Democracy Is Great, Until We Don’t Get What We Want

Here’s the problem with democratic elections in the Middle East: The most America-friendly, liberal, secular-minded politician isn’t always going to get elected. So we can support free elections, even if we recognize that we will sometimes be troubled by their outcomes, or we can install dictators and prop up corrupt but America-lovin’ regimes. What do you think the We *heart* Democracy GOP shills think about this one?

Well, friends, I give you Ben Shapiro.

This week, the terrorist group Hamas won an overwhelming electoral victory in the Palestinian Arab parliament election. Hamas, an organization that pledges to seek the destruction of the State of Israel, now holds 76 out of 132 seats in the relatively powerless legislative body.

This election gives the lie to two fallacious yet extremely influential ideas upon which American foreign policy has been based. First, the Arab/Israeli dispute remains intractable not because Palestinian Arab leadership is corrupt or evil (though it is), but because Palestinian Arabs, like their Muslim brethren across the globe, hate Israel and want the Jews thrown into the sea.

All Muslims hate all Jews. Why do I already doubt him?

For decades, we’ve seen blame cast on Yassar Arafat, his Fatah movement, and the Israelis. The one group that has by and large escaped criticism is the Palestinian Arab population.

…I’m sorry? In what world is young Ben living in where the Palestinian population doesn’t regularly get blamed for every suicide bombing and terrorist attack in Israel?

We would prefer that the large mass of Palestinian Arabs be peace-loving, open-minded human beings who wish only to see their children grow and prosper in a society that values coexistence, education, and liberty. Unfortunately, that hope has blinded us to a larger truth: the Palestinian Arabs, as a people, are not peace-loving. They support terrorism because they think it right, not because they are desperate or hopeless. They support the annihilation of the State of Israel not because they have been misled, but because they truly – and religiously — believe that Israel must be wiped off the map.

Ben knows this because he has no doubt been to Palestine, and has without question spoken to an actual Palestinian person at some point in his life.

It is difficult to misread Palestinian Arab hatred for the West and for Jews in particular, but somehow we have deliberately ignored all the evidence in favor of more palatable motivations. It’s about economic discontent, we tell ourselves. It’s about supposed Israeli occupation of formerly Arab-occupied lands. It’s about this or that. It’s never about simple hatred, and it is never about Islam.

Of course, that is precisely what the Arab/Israeli conflict is about: simple hatred, and Islam. That is what the War on Terror is about: a clash between Islamic theocracy and Western liberalism.

Again, what? Ben runs in conservative circles; he must have heard the “It’s all Islam’s fault” line at least a dozen times, because I know I sure have. And I thought that Western liberalism was bad, and was currently corrupting our nation and we need a return to religion? Perhaps he’d like to see an ideal blend of the two: Western theocracy.

The same week that Hamas emerged victorious in the Palestinian Arab elections, Muslims throughout the Middle East went ballistic over a cartoon in a Danish newspaper. That cartoon depicted Koranic author Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse. Saudis beat two Danish workers; the Danish Red Cross has been forced to evacuate two employees from Gaza and another from Yemen after threats of violence; Iraqi terrorists may have targeted a Danish-Iraqi patrol near Basra; Muslims have threatened massive boycotts of Danish companies; Egypt’s parliament refused to discuss a $72.5 million loan by Denmark to Egypt. United Arab Emirates Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Mohammed Al Dhaheri described the cartoon as “cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression,” then ominously warned, “The repercussions of such irresponsible acts will have adverse impact on international relations.”

Iraqis “may have” done something, but Ben has no evidence so he’s guessing here. Muslims used their purchasing power to boycott goods from a country which perpetuated racist stereotypes about them. This is apparently a huge problem.

And that isn’t an “ominous warning,” my small friend, it’s the kind of thing that politicians say all the time to leverage power. How many times have we threatened the French with the “future international relations” line?

Which brings us to the second fallacious yet widely believed principle upon which American foreign policy has been based: democratic institutions mean nothing as long as the people who operate that machinery despise democratic values. Elections are only as good as the people who vote in them. Elections do not, by themselves, guarantee freedom, economic liberalism, or peace. If people prefer violent theocracy to democratic liberalism or kleptocracy to accountable government, that is what democracy will bring.

So because Muslims are inherently evil, their government will be inherently evil.

We must rethink our Iraqi policy in light of Hamas’ victory; we must ensure that the Iraqis do not value terrorism over liberty or violent Islam over its more peaceful counterpart. The Iraqi Constitution’s pledge to overturn any law contradicting “the universally agreed tenets of Islam” is a dangerous pledge. Perhaps Iraqis are more democratically-minded than the Palestinian Arabs; perhaps not. Doubt about the nature of the Iraqi people must breed caution, not mindless confidence in the power of ballots.

In other words, let’s not do this whole “free elections” thing. Much better to just install a U.S.-friendly leader.

Democracy is not a bromide to be prescribed at the first sign of violence. Cancer cannot be cured with a sleeping pill. Democracy can flourish only in a society with democratic values. The Palestinian Arabs do not have those values, nor do they wish to cultivate them. We should be more optimistic about the Iraqi people, but no less suspicious. The future of the West rests on our jealous guardianship of democratic values, not blind faith in democratic institutions.

