It’s at times like this I thank God I’m not a journalist. It seems that whenever there’s an issue that involves their professional self-interest they’re all over it–even if it means they divorce themselves other realities. The Judith Miller story is a case in point. She participated in a process that led to the outing of a CIA covert agent. Yet when the prosecutor asked her to talk about her contacts with Lewis Libby she refused. She dressed herself up in all the finery of freedom of the press, etc. All the time ignoring that she’d been a willing accomplice of Libby in his conspiracy to uncover Valerie Wilson’s identity (potentially an act of treason). Miller’s publisher and editor rallied to her defense as well with similarly high-flown rhetoric. And it was all for naught as she caved after some time in prison and spilled the beans anyway.
The Jyllands-Posten episode isn’t that far different. This newspaper, in a misguided attempt to test freedom of expression, insulted Muslims around the world. Did they have the right to run the cartoons? Sure. But why test one of our most highly prized liberties with such a godawful cartoon competition? And why didn’t the editorial staff recognize the incendiary nature of a few of the cartoons BEFORE they were published?
Another thing that troubles me is the high moral dudgeon into which the international media have driven themselves. In its eyes, Jyllands-Posten can do no wrong and Mulisms can do no right. Here are a few passages from Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times:
The cartoons, which really are rather mild little doodles…
“Mild little doodles?” Hmmm. Tell it to those who burned down the Dutch mission in Beirut yesterday. Isn’t it interesting how when someone you view as your enemy feels an insult you can dismiss and disparage it. Yet when your profession is attacked you come out swinging.
The following is what I call the “two wrongs make a right” defense. According to this errant doctrine, Muslims have no right to protest the Muhammed cartoons because of their own execrable jounalistic standards. Rutten decries:
…The destructive and dangerous double standard that the Western nations routinely observe when it comes to the government-controlled media in Islamic states. There the media is routinely rife with the vilest sort of hate directed at Jews and, less often, Christians. The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” remain widely available in countries where nothing is published without government permission, and quotations from that infamous forgery are a staple of commentaries published across the Middle East. In recent years, government-owned television stations in Egypt and Syria have broadcast dramas that repeat the blood libel.
Where were the united and implacable Western demands for apologies?
No doubt, the Arab media can be a fetid lot (though there are a number of notable exceptions). But since when is one bad act redeemed by another? Also, I suppose one might ask where was Tim Rutten when these Muslim outrages were perpetrated? Was he writing about them himself? If not, what right does he have now to castigate others for not doing so then?
Here Rutten really gets on his soapbox with megaphone in hand:
…It’s no longer possible to overlook the culture of intolerance, hatred and xenophobia that permeates the Islamic world. The hard work of rooting those things out will have to be done by honest Muslim leaders and intellectuals willing to retrace their tradition’s steps and do the intellectual heavy lifting that participation in the modern world requires.
Listen to the sweeping overstatement here: “the culture of intolerance, hatred and xenophobia that permeates the Islamic world.” Pray tell us, Mr. Rutten how you are such an expert on the Islamic world that you claim to know what permeates it? I could just as easily argue that in some segments of that same world tolerance and respect for other religions are prevalent. And since we’re using the two wrongs make a right defence, how much better do the rest of the world’s religions fare in the areas of intolerance, hatred and xenophobia? Speaking of xenophobia, we Jews were tossed out of so many Christian and Muslim countries we’ve lost count. Intolerance, how about the Crusades? Hatred, how about the Christian blood libel? The way I see it just about any religious tradition must have its share of history it’d like to live down. But in the end, Rutten sees what he wants to see in Islam?
It is unbelievably arrogant & condescending on Rutten’s part to presume to tell Arab society what it must do to become a full fledge member of the ‘modern world.’ Don’t you think European colonialists were saying roughly the same things about Africa and India 100 years ago? And who’s to say that today’s Muslims are NOT living in the modern world?
I’ve studied Jewish, and specifically medieval philosophy and this passage was breathtakingly overgeneralized and unsupported. In discussing the dichotomy between various religious traditions that sprang up during the Middle Ages, he naturally takes the Islamic philosopher to task for his theological errors:
Averroes [the great medieval Muslim philosopher] took the other fork. He held that there were two truths–that of revelation and that of the natural world. There was no need to reconcile them because they were separate and distinct.
It was a form of intellectual suicide and cut off much of the Islamic world from the centuries of scientific and political progress that followed.
Whoa, how do you get there from here?
I’m actually rather shocked by this because Rutten writes for Slate.com & I thought he was more progressive. I’m not saying I don’t agree with his criticisms of Arab societies & Muslim beliefs. I do and I say this in my blog. But to try to deflect criticism of one bad thing by saying your enemy does a different bad thing doesn’t diminish the badness of the original bad thing.