The anti-Muslim blog world (Little Green Footballs is but one example) is up in arms regarding the response to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in the Arab world. They’re shocked, I say shocked at the level of violence and vehemence aimed at those in the west who published the cartoons and who continue to defend them. According to them, it shows the backwardness of Islam. It shows that the religion and its adherents are not yet capable of living in the enlightened modern world represented by the west.
One of the major arguments these people advance is that Muslims do not understand sacred western values like free speech and freedom of the press. Robert Wright, writing in today’s NY Times (TimesSelect sub required) savages this argument. He notes that western media self-censor all the time in deciding what to say and what to leave out about sensitive stories involving religion, race and many other matters. And he claims that such censorship is not at all a bad thing. In fact, in most instances it is a good thing because it shows a level of civility that is necessary in a multi-ethnic society. It is only when we cease honoring this unwritten pact, when we unbutton our lip and let fly with our baser instincts that we get into trouble.
Caryn Sachs, a commenter on one of my Muhammed posts, took special offense at the Belgian Muslim newspaper which published a cartoon of Adolf Hitler in bed (after having sex with Anne Frank) saying: “Put that in your diary, Anne.” She contended that such cartoons are far more offensive because they seek to demean and debase the Holocaust. In my reply, I agreed with her that such Holocaust cartoons are deeply offensive and a highly insulting response to the anti-Muslim cartoons. However, I argued that each side in this debate was losing track of the feelings of the other. I see no reason Muslims shouldn’t be just as offended by the Muhammed cartoons as Jews would be over the Hitler cartoon.
Wright comments on these general themes here:
…Why not take the model that has worked in America and apply it globally? Namely: Yes, you are legally free to publish just about anything, but if you publish things that gratuitously offend ethnic or religious groups, you will earn the scorn of enlightened people everywhere. With freedom comes responsibility.
Of course, it’s a two-way street. As Westerners try to attune themselves to the sensitivities of Muslims, Muslims need to respect the sensitivities of, for example, Jews. But it’s going to be hard for Westerners to sell Muslims on this symmetrical principle while flagrantly violating it themselves. That Danish newspaper editor, along with his American defenders, is complicating the fight against anti-Semitism.
Some Westerners say there’s no symmetry here — that cartoons about the Holocaust are more offensive than cartoons about Muhammad. And, indeed, to us secularists it may seem clear that joking about the murder of millions of people is worse than mocking a God whose existence is disputed.
BUT one key to the American formula for peaceful coexistence is to avoid such arguments — to let each group decide what it finds most offensive, so long as the implied taboo isn’t too onerous. We ask only that the offended group in turn respect the verdicts of other groups about what they find most offensive. Obviously, anti-Semitic and other hateful cartoons won’t be eliminated overnight. (In the age of the Internet, no form of hate speech will be eliminated, period; the argument is about what appears in mainstream outlets that are granted legitimacy by nations and peoples.)
Say Amen somebody.
Fuoad Isaza says
You contradict yourself. You infer that certain people are inferring that the Muslim world is not civilized yet then you didn’t note that there was no violence, death or burning buildings as a result of any anti-Jewish or Christian commentaries in the Muslim World from the West?
First – did any Jews riot? Did anyone die as a result of that Hitler disgusting cartoon? Were any building burnt down to the ground? Did Israel boycott anyone due to the Iranian mock the Holocaust contest? or about their recent meetings concerning the ‘lies of the Holocaust’? I do not think so.
Second – The Dutch cartoon was presumably drawn by someone either Christian or Atheist? So what do Jews have to do with this? So to understand this –
A Christian European paper draws an offensive cartoon to Islam and part of the respons is –
Mock the Jews and the Holocaust?
Third – Those cartoons appeared in October of 2005. Why the 5 month delay in ‘outrage’ over them? Several blogs have noted that the same cartoons were republished in an Egyptian newspaper shortly thereafter and there was no protest then or now?
Fourth – You don’t even address and in fact apparently purposely avoid the fact of the disproportional reaction in certain areas of the Muslim world compared to the Judeo/Christian/Secular World.
Fifth – You also avoid the fact that these events appear to be planned out and incited by certain Imams and States in the Islamic world as a way causing incitement and intimidation. A Dutch Imam went into much of the Arab world with fake cartoons in addition to the real ones to incite riots and problems. It is likely most of the Arab/Muslim world has not even seen any of the cartoons and are just going off of what they heard or seeing some of the fake pictures as well. Since no Arab/Muslim paper would reprint any of the cartoons.
Thus, you have a tinderbox set off by people who haven’t seen the cartoons or have seen some with some more aggregious fakes.
Add it all up and you get a display of force and intimidation of the West by the Islamic World.
You only deal with your angle and narrow view of the overall picture.
I believe you criticized Thomas Friedman in an above post for selectively dealing with topics as well.
