February 3, 2006

When Radical Prophetism Eats Radical Secularism

Hatched by Dafydd

Did I write "eats?" My error; I must have meant "meets."

It takes a great deal of courage to tug on Superman's cape -- or the Prophet's beard. Courage, that is, if the tugger has sense and reason and actually understands what the hell he's doing -- and the likely reaction.

Suffice to say, I do not believe the European newspapers publishing the mild cartoons of Mohammed are actually courageous. I think instead that they're functionally illiterate in the language of religion: their defiance is like a drunken sixteen year old who picks a fight with Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) in Goodfellas.

This whole thing leaves a sour taste in my mouth: Europeans are such radical secularists, I'm not sure they really understand that some people actually believe in religion and are willing to die -- or kill -- for it. Here is the editor in chief of a French newspaper that ran the cartoons:

The Egyptian publisher of France Soir, which printed the controversial caricatures Wednesday, fired the paper's managing editor, Jacques LeFranc, late Wednesday night, saying, "We present our regrets to the Muslim community and to all people who have been shocked or made indignant by this publication."

But the dismissed editor's boss, Faubert, wrote an unrepentant editorial in Thursday's editions: "We had no desire to add oil to the fire as some may think. A fundamental principle of democracy and secularism is being threatened."

What fundamental principle is that -- that actions have no consequences? I believe the newspapers have the right to publish the pictures; and if they were dealing with a sane religion (Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Odin worship), it might even be salutory... I'm not sure what the point would be to call all Christians "Jesus freaks," as Ted Turner did, but at least it gives Christians the opportunity to turn the other cheek.

But they're not dealing with a modern, civilized religion; there aren't many "Moslem Methodists," as I noted back in September. One needn't always rush to do whatever one has the "right" to do; a bit of circumspection is often in order. In this case, shouldn't somebody ask "is this the right time and place for a war, and is a cartoon the cause under whose banner we march?"

This is imbecilic. I would love to see Europe pick a real fight with militant Islamism... but the first rule of war is only to declare it on people you really want to fight -- not on a billion people at once, many of whom would be your allies under better circumstances. Here's another example of European tone-deafness when it comes to religion:

In another day of confrontation between the largely secular nations of Europe and Muslim countries where religion remains a strong force in daily life, Islamic activists threatened more widespread protests and boycotts of European businesses. While some European officials sought to defuse the crisis, many journalists insisted that despite Islamic outrage, religious sensibilities should not result in censorship.

"We would have done exactly the same thing if it had been a pope, rabbi or priest caricature," wrote Editor in Chief Serge Faubert in Thursday's editions of France Soir, one of the newspapers that printed the cartoons.

Yes, you slope-browed, prognathic buffoon; but Catholics, Jews, and Protestants won't strap on bombs and blow up your newspaper offices. This isn't courage, it's adolescent recklessness.

If they want to demonstrate courage and respect for freedom of speech, they can editorialize in favor of the Iraq war or put out an Arabic-language version of their newspaper in the Middle East -- one that promotes civilization, not the antisemitic, anti-American insanity European newspapers so often validate. They can have the guts to face up squarely to the fact that most people in the world believe in some form of God and religion, instead of pretending that the extreme secularism of Europe is the global norm.

Courage? How about a series of articles about the economic fecklessness of European socialism, with its twenty-eight hour workweeks, month-long vacations, and semiweekly general strikes? Or how about a call that the governments of Europe start spending at least half as big a percent of GDP on defense and their "militaries" as the United States does, rather than their typical one-tenth as much?

Those might take some courage; the fine citizens of the City of Lights might start heaving overbaked baguets through newspaper windows. But at least the battle would actually be in service to some cause other than provocation solely for sake of Europe's ego!

Newspapers in Denmark, France, the UK, and elsewhere across Europe act as if voluntarily choosing not to publish something that is needlessly and foolishly inflammatory is "censorship," as if they have never even heard the word "discretion."

