, broadly speaking, is a net positive or negative is hard to say -- many people find their religion to be very helpful in dealing with life, and those sorts of benefits are less likely to appear in the history books or newspapers. And if there were no religion, it's not like people wouldn't find anything else to fight about.

Wasn't trying to make it explain everything that goes on, and won't get into a theological discussion.

Religion is a man-made construct, and like most man made things can be used for good or bad.

dm,

Donald Rumsfeld testified in the Abu Ghraib hearings that the unpublished material was worse than the published material and would be harmful.

You are probably thinking of Eason Jordan of CNN re. targeting journalists.

NZPhil says: "For what it is worth, I'm of the view that freedom of speech either exists or it does not...."

So you're saying there should be no laws against libel, slander, revealing military secrets, patent secrets, punishing copyright violations, punishing trademark violations, preventing incitement to riot, using "fighting words," or violating a signed confidentiality agreement, I take it?

Or is it that if you admit one of these exceptions, there's no such thing as free speech?

You've definitively ruled out third options. It's either one, or the other, you say. Which one is it?

Hi Gary,
In the context of this issue I'm still (tentatively) sticking with that position; I should have been far more specific about the context I was applying it to. I'd probably align myself with a notion of a harm principle, although that is not a whole solution to the problems of free speech and limits placed upon free speech. With respect to your examples, I concede your point that there are (sometimes) necessary restraints placed on speech. It is agreeing on when these restraints should or should not be used that obviously concern us at the moment.

Do you know what Life of Brian is actually about?

Yes, Phil. And the Satanic Verses were not actuallysatanic verses, not that it helped Rushdie any.

Those cartoons were not part of the standard of a civilised, multicultural, secular society. They were a deliberate attempt to unset civilised standards. Not because they were blasphemous to Muslims, but because they were deliberately, nastily, provocatively, insulting to Muslims.

And who gets to judge what is nasty, provocative and insulting? You? Would you ban such communications? If so, why, because it seems like it falls under "free speech for me but not for thee".

The idea that "respect" means "do it my way" is hard to stamp out. Two apposite examples:

Palestinian spokesmen suggested (in a NYT op-ed, and in interviews) that the world was obliged to continue to fund the new Hamas-flavor PA, because to do otherwise would be to disrespect the democratic process. That to act as though the horrific result of the democratic process had changed nothing would be the true disrespect to the process, seems not to have occured to them.

The Christian Right in this country customarily says that it is anti-Christian to (in their phrase) "bar religion from the public sphere" by enforcing separation of Church and State. That the government can respect their religion without helping them practice it, again seems a mysterious concept.

I understand why the Middle Easterners fail to grasp this concept. Why our home-grown Christian Crusaders find it alien, I don't know.

I've been contemplating numbers.

I already touched on the overall point here, but it's worth contemplating the numbers, I think.

Josh Marshall says:

And among many in the Muslim world it is not sufficient that those rules apply in their countries.
Sebastian refers to, as I previously objected to (if he's responded, I've missed it "The Muslim demand."

There are approximately 1.2 billion Muslims alive today according to here, estimated to be 19.2% of the world population in the year 2000.

That site quotes other estimates. 1.100 billion from the 1997 World Almanac, for instance. Don't like that site? Over here, we get an estimate of 1,126,325,000 cited to be from Britannica Yearbook, 1997. Here Afghan President Hamid Karzai says "a billion," a nice round figure.

Whatever the more refined number -- and obviously it's impossible to get a precise figure -- "a billion" seems a safe general estimate.

A billion people is a lot of people.

We see a number of protests, and some violent acts, around the world, in a number of countries.

In each case, the crowd is estimated to be, in every article I've yet read, "a few thousand."

Let's say that as many as 20 countries have protests with violence. That's far more than reported, but let's be generous.

Let's say that each one has 10,000 people, all of whom are eager to perform destruction of property (which seems fairly unlikely, but, again, let's be generous; let's also not get into the fact that it turns out that the reports of the "burning" of the Danish and Norwegian embassies turned out to be false, and there was "merely" an incompetent attempt -- and you have to be pretty incompetent if you actually have a crowd of thousands of people eager to burn down a building, and you can't manage to do more than scorch it a bit -- let's set all that aside).

So, let's do the math that even I can manage: 20 x 10,000 =200,000 people, an amazing over-estimate, but let's use it.

1,000,000,000 divided by 20,000 is 50,000. 5 out of 100,000 Muslims, or 1 out of 20,000, at most, have demonstrated willingness to show up at a protest where damage to property took place.

This would not, I suggest, to tend suggest that "the Muslims" are supporting or calling for violence. It does not, I suggest, support the notion of a "clash of civilizations," nor does it, I suggest, support the use of language making any such claim.

Perhaps, I ask yet again, Sebastian might wish to give consideration to modifying his assertion about what "the Muslims" are doing, saying, and desiring.

