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February 08, 2007

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OT since we have no open thread: did people see John Howard's comments about Obama?

I think that will just encourage those who want to completely destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and a victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory," Howard said on Nine Network television.

"If I were running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."

The Obama campaign's response is pitch perfect:

"If Prime Minister Howard truly believes what he says, perhaps his country should find its way to contribute more than just 1,400 troops so some American troops can come home," he said. "It's easy to talk tough when it's not your country or your troops making the sacrifices."

Obama comes in for a lot of criticism in some circles (Kos, etc.) for being overly conciliatory, but so far his campaign's been pretty good at hitting back against unfair attacks. Granted, he hasn't many really hard tests yet--the madrassa story was just so absurd--but it's encouraging the extent to which they seem to have their act together.

Anarch,

I'm not saying that this applies to you, Jonas, but IME "unfettered conversation" by Anglophones about non-European religions is almost always code for Orientalism and/or Eurocentrism.

I'm not so sure how useful or relevant this particular notion is. I think that if you accept that premise, you're left with this being a rather universal principle - i.e., unfettered conversation about religions that are not part of your own culture is code for "whatever-that-persons-culture-is-centrism."

Personally, I'd like to see more cross-cultural debate about all manner of things - and the fact that everyone is bound to have blinders on about cultures other than their own doesn't mean everyone should all pack up their bags and just argue amongst themselves, and only about themselves, from now on.

Jonas: I'm not so sure how useful or relevant this particular notion is.

Extremely useful and relevant when trying to discuss a culture or a religion that is not your own or which you know little about. IME, as in Anarch's experience.

Further, in my experience, when someone says they want "unfettered conversation", in general, that means they want to be able to be deliberately offensive.

Granted, he hasn't many really hard tests yet

I really wonder what the Clinton machine is cooking up for him. It seems like he is pretty squeaky clean, and he has already confessed any minor youthful indiscretions.

It doesn’t seem like they have much to work with. His inexperience is the only thing I see so far to attack him on.

At this point maybe a neophyte as President is just what we need.

BTW – I really really like John Howard and think he has been our best ally throughout this – but even I found those remarks to be obnoxious. It certainly won’t hurt Obama as my knee-jerk reaction was, “Just who the hell do you think you are to be talking smack about an American Presidential candidate that way…” His response was right on.

Re. Katherine's note on Howard vs. Obama:

Doesn't Howard merit a sharp rebuke from other candidates, or from people in Congress and the White House? A foreign leader shouldn't be intervening in a U.S. political race.

"I really wonder what the Clinton machine is cooking up for him."

The vice-presidency?


I would guess that the closest thing to a smear attack would be an emphasis on HRC's childhood in the heartland to make the implicit contrast.

Man, I've blasphemed against both Islam and Christianity, and nobody's given me a thing.

Further, in my experience, when someone says they want "unfettered conversation", in general, that means they want to be able to be deliberately offensive.

My experience is slightly different. Speaking in crass generalities, I wouldn't say the offense will be deliberate; rather, the speaker intends to be deliberately indifferent to offense. YMMV and, once again, I'm talking of my track record and not Jonas in particular.

“Just who the hell do you think you are to be talking smack about an American Presidential candidate that way…”

Answer: George Bush's biggest sycophant.

To be fair, Australian leaders have a 60-year history of sycophancy towards the US administration; it comes from a fear of invasion and a desire to be a 'big player' in world affairs. Generally, the political alliegances of both the Australian and US administrations has not mattered; Howard got on fine with Clinton and Labour Prime Ministers got on fine with Reagan. There's been a slight bias towards Republican presidents, since they tend to favour more open trade.

The motivation for the comment is entirely domestic; Howard's up for election this year, and the Labour party candidate (Kevin Rudd) does not appear likely to cram his own feet in his mouth the same way previous opposition candidates have. While I don't like Howard much, he's the only leader I know to support the Iraq war without much of a cost in popularity (until very recently), and is a more experienced politician than Bush or Blair. His instincts regarding the Australian electorate have been very good (which says some sad things about the Australian electorate). I think this is intended as a response to Rudd's policy of withdrawl, and maybe to stir up a little fight with Obama in which he can make himself look good. Either that, or he's finally gone off his rocker.