Richard Silverstein says
Fuoad: I reject the notion that because some Muslims engaged in violent & repugnant behavior that all of Islam is tarnished. I reject the notion that because some Muslims are intolerant, mean-spirited and hateful toward other religions that all Muslims are that way. Islam is just as varied a religion as any other. It has its share of bigots and its share of loving adherents. Who among us can say that our own religious tradition is always beyond reproach on this score? Well, perhaps the Quakers and a few others but they are in a distinct minority.
I find this argument empty of significance. Just because no Jew rioted over the Anne Frank cartoon does not mean that my religion or my people are beyond reproach. You only have to read the post I wrote about Earl Krugel, a murdered leader of the Jewish Defense League, to know how intensely a Jew can hate a Muslim–so intensely that he actually kills him (cf. the case of Alex Odeh’s bombing-murder). How about Meir Kahane or Baruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir?
Unfortunately, some Jews hate, some Jews murder, some Jews attempt to bomb buildings they don’t like. Not many, but enough so we cannot say we are pure as driven snow. Further, do I say that because we have our Goldsteins, Kahanes, etc. that we are a hateful people? No. Those pernicious figures no more represent me or my Judaism than Osama bin Laden represents all Muslims.
Please do not make the mistake of believing that I approve of the Anne Frank cartoon or that I find it a justifiable response to the Muhammed cartoons. I don’t. It is a disgusting and inappropriate response. I only made the point that one should not say that the Holocaust cartoon was somehow more heinous or insulting than the other cartoon. Besides, I think all these arguments based on “my suffering is deeper than yours” are empty exercises.
Another empty argument. In an earlier comment here I wrote that injustice does not have a statute of limitations. If I commit a crime or insult someone’s race and the victim does not decide to complain for five months does that diminish their claim? Not to me. If the cartoon was offensive when it was published it was just as offensive five months later. Looking for ulterior motives is another one of those empty exercises that doesn’t get you very far.
No, you’ve left out certain key elements in your list of causation. The Danish Muslim community went to the newspaper just after the cartoons were published. They got no satisfaction. They met with the Danish prime minister after that. No satisfaction. It was only after doors were shut on them within their own country that they decided to seek allies among Muslims abroad.
Have Arab governments and political organizations used the controversy to their own advantage? No doubt. But how does that diminish the nastiness of the original cartoons?
No, you have that wrong. The imam showed OTHER anti-Muslim cartoons not published in Jyllands-Posten when he went abroad to gain international Muslim support for his cause. They were not “fake” cartoons. They were real. But they weren’t commissioned or published by the Danish paper.
First, Tom Friedman has nothing to do with this post. Second, I did not criticize him for selectively dealing with topics. I criticized him for writing (mostly) boring editorial columns.
Fuoad Isaza says
Did anyone state “all of Islam is tarnished”? You are just using maximalist rephrases to try and avoid the point.
If I recall 400 years ago Christianity had a fundamentalist streak through it that was much more prevelant than it is today. Now if one were to state just bcs some Christians are persecuting Jews in Spain or Portugal it does not tarnish all of Christianity that would be in essence true.
You try to cleverly dance around the main glaring point. Which is there are plenty of good people who are Muslim. However, the dominance in the religion and culture is mainly by those fundamentalist or sympathetic to them. Anyone who speaks up is taking a huge risk on their life and well being. There is a huge intimidation factor involved which you artfully try to avoid.
Just more sugary sounding politically correct speech. Noone’s perfect so let’s not judge anything about Islam.
Did anyone say Judaism was “above reproach”. You again go to your maximalist tool shed and completely avoid any common sense judgment that states the obvious. That Judaism as a whole mainstream is more tolerant and civilized today. And I don’t think you can speak for “my religion” on a personal level just because you are Jewish.
Again, you sound almost self-righteous in trying to shoot holes in your own religion to show how valiant you are. You mentioned an infitesimally small minority shunned by the mainstream to then state again “We are not pure as the driven snow….” Again who said Judaism was perfect? I didn’t know one had to be perfect to state there is something wrong with a large minority at the least in Islam and how that minority is dealt with by the majority assuming the minority is not more so the mainstream in thought and belief at least.
Again you tail off into your own sphere. Who ever said one was “more heinous” than the other? Who ever said “my suffering is worse than yours”
A Dutch [sic] non Jew draws a cartoon about Islam trying to show how intolerant it is of any critiquing and then the response is to bash on the Jews. This ia a common knee jerk reaction among Islam as Jews is the common demonized foil in the religion and culutre. Yet you dance around even stating this because you don’t want to aknowledge it and thenveer off into good sounding platitudes.
Another atteempt at artful avoidane. ala Johnny Cochran. The obvious point is the event was planned out and the fact that they were printed in Egypt months ago as well without a peep makes them all the more hypocritical in the intense overreaction to them.
I would say it is getting you pretty far in avoiding the total situation here.
First of all it was not the “Danish Community” that incited these. It was a radical Danish Imam who went abroad inciting with some fake pictures as well. Further it is not the Danish PM’s job to tell a newspaper what it can and can not print. Further, heads of states and the Islamic Community heads appear to have planned this out and set it off. You once again avoid the fact that this reaction was planned out.