There are many battles we must fight against militant Islamism; but this isn't one of them. This banal donnybrook blurs the distinction between terrorism and mere religious hysteria, which is a traditional component of even moderate Islam. It drives together the Moslem groups we have so carefully pried apart over the last year and a half. It angers those whom we had rather calm down and heartens those we should rather anger. It's blind, lame, ham-fisted, and typically obtuse, as only those who are well protected by their betters can be.

This isn't an act of courage, for God's sake; it's poking a stick into a scorpion's nest to see what comes bubbling out.

God, do I dislike Europeans.

(Hat tip Scott at Power Line, who reads this stuff so the rest of us don't have to.)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 3, 2006, at the time of 6:25 AM

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The following hissed in response by: RBMN

In pictures: Cartoon protests

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2006 8:15 AM

The following hissed in response by: Aidan Maconachy

Sorry, but I disagree.

Yes its ass backwards and yes, it muddies the waters and complicates the meaning of "the enemy", but if this is the best the Euros can do in terms of showing some damn backbone, then I'll deal with the deficits involved.

If an artist can caricature Jesus, Buddha etc yet feels constraint or deference toward Muhammad because of fears of complicating the situation by whipping up generalized Muslim hysteria - then he is effectively saying that there is a hierarchy of religious respect he needs to cow tow to. Top tier is Islam with its various "untouchable" icons and sacred personalities. Second tier is the Christian religion that is fair game - drop a crucifix into a vial of urine, paint the virgin Mary with elephant dung - whatever! Have fun!

I'm sorry but there is no way we should endorse even that merest implication, because to do so makes us, however slightly, afraid to exercise our freedom of expression because of the reaction it might whip up. When satirists piss on Christ do they consider the possible ramifications? Yeah they do - and more often than not they say damn the torpedoes, notwithstanding the few nutbar Jesuits and unhinged evangelicals around capable mounting revenge attacks, or even that half the S. American continent may be plunged into a condition of catholic angst as a result of the blasphemy.

No, no, no ... I'm with Malkin on this one. Stick it to them and let them deal with it. If they want to live in a democratic society, they have to realize there are fundamental rights and freedoms. If the exercise same offends them, let them vote in reps who will work at getting laws passed that reflect their concerns.

In the meantime - publish and be damned!

The above hissed in response by: Aidan Maconachy [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2006 11:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: Aidan Maconachy

The whole notion of "idols" and "images" is so OT. Jehovah famously railed about idolatry and had his minions go around smashing up statues of Baal.

The notion of not being allowed to render Muhammad in image form is laughably archaic. If Muslims regard this as a central pillar of the faith - then let them enforce this law at home, in the mosques and in countries run by neo-Taliban.

The fuss they are whipping up about this has NOTHING to do with damage to Muhammad's rep. The actual cartoons are pretty damn tame - so much so they were even published in Jordan. The Danish based mullah who trucked them to the Middle East to stir up rage actually added really bad Muhammad cartoons to the portfolio, cartoons he claims were sent to him by e-mail (without actually coughing up the e-mails as proof of his assertion). He likely added the extremely offensive articles himself just to ensure maximum psychosis.

Despite Monty Python's Life of Brian, the planet is still host to millions of devout Christian believers whose vision of Jesus hasn't even been marginally compromised by the satirical romp.

No this isn't about damage to Islam or Muhammad, this about control. This is about saying to the infidels on their own soil - "you can't so that, and if you do we will hurt you bad". This is about politics and culture in the end.

As I said, let them stone their own for such infractions - but when it comes to an artist exercising his expression in Denmark, take a pill ... there is probably more to come.

The above hissed in response by: Aidan Maconachy [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2006 11:56 AM

The following hissed in response by: Binder

While the news organs involved certainly had the right to run whatever items they choose, I also have the "right" to call my neighbor a flaming idiot. Despite the fact that I happen to believe my neighbor is a flaming idiot, I choose not to call him one simply because it helps maintain cordial relations.