I think the reply from Kevin Rudd struck the right tone:
"Mr Howard must not allow his personal relationship with President Bush to impact on Australia's long-term alliance relationship with the United States," Mr Rudd said. "The alliance … has prevailed with such strength and certainty because it has always been above party politics."
The previous Labour leader repeatedly and quite roughly attacked Bush, referring to him as "the most dangerous man in the world". The attacks weren't particularly popular, more I believe because of the tone than the content. This time, Rudd's the one looking more statesmanlike than Howard.

Shinobi, thanks for the expert context.

Expert? Hardly - thanks for the complement, though :). One Australian's political opinion, really. But hopefully it adds a bit more context.

"Expert, relatively speaking" then.

If anyone was ever in the market for an expert on Australian affairs (why? Who knows?), John Quiggin's blog at www.johnquiggin.com and his contributions to Crooked Timber might be worth a look.

Anarch: rather, the speaker intends to be deliberately indifferent to offense.

In general, however, the speaker is perfectly aware that their following speech will give offense: the genuinely clueless don't make preparatory remarks like "unfettered speech".

A possibly uninformed take on Oz politics, one of the things that Howard was able to do was to utilize the vibe of Pauline Hanson and the One nation voters, yet make them palatable to the general electorate. At the risk of starting another foodfight, this seems like furtherr evidence for Neiwert's theory about how extremism is brought into mainstream discourse.

My experience is slightly different. Speaking in crass generalities, I wouldn't say the offense will be deliberate; rather, the speaker intends to be deliberately indifferent to offense.

It's easy to lose track of a discussion, and I think I have. Again, the origins of my displeasure were the fact that amongst my friends & family, unfettered speech about any topic is the norm, with only one exception - Islam.

The vice-presidency?

Yup. That is a grand-slam for him with so little experience. Then he can run again in 4 years and he is invincible. I’ll call it now – Hillary/Obama.

Shinobi: I agree on the expert analysis bit. Thank you for the insight.

OCS - I'm betting on eight years...

Quiggen on Howard and race.

OCSteve, 4 years would be tricky. Are you assuming the Clinton/Obama ticket loses and then Obama runs against the incumbent Republican president in 2012, or is it that Clinton doesn't seek reelection for some reason?

I just don't get the "no experiennce" thing. Obama has made more efffective use of his time inn thhe Senate than eithher of the othher two candidates with Senatorial backgrounds.

Also, what happened to the connventional wisdom that Senators made bad candidates (because it gave the candidate too much baggage)? How did that morph into thhe assumption that more years in the Senate equates withh better experiennce for beinng President?

There is a diary on MyDD about Obama's record of accomplishhments as a Senator. I followed the links to see the evidence and lo and behold! the links were to the long post hilzoy did on Obama a couple weeks ago! When are hilzoy's posts going to come out as a book?

"Come out" as a book? That would make posts closet books which isn't that weird of an idea really.

"And constantly bringing up Rushdie as if his consequences were typical for Westerners blaspheming Islam is about as accurate as claiming that abortion doctor-assassins are representative of American Christianity."

Abortion doctor-assassins weren't blessed by the pope. The fatwa was initially issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was reissued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That would be two of the very most important Shi'a leaders in recent history.

"Obama has made more efffective use of his time inn thhe Senate than eithher of the othher two candidates with Senatorial backgrounds."

Asking because I haven't paid enough attention to judge - is there evidence of this out there?

Abortion doctor-assassins weren't blessed by the pope.

Well, not publicly, but to a Dan Brown way of thinking, there are secret societies of priest-assassins who have been covertly blessed by the Pope. Probably tasked by the Pope as well.

Sebastian: Abortion doctor-assassins weren't blessed by the pope.

The Pope is supposed to be representative of American Christianity? Then why weren't American Christians dead set against the Iraq war, and why aren't they all dead set against the death penalty?

Those are rhetorical questions, Sebastian, which you need not answer. But harassment of and terrorism against health clinics where abortions can be accessed, and medical personnel who perform abortions, is one of the ugliest aspects of American Christianity, but even I wouldn't say is representative of it. (I know too many thoroughly decent American Christians, who would never dream of associating themselves with the pro-life movement, since they prefer to oppose and prevent abortion, rather than harass and criminalize women.)