It still shocks me that it’s acceptable, in 2006, to refer to a major religious faith as a “cancer” in a mainstream publication. I’m no fan of theocracy, and I’m not thrilled about Hamas being elected, but Christ. Notice how Ben never actually comes out and says what he thinks the U.S. should do — but it seems clear enough what he thinks.


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51 comments for “Democracy Is Great, Until We Don’t Get What We Want

  1. February 1, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    It still shocks me that it’s acceptable, in 2006, to refer to a major religious faith as a “cancer” in a mainstream publication.

    Aren’t you the person who regularly characterizes people whose religious views you disapprove of as “godbags”?

  2. February 1, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Well, sure, but I don’t think that Christianity is a cancer on the world, or that it needs to be eliminated. I call individuals godbags, I don’t insult the entire religion. And I think there are a whole lot of Muslim godbags out there too, just so we’re clear.

  3. February 1, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Godbags come in many flavors.

  4. Jerub-Baal, Smasher of Idols
    February 1, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Well let’s put matters more succinctly:

    I have no problem with God. I have a problem with YOU.

  5. Tanooki Joe
    February 1, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    It still shocks me that it’s acceptable, in 2006, to refer to a major religious faith as a “cancer” in a mainstream publication.

    If only. Hopefully, it’s still acceptable to insult the minor religions. I’m watching you, Baha’i…

    The future of the West rests on our jealous guardianship of democratic values, not blind faith in democratic institutions.

    “Jealous gaurdianship?” It never seems to occur to Ben that democratic values+democratic institutions= democracy. Of course, no seemingly simple logical connection is small enough to occur to Ben here.

  6. randomliberal/Robert
    February 1, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    Man, being a conservative blowhard is so much easier than trying to think everything through and see things from someone else’s perspective. Why am I trying to borrow my way through college when I could just write for some fish-wrapper and get paid for it?

  7. karpad
    February 2, 2006 at 12:47 am

    He really seemed to miss the point in that political cartoon crap, too. They have every right to be incredibly offended, as they were racist stereotypes, but there’s more to it than that.

    it wasn’t any old muslim being portrayed. it was Muhammed. of whom there is a specific ban on the physical portrayal thereof, to discourage idolatry. and then he’s shown in a racist and offensive manner.

    the only analogue I can really think of is remember that flap a few years back when someone put a crucifix in a tank filled with urine? replace the urine with infant blood, and for the explanation, go with “Jesus was a jew, right? well he needs the baby blood for matzah.” and then, have your government step in and boldly declare criticism of the bloody jesus off limits, because “we aren’t going to let a bunch of religious tyrants tell us what’s in our rights are.”

    My math would put the artist there on the top of Robertson et al’s shitlist, along with possible murder attempts by the particularly violent branch, certainly death threats and boycott declarations.

  8. February 2, 2006 at 3:16 am

    Muslims used their purchasing power to boycott goods from a country which perpetuated racist stereotypes about them

    Whaaa…?

    You know, I found one good thing about the election of Hamas, it provided clarity. No more equivocations — the majority of Arab “Palestinians” support the annihilation of Israel.

    Now, not all moslems are terrorists, but almost all terrorism (contemporary) is commited by moslems in the name of Islam (their version of it).

    Yep. I’d say Islamist terrorists are evil and their supporters are complicit in the evil.

    And when Theo Van Gogh is butchered on a street in Amsterdam, with his moslem murderer proclaiming pride in the savage act and European governments engaging in appeasment to radicalized moslems, I think it very strange to find you mocking someone having a problem with yet another moslem attempt at intimidation.

    Shapiro engages in loose, hyperbolic talk, but heck you certainly can match him

    Western theocracy?

    JAYsus save us. ;-)

  9. randomliberal/Robert
    February 2, 2006 at 4:40 am

    Darleen, your rhetoric is…intriguing. Why put “Palestinians” in quotes? I’ve seen that once before (in a letter to the local paper), but I don’t remember the significance really.

    Now, not all moslems are terrorists, but almost all terrorism (contemporary) is commited by moslems in the name of Islam (their version of it).

    Bullshit. Islam Karimov’s government in Uzbekistan has murdered hundreds in the name of defeating Islamic terrorism, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda has murdered thousands in the name of Christianity, Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols (remember those guys?) murdered 168 in the name of the militia movement or something like that, Hutus murdered 800,000 people in the name of Hutu power, Basque terrorists have killed a few dozen in Spain, the IRA and Protestant extremists have only recently ended decades of violence toward each other (at least nominally) in Northern Ireland, Serbian Christians murdered tens of thousands in the former Yugoslavia, and some of the other ethnic groups in the area returned the favor, if not quite on the same scale (some Muslim, some Christian), etc. Just because terrorist acts committed by Islamic extremists get the most American media coverage doesn’t mean other groups aren’t or haven’t been busy committing their own acts of terrorism.

  10. tadhgin
    February 2, 2006 at 5:09 am

    The reaction to the Danish cartoons is wrong and akin to fundamentalists going ape about Jerry Springer the Opera/Piss Christ/The new Gilbert and George show (Was Jesus Hetro?).

    Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that cause Ben is agin’ something right thinking people should be for it; sometimes he stumbles into the right place by accident – like with Jesus Freaks going to Rock gigs to find converts, you don’t decide you don’t like rock music anymore.