A pity that the European media doesn't seem to feel the need for similar restraint.

The above hissed in response by: Binder [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2006 1:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: pbswatcher

Wow, Dafyddd--

This is the first time I can remember when you are more pessimistic than I. I have a series of posts on the topic on my blog. My general view is that this conflict had to come. Better now than later when the Islamists are more firmly entrenched in Europe and represent a larger portion of the population. Belmont Club has a more eloquent analysis to the same effect.

The above hissed in response by: pbswatcher [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2006 1:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: Gbear

Freedom must be exercised or it will atrophy. I can not equate the European press that published the cartoons to a drunk 16 year old. I am surprised there was a domino effect across the continent in publishing the cartoons. If the offended lovers of the prophet overreact and commit crimes, it is their personal responsibility. If every one that was offended took overt action to satisfy his damaged senses there would be very few cartoonists. Its sad it has taken so many years to shine the light on the Islamofacists.

The above hissed in response by: Gbear [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2006 7:00 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Gentle Readers, I apologize, but I had to delete a comment in this thread.

It was a fairly good comment that made many points worthy of considering, and I hated to see it go. But I simply cannot allow a comment on this board that calls for the extermination of an entire people, no matter what the provocation.

I hope the commenter, whose name I did not immediately recognize, will not take this too amiss, and perhaps will even repost those portions of the comment that did not call for the wholesale obliteration of all Moslems.

But there are some things up with which I cannot put... and a call for a new Holocaust is one of them.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 5, 2006 10:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: Aidan Maconachy

Dafydd well said. These distinctions are crucial to make.

In doing the rounds of a few sites to follow this debate, I have been troubled as well by slurs directed at Islam in general, without care being taken to differentiate between radicals who seek to exploit this affair and those who are merely offended or even neutral.

There are a great many second and third generation Muslims in the West who have no inclination whatever to burn flags or attack embassies. The focus of the media upon the most extreme elements creates the erroneous impression that the violent activities of Islamists represent the aspirations of the majority, and this simply isn't true.

A case in point is the Canadian writer Irshad Manji who had this to say in a recent column ...

"Muslims have little integrity demanding respect for our faith if they don't show it for others. When have we demonstrated against Saudi Arabia's policy to prevent Christians and Jews from stepping on the soil of Mecca? They may come for rare business trips, but nothing more. As long as Rome welcomes non-Christians and Jerusalem embraces non-Jews, we Muslims have more to protest than cartoons.

None of this is to dismiss the need to take my religion seriously. Hell, Muslims even take seriously the need to be serious: Islam has a teaching against "excessive laughter." I'm not joking. But does this mean that we should cry "blasphemy" over less-than-flattering depictions of the Prophet Muhammad? God no.

For one thing, the Koran itself points out that there will always be non-believers, and that it's for Allah, not Muslims, to deal with them. More than that, the Koran says there is "no compulsion in religion." Which suggests that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as sacred.

Fine, many Muslims will retort, but we're talking about the Prophet Muhammad - Allah's final and therefore perfect messenger. However, Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was a human being who made mistakes. It's precisely because he wasn't perfect that we know of the so-called Satanic Verses: a collection of passages that the Prophet reportedly included in the Koran. Only later did he realize that those verses glorified heathen idols rather than God. According to Islamic legend, he retracted the idolatrous passages, blaming them on a trick played by Satan.

When Muslims put the Prophet on a pedestal, we're engaging in idolatry of our own. The point of monotheism is to worship one God, not one of God's emissaries. Which is why humility requires people of faith to mock themselves - and each other - every once in a while."

The above hissed in response by: Aidan Maconachy [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2006 8:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Aidan Maconachy:

Aha! I think we've finally located a Moslem Methodist... Irshad Manji!

(A followup to my first "Moslem Methodist" post can be found here, as well.)

Thanks, A.M.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2006 8:50 PM

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