Well, there is the hilzoy post. Oddly Q and o had a thing abouut this, too. i can't remember which wriiter. The writer wssn't intending to praise Obama. The jist of the article was that there were some Domcrats who wanted to do good thigs inn thhe areas of ethics,lobbying,and energy independence but that thhe writer believed thhat othherr Democrats wouldnn't allow it. Then the writer listed examples of specific legislation, all but onne inntroduced by Obama. Since that article and hilzoy's Obama has been either sponosr or co sponosr of legislation about voter surpression and paper trails.
I need to do more research about HRC because the stuff that stays inn my mind about her is thhe stuff that irritates me--like voting for that idiotic flag burning legislation. I'm sure she was on the right side of many issues. I'd like to see what shhe provided the leadership for.

I forgot: Edwards had a very mediocre voting reocrd, from the point of view of a liberal. That was his voting record. I donn't know if he was the leader of anything. I think he deserrves credit for havving identified populism as being an essential theme in this electoral environment.

The Pope is supposed to be representative of American Christianity?

Hmmm...ok, it's marginally more likely that Pat Robertson would bless some fanatic-assassins, but I rather doubt his followers have the numbers that Roman Catholics do.

Possibly I'm wrong about that; in any case this was a rhetorical answer and you needn't reply/rebut :]

ok, it's marginally more likely that Pat Robertson would bless some fanatic-assassins

Didn't Robertson actually bless some fanatic assassins? The ones after Hugo Chavez?

, but I rather doubt his followers have the numbers that Roman Catholics do.

That was where the conversation started, yes? It is not fair to say that the lunatic wing of Amerian Christianity, even as represented by Pat Robertson who is fairly mainstream in the US, is representative of American Christianity as a whole. Equally, it is not fair to say that the lunatic wing of Sunni Islam, even as represented by Ruhollah Khomeini, is representative of Sunni Islam as a whole.

I wonder if Sebastian would expand on the comparison he's making between the Supreme Leader of Iran and the Pope. How are they analogous, exactly, except in the very broad sense that they are both high-profile religious leaders who are also political leaders? Is the implication that Shia worldwide must be obedient to the pronouncements of whatever Grand Ayatollah leads Iran in the same way that Catholics must be obedient to the Pope in order to be in the good graces of the church?

Or, put another way, is being an adherent of Shia islam an implicit endorsement of the Supreme Leader of Iran in the same way that membership in the HRCC is, generally speaking, an implicit endorsement of the Pope?

Because that's not my impression of the way things work, but I'm open to correction on this point.

You have to transform my argument pretty far toward an absolute bent that isn't there ("all Shi'a", "every single Catholic person", "must be obedient") to be confused about the difference between the Ayatollah-issued fatwas and how far down the Christian hierarchies you have to travel to find a similar level of pushing for the killers of abortion doctors.

Even if the Ayatollah isn't a strict one-to-one mapping of the pope onto Islam (which I understand full well he is not), the point remains that the preeminent leader of Shi'a Islam blessed, nay actually decreed that Rushdie be put to death for his fiction-writing. And then when that leader died, his replacement re-affirmed it.

There just isn't a comparable Christian phenomenon in the modern world. There certainly isn't for a comparable high-profile blasphemy--Brown. The fact Jesurgislac has to ridiculously invoke the abortion-doctor killers shows how far you have to stretch to get to anything comparable. And even in that case you have to go almost all the way down to the root to find any Christian leader willing to defend that, much less openly demand that it occur.

And the invocation of the lunatic wing in the discussion is so silly. The Ayatollah is not part of the lunatic wing of Shi'a Islam. He is mainstream, that is why I brought him up. That is why he is pertinent to the discussion. It is interesting to see how his position has changed as the topic changes. In the nuclear Iran discussions I'm always supposed to be comforted by the idea that the Ayatollah is really in charge. In this discussion he is apparently some fringe lunatic.

You can find Christians supporting atrocities in the modern world in the name of Christianity--people on the Christian right supported Renamo and Unita during the 80's in the name of Christianity. And some of the conflicts in Latin America in the 70's and 80's had some Christian theological tinges. Rightwing Christians in Argentina thought they were defending Christian civilization against the commie hordes as they tortured people to death. And the most enthusiastic American support for the very worst Israeli policies comes from the Christian right for explicitly Christian reasons. And these aren't just fringe groups either--they have real influence on policy or at any rate some of the policies they support are carried out.