  11. Thomas
    February 2, 2006 at 8:26 am

    RL/R, you forgot Eric Robert Rudolph, James Kopp, the “Real IRA” who have not joined the peace process, and the Tamil Tigers.

    This notion of an inherent connection between Islam and terror as a tactic is tenuous.

  12. zuzu
    February 2, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Let’s not forget Tim McVeigh.

    Hell, you could even sweep Ann Coulter in there, for advocating the poisoning of a Supreme Court Justice.

    Godbags come in many flavors.

    Like earwax. And vomit.

  13. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 11:28 am

    Muslims used their purchasing power to boycott goods from a country which perpetuated racist stereotypes about them.

    How is a caricature of a religious figure “racist”? It’s not like all Muslims are the same race.

    I think that Jill and some of the commenters in this thread are skirting around the fact that there have been real acts of violence, and threats of violence, in response to this cartoon, such as the Saudi beating of two Danes. It’s possible to be troubled by that, and to be concerned about the attendant chilling effects on free expression, without being anti-Muslim or anti-Arab. It’s not like violent acts by Islamic extremists in response to critical portrayals of Muslims are some half-baked fantasy dreamed up by Christian fundamentalists. Just ask Theo Van Gogh…oh wait, we can’t.

  14. Thomas
    February 2, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Zuzu, RL/R did mention McVeigh and Nichols, the terrorists who had killed the most Americans prior to 9/11/01.

    When Coulter made her infamous remark about McVeigh, I had a close relative working in the NYT building.

  15. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    Zuzu, RL/R did mention McVeigh and Nichols, the terrorists who had killed the most Americans prior to 9/11/01.

    That’s inaccurate. Prior to 9/11, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group. The OKC bombing killed 168 people; Hezbollah’s bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut alone killed 242.

    Link 1

    Link 2

  16. February 2, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Jon, I think Thomas meant the terrorist who killed the most people on American soil. But, point taken.

    And when Theo Van Gogh is butchered on a street in Amsterdam, with his moslem murderer proclaiming pride in the savage act and European governments engaging in appeasment to radicalized moslems, I think it very strange to find you mocking someone having a problem with yet another moslem attempt at intimidation.

    Darleen-

    I’m not sure how Muslims boycotting Danish products is akin to “intimidation.” Look, I’m with you guys in the idea that it’s horrific that people are being beaten and killed over this cartoon. I just don’t see the problem with individual or collective groups of Muslims refusing to buy products from a particular place because they disapprove of the way that country portrays their people. It might be stupid, but it’s not “intimidation.” Remember when a handful of Americans were refusing to buy French products and pouring out wine in the streets? It was stupid as all hell, but I wouldn’t say that it amounted to “intimidation.”

  17. Thomas
    February 2, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Jill, I didn’t mean what you think I meant.

    Jon, I was imprecise. The terrorists who killed the most Americans prior to 9/11 were Hezbollah. They are clearly terrorists because of their attacks on U.S. civilians — two embassy bombings, kidnappings, etc. However, McVeigh and Nichols were the terrorists who killed the most Americans through terrorist attacks. The higher Hezbollah toll, as you note, includes the truck-bomb attack on the barracks. The 241 people killed in that attack were all, to the best of my knowledge, uniformed personnel in the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines. Further, since the attack was on their barracks building at the Beirut airport, the attack seems pretty well calculated only to kill armed, uniformed military personnel. Since when is it terrorism for a group of folks in their own land to target and kill the armed forces of a foreign power engaged in hostilities there?

    To be perfectly clear, Hezbollah are terrorists. However, sneak attacks on the enemy’s armed forces in the course of armed conflict are not terrorism, even when terrorists do it. (Corrollary: the IRA was a terrorist organization, but when Goldfinger shot at soldiers, he was not engaged in terrorism. He was engaged in insurgency.)

  18. February 2, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Ah. Sorry, Thomas! Shouldn’t try and put words in your mouth.

  19. Thomas
    February 2, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    Well, it did seem like the obvious correction. I think patriotism keeps most folks from being critical of the use of the term “terrorism.” But I think it’s intellectually dishonest just to say, “if terrorists do it, it’s terrorism.” If we accept that, it’s a short step to “if we do it, it isn’t terrorism.”

  20. Conchita the Mermaid
    February 2, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    Does no one remember that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish Israeli, Yingel Amir?

    How could it be acceptable to refer to an entire nation as “not peace-loving”? There is a hideous double-standard in journalism in the US in which the Palestinian people as a whole are regularly defamed like this. Are the Irish called inherently violent or obstructionist because of the IRA?

    In addition, not all Palestinians are Muslims. In Israel, an estimated 12% of Palestinians are Christian, in the West bank, a smaller minority of about 2%. Over half of these are Greek Orthodox–some are even Protestants for cryin’ out loud.

    Isn’t it terrorism to bomb a country that poses no threat, has never invaded you, has no weapons of mass destruction but an economy crippled by 10 years of UN Sanctions?

    What about the bombing of abortion clinics, or the Army of God’s murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian?

    And finally, the United States is the only government in the world to use nuclear weapons against civilians. That’s much more scary to me.

