Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Weak as Water

Well, people are dieing because or the self-reinforcing dance religion and mental illness often do; each protecting and enforcing the other. People are dieing over a cartoon and the west is being told (mostly by our own pundits) that we are to blame because we did not understand the depth of feeling that certain Muslims in certain Muslim nations have about their religious beliefs. What we actually did not understand is that the depth of their feelings trumps not only the rights of their neighbor's and fellow Muslims but also the rights of everyone, everywhere, always.

In the National Post on Monday, (if you want to see an extreme left-wing view, read the op-ed of a right wing newspaper and vice versa) Matthew Fisher had a long rant about how it was all about journalists and how the comfortable journalists in the west should have thought about the safety of the correspondents in the Middle East before standing up for free speech. Fisher goes on to completely confuse the issue of lampooning religion with inciting hatred against a race.

While defending their right to publish images that Muslims consider blasphemous and hurtful, these editors are exactly the sort who have quite rightly condemned soccer hooligans, neo-Nazi and skin heads who scream racial abuse and have called for tough sanctions against them. They are also the same editors who would quite rightly never publish cartoons that might offend blacks or Jews.

I will take it as a given that Fisher knows exactly what sort of editors they are because he sounds pretty certain. That being established - Holy smokes! He thinks that soccer hooliganism is comparable to free speech? And Nazis' calls for violence and attempts to create real hatred against people are not distinguishable from criticizing specific religious beliefs which are being enforced on people who do not share them? The only hatred being created against Muslims here is that which is being generated as a backlash to those who call for beheadings and boycotts against innocent Danish companies.

As for "rightly" not publishing cartoons that might offend blacks or Jews, that is neither right nor desirable. The Far Side comic strip had many panels which may very well have offended some or many very conservative Jewish and Christian people (depicting God, Moses and angels as well as Bible stories in unflattering lights) and just about any political cartoon involving race, black political figures or inner city poverty is going to offend someone.

CBC Radio recently defended CBC TV's decision not to show the cartoons during news stories on them by saying that the majority of e-mail responses to this decision were positive. [sarcasm] Of course, an unscientific sampling of the general public's ignorant opinion must mean they have made the right decision. It's not like we have produces generations of citizens who do not know what a sophistry is or something like that. [/sarcasm] Then they had someone from a Muslim association of Canada (I don't know which one) thank them for there decision not to show the comics, saying that it helped prevent violent protests in Canada. Allow me to paraphrase:

"Thank you, CBC, for not using your right to free speech. It saved many in our community from having to get violent and thereby perpetuate the unfair stereotype that many in our community are violent. See, isn't it better when we are all on the same page? Nice and peaceful like."
It might be a good time to link to professor of logic at St. Mary's University in Halifax was forced to take the offending comics of his door by the university. It is the school's door and they feel that a university is no place for controversial discussions. Why is the North American media so chicken-shit? Well there have been many lame excuses such as freedom of speech not being an excuse for inciting violence which assumes that because there is a violent reaction to something it must have been incited. But it is actually a mixture of cowardice and the old human tendency of not wanting to speak ill of the enemy of your enemy. The left has married in to every other anti-American/anti-Bush ideology, especially political Islam and is in denial about who they are sharing a marriage bed with. Political Christianity has the right, political Islam has the left. Every chess board needs its bishops.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch politician who is under police protection for criticizing Islam, though speaking about how the cartoonists must feel, has probably also hit the nail on the head as to why many in the media and academia have been so weak on this issue:

One mustn't forget that they're part of the postwar generation, and that all they've experienced is peace and prosperity. And now they suddenly have to fight for their own human rights once again.
You see boys and girls, the freedom of speech, conscience, expression and yes, of the press (Hell, throw in democracy, equality and property rights while we are at it) are not values which just came naturally to western societies or whims that we have adopted the way you might try a new color shirt for a while. We have decided to adopt, if still imperfectly, these values often after long struggles because we have direct experience with what happens to us when we abandon these values. We have watched them slip away time and again and, like a student falling asleep in class, have awoken with a start at the danger that comes from loosing focus.

The reason why people react hatefully when their beliefs are challenged (see Normal Bob's hate mail and responses in the forgoing link) is that they have never been exposed to an environment where dissent is tolerated. Sheltering people from things that might offend them because they could react violently solves nothing. In fact, I would suggest that people need to be desensitizing to the culture shock of living in a world where not everyone believes what they do. It is true for rural North America and it is true for the Middle East.

In that spirit, here is something that should offend both fundamentalist Christians and Muslims.

Hopefully there are lots of children and teenagers out there who's world view is still adaptable, following this issue and asking themselves if killing and burning and boycotting to stop people from criticizing you is sane and asking whether self censorship is any different from any other form of censorship. As a female Afghani politician recently said when asked if she was afraid of assassination, "You can cut down a flower but you can not stop the coming of spring."

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