So there is that sort of thing, which I'd compare to those Muslims who support terrorist groups. It's not quite the same as a very prominent religious leader explicitly putting a death sentence on someone for blasphemy, however. Christians have gotten over that kind of behavior in the past few centuries, or at least I can't think of counterexamples.

Abortion doctor-assassins weren't blessed by the pope. The fatwa was initially issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was reissued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That would be two of the very most important Shi'a leaders in recent history.

Note that I didn't claim that the two situations were identical, or even close to it. I merely pointed out that fatwas against Westerners for committing heresy against Islam are extraordinarily rare, as are abortion doctor killings.
That is, both are so astoundingly rare that they cannot be used to judge typical Islamic or Christian reactions. I said:
And constantly bringing up Rushdie as if his consequences were typical for Westerners blaspheming Islam is about as accurate as claiming that abortion doctor-assassins are representative of American Christianity.
I cannot understand how someone could honestly misread that as a claim that abortion doctor killings are representative of American Christianity.

Perhaps because you're wedded to the idea that Rushdie is typical, so comparing him to abortion doctor killings must therefore be making a similar claim. Well, if you want to argue that Westerners who blaspheme Islam typically are subject to death fatwas (And that is my point. Balsphemy against Islam gets you a death fatwa.), please let us know.

This misreading enabled you to avoid my point- the Rushdie situation is a one-off, and not representative of the treatment handed out to Westerners who blaspheme Islam.
Which was itself a strawman sidetrack, since we were originally talking about differences in how Westerners treat blasphemers of Islam and Christianity. The claim that Amanda could say bad things about Christianity, but not about Islam because of possible Western backlashes and censorship. That is, no one is arguing that Islamic theocracies are more tolerant of speech than Western democracies, we are (IMO) arguing that saying bad things about Islam is accepted in America far more easily than saying bad things about Christianity or Judaism.

"Which was itself a strawman sidetrack, since we were originally talking about differences in how Westerners treat blasphemers of Islam and Christianity."

Were we now? I seem to remember somebody mentioning the Danish cartoon incident and the context of free speech. (It was hilzoy in the main post).

The Rushdie incident was not a one off. The Danish cartoon incident is in the same vein.

"The claim that Amanda could say bad things about Christianity, but not about Islam because of possible Western backlashes and censorship."

And there is support for that. The Cartoon Network response to the South Park episode on the issue is precisely on point. You can have Jesus take a crap on the American flag, but you can't have Mohammed give someone a hat.

Were we now? I seem to remember somebody mentioning the Danish cartoon incident and the context of free speech. (It was hilzoy in the main post).

Uh, if you want to have a debate where you argue that the Western democracies have less censorship than Islamic theocracies and autocracies, go ahead. I don't think anyone will be willing to take the other side- but if that's what it takes for you to win the debate, have at it.
And if you think that this was what hilzoy was arguing, or even discussing, then I think you've misread her as badly as you misread my statement earlier.

If you want to have a debate where you argue that attacking, smearing, and belittling Islam are dangerous or socially unacceptable actions in the US, I have about a million counterexamples from blogs, newspapers, magazines, and public speeches. That is, approximately 999,999 more cases than 'Western authors under death fatwas for blasphemy against Islam'. Denigrating Islam while in America is a)less dangerous than taking a shower and b)not a bar from earning a living as a pundit, political/social commentary author, or major Christian religious figure. It might bar one from national political role (eg president), but not from a regional one (eg Congressperson).

Of course, one can denigrate Christianity and also be a)safe and b)a popular figure in some circles (but not in others). Not a politician, not a major pundit, but popular blogger, author, musician, etc are all within reach. Of course, this all depends on the degree of 'denigrating Christianity'. Being proudly atheist is Ok for some roles. Saying "Christianity is a terrorist religion" is very fringe & would damage many careers dependent on popular support.

If you want to argue, as you did initially, that the intentional and gratuitous insult to Islam was justified by the very outrage that resulted, Im afraid I have some very choice things to tell you about your mother. I will be making these statements because they will enrage you to the point of violence, and thus my statements will be, in retrospect, justified as a defense of free speech via its exercise in the face of intimidation.

you can't have Mohammed give someone a hat- yet Falwell can call Mohammad a terrorist, or defend someone who called him a "demon-possessed pedophile" without consequence. Heck, he's still one of the gatekeepers for the political 'religious right', someone John McCain recently made up with in order to make up some ground in that area. Someone with real political power.
And no fatwa either! Jerry must be blessed to have avoided one.