  21. Kelley
    February 2, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    I think the fuss about the cartoons misses the point that in a free society, one has free expression. That includes the right to say things about people that people aren’t going to like. Were the cartoons racist? Perhaps. Were they caricatures? Yes. Did the Danes have the right to run that cartoon? You betcha!!! France Soir reprinted the cartoon, along with the added caricatures of the so-called deities of other religions. They also had the right to do so.

    When the media or independent publications, in particular, begin to bow to the will of a given group, a fundamental right (free speech and the free exchange of ideas) has been sacrificed. Witness how the americal media has become cowed by the republican/theocratic cabal. Sacrificing any portion of free speech to mollify any religious group is a path a free society does not want to take.

    Democracy includes the right to free expression, for better or for worse. Get over it. Mean-spirited it may have been, but it’s still a free expression. I may not agree with the message, but I support the right of the messenger to express it. One cannot please all of the people all of the time, nor should have have to do so.

  22. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    To be perfectly clear, Hezbollah are terrorists. However, sneak attacks on the enemy’s armed forces in the course of armed conflict are not terrorism, even when terrorists do it.

    Thomas, I think you’re trying to draw a distinction where none exists. I’ve never really understood the post-9/11 liberal urge to legitimate terrorist tactics by likening them to acceptable military maneuvers; it actually strikes me as pretty disgusting. I’ve gone more than a few rounds with folks here trying to argue this, and I won’t do so again now. I find it sad that it’s even a source of disagreement.

  23. February 2, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    I think the fuss about the cartoons misses the point that in a free society, one has free expression. That includes the right to say things about people that people aren’t going to like.

    …which would include the right of Muslims to express their disgust with the cartoon.

    I think the violence is abhorrent, but saying that a boycott amounts to an attack of “freedom of expression” is disregarding the fact that a boycott is another form of expression.

  24. February 2, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    #9 randomliberal/Robert

    I put “Palestinians” in quotes to remind people that the designation of a group of Arabs as “Palestinians” is a phenomenom approximately 40 years old. Regardless of the myth that Arab “Palestinians” are the indigenous people of the area for thousands of years, Jews have been there (continuously) since about 1200 BC and before that Canaanites. “Palestine” was the name given to the region by Romans in 70 AD when they conquered the nation of Israel and wanted to wipe the history of the area away.

  25. February 2, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Jill

    Moslems have every right to criticize, write letters, make economic choices as they see fit.

    However, when Islamist governments get involved – ie withdrawing diplomats, cutting off business – because of cartoons, we are talking about something else.

    And telling people “draw a cartoon and we’ll murder you” is just a BIT beyond the pale, eh?

    The French newspaper that fired its editor over the cartoons is really showing how good dhimmi’s act in the presence of their moslem superiors.

  26. zuzu
    February 2, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Here’s a link to the actual cartoons.

    Make no mistake, they are offensive. And I agree with Steve Gilliard’s assessment of the situation: sure, the papers had a right to print them, but they were stupid to do so:

    Those cartoons are deeply offensive and are no better than if the WaPo or Boston Globe had a cartoon of Al Sharpton being lynched. Freedom of the Press is fine, but depicting Muhammad as a drunk with women is asking for a major reaction.

    You would NEVER see this in an Israeli paper. Why? Because the cartoonist would go to jail. When a Settler drew a cartoon of Muhammad as a pig she got four years because they were afraid the Intifada would kick off again.

    Europeans have made it clear that Muslims are outsiders. Then, in the crudest way possible, they insult their faith and wonder why muslims refuse to buy their products, withdraw their ambassadors and make bomb threats.

    Hint: this is a direct assault on their faith.

    Muhammad didn’t tell anyone to bomb anything. It is lazy, cheap thinking to say that and then hide behind press freedom when people are pissed beyond words. After a few riots, and this is where this is heading, or the kidnapping of Dutch and Danes in Iraq, to make the point, is coming.

    Use of religous imagery in the West pissed people off and they are not faith defining issues.

    Would an American editor run this? No. Because it doesn’t make a political point, it just serves as offense. Europeans have enough problems integrating their societies as is, so why toss up an inflamatory insult to prove a point they are clearly not ready to deal with the reaction to.

    I certainly don’t think the reaction would have been quite so strong had the cartoons depicted, say, Osama bin Laden or one of the Ayatollahs rather than Muhammed. Why? Because those two have taken direct political stances and actions against the West, whereas Muhammed has not. Moreover, Muhammed is a purely religious figure, while OBL and the Ayatollahs are political figures which not every Muslim or Palestinian agrees with.

  27. Kelley
    February 2, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    which would include the right of Muslims to express their disgust with the cartoon.

    “Expressing their disgust with the cartoon” does not include the right to kidnap foreign nationals, and shoot into the offices of western media outlets located in the middle east as a result. Both of which have happened, with the exception that the German hostage was later released unharmed. Boycotting European goods is fine. Burning US and European flags is also fine. Protesting (peacefully) is fine, as well. Violence because one doesn’t like the message? Not fine.

    We should just ban all religion and be done with it. Imagine.

  28. Kelley
    February 2, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Damn, I have to learn how to use that stupid block quote function!