Perhaps, I suggest, people might keep this in mind when they declaim generalities about "many in the Muslim world."

Comment?

NZPhil: "With respect to your examples, I concede your point that there are (sometimes) necessary restraints placed on speech."

Ok. Thanks.

Charles: And who gets to judge what is nasty, provocative and insulting? You?

Yes, Charles: I was appointed just the other day, by a majority 5:4 vote. Hadn't you heard? /sarcasm

Would you ban such communications?

No. But neither do I want to see them celebrated and praised and rejoiced over as if the people who are being nastily rude and provocative are doing something brave and admirable, rather than being rude and stupid.

A quick review of the abstract principles involved.

Freedom of Speech: Good.

Bigotry/Deliberate Disrespect: Bad.

Wanton Rioting/Violence: Bad.

The first doesn't excuse the second, and the second doesn't excuse the third. [And, I'd add, vice versa, since it appears that some on this blog feel the third excuses the second.] Slacktivist

es, Phil. And the Satanic Verses were not actuallysatanic verses, not that it helped Rushdie any.

I ask, Charles, because your phrasing -- I wonder what the reaction would be if someone produced an Islamic version of the Life of Brian . . . -- seemed to imply that this hypothetical film would be disrespectful towards or engaging in mockery of Islam, and since neither of those things are true re: Life of Brian and Christianity, I thought I'd feel out just exactly what you think an Islamic version of it would be.

As a mental exercise, I've been wondering what images could be posted in the North American media that would be so offensive that it would cause rioting. I've thought of several that I will spare the readership.

And by the way, why can't (for example) women's nipples be shown on the public airwaves in the US? Almost every other secular democracy allows this. Hell, here in Canada we even have male reproductive organs (the ultimate visual taboo, apparently) shown on normal television (un-cable, that is).

It wouldn't be to avoid offending largely religious-based sensibilities, would it?

Oh, no, d-p-u, I've been assured by Sebastian that we don't let irrational religious sensibilities control what goes out over our broadcast media. He made quite an issue of it.

dpu, this is a religious, conservative country. You think Canada should conform to our standards to avoid offending us? Do you think there's any rational basis for not showing any image on Canadian airwaves?

Also note the distinction between broadcast on public airwaves and for-sale newspapers.

Hmm, I'm not sure the objections to broadcast nudity in this country can totally be laid at the feet of religion. Many non-churchgoing folk are uncomfortable with the idea.

And Phil, though your interpretation of LoB is of course correct, that didn't stop it from attracting any number of protests from religious groups when it was released. So I don't think Charles' example was poorly chosen.

I think that my point is that it is always possible to publicly say things that (a) do not encourage discourse, and (b) offend significant numbers of people deeply. Again, as a mental exercise you may imagine riots in any country due to publication of certain images.

And the reference to irrational fear of public display of nipplage on television was in response to some of the backpatting about being a tolerant secular society that had no fears of offending people. It ain't so, the line is just drawn differently.

I was just nitpicking.

The funny thing about this whole debate is that I think pretty much everyone agrees on the main points (as Jes's Slactivist quote above) -- all the arguments are about the spin.

BTW, not sure if anyone else linked to this yet.

cleek:

Regarding Juan Cole and whether the Saudis are behind this, note that his timeline ends at December 2. As one of the commenters pointed out, what was going on between then and the current spate of protests?

And the reference to irrational fear of public display of nipplage on television was in response to some of the backpatting about being a tolerant secular society that had no fears of offending people.

And the NFL changed a few key words in the lyrics. Fortunately, Mick Jagger was obliging.

"And the reference to irrational fear of public display of nipplage on television was in response to some of the backpatting about being a tolerant secular society that had no fears of offending people."

There is importance in degrees. Displaying nipples is not banned, it is restricted to cable channels and late-night. Displaying nipples at the Super Bowl did not cause riots or embassy burning. It did not cause death and kidnapping threats to all the citizenry of the United States who might be found in the Middle East. It did not trigger the boycott of entities related to the Super Bowl merely by geographic location.

I'm not against expressing outrage. I'm against the particular expression of outrage that some Muslim protestors have chosen.

Also I see a substantive difference between the two examples. See my discussion in the main post of the peculiarly religious nature of blasphemy and its intersection with modern Western culture.

Sebastian, let me join the chorus of "good post" and thank you.

Displaying nipples at the Super Bowl did not cause riots or embassy burning.

No, but it did cause a number of lawsuits. I think, though, a fair comparison would have two events of equal stature. It seems to be that Janet Jackson hasn't reached Muhammed's plane, though not through lack of effort.

I seem to remember riots in the aftermath of a trial in which some white police officers were acquitted of beating a black man. I remember the military had to be called out on that occasion.

I also remember that there were riots when an important figure, whose widow just recently passed away, in the Civil Rights movement was assassinated by a white extremist.

Perhaps these aren't equivalent either. But I note a common thread that each included violent action by groups who feel "powerless".

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