You can have Jesus take a crap on the American flag, but you can't have Mohammed give someone a hat.

To the extent that this is true, isn't it largely because many Muslims believe there to be a religious prohibition against depictions of Mohammed, while there is no parallel prohibition regarding Jesus in Christianity? Showing Jesus crapping on the flag may be irreverent to the point of offensiveness, but it doesn't violate Christian doctrine. That is, depictions of Muhammed aren't just personally offensive to Muslims, but are perceived to be offenses against Islam itself.

The Ayatollah is not part of the lunatic wing of Shi'a Islam. He is mainstream, that is why I brought him up.

Pat Robertson is mainstream in the US. He is also part of the lunatic wing of American Christianity: as, come to that, is George W. Bush, insofar as Bush depends on the lunatic wing of American Christianity to vote him in. Being in the lunatic wing does not - regrettably - mean being powerless.

Many Shi'ite Iranian Muslims do not support the Ayatollah or agree with his particular version of Islam. Muslims worldwide certainly don't.

Many evangelical American Christians do not support Pat Robertson or agree with his particular version of Christianity. Christians worldwide certainly don't.

Other than that, what Carleton Wu said.

Marcotte resigns.

Concerning pope not blessing abortion-doctor killers:
John Paul II did not endorse that directly but he tolerated quite outrageous comments by high officials of the Vatican.
I remember e.g. that Cafara (either a cardinal of the Curia or at least in a high position in it) publicly (an official speech if I remember correctly) decried that women having abortions could not be burned at the stake anymore.

There are some minor differences, J,. For one thing, one can publicly ridicule and excoriate Pat Robertson without fearing for one's life.

Small difference, I know, but worth looking at.

Also, if Robertson has an army of pentecostal killbots at his disposal, they haven't done anything that rises to attention. Of course, that just might be what makes them threatening: stealth.

To the extent that this is true, isn't it largely because many Muslims believe there to be a religious prohibition against depictions of Mohammed, while there is no parallel prohibition regarding Jesus in Christianity?

Oh, for the days of the Iconoclasm...

"If you want to argue, as you did initially, that the intentional and gratuitous insult to Islam was justified by the very outrage that resulted, Im afraid I have some very choice things to tell you about your mother. I will be making these statements because they will enrage you to the point of violence, and thus my statements will be, in retrospect, justified as a defense of free speech via its exercise in the face of intimidation."

Go to it. I suspect nothing you say about my mother will get me to kill you. Shall we test it?

"Pat Robertson is mainstream in the US. He is also part of the lunatic wing of American Christianity: as, come to that, is George W. Bush, insofar as Bush depends on the lunatic wing of American Christianity to vote him in. Being in the lunatic wing does not - regrettably - mean being powerless."

You seem to have lost your own thread of logic. Pat Robertson was being compared to various Ayatollahs (is that the plural) as far as 'lunatic' fringes go. I believe you were suggesting that both Robertson and Khomeini were powerful yet part of the 'lunatic fringe' of their respective religions. Or maybe you were saying that they were both mainstream. Comparable in either case. Yet, did Pat Robertson order people to kill abortion doctors? Nope.

"To the extent that this is true, isn't it largely because many Muslims believe there to be a religious prohibition against depictions of Mohammed, while there is no parallel prohibition regarding Jesus in Christianity?"

First of all there is an exact parallel in Christianity. In fact the Muslim 'prohibition' (scare quotes because by no means do all Muslims accept it) comes from the same prohibition against idols as is found in Judaism and Christianity. Second, you aren't understanding the concept of being against icons at all. There are two portions of it. First the worry that you will worship the idol instead of the true God (or in this case that you will worship the Prophet instead of Allah). Not much worry about that from Cartoon Central. Second, that it is profoundly disrespectful to God or the Prophet to try to reduce him to a representation. As far as that basis, having Jesus crapping on the flag is quite comparable.

Ezra Klein has a new post on the Edwards campaign's handling of Marcotte. I'm with him. Hasn't the rule previously been that bloggers stop their personal blogging when they become part of a campaign?

Melissa McEwan has also resigned.

Might have had something to do with the rape and death threats.


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