  29. February 2, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    the cartoons

    just imagine jesus christ in muhammad’s place, and lets say he was winking provocatively at a little boy… what would the reaction be out west and among christians?

    sure, we all know and continue to hear about priests either protecting a brother or deflecting accusations of child molestation but is it funny? or is it crass? and isn’t it an absurd idea that western newspapers/magazines et al would publish such illustrations? one might assume that their business would fall to bankruptcy immediately – not because sales would fall, but because investors and advertisers would withdrawl immediately to avoid association. this fear alone prevents such an occurance – where respect for religious diversity narrowly leans toward a specific flavour of religion in particular.

    if religious diversity – in top form – was respected even if not appreciated, these cartoons would never have been published. given current events, that lack of respect appears to have a social-political association as well.

  30. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    just imagine jesus christ in muhammad’s place, and lets say he was winking provocatively at a little boy… what would the reaction be out west and among christians?

    I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be random beatings and rallies calling for the murder of those who drew the cartoon.

    We don’t need to resort to these kinds of hypotheticals, because we have actual, recent examples of the Christian response to artistic disparagement of their faith. Who was beaten or threatened with death over Jose Serrano’s “Piss Christ”? Whose throat was slit over the “Sensation” exhibit in NYC a few years back, which featured elephant feces on the Virgin Mary?

    When Hustler magazine ran a cartoon in the 80’s of Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother, Falwell, blowhard that he is, didn’t issue a fatwa calling for anyone to be stoned. He filed a lawsuit…and lost.

    Most Muslims are perfectly peaceable, and are not threatening violence in response to the cartoons. But that doesn’t mean we can excuse the ones that are, or pretend that American evangelical Christians are their moral equivalent.

  31. February 2, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    sure, we all know and continue to hear about priests either protecting a brother or deflecting accusations of child molestation but is it funny? or is it crass? and isn’t it an absurd idea that western newspapers/magazines et al would publish such illustrations?

    Your statement appears to be radically at variance with the historical record. The papers were full of crassly sexual or profoundly disrespectful anti-priest/anti-Catholic cartoons at the height of the pedophilia scandals. (Here’s a sampling of a few – 11 pages worth – of the professional ones.) I particularly like the 2nd one from that link, showing a molested child as Christ on the cross. There were jokes on every TV and radio talk show.

    just imagine jesus christ in muhammad’s place, and lets say he was winking provocatively at a little boy… what would the reaction be out west and among christians?

    We’d probably be knocking cartoonists down in the street and stabbing them to death and issuing death sentences to writers. Christianity is the religion of peace, after all.

  32. February 2, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    just imagine jesus christ in muhammad’s place, and lets say he was winking provocatively at a little boy… what would the reaction be out west and among christians?

    I’ll go you one better . . how about immersing Jesus in a glass of urine and selling the pictures. Of course, this is the infamous Piss Christ by Andres Serrano. See here for what the image for details on how it fetched $105,000 at auction.

    The key point of contention here is that Islam forbids any representation of Mohammed, no matter how benign. So this controversy would have erupted regardless of the nature of caricature. In the West, while many Christians found Piss Christ to be offensive, the freedom of speech principles were held to be more important and that’s why we can see for ourselves the images of Piss Christ.

    It is completely outlandish for Islam to compell their standards on the West when the issue is freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is not contentious when we can all agree on what is respectable speech. The rubber meets the road when we disagree on what is accepable speech. Count me as being forthrightly on the side of being able to caricature and simply depict images of religious leaders as being wholly permissable. I cannot subscribe to a limitation of my rights to depict Mohammed as being a furtherance of public interest.

    The Left was solidly in defense of Piss Christ and the right to freedom of expression. What has so rotted the core of liberal intellectual thought that they have so abandoned this prinicple, among others? It is this rotted core of liberalism has that over the past decade, slowly but surely, led me to abandon my affiliation with liberalism, and not being able to embrace the religious fervor and anti-intellectualism of the right, leaves me blowing in the political wind.

  33. February 2, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Too quick on the submit key. Corrections follow:

    – See here for detials of how the image fetched $105,000 at auction.

    – I cannot subscribe to a limitation of my rights to depict Mohammed as being a hindrance to the public interest or peace.

  34. zuzu
    February 2, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Your statement appears to be radically at variance with the historical record. The papers were full of crassly sexual or profoundly disrespectful anti-priest/anti-Catholic cartoons at the height of the pedophilia scandals. (Here’s a sampling of a few – 11 pages worth – of the professional ones.) I particularly like the 2nd one from that link, showing a molested child as Christ on the cross. There were jokes on every TV and radio talk show.

    I didn’t know priests were equivalent to Christ or Muhammed. Probably because they’re not.

    Moreover, the cartoons you link to are not in the least anti-priest just to be anti-priest, nor are they anti-Catholic. They’re addressing a huge problem with the priesthood and the church’s efforts to cover it up. The content of the cartoons directly relates to the particular scandal and places the blame where it belongs — on pedophile priests and those in the church, such as Cardinal Law, who covered for them and put the blame on the victims.

    By contrast, what does Muhammed, an historical figure, have to do with bombs, terrorism, or anything else depicted in those cartoons? If your issue is with modern Islam, find a more directly relevant way to express that.