The fact that it was planned out using the fundamentalist tendencies and militant defensiveness by the heads shows that they realize they can use it to intimidate anyone they want to. They analyzed the community quite aptly themselves.
No, they planned the reaction out. There has been a worldwide over reaction to this in countries around the world which is displaying more than any cartoons the problems in the Islamic community. Signs with Hirsi Ali and the Dutch writer’s picture on it with targets. “Those who defame Islam should be beheaded”…… An Imam in Pakistan putting a price on the Editor’s head. I haven’t heard quite the strong reaction to condemn these people in CAIR or any Islamic leaders?
And I don’t find the cartoons so offensive myself. I find the Anne Frank cartoon more disgusting. However, either way there was noone killed or intimidated over that cartoon anyway.
The point is – Watch what you say and do regarding Islam or else!
You’re just getting downright ridiculous now. This level of lawyering you sound like Mary Mattelin tryign to humzine Dick Cheney on the talk shows. I can’t even respond to this it is so ridiculous.
Richard Silverstein says
Well, yes, the prevailing sentiment among those shocked by Muslim violence against the cartoons is one of “all Islam is a cesspool” essentially. And while you may not agree with this assessment, you have only pointed out the negative aspects of the religion and its adherents response to the cartoons. You’ve made no tempering statement to mitigate those negative assessments. So you’ll have to forgive me for not understanding the “subtlety” of yr argument.
Absolutely false. There are several hundred million Muslims in the world. Several thousand are extremists. How do you extrapolate from several thousand that they “dominate” the several hundred million? And I wonder how you “know” so much about Islam & what it is like to be a Muslim and what level of intolerance or hostility there is within Muslim communities? You haven’t made a convincing case to me that you’re knowledgeable about these issues. Rather, it sounds like you’re basing yr judgment on what you read in the glaring tabloid headlines of the international media. Not a reasonable basis on which to judge an entire religion.
This argument which you place in my mouth is not, of course, anything I believe. What’s more, you have just argued that you do not judge all of Islam by the actions of the few, & yet here you argue that you are justified in judging Islam. You can’t have it both ways. You are only correct insofar as I do not judge the entire religion. I judge the actions of individuals who happen to be Muslim. They are not “Islam.” They represent a single strain within a much larger religious community. Again, I no more judge Judaism based on the deviant actions of a Baruch Goldstein or a Meir Kahane than I judge all of Islam based on the perversions represented by Osama bin Laden.
Now, you’re being beyond presumptuous. I have studied my religion in academic and personal study for several decades & completed course work for a PhD in the field. So don’t tell me I cannot speak on behalf of my religion. I assure you I know whereof I speak & if you choose to reject this it’s your problem, not mine.
First, as you note regarding Islam, it doesn’t take a very large number of followers for a movement to appear to hijack a religion. And Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, & Yigal Amir do not represent themselves alone. They represent a significant number of Israeli settlers–as many as 10% or more of the Israeli population. And their views on issues like “transfer” of the Israeli Arab and Palestinian population out of Israeli-occupied territory are embraced by just shy of a majority of the electorate. While they do not “dominate” Israeli politics or Judaism, they are a significant minority voice. And this troubles me deeply.
Further, I’d argue that Islamic extremists represent an even lower percentage of the overall world Muslim population. So if I can’t argue that Jewish militants are a relevant political/religious movement then you can’t argue that Muslim extremists are the same. Again, you can’t have it both ways.
You are completely wrong about my not acknowledging Muslim anti-Semitism. I don’t dance around it. How could I? It clearly exists and is troubling. But to me anti-Semitism is very nasty symptom but not a cause of a deeper illness. And that illness is much more complicated than mere anti-Semitism. Much Muslim anti-Semitism derives from the Israeli-Arab conflict. While I do not condone anti-Semitism in any way (it is odious), once this conflict is resolved (& it will be some day), then Muslim hatred of Jews will instantly lose its bite and its prevalence. Once you remove the thorn, it will no longer cause the infection.
Specious argument. Members of the Danish Muslim community took up this campaign, not a single individual as you claim. You simply do not know the facts of what happened. Second, saying that a national political leader has no role in this controversy is ridiculous. Just read George Bush’s statement about the cartoons in which he denounced them AND Muslim violence. Why didn’t the Danish PM do the same? I’ll tell you why. He was elected on an anti-immigrant platform directed against Muslim immigrants. George Bush, while conservative, has attempted (at least in words if not always deeds) to tell the American people that Muslims as a whole are not at fault for Islamic extremism. He makes a point of telling American Muslims that he appreciates their contribution to our society. Not so the right wing Danes (characterized by both the PM and Jyllands-Posten). Which proves the point that if you bury your head in the sand & claim a festering issue doesn’t exist (as the Danes did), it won’t go away. Rather, it will rise up & bite you in the ass as it did in this case.
You again contradict yourself in these two statements:
Which is it? Can’t have it both ways.