    And Jesus, Robert, if you grew up Catholic and didn’t hear any jokes about pedophile priests — from other Catholics — then you weren’t paying attention. Even I, with my half-assed upbringing in the Church, knew that there were priests nobody quite trusted (and in fact, we were right not to, since Father Hanley molested quite a lot of boys in my age group and was simply transferred to another parish when this was brought to the bishop’s attention).

  35. February 2, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    i guess i should have qualified the following:

    – i myself am utterly underexposed to pop culture print material (or tv for that matter) that has depicted the equivelant of the cartoons being discussed. but what i have seen in Canada is that artwork that approaches any such ‘satire’ in nature is immediately protested, with funders then threatening to censure or pull out. and, in fact, the event is followed up with death threats to the gallery and / or artist in question.

    – the post wasn’t about the Christians, it was about the context of the contraversy surrounding the cartoons. the lack of sensitivity and / or caution shown in printing them being a result of the permissive atmosphere generated among current social-political attitudes (and of course related to highly publicized events).

    on the last point here – the editor/publisher could not in anyway have been ignorant to the potential level of outcry that would result. thus putting to question the intent.

  36. piny
    February 2, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    Piss Christ has actually already been commented on in the thread.

    I’ll go you one better . . how about immersing Jesus in a glass of urine and selling the pictures. Of course, this is the infamous Piss Christ by Andres Serrano. See here for what the image for details on how it fetched $105,000 at auction.

    …And became a touchstone in the NEA battles after it was attacked by Reverend Donald Wildmon (of the AFA) in a national campaign. Then it was denounced in the Senate, and then the Senate tried to withdraw public funding from the gallery that showed it for the next five years. People did froth at the mouth over it, just as they did over Ofili’s Madonna painting several years later.

    The key point of contention here is that Islam forbids any representation of Mohammed, no matter how benign. So this controversy would have erupted regardless of the nature of caricature. In the West, while many Christians found Piss Christ to be offensive, the freedom of speech principles were held to be more important and that’s why we can see for ourselves the images of Piss Christ.

    Islam forbids any representation of Muhammad because of the fear that it will lead to idolatry. I doubt very much that a pictorial representation of Muhammad as part of, say, a historical article would have occasioned the same outrage, although some people might have been offended by the lack of sensitivity. These images were attacked because they’re racist and because they betray a deep and insidious ignorance of all things Muslim.

  37. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    …And became a touchstone in the NEA battles after it was attacked by Reverend Donald Wildmon (of the AFA) in a national campaign

    “Becoming a touchstone in the NEA battles”? You’re not seriously trying to compare this to people being beaten or threatened with death, right piny?

    These images were attacked because they’re racist…

    I asked before but didn’t get an answer: given that Muslims are of various races, how is it racist to caricature a religious figure?

  38. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    on the last point here – the editor/publisher could not in anyway have been ignorant to the potential level of outcry that would result. thus putting to question the intent.

    Feminsts rightly denounce the “she had it coming” defense when it comes to domestic violence. Why is religio-political violence any different?

  39. piny
    February 2, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    “Becoming a touchstone in the NEA battles”? You’re not seriously trying to compare this to people being beaten or threatened with death, right piny?

    Tangoman seemed to be saying in seriousness that there was no public attempt to censor Serrano’s work, and that Christians in general react to offensive imagery better than Muslims. Both statements are inaccurate. And he received death threats as a result of Piss Christ and the controversy created by figureheads like Wildmon.

    I asked before but didn’t get an answer: given that Muslims are of various races, how is it racist to caricature a religious figure?

    The imagery used in the cartoons was anti-Arab as well as anti-Muslim, for one thing. While Islam is a faith held by people from many different groups, the Islam stereotype caricatured in these cartoons doesn’t acknowledge that diversity. Muslim is Arab is Islamist.

    For another, this is true of Italians, Irish people, and Jewishness as both a cultural and religious affiliation. Would you be complaining about sloppiness if someone referred to anti-Semitism as a kind of racism?

  40. February 2, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Here are all 12 cartoons. With the exception of the one that has Mohammed with a bomb in his turban please explain to me why the others are offensive. Also, for all 12 bombs, please explain the racism that you see inherent in them.

    Islam forbids any representation of Muhammad because of the fear that it will lead to idolatry.

    Terrific for them. They can abide by those sanctions. Non-muslims are however not bound to follow such restrictions on free expression. In fact, it is insulting to Western values to have our rights curtailed by such sensitivities. The Left was quite prominent in defending Serrano’s right to produce and show Piss Christ. Where is the Left today?

    As for the rest of your points, I’ll echo Jon C.’s points.

    This whole incident reminds me so much of the IKEA controversy a few years back where IKEA sided with cultural sensitivity to muslims by excluding women in the instruction manual diagrams. And of course there is the infamous Unni Wikan remarks where she, a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, commented:

    The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that 65 percent of rapes of Norwegian women were performed by “non-Western” immigrants � a category that, in Norway, consists mostly of Muslims.

    The article quoted a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo (who was described as having “lived for many years in Muslim countries”) as saying that “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes” because Muslim men found their manner of dress provocative. One reason for the high number of rapes by Muslims, explained the professor, was that in their native countries “rape is scarcely punished,” since Muslims “believe that it is women who are responsible for rape.” The professor’s conclusion was not that Muslim men living in the West needed to adjust to Western norms, but the exact opposite: “Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.”

  41. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    Tangoman seemed to be saying in seriousness that there was no public attempt to censor Serrano’s work…

    There’s a difference between “censoring” something and lobbying to end public subsidy for something. And there’s an even bigger difference between the latter and beating the crap out of and/or killing the guy who created that something.

  42. Thomas
    February 2, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    legitimate terrorist tactics by likening them to acceptable military maneuvers; it actually strikes me as pretty disgusting.

    That’s not what I did. If you think that’s what I did, either you misunderstood me, or your definition of “terrorist tactics” is untenable.

    I think you’re trying to draw a distinction where none exists.

    That’s flat wrong. When a terrorist makes waffles, are they Waffles of Terror? No. They’re waffles. When a terrorist puts on a uniform, faxes us a declaration of war, takes up a position outside our military base and fires on us with a mortar, it’s a conventional military attack in every sense. Is it a “terrorist attack”? Of course not.

    I’ve gone more than a few rounds with folks here trying to argue this, and I won’t do so again now.

    I don’t expect you to repeat yourself. Link to your prior remarks and I’ll read your position. I’m skeptical that you have some definition of terrorism that makes an attack on a U.S. military installation in a foreign country by local insurgents a “terrorist attack” but that doesn’t resort to complete sophistry. But whatever you’ve written, I’ll read it.

  43. February 2, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    Thomas,

    I think you’re arguing a lost cause on the matter of redefining terrorist activity. Your’re trying to paint insurgent attacks as though they are conventional military attacks yet the insurgents aren’t in uniform so that they can be identified by the enemy and save the targeting of the local civilian population, rather they purposely try to blend with the local population. They purposely take refuge in civilian buildings including hospitals and houses of worship rather than in their terrorist or military buildings and vehicles. The same forces that on one day targets military assets on other days targets innocent civilians and non-military civilian gov’t personnel. It is the way that these groups conduct themselves that defines them, not what particular tactic they use on a particular target on one day.

  44. Jon C.
    February 2, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    When a terrorist puts on a uniform, faxes us a declaration of war, takes up a position outside our military base and fires on us with a mortar, it’s a conventional military attack in every sense.

    On that, I could agree with you. But that is not even remotely the same thing as what Hezbollah did in blowing up the Marine barracks in Beirut. The thing with terrorists is that they don’t wear uniforms. They don’t fight in the open, under the flag of a particular nation. They don’t go through niceties like obtaining declarations of war or authorizations of force from democratically elected parliamentary bodies.

    Just because the target is military and located overseas doesn’t immediately mean the act in question is not “terrorism.” Would you not concede that it would be an act of terrorism for a local Islamist group to bomb a US armed forces base in say, Pakistan, where the US military is assisting with earthquake relief? This meets all your stated criteria for “non-terrorism”, but unless you too are resorting to sophistry, I can’t see how you could plausibly characterize it as anything but terrorism.

  45. February 2, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    RE: Piss Christ

    I just saw a fantastic post on the subject here.

  46. karpad
    February 2, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    Terrific for them. They can abide by those sanctions. Non-muslims are however not bound to follow such restrictions on free expression.

    Missing the fucking point much? Read this. very. Carefully.

    Any visual portrayal of the prophet Muhammad is blasphemous and heretical, and Muslims have every right to be grossly offended at it.

    If I make a ventriloquist puppet of Jesus with a dildo attachment that sprays a blend of two parts water with one part plain yogurt, and have it yell “Partake of my my flesh, children” while flailing the squirting phallus at someone, I’d probably get arrested in these parts, even if part of a legitimate art installation. In fact, I could conceivably be arrested just for describing it, even though I’m just exercising my free speech rights.

    I could also decide I want to remind people that Jesus was black, by photoshopping Popeye’s chicken and watermelon on to Da Vinci’s Last Supper. and that’s HORRIBLY offensive and racist. I have a right to do it. but that doesn’t mean it’s ethical, or that I should, or that I have any right to expect no one to be offended, and take the actions you do when that offended, which will range from boycotts and criticism from the more level headed, to death threats and even actual violence from those less so. Christians started fucking riots and murdered my people back in the day for allegedly stealing communion from churches. so it’s not like you torture worshippers are all that more tolerant of religious desecration.

    The reason no one accepts “She was asking for it” in domestic violence is because first, people in a romatic relationship lack the perspective of an issue that the editor of a fucking magazine should have on “what will offend the audience” and two, because rarely does “failing to have dinner on the table” rise to the same level as “knowingly and willingly defaming the founder of your religion as a violent thug out of some sense of racial superiority.”

  47. February 3, 2006 at 10:27 am

    it seems that many folks here prefer to mix together the two differing subjects at hand. the issue of why the cartoons were published and whether or not it was appropriate is not contingent on anyones response to them.

    by continually explaining what was offensive about them and expressing our opinion regarding that insensitivity – we are not in fact arguing about the well publicized reaction to them. merely drawing parallel’s that indeed can be found in relation to other religions.

    whether or not their are portions of the muslim population somewhere over the face of this planet whom deem the offense enough to incite violence – is not in fact the original nor fundamental issue at hand.

    and to suggest that is reads suspiciously like broad based assumptions that all followers of Islam are engendered by those people’s responses. which of course, would be ignoring the fact that all peoples of any religious orientation are not “the same”. but this inference does support the point I was trying to make (whether intended or not) which is that their are very obviously some generic and permissive attitudes and prejudices surrounding Islam that are obviously attached to the never ceasing propaganda we a plumeted with re: the war of terror.

    if i’ve read y’all incorrectly – i appologise. but i cannot otherwise understand why the two seperate issues are being summed up as one.

  48. Thomas
    February 3, 2006 at 10:37 am

    I thought I made clear above that surprise attacks are something that occur during war:

    engaged in hostilities

    in the course of armed conflict

    The importance of a declaration of war is notice. In Lebanon, we were not confused about whether we were engaged in hostilities with Hezbollah. We knew that they were armed combattants against us. If someone attacks us when we don’t know we’re headed for armed hostilities, that’s different. All the more so if our troops are engaged in something other than hostilities or preparation therefor — relief work is not war.

    Nor can the issue turn on whether a democratically elected body declares war; Stalin went to war with Hitler, but there was no democratic body in the USSR to declare war. Certainly, Kursk was not a terrorist attack.

    Nor can the issue be whether a recognized state supports the attackers: that would make the American Revolution a series of terrorist attacks on British troops in the U.S. Insurgents are not governments unless they win.

    Ditto uniforms. Many of the Boers did not wear uniforms. Nor did the Dagestani rebels against Russia in the 1800s. Were the American militiamen at Lexington uniformed, or were they in civilian clothes?

    Finally, about hiding in civilian populations: the side with the stronger conventional forces always has an incentive to deride the tactics of the weaker side. Once, refusing to fight a pitched battle was called unmanly. The British made fun of us on the way back from Lexington when we sniped at them from behind stone walls. The Boer commandos melted away into civilian populations when the British sent a strong force (with the exceptions of some set-pieces, like the Tugela river). This really amounts to an argument that any insurgency that uses concealment and surprise is “being unfair.”

  49. February 3, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Robert:

    I particularly like the 2nd one from that link, showing a molested child as Christ on the cross.

    Yes, so did I. What a perfect visual expression of Matthew 25:31-46.

  50. Tuomas
    February 3, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    Finally, about hiding in civilian populations: the side with the stronger conventional forces always has an incentive to deride the tactics of the weaker side. Once, refusing to fight a pitched battle was called unmanly. The British made fun of us on the way back from Lexington when we sniped at them from behind stone walls. The Boer commandos melted away into civilian populations when the British sent a strong force (with the exceptions of some set-pieces, like the Tugela river). This really amounts to an argument that any insurgency that uses concealment and surprise is “being unfair.”

    Not necessarily. Not fighting a pitched battle or using cover (walls) is objectively useful tactic for a defender with lesser firepower (it evens the gap). Insurgent tactic of locating centers of operations within civilian population, and other sort of using civilian population as a shield, depends on the subjective morality (=killing civilians is wrong, many modern examples) or pragmatic concerns (=the civilians are our subjects, therefore we must not kill all of them, for example many wars the British Empire fought to maintain their power)).

    To put it bluntly, if the opponent doesn’t give a flying fuck about civilian casualties or actively seeks them, hiding among civilians is of negligible military benefit (and if the goal is to protect the people against an invader, it is harmful). Polish (against Hitler) or Finnish (against Stalin) soldiers in 1939 adopting a tactic of hiding among civilians would have resulted in lot of dead civilians alongside soldiers.

    Thus, you are associating things that are similar only in the fact that the stronger side has disapproved the tactics. Sometimes the stronger is simply whining, sometimes the concern is legitimate.

    Now on the Danish cartoons: I didn’t like them. They were unfunny, IMO, and of course they insulted Islam. However, there is no right to never have one’s religion criticized or ridiculed, while freedom of speech and press are necessary safeguards of democracy. There ought to be no “committee” to decide which sort of expression is allowed and what is not, and if some group (=muslims who issue and carry out Fatwas against cartoonist or documentarists, or any other similar group if such exists) are trying to set themselves up as such they ought to be opposed on that issue. Appeasement will only encourage more violence. It is a shame that other newspapers and governments have been cowards in this issue, and that violent threats against the said Danes are understood to the point of approval.

  51. Tuomas
    February 4, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    Hmm. Discussion appears to be dead?

    and take the actions you do when that offended, which will range from boycotts and criticism from the more level headed, to death threats and even actual violence from those less so.

    two, because rarely does “failing to have dinner on the table” rise to the same level as “knowingly and willingly defaming the founder of your religion as a violent thug out of some sense of racial superiority.”

    I’m not sure I understand you here, Karpad. You appear to be saying that “he/she asked for it” is valid if the offense is grave enough (not bringing food to table – no violence, offending a founder of religion – violence). Such subjective measures fail under critical scrutiny.

    Point being, I don’t think Tangoman etc. are denying the muslims their right to be offended, but they appear to hold muslims to same standards everyone ought to be held: You don’t have the right to threaten anyone with death or carry out violence no matter how offensive the speech/drawing was even if you happen to be “not levelheaded”.

    Also, medieval violence against Jews is missing the fucking point. It’s 2006, for Christ’s sake.

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